English as an official language in Taiwan

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I could see this coming years ago.  The writing was on the wall:

"Some subjects in Taiwan's schools to be taught in English:  As part of the goal of making Taiwan a bilingual country by 2030, some subjects in schools will be taught entirely in English", by Keoni Everington, Taiwan News, Staff Writer (2018/12/6/18)

That's quite an ambitious goal (a bilingual country by 2030), is it not?  Especially since English will be one half of the bilingual equation, while a mixture of Sinitic and Austronesian languages will together constitute the other half, though Mandarin will doubtless be the main component of the latter, at least initially.

To help achieve the Cabinet's vision of making Taiwan a Mandarin-English bilingual nation by 2030, Minister of Education Yeh Jiunn-rong (葉俊榮) yesterday (Dec. 5) said he would work on integrating English into all levels of teaching, with some subjects even being taught entirely in English, reported CNA.

When Yeh attended a meeting of the Education and Culture Committee in the Legislative Yuan yesterday, he pointed out that in the era of global competition, strong English language skills can improve career development. However, instead of pursuing scores and memorizing too many words in English exams, educators should focus on listening, speaking, and thinking in English.

Yeh suggested that some subjects could be taught in English, with entire lessons taught "naturally" entirely in English. Yeh said the goal is to "let educators regard English as being very important to speak and use."

Language planners in Taiwan must be thinking, "If Singapore and India can do it [i.e., have English as an official language], why can't we?"

Here's a list of 54 "Countries with English as an Official Language and the Language of Instruction in Higher Education", with countries of the United Kingdom listed separately, but it doesn't mention India and the USA.  Much better is this far longer "List of territorial entities where English is an official language" from Wikipedia.  There have been proposals to make English the official second language of Japan:

"English could become Japan's official second language", by Kathryn Tolbert, The Guardian (2/22/2000)

I find it extremely significant that the Taiwan language authorities want students not only to learn to listen and speak in English, but also to think in English.  Seldom, if ever, do language educators articulate a goal of having learners acquire the ability to think in their second language.  To me, this indicates that Taiwan language officials who are making pedagogical policy with regard to the teaching of English recognize that the mastery of English brings with it not just the ability to communicate in that language, but to reason in a way that is different from reasoning in the other languages of Taiwan.

See also:

Ralph Jennings, "Isolation-wary, Chinese-speaking Taiwan moves to make English an official language", Los Angeles Times (10/15/18)

"Taiwan to make English an official language next year, says official", Jennifer Creery, Hong Kong Free Press (8/31/18)

This may well be one of the most vital factors impelling the communist government on the mainland to want to occupy Taiwan as soon as possible.  The fact that Taiwan has an early agenda for becoming bilingual in English on one hand plus a combination of the Sinitic and Austronesian languages of the island on the other hand must leave the CCP ideologues positively apoplectic.

Readings

[h.t. Paul Midler]



56 Comments

  1. jin defang said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 10:54 am

    I've seen the debate over making English an official language, which of course isn't quite the same as teaching courses in English or teaching students to think in English. The former isn't as important or far-reaching as the latter, since many Taiwan citizens understandably want to preserve the use of Hokkien, Hakka, and aboriginal tongues, and no one doubts that a knowledge of mandarin is important as well. So the question becomes how many languages do we think kids should learn and, given constraints of time and curriculum, at what cost to STEM courses.

  2. cliff arroyo said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 1:16 pm

    To be honest, it sounds like magic thinking to me:
    1. Make English an official language
    2. ????
    3. PROFIT!

    " but also to think in English"
    more magic thinking, the kind of thing that people who don't know much about foreign language learning think the goal of foreign language teaching should be….

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 1:43 pm

    Cliff — Perhaps "to think in X" is possible only for the more advanced learner, but "to mentally compose in X" seems both possible and highly desirable to me. It is certainly how I was taught French some 60 years ago, and something I continue to (try to) practice with other languages acquired since then, no matter whether by osmosis or otherwise …

  4. Bathrobe said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 5:45 pm

    This will have to be done very, very carefully.

    I personally know one 11-year-old student at a Beijing high school that has English as an important part of its curriculum. There are not only classes in English, but also in Maths English and Science English, taught by foreign teachers.

    The English course is basically kids' English, with a fairly simple level of grammar and cute conversations (along the lines of 'Are you going to the party?' and 'What do you want to be when you grow up?'). But there are poems, some of which are rather difficult, unidiomatic as far as speaking is concerned (a poem about spring that proclaims among other things that 'birds sing!') and with fun content (e.g., about 'mean people') that might be understandable to kids in an English-speaking environment but are way above the heads of Chinese kids. Still, my acquaintance seems to enjoy it.

    The problem is maths English and science English. The maths English isn't too bad because they already know about numbers, although it contains real misinformation (such as teaching kids that if you put an object on the scales you get its 'mass').

    But the science English is difficult. Not only is the language far more advanced than they learn in their English class (with plenty of relative clauses, which they probably won't be learning for quite some time yet), but the concepts are difficult to grasp ('a cycle is a pattern that repeats itself'; 'the stages that a living thing goes through' (life cycle)) and make no sense to a 10 or 11-year-old. The children dislike the class, which is taught by a variety of foreign teachers who know no Chinese, and have to take lots of cramming classes outside of school hours just to keep up. Needless to say, forcing kids to learn sentences with relative clauses and words like 'reproduce' and 'reproduction' or 'lunar cycle' without a clear linguistic methodology does not allow them to just 'pick it up naturally'. In order to keep up, the children have to try and understand the English by resorting to the Chinese equivalents.

