Wed, Jul 10, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Native, not foreign language skill needed

By Chang Huey-por 張惠博

Election candidates often make their campaign speeches, or at least say a few words, in the language most familiar to their audience. The warm response they receive shows that it is a good way to make emotional connections, achieve mutual understanding and win support. The feeling is the same as when meeting an old friend in a far-away land.

Official figures show that there are 540,000 permanent immigrants, officially known as new residents, in Taiwan, and 150,000 students who are second-generation new residents. The government wants to encourage study of these immigrants’ mother tongues, both to promote cooperation with nations targeted by its New Southbound Policy and to foster second-generation new residents’ multilingual and cross-cultural talents.

On June 25, the Ministry of Education held a news conference to present teaching materials in the languages of these new residents, along with the achievements of mother-tongue classes in the first year since they were launched. The new curriculum provides for elementary-school classes in the languages of seven Southeast Asian countries — Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines — which are also to be included as optional second foreign languages in junior-high and senior-high schools, giving all students a chance to learn these languages.

New Taipei City promoted new residents’ languages since 2008, when it as Taipei County established a guidance office for new immigrants and their children. In 2016, this office worked with the ministry to edit 126 textbooks in the seven languages.

The ministry’s K-12 Education Administration appointed National Taichung University of Education to collaborate on a program for new resident language course pilot schools, which has been implemented in two stages in the 2018-2019 academic year, with 530 students joining on the first intake.

Although not many students have participated, these pilot schools can serve as a reference for full implementation.

Some schools could not participate in the pilot because some parents of second-generation new resident students see no need for them to study the languages of their home countries. Evidently, some parents’ thinking and students’ aspirations are not exactly what the ministry imagined.

Such people feel that, having settled in Taiwan, it is more important to learn the language or languages of their adopted homeland. Doing something for their home countries is a future aspiration.

Given such attitudes, second-generation new resident students cannot be the only source for recruiting people capable of communicating with New Southbound Policy countries.

While making academic visits to Denmark, Germany and Spain, I saw how EU countries give top priority to competence in their own national languages, with second place given to foreign-language abilities that favor the flow of talent among the various member states. In other words, the EU supports linguistic diversity, as stated in the EU Charter and the Treaty on European Union.

Although the EU has 24 official languages, it has no common language policy. It encourages its residents to use multiple languages and to be able to speak at least two languages in addition to their native tongue. All EU member states hold mother languages in high esteem.

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