Wed, May 17, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Language learning amid policy

By Steve Yang 楊超陽

The “New Southbound policy” initiated by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) focuses on looking toward ASEAN, South Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand. The goal is to promote closer economic and trade cooperation, resource sharing, talent cultivation and regional links. Language plays a major role in those exchanges.

Encouraged by the government, universities are keen to establish some facilities to help adolescents and young adults acquire the main languages spoken in the target countries, in particular the languages used in ASEAN.

Vietnamese, Malay, Thai and Filipino have strangely been incorporated into the Department of Japanese Language and Literature at National Taiwan University.

This phenomenon could just be a transition; such an unorthodox situation is likely to revert back to its usual path over time.

However, how can Taiwan acquire an adequate number of people to teach this diversity of languages, and how can students’ passion and energy remain unfazed when learning new languages?

Language opens a window. Acquiring a new language is always a career advantage and suits as a hobby.

However, it takes a vast amount of time to learn a foreign language fluently.

According to ASEAN regulations, English is the working language in these countries.

This clearly indicates that English is held at the highest level, working as the link among these countries, instead of Vietnamese, Malay, Thai, Filipino or others.

So why not encourage young people to travel to those countries and see if they can communicate in English? Learning a language is more efficient when a person is residing in that country.

Furthermore, among the countries targeted by the policy, most of them were British colonies. English is strongly rooted there as a daily aspect of life.

This quasi-English speaking situation is particularly obvious in Malaysia, even though Malay is the national language.

Malaysia still struggles to elevate its English proficiency levels, leading to the promotion of a highly immersive program in English in schools this year.

The goal is to build a sustainable English-language environment to familiarize students with the language.

It is also worth mentioning that there are some countries covered by the policy that are purely English speaking.

A study by academics at Monash University in Australia in 2013 provided the Malaysian notion as: “The most recent policy [of Malaysia] is ‘to uphold Bahasa Malaysia [Malay] and to strengthen the English-language as a necessary, firm, strategic and timely response by the Malaysian government to globalization, nation building and the increasing international role of English. This is mainly a result of pressure to produce knowledge and maintain national cultural identity in today’s world.”

The concept is clear and dedicated to empowering the younger generation with English alongside its mother tongue to create a truly global citizen.

The “new southbound policy” should be seen from the perspective of a global village.

English is definitively the passport to travel in this village.

However, according to last year’s English Proficiency Index by Education First, a Swiss group, the ranking order of English proficiency in Asia is: Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Pakistan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos were ranked less proficient than Taiwan.

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