    This is the kind of problem that results when someone decides that children should be taught in English so they can be more competitive in the global environment. It's the unfortunate result of linguistic ignoramuses being in charge of children's linguistic education.

  5. Bathrobe said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 5:50 pm

    One clarification: the basic English classes are taught by Chinese teachers, who, of course, are a good model for sing-song intonation, lack of clear stress patterns, and distinctly pronounced final consonants where English speakers would run them on to the next word, a particularly obnoxious style of pronunciation that has children saying 'ang apple' where 'a napple' is the idiomatic pronunciation in English. They thus enjoy all the drawbacks of having Chinese native teachers and none of the benefits of having foreign teachers.

  6. Bathrobe said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 6:16 pm

    Another blooper: it is obviously not a high school but a primary school. Sorry for the error.

  7. Alex said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 6:29 pm

    From my own experience teaching my children.

    They were born in HK, raised since infancy starting with Mandarin. perhaps no English until 1. Then I was the only 1 of 4 primary caretakers who started adding English. I started with a low percentage of English adding perhaps 20 % of my usage per year.

    That said they started watching apps and shows like Clifford the big red dog, peppa pig, team umizoomi, curious george, arthur, creative galaxy, peg and cat, etc etc I watch and chose the shows based on difficulty. My older son went to the local preschool. As he became older he would start watching shows science shows about space and then history shows. He has attended the local primary school since first grade. At home I would teach him math using English workbooks. He also used Khan Academy early on.

    His Chinese is native level and so is his English. I would venture to say his English is beyond what my English was when I was his age. I was born and raised NJ. Cherry Hill for those who know the area.

    Why do I say his English is beyond mine? Mainly the internet, youtube, and the wealth of children's books and programs like Bill Nye the science guy. I was born in 1970 so never enjoyed those. My older brother and I had to order books from the schools once every 2 months as a treat or go to the library when mom had time. As for TV programs that generation had only a few beyond mr rogers and nova and world at war. That said it had Leornard Bernstein presents!

    Anyway the point is I don't think its difficult to make children completely bi lingual and science and math is definitely the right step to start.

    It would save the children an immense amount of time on the writing. That said they would need to learn the Chinese terms at home. I remember having to look up the Chinese terms for math such as acute, obtuse, right angles.

    I believe if the kids are taught English early enough which they certainly are here in on the Mainland, and if the parents can get passed the watching media is bad for the eyes and allow their kids to watch an hour or more a day. the kids can become bi lingual without too much effort.

    Taiwan can go to pinyin and then the kids will have more time to become bi lingual. They would save so much time from not having to remember all the characters for science and math terms.

  8. Alex said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 6:33 pm

    sorry for the typos, grammatical errors, and flow of thought writing. In a rush as the kids have to have breakfast and then tennis lessons.

    *past the watching media

  9. PETER METCALFE said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 7:03 pm

    Almost a reversion to the state of affairs before 1661 when Dutch was the official language there.

  10. Meredith said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 7:23 pm

    Rather than teaching "math English" or "science English", it makes more sense to teach those courses in English if the goal is for students to eventually be able to move through the international STEM world, especially at upper levels of academic and industrial research.

    It seems to me that the biggest stumbling block would be the lack of an adequate number of teachers competent to do that.

  11. Michael Watts said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 9:54 pm

    The maths English isn't too bad because they already know about numbers, although it contains real misinformation (such as teaching kids that if you put an object on the scales you get its 'mass').

    How is this misinformation? If you wanted to know the mass of an object, what would you do?

    A Chinese scale will give results already in units of mass. An American scale won't, but… so what? Even then, the only way to know the mass of the object is to weigh it.

  12. Bathrobe said,

    December 8, 2018 @ 11:13 pm

    I don't know what they teach nowadays, but I was taught that mass and weight are different things.

  13. Bathrobe said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 12:55 am

    @Meredith

    It's actually more "Science through English" than "Science English". So it's a basic science course in English. Before they learn science in their native language.

    Try this sentence on an 11-year-old Chinese speaker:

    "Space is the amount of an area or place that is empty and available for use."

    "Available" is a word that doesn't have a commonly used Chinese equivalent, although of course it can be expressed. So springing it on 11-year-olds is ridiculous. I don't think I even had it in my active vocabulary when I was 11.

    Or "[space] that matter occupies or uses or takes up."

    "Takes up" is an easy way of putting things for an English-speaking kid. For a Chinese-speaking kid with little English background, "occupies" is easier than "takes up". So the entire conception behind teaching English is screwed up.

    "Here little Chinese kids, if you don't understand 'occupies', then you must understand 'takes up'. That's an easier way of putting it!"

    This is for kids who are still learning "There is spaghetti in mine [lunchbox]. What's in yours?"

  14. Ricardo said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 1:16 am

    It seems slightly strange to me that while China's economy is expected to soon overtake that of any English-speaking country within 10 years–thus bringing the world's economic center-of-gravity firmly East–Taiwanese and Japanese educators are preocuppied with hardwiring English into their education system.

