Sat, Mar 30, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Choosing English over Hokkein

By Wang Wei-ming 王維明

In the first half of the 1990s in the US, the Democratic Party managed to reverse the huge budget deficits and turn the nation into a superpower in the world economy, thanks to the promotion of a "knowledge-based economy." Although the US-led global economy has slowed since the Republican Party took office, it is impossible to reverse such an epochal change.

For example, after Mexico's financial crisis in 1994, the head of the IMF commented that the crisis marked the beginning of a new era. Three years later, similar crises decimated Thailand's economy and those of several other nations. These countries, how-ever, seldom examine their own faults and condemn foreign companies for promoting "new economic colonialism." They also use populism and nationalism to confront globalization. Argentina serves as an example.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Japan used to be unconcerned with globalization. But the whole world has become anxious about Japan's financial crisis. But Japan has looked outward to solve its problems. The late prime minister Keizo Obuchi recommended that Japan take English as its second official language to promote the English ability of people. Japanese companies are increasingly limiting the promotion chances of employees with poor English skills. Some foreign-funded companies even use English as the official language in the workplace and use TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication) scores as one criterion for promotion. Although the Japanese have poor English speaking skills, the nation's translation industry is highly developed.

In Singapore, the government even launched a "Speak Good English" campaign last year to improve the grammatically imper-fect "Singlish" -- despite the fact that English is already an official language.

Taiwan barely escaped from the financial crisis of 1997, but what does it have going for it to face increasing global competition today? Does the nation's fate lie solely in the sunset industry of manufacturing eight-inch semiconductor chips? It is already a fact that Taiwan's higher education exists in name only. Those who worry that local businesses may "go west" to China do not understand that since Taiwanese and Chinese are of the same race and share the same language, the Chinese market is particularly good for people in Taiwan whose English is poor.

Globalization involves a change in thinking and habits. English is the language of such thinking. If we turn the issue of language into a fight over reunification and independence -- disregarding the nation's economic predicament and the functions of an official language -- Taiwan may regress to the status it had during World War II.

Wang Wei-ming is an assistant professor at Nan-Jeon Institute of Technology.

Translated by Eddy Chang

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