Having recently completed my 21st year of teaching in colleges and universities in Taiwan, I would like to offer my NT$2 worth to the ongoing discussion and debate concerning English education.
Stephen Krashen asserted that "there is no evidence that English standards are declining and no evidence that students in Taiwan are significantly worse in English than students in other Asian countries," (Letters, July 30, page 8).
In the same letter Krashen cited TOEFL results for several Asian countries to demonstrate that "Taiwan's scores are not remarkably different from those of the other countries."
My observations through the years have led me to believe that the standard from which scores are "not declining" is nothing to be proud of. Thus, I disagree with Jim Walsh, who evidently began teaching in Taiwan only one year after I did (Letters, April 2, page 8).
Walsh remarked that he has "seen amazing changes in the nation, including substantial improvement in the quality of English. It is nonsense to call the English here pathetic."
Can Walsh or anyone else provide empirical evidence that there has been "substantial improvement in the quality of English" in Taiwan in the past two decades?
In my office there are numerous stacks of academic reports written by graduate students, most of whose writing is, indeed, pathetic.
At the university where I teach and edit research reports for the faculty, I taught a course titled "English Technical Writing for Graduate Students in the School of Engineering" for nine consecutive semesters, during which I observed steadily declining proficiency levels.
More recently -- at the same university -- I taught a course titled Academic Writing to graduate students in the Department of English for four consecutive semesters, during which I observed that most of those students do not write any better than the engineering students.
Yet several of those graduate English majors are already teachers of English in the public schools or in cram schools, actively participating in the vicious cycle of sub-standard proficiency.
In my office library and files there are more than a few examples of academic and journalistic writing by Taiwanese teachers of English at the tertiary level. Most of those books, major academic papers, scholarly journal articles, and memoranda contain rather frequent errors in grammar, syntax and diction.
It is not my intention to make attacks on any individual; rather, I merely wish to call attention to the "inconvenient" truth that an overwhelming majority of Taiwanese students have poor proficiency in English primarily because there are too many Taiwanese teachers of English -- even at the tertiary level -- whose proficiency is inadequate.
The greatest teacher that the world has ever seen said: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:39-40).
Datsuen, Changhua County