    Are they not guilty of presentism? While English will probably continue to be the lingua franca of the world for some time to come, it will be a declining one, following the same course as Latin, French and German, all of which were once the language of science and culture.

    There's also an unattractive chauvanism about expecting the rest of the world's students to learn English, which reduces any incentive for English-speakers to learn other languages. Wouldn't it be better to have a Taiwanese student pursue a language in which s/he is genuinely interested and produce an excellent speaker of, say, Korean instead of a lack-lustre speaker of English?

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 2:11 am

    "Mass" v. "weight". It all depends on what is meant by "the scales". If it is a pairof scales, with unknown mass on one side and known mass on the other, you will get the object's mass (such scales are just work-a-day versions of an analytical balance). If, on the other hand, the load is used to compress a spring or a load cell, then you will get its weight. The former yields mass because the same force of gravity acts on both by unknown and known mass; the latter yields weight because the force of gravity acts only on the load.

  16. Michael Watts said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 3:02 am

    If, on the other hand, the load is used to compress a spring or a load cell, then you will get its weight. The former yields mass because the same force of gravity acts on both by unknown and known mass; the latter yields weight because the force of gravity acts only on the load.

    This is completely false. A balance scale doesn't even measure weight — it measures torque.

    A spring-compression scale measures weight. But that's an implementation detail of interest to no one. The student goes home, gets on a compression scale, and the scale reads out "40 kilograms". Is that the student's weight, or is it their mass?

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 5:54 am

    Michael, are you sure you understand how a balance works (mine is illustrated here) ? It has a pointer which indicates when the two sides are in perfect balance. When that situation obtains, the masses in the left and right pan are identical. Since the mass on one side is known (because the "weights" have been added by hand (and dialled-in, for the greatest accuracy), and their total mass noted), then by simple physics we know that the mass in the other pan is the same.

    When your hypothetical student gets home and weighs himself on a compression scale, he knows only his weight; to know his mass, he would have to factor in the force of gravity at the exact point at which he is located.

  18. Michael Watts said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 6:42 am

    Yes, I do understand how a balance works. It works by comparing the torque being applied to each end of the balancing rod. Equal torque is equal mass as long as the two masses are hanging at equal distance from the pivot point. On a balance scale, that is supposed to be true, but it is not true in general, nor is it necessary in order to accurately weigh items of unknown weight.

    For example, if I have a miscalibrated balance where the pivot point divides the balancing rod 40/60 instead of 50/50, then if I hang a 5 kg weight off the long end and balance the scale perfectly, I know that the weight on the short end has a mass of 7.5 kg. But I don't know that because I measured its mass; balancing scales don't do that.

    A compression scale also doesn't measure mass. When it gives you a result in units of mass, it is making reference to its own calibration, comparing your weight to the weight of an object of known mass, exactly as you describe for the balance scale. Just as simple physics tells us that an object which exerts the same torque at 1 meter as a 5 kg mass would at 1 meter must have a mass of 5 kg, simple physics tells us that an object which compresses a spring with a force of 9.8 Newtons must have the same mass as all other objects which exert the same force under the influence of gravity, 1 kg. There is absolutely no conceptual difference.

    So while it's true that mass and weight are different things, it's also true that you determine something's mass by using a scale. That's what scales do.

  19. Philip Taylor said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 7:05 am

    Michael, what you seem to be missing (let's leave incorrectly adjusted/set up/designed balances to one side and deal only with perfect instruments) is that when one uses an analytical balance (or a "pair of scales"), both the unknown and the known masses are subject to exactly the same force of gravity.

    When a compression scale is used, the force of gravity is exerted only on the unknown — the scale was (almost invariably) calibrated elsewhere, and the force of gravity may well have been different. Not wildly so, of course, but sufficiently different that an object's weight is only an approximation to its mass. And if I were to take an object with a mass of 1kg to the moon, and to take with me a set of "weights", an analytical balance and a compression scale, the object's mass, as measured using the analytical balance, would still be exactly 1kg, whilst its weight would be only about 1/6kg.

  20. cliff arroyo said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 7:34 am

    "It's the unfortunate result of linguistic ignoramuses being in charge of children's linguistic education"

    That was kind of my point, though to be fair, it seems to be the way things work…. everywhere.

  21. cliff arroyo said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 7:37 am

    "they would need to learn the Chinese terms at home. I remember having to look up the Chinese terms for math such as acute, obtuse, right angles"

    The more obvious result would be for them to not look up chinese terms outside of class and to gradually lose the ability to do or think about math (except for the simplest things) in Chinese.

  22. Victor Mair said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 8:44 am

    @Ricardo

    How is it "unattractive chauvinism" (N.B. spelling) for Taiwanese or Japanese to want to learn English? They're the ones who are making that choice, not us.

    You accuse the Taiwanese and Japanese of "presentism". Are you not guilty of futurism when you predict what things will be like ten years from now or at "some [vague] time to come", including the decline of English usage in the world?

