More creative ideas needed
Chou Chung-tien (周中天) makes some very perceptive remarks about English teaching and testing ("Closing the English-proficiency gap," July 8, page 8). One thing must be added, however, from a foreign perspective -- the tests clearly show that some students learn and understand English, and some don't.
While some students learn and understand, others hope to gain only sufficient proficiency to provide the right answers to a series of standardized multiple-choice questions. All of the former will be able to understand and be understood by English speakers and also, coincidentally, do well on the tests. The latter will be unable to communicate in English and, not coincidentally, will fail the tests.
English teachers, however, are not really to blame. They teach English like all other subjects are taught in Taiwan: with the understood goal of having students pass standardized tests. But English is a horribly complicated language, with more exceptions than rules. There is no such thing as perfect English, only better or worse English. Only the students who are willing to speak -- and consequently willing to be wrong -- will gradually come to understand the language. There is no alternative cram method.
The hardest thing I find in teaching English to students in Taiwan is convincing them that a wrong answer is better than no answer at all. For them, "guess" is a four letter word, and the phrase "use your imagination" causes either disbelief or shock. Only with fewer tests and more creative participation will we be able to close Chou's gap.
Consistency is the key
Maia Booth raised a good point about inconsistent translation of English street signs (Letters, July 1, page 8). I hope all levels of government in Taiwan can cooperate to eliminate this inconsistency. When I was in Taipei last year, I had a bad feeling about street signs and wondered whether I was in Taiwan or China. The other day, the TV showed a street in Taipei as Jian-Guo Road instead of the Chienkuo Road that I am familiar with. The new name is misleading and confusing.
It is perfectly acceptable to use Taiwan's own transliteration for streets, as long as it is consistent. Foreigners can expect that transliterated names in Taiwan are somewhat different from those in China -- the same way they might expect words to be different in the US and UK (elevator versus lift).
Promotion not the issue
Steven Crook's letter ascribing the higher levels of tourism in China and elsewhere to superior promotion missed the mark (Letter, July 11, page 8). Taiwan will never be able to attract the level of tourism that China or India do because, simply put, there is nothing to do in Taiwan. There is nothing equal to Angkor Wat, Khajuraho or the pottery soldiers in Xian. There are no natural wonders like the mountains of Guilin or the Himalayas; and such nature as there is has been extensively "improved" with the addition of concrete.
Taiwan's culture has produced little of interest to the non-specialist -- the Matsu temples, for example, do not compare to places like the Sri Rangam Temple in India, or Prambanan in Indonesia.
Whereas preservation of colonial architecture is common in Southeast Asia, Taiwan's wonderful Japanese buildings have largely fallen into disrepair, a tragedy complemented perfectly by the neglect of traditional farmhouses and other architectural treasures. In Tai-chung, the Japanese-era buildings rot shamefully right in the city center. Taiwan's beaches are a joke and its reef systems are already threatened by even the current low levels of tourism.