Thu, Mar 13, 2003 - Page 8 News List


Krashen was right

Kudos for publishing Stephen Krashen's inspiring letter (Letters, Mar. 9, Page 8), which has shed light on our long-time debate on whether to start the teaching of English in Taiwan from the kindergarten, or delay the educational undertaking till the third grade.

I side with Krashen, a renowned cognitive psychologist, who is enthusiastic about language acquisition and bilingual education. The view that a child's solid foundation in his or her native language is instrumental to the learning of a second or foreign language is justifiable from a psycholinguistic point of view. It can also be supported from the perspective of sociolingusitics.

As more and more parents are eager to send their young children to all-English kindergartens or English-only centers for total immersion programs, they tend to ignore the fact that their kids will be disadvantaged eventually for being deprived of the basic knowledge of the first language. Krashen is absolutely right when he wrote, "those with a better knowledge of their first language do better in second language acquisition." Indeed, the subject-matter knowledge that young children learn through their first language will enable them to lay the tangible groundwork for learning the second or third language, along with their mental development.

Competence in English is related to competence in Chinese. Increasing numbers of elementary school students in the Taipei area are speaking acceptable English because they tend to have stronger basic Chinese-language education. Their bilingual ability is a justification of this pedagogical argument. As for those students in senior high schools or colleges and universities, competence in English is usually compatible with their performance in Chinese.

In her keynote speech delivered at the International Symposium on English Teaching in Taipei, Nov. 11, 2000, Catherine Elizabeth Snow and Henry Lee Shattuck of Harvard University, also reiterated the argument that older children can acquire second languages even faster than younger children. The analytical strategies of the older learners can be more diverse than those of the younger ones in the acquisition of the four language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. And above all, foreign language learning covers the acquisition of cultures and other matters, in addition to the fundamental language skills.

Facing the reality of English already being the lingua franca throughout the world, it is important that we adopt this highly creditable approach to help our children develop their bilingual competence in preparation for the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Chen-ching Li


War a necessary evil

Is war on Iraq justified? Yes, not because war is moral but because inaction is immoral.

First, the Iraqi regime has been under a temporary reprieve since its defeat in the Gulf War, contingent upon its agreeing, inter alia, to disarm, pay restitution to Kuwait, return all Kuwaiti prisoners, etc. It has been almost 13 years and it has still refused to comply, except in some superficial respects to win cheap publicity.

Second, to all those who equate international legitimacy with the UN, look no further than a couple of years back when the US and its allies took military action against Yugoslavia without the UN's sanction. Why? Because China and Russia would have blocked any such war in the UN Security Council.

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