Foreigners who learn Mandarin mainly do so for one of two reasons — to do business in China, or to understand issues related to China.
For those aiming to do business, it is sensible to learn the language in China. If it is to understand, learning in Taiwan is a good option, because such people are likely to be involved in national security or the military of their home countries.
Taiwan is a much safer learning environment compared with China, and it is an information hub for issues related to China. There is access in Taiwan to the truth about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
China for a long time has been suppressing Taiwan and seeking to annex the nation. To cope with that, Taiwan has long attached importance to the study of Chinese issues.
China sets up Confucius Institutes all over the world to engage in mass propaganda overseas in the guise of Chinese language and culture education.
Taiwan’s Chinese-language education centers in foreign countries should carry out “reverse overseas propaganda,” providing a “control group” for learners to understand China’s propaganda and lies, and see through them.
The biggest problem Taiwan had in spreading its soft power was a lack of awareness of its own advantages. For example, in the 1980s, Tenri University in Japan launched a department for Taiwan studies and the University of Hawaii in the US established a similar department at about the same time.
However, during this time, Taiwan had only Chinese-language departments, as if it were telling the world how great China was.
This created problems. For example, Taiwan nurtured people like former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, a well-known “panda hugger.” Not only does he have a good relationship with former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民), he also had a lot of interests and rewards in China after he stepped down as prime minister.
Rudd studied Mandarin at National Taiwan Normal University. If Taiwan does not teach foreigners about the problems with China and the CCP’s faults, then it will cultivate foreign politicians like Rudd, who studied the language in Taiwan, but sides with China.
Another advantage of learning Mandarin in Taiwan is its use of traditional Chinese characters. Learning simplified Chinese makes the language easier to write, but reading traditional characters remains difficult.
I started my Mandarin education in Taiwan, where traditional characters are taught, so I could grasp simplified Chinese without having to learn another system.
However, some teachers of Vietnamese who I know had the opposite experience. They taught in China before moving to Taiwan, as the nation has greater demand for teachers of Vietnamese (Yes, demand to learn Vietnamese is greater here than in China).
Some of them had to spend up to three months learning traditional Chinese characters.
Learning traditional characters enables a grasp of simplified Chinese, but the opposite is not the case, so Taiwan’s use of them is an advantage.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Ngan is a teacher of Vietnamese language, a Vietnamese-Chinese interpreter and translator, and export manager at Siming Science and Technology Co.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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