The majority of parents believe that English proficiency will give their children a better start in life, a recent survey revealed, although education experts disagree.
According to a survey conducted last month by a Chinese-language magazine, parents are eager for their children to start learning English as soon as possible. The survey polled 763 parents with children younger than 12.
The survey showed that 66 percent of the parents considered English proficiency to be the most crucial prerequisite to develop a child's future international competitiveness; 61 percent felt that a child should start learning English as early as possible; 63 percent viewed English as a major factor that affects one's life; and 77 percent said they regarded English as very important in a child's life.
"The last two figures took me by surprise; I am quite impressed by how seriously parents take English education. On the other hand, I am glad to see that 73 percent of these parents disapproved of cutting back on Chinese language classes in school in order to squeeze in more English classes," said Cynthia Wu (吳信鳳), a professor at the English department at National Chengchi University.
Wu stressed that being good at English did not guarantee global competitiveness.
"English is only a tool that leads to global competitiveness. In order to develop this competitiveness, one has to understand one's own country and culture before learning about others. Diversity comes when one understands both and can grasp the meaning of diversity and tolerance," Wu said.
She said that there was no clinical proof establishing a link between effective learning and the learner's age.
"There hasn't been any clinical study that proves that there actually is a prime time to acquire language skills. However, in the area of pronunciation, studies have shown that earlier learning leads to more accurate pronunciation," Wu said.
She said a good time to start learning English would be when all necessary conditions for effective learning, such as a complementary curriculum and qualified teachers, are present.
"Most parents seemed to feel that having foreigners teach their children English is the most important thing in learning the language; however, this perception is wrong. Having qualified teachers is even more important," Wu said.
Claudia Wang (王淑玲), director of counseling at Taipei County's Jhuwei Elementary School, advised elementary school teachers to expand students' learning potential by allowing each child to manifest his or her English skills.
"Nowadays, due to the proliferation of bilingual kindergartens and English-learning institutes [buxibans], many children, by the time they reach elementary-school age, have already been studying English for a few years and are ahead of other children. Facing this situation, teachers have to use different tactics to meet the needs of students at different levels," Wang said.
She recommended that advanced learners be assigned to help their classmates with their English, or placed in a leading role in an English play, while children with no prior exposure to English could be provided with after-school remedial sessions to help them catch up.
"The idea here is to employ resources to give children a sense of achievement in the process of learning. The utmost goal of education is character-building, not English proficiency," Wang said.