A senior lecturer in Chinese studies at La Trobe University, Victoria, has set up what he claims is the world's first online Chinese- language teaching programme.
Zhang Lizhong created an internet course offering first and second-year Chinese in four subjects. It has attracted 100 students.
Dr Zhang said many academics offered language-learning material online, usually to supplement classroom teaching but few made their programmes available worldwide as a total distance education course.
"While more than half our online students are in America and Europe, we do have six in China," he said. "They are western students and foreign nationals working either as English teachers or as business professionals who have little opportunity to learn Chinese any other way."
Dr Zhang joined La Trobe's regional campus in the central Victorian town of Bendigo in 1994. He teaches Chinese as part of a bachelor of business degree in Asian Pacific studies.
Last month, the Chinese consul general in Sydney, Wu Keming, presented Dr Zhang with China's award for excellence in overseas Chinese-language education. The award praised his "remarkable achievements in the promotion of Chinese culture, friendship and exchange between China and the outside world".