Wed, May 03, 2017 - Page 3 News List

Praise, issues with Mandarin programs in Taiwan

By Sean Lin  /  Staff reporter

Democratic Progressive Party legislators Ho Hsin-chun, left, and Hsiao Bi-khim, right, preside over a symposium on Chinese language studies for foreign students at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei yesterday.

Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times

Foreign students yesterday gave lawmakers first-hand accounts of studying Mandarin in Taiwan, highlighting what they saw as the benefits and disadvantages of studying the language in this nation.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) hosted a symposium at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei so that lawmakers could hear suggestions about improving policies on teaching of Mandarin.

South Korean Jeong Se-hyeon, who is studying Mandarin at Shih Hsin University, said that even though she had studied in Beijing and Shanghai, she came to Taiwan to continue her studies because she loves Taiwan.

Two problems she sees with the Mandarin-teaching system in Taiwan are the use of traditional Chinese characters and the Zhuyin Fuhao (注音符號) phonetic system commonly known as “Bopomofo” (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ).

Learning traditional characters and Bopomofo could cause trouble for South Koreans if they were to take a Mandarin test back home, where neither system is used, and could lower their chances of getting Mandarin-related jobs in China or South Korea, she said.

The Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (TOCFL) exams are not offered enough in Taiwan, making it less likely that students can pass the test within the timeframes they set for themselves, she said.

The computer-based exams are offered three times a year.

Ministry of Education Counselor Chiu Yu-chan (邱玉蟾) said TOCFL exams are overseen by the Steering Committee for the Test of Hanyu Proficiency.

If the TOCFL exams were to be administered as frequently as private language institutes offer the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exams, the ministry would have to work out the details with each offering institute individually, which is impractical, Chiu said.

However, the ministry would consider granting the committee the right to qualify private language institutions as TOCFL exam venues, she said.

American Austin Keough told lawmakers that tuition for Mandarin classes at Tamkang University has risen sharply, and was now double what it was four years ago.

Labor restrictions mean that American students have to be studying in Taiwan for 18 months before they are eligible to apply for part-time jobs, meaning they have to save strenuously before they come to Taiwan to cover their expenses, Keough said.

“I cannot guarantee that Taiwan has the lowest tuition for learning Mandarin, but I hope that it is the most satisfying in terms of learning quality,” Chiu said.

“I cannot guarantee that I am not satisfied. In fact, I am very satisfied with Taiwanese teachers’ ability to teach Mandarin,” Keough replied, prompting laughter from others at the symposium.

Hsiao told Keough to lobby the US government to have the US join Taiwan’s Working Holiday Visa program.

Zanst Othman, an Iraqi Kurd, said when he studied Mandarin at the Chinese Culture University, an hour of daily class time was alloted for elective courses, including simplified Chinese and listening comprehension.

“However, Hoklo [also known as Taiwanese], which I wanted to learn the most, was missing,” he said.

Noviyanti Oentoro, an Indonesian studying at Shih Hsin, said she chose Taiwan over China for learning Mandarin because of the Chinese accents, which sounded “rude.”

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