University of Cape Town: Law master’s student takes on the world with Chinese

A passion for Chinese culture and language is what led a University of Cape Town (UCT) LLM student to take top honours at a national competition this year, as well as represent the country at a global Chinese proficiency competition recently.

Katleho Ntahale, 27, who is a Master of Laws (LLM) in Commercial Law candidate at UCT, has a love for the Chinese language and culture that earned him success at the national, and more recently, international rounds of 2021’s Chinese Bridge – an event described as a “Chinese proficiency competition for foreign college students”. For the recent global round on 22 September 2021, Ntahale prepared a video introducing Cape Town to the world in Mandarin Chinese.

With support and facilitation from the Confucius Institute at UCT (CIUCT), Ntahale progressed from the preliminary round at UCT on 29 March 2021 to the national round on 5 and 6 June 2021, where he achieved the highest score in the country, and that led him to the global finals on 22 September 2021.

Students display Chinese culture and language abilities

The competition is open to university students aged 18 to 30 raised outside China and whose first language is not Chinese. Participants show their Chinese proficiency in listening, speaking and reading, and their knowledge of China. The participants also display talents such as singing Chinese song or performing Chinese music, dance, calligraphy, painting, paper cutting or martial arts.

The Chinese director of the CIUCT, Wenwu Liu, described Ntahale’s performance at the nationals as “perfect”.

“Katleho was the first UCT student to win the highest score at the South African final of the [Chinese Bridge].”

“He got the highest score among the 14 national finalists. His performance in the international round was also impressive, although he didn’t enter the second stage of the global final. He made a short video introducing Cape Town to the world in Mandarin, which won a score of 47 out of 50,” said Liu.

He hopes Ntahale’s achievement will inspire others to take up the study of Chinese and to take part in future competitions.

“Katleho was the first UCT student to win the highest score at the South African final of the [Chinese Bridge]. His achievement will encourage more UCT students to participate in this competition in the future.”

Ntahale’s journey with Chinese began in 2014 in China. “I like to think of my introduction to China and the Chinese culture as an accidental fate. It all started in 2014 when I went to study Mandarin in China, a country I now call my second home. The amazing thing is that it was totally unplanned yet felt like exactly what I needed to do. Hence the padarox ‘an accidental fate’,” said Ntahale.

Balancing studies and competition preparation

With help from the CIUCT, he prepared for the rounds while juggling his law studies.

“Studying towards a master’s degree is very demanding, in every sense of the word. However, I strongly believe in being who I am, and not what I do. Therefore, I always seek to find balance between work and personal life. This usually requires early mornings and late nights.

“As a law student seeking to participate in Chinese Bridge, I had to find help from outside my faculty. Fortunately, the Confucius Institute was more than happy to assist. I am forever grateful to all the teachers, especially director Wenwu,” he said.

“After months of intensive preparations for nationals, my display earned me first prize. Consequently, I had the honour of representing South Africa and UCT in the global round. This was yet another proud moment – not just for me but also the staff [at CIUCT] who worked tirelessly to help me with my preparations.”

Normally, the global finals would have taken place in-person in China, with transport and accommodation sponsored. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all competition rounds were held online.

“It was … an amazing experience and I feel blessed to have competed on that level with some of the brightest students in the world.”

“Sadly, the global round also took place virtually. This time, requirements were slightly different. All contestants had to do an interview, prepare a three-minute vlog and write a test. Unfortunately, I could not win the globals, despite achieving an average of 89%. However, it was still an amazing experience and I feel blessed to have competed on that level with some of the brightest students in the world,” said Ntahale.

“Due to the unstable internet access and low-quality video, online events are neither convenient nor satisfactory. The contestants and the participating institutes had to overcome a lot of problems and difficulties. I do hope that we can hold offline events next year,” said Liu.

While his Mandarin studies are not over, Ntahale hopes to add more languages to his list of abilities.

“I certainly plan to continue studying Mandarin because I am generally passionate about studying different languages. In fact, I’m currently self-learning Swahili and Spanish. As an aspiring international lawyer, I believe that my diverse linguistic skills will one day come in handy, both professionally and personally.”

He hopes others will understand the value of learning foreign languages.

“I firmly believe that various fundamental aspects of our lives are rooted in cultures outside our own. Therefore, as much as it is important to embrace your own culture, it is equally important to explore others. I think people can discover other significant parts of themselves by simply learning Mandarin or any other foreign language.”