  23. Alex said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 10:31 am

    @ricardo

    Growing up I remember when Japanese was the it thing. Guess it didn't turn out that way.
    Seriously though. One needs to evaluate many factors. I have attempted to do this for my children. They know Chinese and English as a base due to heritage. I have evaluated what should be their 3rd language. I have chosen Spanish. If they could learn a 4rth I'd choose Russian.

    Other Asian languages they don't have enough mass. As for Chinese I personally think its in decline. By that I mean I believe equivalent socioeconomic literacy rates are declining. Moreover the language evolves too slowly and is unable to keep up with society and perhaps had a very forced creation and absorption of many nouns once China opened up to the West. A flood of things that weren't common place were introduced.

    Its truly amazing to find both fresh grads and adults don't know what the common words are for the components of larger things. It seems the adults I deal with would often have to investigate with their phones

    .

  24. Ricardo said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 12:09 pm

    @Victor Mair

    Please kindly read my post again. I find the spirit in which you've taken it somewhat odd and hostile. This has nothing to do with 'me' or 'us' telling the Taiwanese what to do.

    I do not think it is at all chavinistic for Taiwanese or Japanese students to want to learn English. I would say that the desire to learn another language, any other language, is usually an expression of open-mindedness and thus the opposite of chauvinism.

    At the same time, I think the expectation on the part of one person or a small body of people that an entire generation of school children should and must learn English is a kind of language chauvinism. In this case, no, those most concerned, the children ('they' in your parlance), are not making that choice. As I said in my post, it seems better to me that language-wise each child should (within reason) be allowed to follow his/her natural bent rather than have one foreign language prioritised over another. This is my opinion. I do not presume to tell Taiwanese educators what to do.

    You could have accused me of 'futurism' if I had stated that the school children should learn one particular language, say spanish, instead. But I did not say that. I merely said that the choice should be left up to 'them'. And if the cabinet's proposal is not based on the idea that the English language will continue to be the world's lingua franca for a long time to come, then I must ask for enlightenment in this regard. My own view is that as the relative dominance (economically, politically etc) of English-speaking countries declines, the spread of their language will as well. This strikes me as a fairly uncontroversial lesson of history.

    You are right about one thing, though. I did mispell 'chauvinism' in my original post.

  25. Victor Mair said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 1:03 pm

    @Ricardo

    My comment was neither "odd" nor "hostile". I simply asked some questions about your presuppositions.

    I've read your first comment and the second one several times, and you continue to make unwarranted assumptions about the future and about the attitudes and rights of Taiwanese and Japanese. It's one thing for you to entertain such assumptions for yourself, but you shouldn't expect others necessarily to accept what you believe.

    And you misspelled "chavinistic" again (in a different way).

    There's no need for you to respond to this comment if you're simply going to repeat what you have already said in your first and second comments.

  26. Victor Mair said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 5:28 pm

    From Francis Miller:

    This reminded me of something from the Hunger Games, a recently popular book and movie series in which the wealthy elite drink a clearish liquid to induce vomiting so they can eat more. Nasty.

    See here: http://thehungergames.wikia.com/wiki/The_Capitol

    "In order to have a good time at a party and eat as much as they want, Capitol residents drink a liquid (similar to ipecac) that causes them to vomit, thus providing enough room in their stomachs for more food. The residents seem oblivious to the fact that, although they go through lots of food and still have plenty left over, many of the districts' residents are starving. The food Capitol residents eat is extremely rich and appears in exotic and beautiful patterns, such as bread rolls shaped like flowers and oranges served with a sauce. Everything is luxurious and overwhelming for the tributes that arrive from the poor districts (for example, food dispensers and showers with over a hundred buttons)."

  27. Alex said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 7:45 pm

    @ ricardo

    As a parent and as a child of Taiwanese who immigrated to the US, I can say this about Chinese Americans. First and foremost they try to be pragmatic. This means they will choose things (not always correctly) for their children.

    Choosing English is about being pragmatic as rarely do Chinese parents wish to be on the vanguard of a potential change.

    I remember my father threatening to cut off my older brother when he chose German French and political science for majors at University. "What are you going to do with that?" My father was an engineer from VPI. Shocker right? Chinese immigrant in the 60s as an engineer. :-)

    You see this in other aspects of life for example having their kids learn piano or violin.

    As for me I know this well because I myself have taken a lot of grief by trying to be on the vanguard for my children of what i believe will be a change.

    That is to say I don't care if my children do not do well on the Tingxie portions of the exams. Nor do I care if their essays have points taken away because they write the pinyin instead of the Chinese character.

    I have taken grief from educators, in laws, spouse, I have to live with neighbors who have kids in my son's class who know he gets poor Chinese test grades and the neighbors looks.

    That said I can take great pain for what I think is best for my kids.

    Saying that I am sure the parents and the Taiwanese government has decided (rightly so in my opinion) to incorporate English because they think this is best for their future. I don't believe children when starting in primary school really know enough about languages to make this choice.

    The whole take what you like in my personal opinion is what has left us with too many liberal arts majors that don't have any real future other than being a SJW. But that's a debate for another board.

  28. Ricardo said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 8:42 pm

    I sympathise entirely with @Alex's response. I can understand that that school children should be taught english as a question of pragmatism.

