Tue, May 29, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Lost for words: language exchange with India

Language learning programs are starting to fill in the void in understanding between Taiwan and India, but there remains much work to do

By Liam Gibson  /  Contributing reporter

Mohan Rao of Indian Education Society’s Management College, one of Mumbai’s top ranked business schools, pictured at the Taipei World Trade Center in November last year.

Photo courtesy of Miru Mehta

Priya Lee Lalwani Purswaney says Taiwan is in real need of multilingual talent for developing ties with India.

Being the first Indian university student to study in Taiwan, Lalwani knows how important language education is for bridging societies.

Studying at Tatung University in 1978, where her father was the first Indian professor at a Taiwanese university, Hindi instructor and interpreter Lalwani has been a vital linguistic and cultural link for India and Taiwan ever since.

But Lalwani’s daughter, a third-generation Taiwan resident, is now seeking opportunities in the Netherlands after being ineligible for both international and local student scholarship programs here.

“Taiwan’s government focuses efforts on children of Southeast Asian migrants, but has neglected the potential of multilingual Indian children here to build bridges,” she says.

A recent survey by Indian Education Society’s Management College (IES) in Mumbai found language to be the biggest stumbling block among a sample of 20 Taiwanese companies based in India.

Several language programs are currently operated so as to develop bilingual talents needed to foster closer ties with India, one of the New Southbound Policy’s core target countries. Mandarin and Hindi courses hold great potential to bridge gaps across education, business and even national defense, but a wide range of obstacles, from the financial to the diplomatic, are stalling progress.

EDUCATION EXCHANGE

Kaohsiung Normal University will this week host Learning and Teaching Mandarin in India (季風亞洲印度華語的風華), a conference where scholars will speak on evolving demand for Chinese-language learning in India as well as the impact of Taiwan’s current educational initiatives.

The Taiwan Education Center (TEC) is one such endeavor in India. Operated by National Tsing Hua University and funded by the Ministry of Education, it was the first official Taiwanese-led Mandarin program in India, with its first center opening at New Delhi’s Amity University in 2011. The center broke new ground for bilateral ties in 2013 when Indian troops began taking Mandarin classes at its center in Jindal Global University with similar courses continuing in the years since.

Despite its early success, though, Audrey Chen (陳安琪) says that her department can’t take advantage of the surging demand for Mandarin due to a shortage of funding and teachers. The program manager for TEC in India says that of the eight centers it operates, the Ministry of Education only covers tuition fees for three.

“Our budget is over-stretched,” she says. “The only way to increase the centers past the current eight would be if the Indian partner university agrees to cover teacher salaries.”

Chen adds that higher pay is needed to encourage Taiwanese teachers to choose India, adding that the current salary of US$1,500 — the same pay as those in Southeast Asian countries — is unreasonable.

“It’s much easier to teach Mandarin to students from countries that have cultural or linguistic ties to China, as in much of Southeast Asia,” she says

Chen says her section has repeatedly requested the education ministry for higher pay for Indian-based teachers, but to no avail.

Widely-held negative perceptions of India are another factor holding back the growth of teacher numbers.

Chen says chief among parent’s concerns is women’s safety, which has a big impact on numbers given that an overwhelming majority of Taiwan’s Mandarin teachers are female.

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