As the government promotes its New Southbound Policy to encourage closer relations with the nation’s Southeast Asian neighbors, there seems to be a boom in learning these countries’ languages, from elementary schools to universities.
Second foreign-language classes were included as optional courses for senior-high school students in 1983, according to the Ministry of Education.
Thirty-four years later, second foreign languages still remain insignificant in most senior high schools, with the few choices ranging from the invariable French and Japanese to the recently popular Korean and the occasional Spanish, along with teachers who cannot count on the courses as a stable source of income.
Only a handful of high schools — mostly private — have incorporated second foreign-language courses in their standard curriculum. Therefore, such courses are still a privilege unattainable for most students.
One of the most often used excuses for not adding language courses other than Chinese and English into the curriculum is that “students cannot even learn English well” — a poor excuse for not integrating multilingual education.
English learning often suffers from what I call “departmentalization”: English is separated into grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary, as if they are inorganic parts independent of one another, with emphasis placed on the first two parts instead of focusing on them as inseparable components of a language.
The obsession with “correct” pronunciation perhaps reflects the personal experience of many teachers, who felt discriminated against because of their accent when they studied abroad, but is counterproductive to learning.
As with many other subjects, teachers emphasize formality over content; teachers want students to speak “correctly, without an accent,” but do not encourage them or care about them using English to express themselves or understand others.
Another excuse is that courses in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) would conflict with second foreign-language courses, which is totally unfounded.
According to my experience, knowledge of languages often enhance each other, meaning that the more languages people learn, the easier they can learn another one.
Taiwan’s best natural resource is the people themselves. There is no better skill than language. People think, communicate, learn, teach, work and love, all with language.
It is time that we help our children fully develop their potential by giving them an opportunity to learn as many languages as they want.
Second foreign-language courses with proper teachers should be incorporated into the standard curriculum in elementary and high schools.
Lin Chih-tu is a Spanish translator and teacher.
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