The Executive Yuan has drafted an eight-year plan to develop Taiwan into a major powerhouse for Chinese language — Huayu — learning amid rising global enthusiasm for learning Chinese language and culture.
However, while Chinese grows in popularity, the number of foreign students coming to Taiwan to study Chinese language and culture fell by 4 percent year-on-year last year to 13,898.
According to Ministry of Education (MOE) statistics, more than 7,600 foreign young people studied Huayu in Taiwan in 2004 and the number increased steadily to 14,480 in 2011.
Steering Committee for the Test of Proficiency-Huayu chief executive Chen Po-hsi (陳柏熹) attributed the rare decline in the number of foreign learners last year mainly to strong competition from China.
China has been strongly promoting Chinese language learning all over the world and has been offering generous financial incentives to attract foreign students to its schools, Chen said.
“The manpower and funding China devotes to Huayu learning promotion are 20 to 30 times what is invested by Taiwan,” Chen said.
National Chung Hsing University’s Graduate Institute of International Politics associate professor Chen Mu-min (陳牧民) said money might not be the only reason behind the drop in the number of foreign Huayu learners in the nation last year.
Chen Mu-min said the number of scholarships Taiwan offers to foreign students has been increasing annually.
The government should step up publicity to help foreign nationals understand that Taiwan has a good environment for Chinese language learning, he said.
At present, the MOE, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Overseas Community Affairs Commission are responsible for Huayu learning promotion. This arrangement often leaves those agencies passing the buck, Chen Mu-min said, adding that the government should overhaul and streamline the system to improve efficiency.
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said a Japanese student who is learning Chinese language in Shanghai told her during a summer trip to Taipei that if he had known Taiwan offered Huayu classes, he would have chosen to study here because of the more convenient Internet services.
A British official stationed in Taipei said that 1,000 Taiwanese young people traveled to the UK to study English over the past year, but only 13 Britons came to Taiwan to study Chinese during the same period.
He said the huge gap mainly was because many young British citizens mistook Taiwan for Thailand and did not know it was a Chinese-speaking country.
An MOE official in charge of international education affairs, Bi Tzu-an (畢祖安), said the Executive Yuan has formed a special task force to draft a plan to develop the nation into a Huayu education powerhouse.
Under the plan, the number of independently operated Chinese language education centers will increase from the current 37 to 75 and the number of cram schools eligible to accept foreign students will increase from three to 25.
Meanwhile, the number of companies exporting Huayu teaching materials and digital textbooks will increase to 100 from the 48 that currently exist.