    It does not, however, strike me as an ideal. Here, I am thinking of my own education. I am Brazilian and when I attended school in my county, the only other language we had to learn was English, which only a small fraction of the students became proficient in. It would probably have been much more productive us to spend at least an equal amount of time learning Spanish, which is the language of our neighbors and much easier for lusophones to learn. Later, when I attended a British school in Bahrain, the only other language the students had to learn was French, in which only a handful of students ever became proficient and which everybody else eventually forgot. It would have made far more sense for the school to have us learn Arabic.

    I often think the same thing about English language education in mainland China. Considering that, on the whole, it is so ineffective, why not give the students the choice of learning other East Asian languages and the languages of minorities in their own country.

    @Victor Mair

    I do not see my unwarranted assumptions about the attitudes and rights of the Taiwanese and Japanese. For practial reasons, the students should indeed learn a fair amount of English. However, I do not see why English bilinguism should be imposed upon them. In my opinion, the ideal would be a curriculum that offer them mulitple second languages from which they could chose. As I said earlier, it is probably better that a child become a really good speaker of say, Russian or Korean, than an unhappy learner of English.

    My prediction that the relative importance of English will decline is not an 'unwarranted assumption'. There are several other intelligent people who hold a similar view based on how they interpret history and general trends. We may indeed be proved wrong; as a Brazilian I do not really have a dog in this fight. However, your wholesale dismissal of this point of view as an 'unwarranted assumption' or your nagging about my misspelling of the word 'chauvinism' are examples of what I meant by a certain hostility.

  29. Victor Mair said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

    @Ricardo

    I know very well who you are, and I know why you're being so tendentious and trollish. So cease and desist. Basta.

  30. Alex said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 10:36 pm

    @ricardo

    The mainlanders had at one point studied their neighbor's language. I still meet many old timers here who speak some Russian.

    As for English, given that India has chosen it I'd say the momentum for English is growing. Moreover most of the smaller countries are pushing toward

  31. Alex said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 10:45 pm

    Sorry was on mobile, and accidently sent submit.

    The point is if the child learns English he or she can more than likely communicate business wise with the neighboring countries as they are aslo learning English. If they learn Japanese what do they do about Korean.

    Moreover given that 300,000 mainlanders go to US universities a year , the rest probably the vast majority in UK , Canada or Australia, then learning English is very important. For example both my parents post graduate degree were in the US.

    On a side note. When on-site at a client of my firm PTT chemical Thailand. There were signs promoting English for the staff. Encouraging them to use English in office to improve. This was in the IT areas. Many reasons why. I can definitely provide first hand reasons.

  32. Alex said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 10:48 pm

    PTT was client of my firm. Didn mean to say I am or own PTT. :-)

  33. ouen said,

    December 9, 2018 @ 11:38 pm

    this is a fascinating topic and i've been thinking about it for the past few weeks. my taiwanese friends on the other hand don't really feel strongly for or against these proposals. most people i've talked to regard it as a 口號政策. it's hard to find people who are gung ho opposed to improving english speaking ability among students, although there are obviously debates over how and why these improvements should be made, and whether society as a whole really needs to be fluent or just those who genuinely need english skills.
    i'm also sad that people can't take the same kind of initiative in protecting 臺語, but that's another topic.

    something interesting that i've seen for years in taiwan is the phenomenon where parents who are not native english speakers converse with their own children in english. there are books on sale here about raising bilingual children when english is not the first language of either parent and it's something i'd love to read studies or articles on.

    with regards to "thinking in english", it brings to mind a very common spoken style in taiwan. very often while conversing in chinese, taiwanese will use an english term for something and then immediately translate the term into chinese just for clarification in case those around aren't familiar with the english. one example i recently overheard was a man speaking about how to do business there needs to be "trust" between two people, he then immediately translated trust into 信任. this used to confuse me when i first came across it, why would people talking in chiense use the english terms for things like 'friendship' or 'point of view' or 'fairness' when there are adequate terms in chinese. maybe once in a while the english term carries connotations that aren't there for the chinese equivalent, but for the most part these are fairly mundane terms that aren't culturally loaded. further, a lot of high level English learners who have not lived in a majority english environment are unaware of varied connotations that similar english words carry. I have heard this used so often now that i basically consider it a way to show off and let the other person know 'i'm an educated person with an cosmopolitan outlook'

  34. Alex said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 12:08 am

    @ouen

    "something interesting that i've seen for years in taiwan is the phenomenon where parents who are not native english speakers converse with their own children in english"

    Here in Nanshan, Shenzhen I have seen this increase over the last 10 years.

    I feel its great and I also encourage it within the garden community I live in.

    To me kids need an environment so I say to the parents if you want them to get a head start, Don't waste the time while walking them to school. Point to things and say the English and Chinese. (yes I know some feel only say the English) 10 min a day to and from preschool adds up to many minutes and brings the parents closer. Whereas many just walk silently with their children or behind their children

    I said the simplest is things like elevator that one uses several times a day. Within a couple days the kids know it and hundreds of simple common words sky cloud sun building grass car sign etc

    The number one reason parents dont I feel is shyness or its awkward. They tell me they are worried about their accent which I feel is not a very good excuse. Accent are easily fixed via media such as kids programs. The gain in vocabulary outweighs any accent issues. IMO

  35. Ricardo said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 12:39 am

    @Victor Mair

    I do not quite understand what you meant by just what you wrote. We have indeed had some pleasant email interactions. You graciously and patiently answered my questions and looked at a book I sent you. I'm grateful for the time that you took and have absolutely no complaints against you. To the contrary, I have great respect for you and your work.

