For Angela Macdonald, a British graduate student in the Chinese Language Department at National Taiwan University (NTU), Taiwan represents a freer, more sophisticated Chinese learning environment than China.
Chinese language pedagogy tended to be "superficial" in China, where cultural aspects of the language are often skipped over by teachers, she said.
"I studied Chinese for a time in China, and then came to Taiwan to study it. Right away, I was taken with the prevalence of traditional Chinese culture here," Macdonald told the Taipei Times.
At a conference on Monday, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at NTU, Yeh Kuo-liang (
China's Cultural Revolution wiped out much of the traditional Chinese culture that enhances foreign students' understanding of the Chinese language, said Yeh.
"Our political freedoms, especially the freedom of speech, also make Taiwan an ideal learning environment for Chinese language students from abroad," he said.
The conference, entitled "Opportunities for Taiwan Amid the Global Craze for Learning Chinese," brought together NTU professors and students in a discussion of how to capitalize on the sheer and growing number of Chinese language students worldwide.
NTU Chinese Literature Department Chair He Chi-peng (
Although the test is still three years away, He said it represents Taiwan's eagerness to contribute to the setting of Chinese language learning standards.
Yeh, meanwhile, told conference participants that the university was also developing software to help international students master Chinese pronunciation, adding that Taiwan's voice-related technology was more advanced than China's.
"Currently, there are more than 30 million people learning Chinese [as a foreign language], and this represents an opportunity for Taiwan," said Shen Tung (沈冬), Director of International Academic Exchanges at NTU.
Shen took a more business-like approach to promoting Taiwanese standards of Chinese pedagogy, saying that with its traditional cultural advantage over China, as well as its history of being an ideal learning environment for foreigners, Taiwan could occupy the "higher end" of the Chinese language market, which many participants admitted was already mostly cornered by China.
"If Chinese language pedagogy is a commodity, then our approach to teaching the language could be considered the top-quality product -- we could provide Chinese language pedagogical services for the elite," Shen said, citing the International Chinese Language Program (ICLP) at NTU.
Formerly the "Stanford Center," ICLP is an elite school with a forty-year history of providing foreigners with high-quality Chinese language training. Cheng Yu-yu (
Cheng called on Taiwan's Mandarin Chinese training centers to emulate ICLP's top-of-the-market pedagogical methods to attract more elite students in a bid to fill the "higher-end niche" of the market -- a niche not yet filled by China, participants said.
Marko Kovacevic, a history scholar from the US currently studying at ICLP, said the professors' elitist approach to marketing Taiwanese Chinese language training was "smart."
"Taiwan definitely has the resource endowments to occupy a cultural niche," Kovacevic told the Taipei Times, adding that the openness of Taiwanese society, compared to China, was another advantage.
However, Kovacevic added that the "visa situation [in Taiwan] is not at all conducive to promoting Taiwanese culture."
Taiwan should be more like Japan in this regard, he added.
"In Japan, one can obtain a `cultural studies' visa allowing one to stay in Japan for long periods to get know the country and culture. In Taiwan, on the other hand, the visa situation is strict," Kovacevic said.
"Many foreigners have little choice but to take up odd jobs like teaching English just so that they can stay in Taiwan to gain familiarity with the culture and language," he added.
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