Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Kaohsiung mayoral candidate Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) has said that English should be made a second official language, while the teaching of the mother tongue Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese) should be taught within the family. For this to be voiced by someone seeking to be mayor of a major city is cause for concern, as it demonstrates a lack of understanding of language education, as well as of international experience.
The idea of letting people practice their mother tongue at home might seem like a reasonable proposition; however, the reality is quite different.
One wonders whether Han understands how many of the world’s languages are now on the brink of disappearing. Could this have been due to a lack of families in which they are used?
Han would be right in thinking that mother tongues start within the family, but the family is no match for schools for the teaching of dominant languages.
When the KMT first occupied Taiwan, many elementary-school students could not speak Mandarin. In time, elementary-school students were able to speak Mandarin, but struggled to speak their native Taiwanese. Language learning takes place in schools, not at home.
If Han wants to run a city, he might take a leaf out of former premier Su Tseng-chang’s (蘇貞昌) book. Su knows that families alone cannot be relied on to teach a language; for that, schools are still king.
The reason Su is renowned as a champion of language education is simple: He was the first to push for teaching Taiwanese in schools, and he was successful in this endeavor. Unfortunately, he was unable to secure a second term as Pingtung County commissioner in 1993, losing to Wu Tse-yuan (伍澤元). As a result, his initiative of teaching Taiwanese in schools was abandoned.
Does Han know that nowhere in the world has any country adopted a foreign language as its official language unless it was forced upon it by a foreign colonial power?
The KMT can be regarded as a foreign colonial regime, not just because of the inequality it promotes between Chinese and Taiwanese, but also because of the way in which the Chinese linguistic and cultural system has been used to suppress Taiwanese culture, and how this has been manifest in schools as the loss of the Taiwanese language.
It also betrays a lack of knowledge of dealing with other countries. Not all major nations speak English and these non-English speaking countries have no problem operating within the international community. If anyone needs to speak English, they get English-language instruction.
When Taipower Co (Taipower) undertook the first major upgrade of the monitoring and control systems of the Jinshan Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Shihmen District (石門), it brought in more than 60 General Electric consultants from the US, with whom the Taiwanese engineers communicated in English. Those who needed English studied it themselves; those who did not had no need to.
It is not like all of Taipower’s personnel conversed with each other in English at all times.
When the KMT governed Taiwan it tried to eradicate Taiwanese culture, using state power to push Mandarin instead. Taiwanese reacted against this and have called for the promotion of Taiwanese, advocating for its adoption as an official language.
Han and his pro-China colleagues are resisting Taiwanese culture and calling for instituting English as a second official language instead, in a transparent attempt to prevent this from happening.
Chen Mao-hsiung is a retired National Sun Yat-sen University professor and chairman of the Society for the Promotion of Taiwanese Security.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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