July 17 was a big day for Englert Andre, a German teacher in his 20s, because his dream of speaking Chinese with Chinese people came true.
"Previously, I just heard Chinese performers speaking their language on television, but I am speaking to real Chinese people now. That is so cool," he said on Sunday at the opening ceremony of a summer camp for Asian, European and American primary and secondary school students.
The summer camp, organized by Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) and the Confucius Institute Headquarters, attracted more than 160 students and teachers from 10 countries, including Italy, Malaysia and the United States.
"It is the first time for a university to hold a summer camp with such a large number of foreigners from different countries," Wang Feng, vice-director of Hanban's division of Confucius Institute affairs, told China Daily on Sunday.
Hanban, the executive body of the Chinese Language Council International, finances the Confucius Institutes.
The aim of the summer camp is to help foreigners improve their Chinese and encourage them to communicate in Chinese during their 10-day stay, he said.
"We will provide plenty of games filled with Chinese culture," said Zhang Xiaohui, director of BFSU's Confucius Institute affairs office.
"The youngsters will quickly understand Chinese when they devote themselves to interesting activities, such as bamboo dancing, Chinese cross talk and shadow plays," she added.
Lavinia, an 11-year-old girl from Rome, Italy, was itching to start the summer camp.
"I am interested in Chinese food and want to climb the Great Wall this time," she said excitedly. "I believe the Chinese environment will be a good help for my language study."
Sitting next to her, 16-year-old Lara Lohkamp, a student from Germany, said she wanted to talk with more native Chinese speakers.
"Chinese is difficult for me to learn because of the four different tones, which always confuse me," she said. "So I want to talk with Chinese people more during this summer camp and see how they pronounce the words."
She said this kind of camp is a good opportunity for foreigners like her to understand the real China.
"I can't wait to enjoy living in Beijing and know more about Chinese arts," she added.
The semi-final of the 10th "Chinese Bridge" Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students began in Central China's Hunan province on Saturday. The competition, which is another effort by Hanban to promote Chinese culture and language, has been staged since 2002,
By the end of 2010, about 360,000 students were attending more than 322 Confucius Institutes and 369 Confucius classrooms in 96 countries.