Sun, Aug 20, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Letter: EFL pedagogy in Taiwan

By Fred Shannon

There is still a predominance of audiolingual and grammar translation approaches in English language teaching in Taiwan. Thus, communicative activities and authentic language tasks that are meaningful for the students and create opportunities for them to engage in real communication and social interaction are not often planned for here. While the traditional teaching methodologies do help to prepare students for reading and writing English, they do not give students the opportunity to practice and develop their speaking and listening skills.

Little, if any, practice is provided to develop the students' communicative or pragmatic English competence. Researchers have pointed out that the grammar translation approach is continually reinforced. When some of the students who have been taught with the grammar translation method become English teachers, they are most likely to use the same method in their teaching.

Given the focus of traditional education in Taiwan on rote learning and recitation, the introduction of new methods of teaching and learning is something that many teachers -- especially older ones -- might be uncomfortable with. Such practices may be a cultural step that many senior teachers are unwilling to take too quickly.

For example, a three-year study of elementary school teachers' use of communicative language teaching in Taiwan states that some researchers question the appropriateness of communicative language teaching in Chinese classrooms. Many Taiwanese English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teachers still believe that teaching should focus on the presentation of discrete grammatical points and that students should strive for high accuracy. These classrooms tend to be teacher-centered.

Task-oriented or problem-based learning is often not perceived as serious learning. So while researchers here have proposed the adoption of more communicative approaches to teaching EFL, the traditional grammar-translation and audiolingual methods continue to be the dominant methods.

The Cambridge Examinations Center published a study of English proficiency of Taiwanese children in 2004 and ranked them 11th among the 16 nations that took part in the study -- down from 9th in 2003.

The main reasons for this deterioration in English proficiency were that most English classes in schools focus primarily on reading and writing skills, and that the traditional grammar translation method remains the most common approach used by EFL teachers. Many children are thus not provided opportunities to use language for genuine communication, and their English communication ability remains at a low level.

Lin Wen-chi (林文淇), a professor at National Central University, argued that there should be less teaching of reading and writing and testing of children's English proficiency, and more opportunities for talking and extensive reading to stimulate interest in English.

The Taipei Times article "Poor English skills are hurting nation's competitiveness" (July 5, 2005, page 10) reported that Taiwanese Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) test-takers have been gradually losing competitiveness in the finance and technology fields owing to poor English skills. According to Education Testing Services, Taiwanese students scored an average of 523 points on the TOEIC, ranking 8th among the 15 Asian nations that make up major Asian financial and technology markets.

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