Thu, Sep 13, 2018 - Page 8 News List

The Liberty Times Editorial: English should be second language

If Taiwan is to shake off the economic and political difficulties resulting from its fixation on China — whether it is about boosting tourism, developing the New Southbound Policy or connecting to the EU and the US — the nation must direct its efforts toward gaining an understanding of the international situation and market, improving the economy and high technology, displaying its soft power to the international community, and improving its international visibility. All of this requires the overall improvement of English-language skills in Taiwan.

It is clear that the nation should abandon the exclusivity of the “national language,” end isolation and scrap the language policy that has for so long constrained its spirit by opening up to the international community.

Over the past week, some people have expressed their disagreement with the premier’s “bilingual nation” policy. Some of them have equated making English an official language to worshiping the UK and the US, labeling it “desinicization” and “light Taiwanese independence,” but these opinions are the result of an ideological standpoint rather than rational reasoning.

Some of the politicians, media outlets and academics helped the past party-state enforce the “national language” and bully speakers of native languages. Today, they are making irresponsible remarks about language-related transitional justice and the efforts toward connecting with the international community.

Some have said that implementing a second official language would entail issuing English versions of all official documents, adding that this would be a waste of national resources, while other have said that the first step should be to expand the English curriculum and course hours.

Others still worry that learning both their native language and English will cause children to confuse the languages.

All these concerns were addressed three years ago by Lai, during his stint as Tainan mayor, in connection with the implementation of a plan to make English a second official language.

He said at the time that it would not be possible to implement a language policy overnight, and that the focus should be on flexible, down-to-earth use and constant accumulation of language skills.

In practice, that means adopting 10-year targets, beginning with government departments, while building a foundation in elementary schools, encouraging the public to write bilingual shopping lists, using bilingual text on the divination bamboo sticks in temples and having bilingual conversations with taxi drivers.

The “Tainan experience” should be discussed and adjusted for implementation on a national level.

It should be stressed that to forge Taiwan into a bilingual Chinese-English nation, the fundamentals should be laid by the government through planning and effective implementation, and leading by example, while industry and business circles, which made the suggestion, should promote practical use.

A good example is Japanese automaker Honda, which has set 2020 as the year that English will become its official corporate language.

Business circles should also help employees improve their English skills, and include such skills when considering promotions and salary raises.

Similarly, saving native languages is not only the government’s responsibility. The household is the best place to pass on a native language, and situations where parents and grandparents speak the “national language” with their children and grandchildren should be avoided, as it is not beneficial to passing on a mother tongue.

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