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

TT: What are the biggest challenges for the bilingual policy?

Chen: Many say that it might take more than a decade to build Taiwan into a bilingual country, as it took Singapore 20 years to implement its English policy. The colonial background of Singapore and Hong Kong lent a helping hand. Strong English proficiency in Singapore, Malaysia and India helps them win investment from multi-national companies and create well-paid jobs for local people. The trend helps boost their economic growth.

Taiwan will prove a more attractive foreign investment destination if people can demonstrate English communication skills, as most are already able to speak Mandarin, another widely used language in the world. Furthermore, Taiwan has the competitive edge of being a law-abiding and democratic society.

TT: Will the bilingual policy suppress efforts to preserve mother-tongue culture?

Chen: There is no need to worry about that or imbalanced development between urban and rural areas, because the prevalence of digital technology would help narrow the gap. Social media, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and other applications provide free personalized English-language learning accessible to everyone, everywhere.

According to the Cabinet’s blueprint, education is the key to achieving the 2030 goal. The Ministry of Education has been given three months to present proposals to promote bilingualism throughout the education system.

The goals include having English-language classes taught in English at elementary and junior-high schools, and skill-based courses at vocational high schools also to be taught in English. Local governments would implement the plan based on the unique characteristics of the city or county.

The education departments of about 18 colleges have agreed to provide a series of courses offering training and accreditation of English-language teachers. The number of teachers able to offer instruction in English is expected to grow to 3,000 in eight years and 5,000 by 2030.

TT: Has the council set up short-term goals for the bilingual policy campaign?

Chen: The council has drawn up key performance indicators for evaluating the effectiveness of the bilingual policy. They include making all official government Web sites bilingual, making official documents used by foreigners bilingual, providing bilingual frontline services in public settings, making the government’s public data available in English, making laws and regulations that pertain to foreigners bilingual, promoting bilingual services in cultural and educational settings, training civil servants to conduct business in English, and making professional and technical licensure exams available in English.

Within a year, more than 50 percent of official documents and licensure exams used by foreigners should be made available in English, 60 percent of frontline public services should be available in English, and 70 percent of the laws and regulations that pertain to foreigners should be available in English.

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