Mon, Aug 13, 2012 - Page 8 News List

[ LETTER ]

Reconciling languages

Two thought-provoking articles recently published in the Taipei Times have prompted me to reiterate the urgent need for learning English while simultaneously finding a way to preserve native languages.

In responding to the informative letter by Lynn Chiu (Letter, July 31, page 8), Gray Hsu expressed grievance in her letter (Aug. 1, page 8), saying that native Taiwanese languages are being endangered, partially because of the proactive policy of promoting Mandarin Chinese and English.

“Taiwanese is an outpatient, Hakka has been hospitalized and Aboriginal languages are in the ICU,” Hsu said.

Hsu is right to argue that mother tongues should be taught and preserved with maximum effort. In addition, on top of these invaluable indigenous languages, new languages brought to Taiwan by immigrants from Southeast Asia should also be maintained. In this conjunction, the issues of “Mother tongues in danger” should be properly addressed.

However, the preservation of mother tongues should be implemented hand-in-hand with the productive teaching and learning of English and other foreign languages. Unfortunately, English has become the Achilles’ heel of students in Taiwan because of misleading education reform, malpractice of pedagogy and the mushrooming of counter-productive cramming for examinations of all sorts.

Nobody can afford to ignore the reality that English has become the closest thing to a lingua franca — whether you like it or curse it. Over the past two centuries, English has become a major language for global communication and networking for all purposes. In a 2005 cover story, Newsweek reported that “English is the language of business, technology and, increasingly, empowerment.”

It is urgent that the teaching and learning of English as a foreign language be properly implemented in all levels of schools, as well as in adult education, so as to enhance the learners’ international knowledge and thereby promote Taiwan’s international competitiveness.

As for the preservation and maintenance of mother tongues, all parents should be held accountable for cooperating with school teachers to help their children practice mother tongues at home. Native languages have been offered as part of the school curricula in the elementary schools, and yet the tangential learning scheme can only be successfully reinforced by parents.

In EU nations and elsewhere, parental responsibility refers to the rights and privileges that underpin the relationship between a child and either of the child’s parents or those adults who have a significant role in the child’s life. While most critics are quick to point out the faults of teachers, no one is talking about how parents, guardians and families should be held responsible for a student’s success. The teaching of mother tongues is a good example. Above all, how to reconcile learning mother tongues and English should be a thought for parents to bear in mind.

Li Chen-ching

San Francisco, California

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