    But in the present case, I think you are resorting to some low blows: that I am being 'trollish' and insuantions like 'I know very well who you are, and I know why you're being so tendentious and trollish.'

    I simply expressed my opinion and stood my ground in a dispute without resorting to any kind of ad hominem. If you think I'm holding some kind of secret grudge, please come out and say it. My identity is not a secret. I am probably best known as the author of the article below:

    https://foreignpolicy.com/2016/09/02/did-chinese-civilization-come-from-ancient-egypt-archeological-debate-at-heart-of-china-national-identity/

  36. Alex said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 1:16 am

    @Ricardo,

    Given that you have written an article for Foreign Policy,

    I am curious to your reason why you think English will be on the decline.
    I actually feel the opposite. Therefore I am curious. I can see perhaps Spanish maybe has a chance but Id say its slim. I have geopolitical and demographic reasons for English that i can list when I have more time.

    As for English ineffective in China, yes there is much to be desired for, that said I do think enough progress is being made and this is driven by parents and technology.

    Looking forward to understanding your reasons and possible languages. I am curious for my children's sake.

    Thanks

  37. Ricardo said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 2:40 am

    @Alex

    Thanks for engaging with my arguments. As I said earlier, I am not opposed to students learning English. I also understand that we must be practical in life and if you need English for your future, then you probably have no choice but to knuckle down and learn it.

    What I dislike, though, is when it becomes an almost unquestioned and reflexive idea in schools and governments across the world that a second language must be English, irrespective of where the student lives or his genuine talents and interests. This is what I meant by language chauvinism.

    Most experts expect English to continue to be among the top 5 most widely spoken languages for a long time to come. But by 2050 the top 2 are likely to be Chinese and Spanish worldwide with the USA having the largest number of Spanish speakers of any country. The year 2050 may seem very far away, but if you have a child now, s/he will be only 30 years old by the time it happens. You can look up the numbers yourself, but the last figures I saw put the world's Spanish speakers at 10% and the world's English speakers at 5%, with Chinese, Spanish and English becoming the main languages of commerce by 2050.

    Even the most casual observer must have noticed that the world is becoming a more multipolar place and that this trend is likely to continue.

  38. The Other Mark P said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 3:28 am

    Are they not guilty of presentism? While English will probably continue to be the lingua franca of the world for some time to come, it will be a declining one, following the same course as Latin, French and German, all of which were once the language of science and culture.

    Latin was lingua franca for a thousand years. A person in 1200 who thought that they shouldn't learn Latin, because "it wouldn't be around forever", might live to regret it.

    French was the language of diplomacy for hundreds of years. Even when English started to take over, there was a long period where knowledge of French was hugely useful.

    There's also an unattractive chauvanism about expecting the rest of the world's students to learn English, which reduces any incentive for English-speakers to learn other languages. Wouldn't it be better to have a Taiwanese student pursue a language in which s/he is genuinely interested and produce an excellent speaker of, say, Korean instead of a lack-lustre speaker of English?

    There's also the chauvanism of someone who thinks other people shouldn't learn the world's most useful language because they don't like that fact.

    There simply is no need to learn Korean, if the Korean also knows English. If you learn Korean you increase the number of people you can converse with slightly. If you learn English you vastly increase the number of people you can converse. It's not a difficult calculation.

  39. Ricardo said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 4:05 am

    @The Other Mark P

    Nowhere did I say that that 'people shouldn't learn the world's most useful language because [someone] don't like that fact'.

    I have some difficulty understanding why people are willfully misrepresenting my argument and I challenge you to find where I said the above.

    All, I said is that it would be ideal if students were to free to study any other language to the depth they so wish, rather than being obligated to study English irrespective of his wishes. If the student's preference is to study English, then all well and good. I understand that this may not be practical. In the world we live in, all students probably need to study some English. But wouldn't it be good though if we made space for other options in our education system?

  40. Alex said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 5:08 am

    @ Ricardo

    I also don't understand the strangely negative reaction you're getting for just stating that you'd like more attention to be given to other languages besides English in schools.

    For what it's worth, I know several people in China who are taking classes in non-English languages. Several of them are Southeast Asian language majors at university, and they speak Indonesian/Thai/Burmese much more comfortably than they do English. I also know one boy who just started at a "foreign language" middle school where he chose Russian alongside English. He also had the options of Arabic and Czech alongside other more commonly learned languages.

  41. Alex said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 5:17 am

    ^ no relation to another Alex who commented earlier

  42. cliff arroyo said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 5:23 am

    When all is said and done I'm assuming this is like the issue of increasing character education in SKorea, a periodic issue that gets raised for publicity purposes that disappears leaving no trace on educational policy.

    In practical and logistic terms it's a non-starter and a project for decades not a few years.

  43. Philip Taylor said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 7:30 am

    Ricardo — "In the world we live in, all students probably need to study some English. But wouldn't it be good though if we made space for other options in our education system ?"

    I could not have put it better.

  44. Pure pinyin Alex said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 8:11 am

    So as not to be confused with the other alex.

