Sat, Jul 02, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Letter: The English conundrum

By Kenny Liu

The shallow logic behind Scott Austin's letter (June 25, page 8) is mind-boggling.

We all agree that proficiency in English is very important in this global economy. However, English is not the only thing that makes the world go around. In Taiwan and in the US, I've found that an average Filipino speaks better English than a Chinese, Korean or Japanese. Using Austin's logic, the Philippines should be the economic powerhouse of Asia, but it's not.

Moreover, we are living at a time of "minimal profitability." Profit margins for goods and services, from DRAM to LCD panels, are becoming razor thin. When a company like Dell or Nokia "outsource" their research and development, they hire Taiwanese because this is where they can find the best engineering talent at the most affordable price.

If these multinational firms are simply looking for English proficiency in engineers, they could have set up shops in Livermore, California.

Even jobs that require adequate English proficiency are being outsourced to countries like India. For example, Dell has recently set up "call centers" in Bangalore, India, for product support. If English proficiency is the end of all things, Dell would have set up a call center in Boise, Idaho instead.

Putting English proficiency aside, I believe the key to Taiwan's future success lies in its ability to transform from a manufacturing-based economy to a R&D-based economy. We have witnessed the recent success of South Korea in this endeavor, as demonstrated by brands like Samsung, and that country's robust stem-cell research. Ironically, as of last year, Chinese has replaced English as the most sought-after foreign language on Korean college campuses.

Finally, here is some food for thought. The US will probably be the biggest consumer market in the world for many years to come. At the same time, Hispanics are the fastest growing ethnic group in the US. In states like California, Texas and Florida, Spanish has already become an integral part of the American experience. With a torrid birth rate and a wide-open US-Mexico border, it's estimated that by 2030, there will be 100 million Hispanics in the southwestern US alone. In order to tap into this enormous consumer market, shall we give "Spanish proficiency" some thought?

Kenny Liu


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