Italian student Giuliano Diaferio had a long-standing wish to teach in China, and his dream has come true.
"I was captivated by traditional Chinese culture, which might have been influenced by my mother, who had a keen interest in Asian culture. So in Italy, I studied Chinese language, literature and history and got a degree. And I think becoming a teacher will be a good way to share my passion."
To follow his dream to become a Chinese teacher, Diaferio, 26, came to China on a postgraduate exchange programme.
"I just finished the first semester in Shanghai. It was really full, and I studied hard. But the study here is really fruitful," said Diaferio, who is studying at East China Normal University.
"I'm really impressed. They're really training us to be good teachers, not merely language teachers but also culture teachers," he said.
"I'm studying here to become a teacher when I return, but I also want to work in China before I leave. Just to experience another aspect of China."
Figures from Hanban, the headquarters of the Confucius Institutes, suggest that about 150 million people in various countries want to learn Chinese, but there aren't enough teachers to meet this huge demand.
In the past several years, Hanban and the country's education authorities have been working on the cultivation of higher-level international and domestic professional talent who can use Chinese as a second language or as a foreign language for teaching purposes.
One of the hottest education programs is the Master of Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages, launched in 2007.
The programme has been operating in more than 80 universities across the country, with about 20,000 students.
Zhang Jianmin, deputy director of the Institute of Global Chinese Language Teacher Education at East China Normal University in Shanghai, said more expertise is needed.
"To promote the Chinese language internationally and meet the world's increasing demand, more versatile specialists who have a solid cultural background in the Chinese language, and also have a deep knowledge of a foreign language, are highly needed."
Zhang's institute, supported by Hanban, was the first place in the country to cultivate expertise for teaching Chinese as a foreign language. Over the past five years, it has trained more than 4,900 students, both foreign and Chinese, and 425 students received the master's degree in teaching non-native speaker.
Hanban said it's working on getting students overseas internships and jobs in various countries, which can better promote Chinese study.
"There are a large number of graduates teaching Chinese abroad, but most of them were hired by schools and language institutions. So in the next step, we want to work out some effective ways to increase their overseas internships and employment prospects," said Ma Guoyan, a teacher from the Institute of Global Chinese Language Teacher Education at East China Normal University, during a seminar on international Chinese teacher training in December.
According to the institute, about half of the graduates have overseas internships, but only 10 per cent have taken teaching jobs abroad.
Yang Jincheng, a Hanban official, said universities should encourage students to attend overseas internships, which will help them gain more practical experience in a foreign environment, and better promote the Chinese language worldwide.