    @ricardo

    In my opinion the Chinese is widely used and the most used argument in my opinion is flawed as certainly amount isn't very important if that mass is mainly in one location. Also globally if the Chinese speaker outside of China also speaks fluent English then its value is lowered. However the most important reason is that I believe due to the writing system and the process for the creation of new words. As I mentioned I think unless there is a major overhaul its value will keep diminishing.

    Of course economic powerhouse is of regional importance and I have seen starting around 5 years ago many friends from Thailand and Singapore studying Chinese. That said recently I've seen the excitement wane. As more people from the Mainland speak English the less the ASEAN countries will want to put in the effort to learn a difficult language. Technology will also have a major impact. real time translation software will become better until one day lets say 15 to 20 years from now we will have star trek like devices. One may then wonder why bother learning English. My answer to this is because in my non academic opinion the effort it a takes to express oneself more precisely with Chinese than English.

    As for Spanish i have been told by a good friend who has a PhD in Spanish that Spanish is far easier to learn than English. I think that is an important edge. That said I think English has the research world using it.

    Learning Spanish is very popular in Shenzhen. (especially with women) Kids in the local school system can start taking courses in primary school. My son was forced to learn French starting in 3rd grade. He changed public primary schools last year so now he has a choice. Id imagine Spanish is very important for the belt and road initiative.

    I think here they have a good system. Learn Chinese and English early on. Have elective choices starting from 6th grade.

  45. Victor Mair said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 8:27 am

    @Ricardo

    You have said all that needs to be said and more. Please stop.

  46. Ricardo said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 8:38 am

    @Victor Mair
    OK. I politely take my bow.

  47. Terry Hunt said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 9:15 am

    I would like to pursue Prof. Mair's statement (and the discussion that has so far responded to it):

    "I find it extremely significant that the Taiwan language authorities want students not only to learn to listen and speak in English, but also to think in English. Seldom, if ever, do language educators articulate a goal of having learners acquire the ability to think in their second language." (I hope the bolding works – if not, apologies.)

    As a monoglot English schoolboy, I was (compulsorily) taught French (and Latin) from ages 11 to 16. I was not good at either, and was not expected to pass their GCE 'O' Level exams: however I actually achieved grade 3 in French (on a scale of 1=top and 6=lowest passing grade). I found that my abilities in French took a markedly upward step only a couple of terms before the exams when I began to be able to think directly in French, rather than thinking everything in English and mentally translating.

    I have as a consequence always assumed that the ability to think in a learned language is fundamental to achieving any competence it it. Is this not, then, the case in others' experiences?

    (I only achieved 7 in Latin, but in later life have come to think that it was nevertheless the most valuable subject of my ten – eleven counting Additional Maths, my other failure – 'O' Level subjects.)

  48. Victor Mair said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 10:01 am

    @Terry Hunt

    Thank you very much for beginning a new and potentially productive, positive sub-thread. You have indeed hit on what I intended to be the key point of my post.

    Like you, when I learn a foreign language, whether it be Mandarin or Nepali, the most liberating, indeed exalted, stage is when I begin to think in that language. It even happens in Literary Sinitic, and that is a real mind-blowing trip, believe you me.

    What I find unusual about the statement of the goals of the Taiwan language teaching planners is that they emphasize that it is desirable for students to reach a level where they will be able to think in English. I find that to be an enlightened desideratum of language pedagogy, one that is seldom, if ever, stated explicitly, so I commend the Taiwan authorities for taking it (thinking, not just speaking, listening, reading, and writing) into consideration. Bravo, Taiwan!

    There's something beyond communicative competence.

  49. BZ said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 2:58 pm

    Re: thinking: is it actually possible to be fluent in a language without thinking in it? If you're t a point where you're translating everything in your head back and forth, regardless of how detailed your knowledge of grammar / vocabulary is, you'll either process / talk very slowly, make a lot of mistakes, or both.

    Re: mass: technically you can't measure mass directly (or at least not with any methods in common use). Further, at least in the US, units of mass are almost never used. On the other hand, the kilogram (or other gram-derived units) is used to measure both mass and weight in many countries, so it's easy to see how a Chinese scale with kilograms can be said to measure mass. After all, it's the SI unit for mass. And really, in everyday speech it pretty much doesn't matter which you use. And it won't be unless/until a large part of the population commonly deals with variable gravity situations. Even then, I have this suspicion that those using units of weight, will keep using them, and refer to variable weight they experience as something else.

  50. Philip Taylor said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 4:14 pm

    BZ — "Re: mass: technically you can't measure mass directly (or at least not with any methods in common use)". Then what would you have us believe is measured using an analytical balance, and why do laboratories continue to use analytical balances if a load-cell scale could provide the same answer without requiring anywhere near the same level of skill on the part of the operator whatsoever ? If you are uncertain, or unconvinced, you might like to consult the relevant part of Wikipedia (or Enc. Brit., if you have [access to] a copy).

    But I have to ask (or at least to wonder), "is this a generational thing ?". I attended grammar school in the United Kingdom between 1958 and 1963. We were taught the difference between mass and weight in the first year, as a part of basic physics, and shewn how to use an analytical balance in order to measure mass, and a compression scale (or extension scale, = "spring balance") in order to measure weight. I have long suspected that educational standards have slipped since then, but is the difference between mass and weight really no longer taught ?

