Language-teaching experts in Taiwan appear to agree that children are over-tested in English classes, and that more focus should be placed on reading ("Youth English programs need re-evaluation: experts," Sept. 3, page 2).
Your newspaper reported that Chang Wu-chang (張武昌), for example, recommends buying books that students are genuinely interested in. David Dai (戴維揚), president of the English Teachers Association, also stresses the importance of reading, and Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) agreed with the emphasis on reading in English. In an interesting coincidence, a letter appearing in the Taipei Times two days before from Stephen Krashen (Letters, Sept. 1, page 8) confirmed that research strongly supports the value of pleasure reading in improving competence in a second language.
A number of studies show that more access to interesting reading material results in more reading, which in turn results in better language development. The article revealed, however, that primary schools in Taipei possess only 136,970 English-language books. That's about one book for every two children -- not nearly enough to allow the wide reading necessary for significant language development. A minimum would be 20 times this number (10 books per child) and the optimal amount would be 40 times this number (20 books per child), focusing on middle school and high-school aged students.
The expense involved for such an investment is modest. The money saved from a reduced testing program would pay for a substantial percentage of what is required, and we would have the satisfaction of knowing we were paying for a solution to the English problem, not merely measuring it.
Associate professor, National Taipei University