Thu, Aug 16, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Letters: Expense is not the issue

I would like to respond to Stephen Krashen's letter (Letters, Aug. 8, page 8).

He questions my support of so-called "Super High Schools" with English immersion programs that are being set up in Japan. I recommended this approach for Taiwan, with the specific aim of producing competent future teachers of English.

His chief complaint appears to be the expense that such an approach would incur. I cannot see in what way such schools, which should encompass both elementary and secondary levels, would be any more costly to run than regular schools, except for the expense of buying English-language textbooks. Having Taiwanese students undertaking their entire primary and secondary levels of education in an English immersion program and environment, with guidance from competent teachers, would produce students with much higher levels of English-language skills than is possible today.

As every teacher in Taiwan knows, the students who show greater ability in English are inevitably those who have lived abroad. In spite of all the research, the statistics and the experts, the low level of competency exhibited by Taiwan's English teachers is an inescapable and ubiquitous problem. Until it is solved, we will continue to need to import foreigners to do the job, although many of them have also proven to be less than truly competent at teaching.

I do, however, agree fully with Krashen when he promotes more reading of English books. As a professor of English literature, I more than appreciate the power of books to help improve language skills, and also support the idea -- the more reading the better. The issue that he does not address is why this is not the case, after all the research attesting to its validity.

The answer could be found in the facts that; too few hours are devoted to teaching English; classes are over-crowded and many teachers feel uncomfortable with students reading books that they themselves might have difficulty in reading or explaining.

Since the problem of low English language skills is both perennial and seemingly intractable in Taiwan, why not try a whole new approach? Specialized programs in specialized departments have long been the norm in tertiary education. Those who wish to become electrical engineers are trained in specific facilities to produce competent graduates. Why can't we do the same by setting up a series of elementary schools (and eventually secondary schools, as the students progress through the system) geared particularly for future teachers of English?

When these students graduate, they will be ready to serve as future teachers of English in Taiwan who are both Taiwanese natives and truly competent. Competent teachers will help to produce competent students. This is logical and long overdue. Otherwise, we may end up hiring Japanese graduates instead.

Chaim Melamed


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