  51. Eidolon said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 8:22 pm

    Where does it say they intend the second half to be a mix of Sinitic and Austronesian languages? The first sentence of the quoted article states that the Cabinet's vision is to make Taiwan a "Mandarin-English bilingual nation by 2030." The Hong Kong Free Press article quotes Taipei Times's editorial stating that "international competitiveness is important, but native identity, culture and heritage are also essential to the dignity of a person and a nation — especially one that only a few decades ago freed itself from the shackles of cultural imperialism and authoritarian rule." It sounds like the critics are already assuming that this move will come at the cost of local languages.

    The experience of Singapore shows that when Mandarin and English are simultaneously promoted, it is the other Chinese varieties and minority languages that suffer the most. English is the de facto official language of Singapore, its most widely spoken home language, and the primary language of instruction in Singaporean schools. Malay, the "national" language, is spoken at home by just 10% of the population, compared to 14% in 1995. Mandarin grew from 23% of the home language in 1990 to 35% in 2015 due to a government sponsored Speak Mandarin campaign, but its growth has stalled due to the widespread use of English in education. Other Sinitic varieties, however, have experienced the most drastic declines, halving their previous number of home speakers from a high of 24%, to just 12% today.

    The same could very well happen to Taiwan. The key will be how the various languages become distributed in primary school education. Japan might have tried to promote English in the past, but there was never a serious attempt to make English the main language of instruction in Japanese schools, and today Japan sits below Taiwan in its English proficiency despite various other efforts at improving English education. Thus, MOI is and remains the global standard of establishing a language at the native level, and has been shown to work wherever it's been used.

  52. Victor Mair said,

    December 10, 2018 @ 9:38 pm

    Sinitic languages other than Mandarin (such as Hakka) and indigenous languages are promoted in Taiwan schools. Of course, the greater the attention given to English, correspondingly the less attention will be paid to all other languages, including Mandarin.

  53. cliff arroyo said,

    December 11, 2018 @ 7:58 am

    In terms of "thinking" in a foreign language, there are two separate processes.
    1. Not having to translate while reading, listening, speaking or writing. This is a reasonable goal and tends to accompany any effective foreign language learning. If this does not happen in Taiwan then it suggests means they're are wasting vast amounts of time and energy in "English" lessons using faulty methodology.
    2. Thinking in the target language outside of the context of instrumental use of the language. This is a reasonable goal in some cases, mostly having to do with living in a foreign language environment for extended periods of time (immigrants, longterm residents). It seems kind of misguided for regular foreign language instruction.
    This question also makes me interested in how much non-Chinese resident foreigners in Taiwan are expected to learn any kind of Chinese at present. Whatever degree that is is unlikely to survive the establishment of English as an official language. Anecdotally in Europe English speakers (L1 or L2) tend to mightily resent any necessity to learn another local language, especially when a majority of the local population is relatively fluent in English.

  54. Jared said,

    December 11, 2018 @ 10:08 am

    "However, instead of pursuing scores and memorizing too many words in English exams, educators should focus on listening, speaking, and thinking in English."

    This emphasis on "thinking in English" makes me wonder if Minister Yeh is using the emphasis to contrast the vision he has for his country's education system with the way it looks today in neighboring countries.

    Perhaps Minister Yeh does not want to send his country's language curriculum in the direction of Japan, where few undergrads at age 21 could sincerely claim they "think in English" but nearly all have been studying english for over a decade in order to get high marks on tests like the TOEIC for 就活 to show domestic companies that will never ask them to use english at their job that they have some proficiency in the language.

    Perhaps instead Minister Yeh looks at graduates in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong who i'd bet on average are much more likely to be able to say that they "think in English" than those in Taiwan/Korea/Japan. And like those in SG/MY/HK, if high-achieving Taiwanese graduates who want to earn more money than they can find in their country can also have a command of english good enough that they can say they even think in the language, then will have more alternatives to choosing to go to the PRC for the sake of career advancement and finances.

  55. Philip Taylor said,

    December 11, 2018 @ 10:11 am

    Sadly true. in my experience. About 40 years ago I went with a group of Rotarians to visit our counterparts in Lille and Armentieres; admittedly some of the group did their best to interact with our hosts in French, but once we were back at our hotel they would speak nothing but English. I found the whole thing an intensely frustrating experience, since we could (if we had been so motivated) have devoted a great deal of our time in France to improving our French communication skills …

  56. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    December 11, 2018 @ 7:14 pm

    @Philip Taylor: "But I have to ask (or at least to wonder), "is this a generational thing ?". I attended grammar school in the United Kingdom between 1958 and 1963. We were taught the difference between mass and weight in the first year, as a part of basic physics, and shewn how to use an analytical balance in order to measure mass, and a compression scale (or extension scale, = "spring balance") in order to measure weight. I have long suspected that educational standards have slipped since then, but is the difference between mass and weight really no longer taught ?"

    I attended school in the US (rural south western Ohio) from 1974-1987 (K-12 in the same school district). We were taught the difference between weight and mass and how to use balance scales with the little pieces of metal marked 1g, 5g, 10g, etc.

    I have no idea if they're teaching that nowadays.

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