Mon, Dec 17, 2018 - Page 16 News List

INTERVIEW: Minister outlines blueprint for bilingual nation

Taiwan has promoted English-language learning for decades, but lags behind regional neighbors in effectiveness, judging by English communication skills among Taiwanese. The Cabinet on Dec. 6 unveiled a blueprint to make Taiwan a bilingual nation by 2030 in the hope of raising its competitiveness on the world stage. In an interview with ‘Taipei Times’ staff reporter Crystal Hsu on Thursday, National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling, whose agency is responsible for the plan, detailed how the government aims to achieve the goal

National Development Council Minister Chen Mei-ling gestures during an interview with the Taipei Times on Thursday.

Photo: Huang Yao-cheng, Taipei Times

Taipei Times: Would you explain the reasons behind the drive to build Taiwan into a bilingual nation?

Chen Mei-ling (陳美伶): Trade groups, academics and lawmakers have called on the government to make English the nation’s second official language and the Cabinet in September promulgated the goal to build Taiwan into a bilingual nation by 2030. It is important for a nation to have broad horizons and possess international communication skills to stay competitive in the era of globalization. When I visited Germany earlier this year, I was impressed that its officials all communicated in fluent English instead of their native language.

Singapore, Japan, South Korea and China appreciate the importance of English proficiency and have gained significant headway in promoting it. Taiwan, on the other hand, has showed little progress. Many Taiwanese have good English skills, but are afraid to speak the language due to a lack of opportunities.

TT: The government has promoted English-language learning for years. What will make it different this time?

Chen: In the past, the government approached the issue from a supply-side perspective and focused on improving the physical environment, such as adding English signs for public buildings, roads and tourist attractions. The strategy failed to involve the private sector and the public.

This time, a demand-driven approach will guide the effort with a focus on verbal communication. Gone is the emphasis on exams, that drove teachers and students to give top priority to spelling and grammar accuracy. Rather, we hope that by 2030 people will be brave and ready to speak, listen, read and write in English, even if they still make mistakes.

TT: Why doesn’t the National Development Council propose additional funding for implementing the bilingual policy?

Chen: We aim to achieve the goal the best we can while keeping costs to a minimum. Government agencies can use their existing funds to promote English as they see fit. However, if authorities need extra money, the Ministry of Education can submit requests.

With the trend of a digital economy, people with English-language learning needs can use digital learning platforms to improve their skills anytime, anywhere. There are many free English-language learning channels in the private sector and over the Internet. The council will integrate the resources and set up a platform with related details on its Web site within a year.

TT: Are there any incentives for companies and employees to improve their English?

Chen: The bilingual policy covers all aspects of society, including students, the public sector, enterprises, as well as financial, medical and social-welfare institutions.

The government encourages companies to enhance their English. Some large technology companies actually use English for internal communication. The government is planning incentives for English translations of products and advertisements. English proficiency can be used for subsidy applications and reviews.

All government agencies should plan their own English-language enhancement measures and provide resources. The Cabinet’s personnel administration is to draw up measures to cultivate English-language proficiency for civil servants, especially for those who deal with foreign affairs.

Many government employees have excellent English communication skills, but many are shy when speaking to foreigners. The ministries should make good use of their English-speaking colleagues to help create an environment where all feel comfortable to communicate in English. At the council, I have encouraged colleagues to communicate in English as much as possible.

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