Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) on May 28 told a national cultural meeting that the government would not make Taiwan a “bilingual nation” that uses Chinese and English.
However, when asked by reporters after the event, the Ministry of Education said it would continue to implement a policy to gradually make Taiwan a bilingual nation. As there were no follow-up questions, there is confusion about who is in charge of the policy.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Vice President William Lai (賴清德) have strongly pushed bilingualism.
In 2014, when Lai was Tainan mayor, he proposed a 10-year plan to make English Tainan’s second official language, hoping to make the city bilingual.
In 2017, Tsai set a goal to turn Taiwan into a bilingual nation by 2030 and last month pledged to “accelerate the push for the bilingual country policy” as she attended the opening ceremony of a training session for senior civil servants.
Under the government’s bilingual nation policy, the Legislative Yuan in 2018 passed the Development of National Languages Act (國家語言發展法) and the Executive Yuan approved up to NT$10 billion (US$338.68 million) in funding to promote the policy.
This shows that making Taiwan a bilingual nation by 2030 is not just a political slogan.
Many cities and counties have since the policy’s inception established experimental bilingual schools.
Taipei has established “English Villages” (英語情境中心) in all 12 districts and has increasingly recruited teachers who are native-English speakers.
As many as 120 public schools in the city are promoting bilingual education in the ongoing academic year.
The other five special municipalities — New Taipei City, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung — as well as some other cities and counties, have worked hard to push for bilingual education.
Not long ago, I led a group of educators to visit several schools offering bilingual education in Taoyuan. The schools’ commitment and positive results were admirable and brought high hopes, showing that Taiwan is gradually getting closer to its bilingual education goal.
Halfway there, the nation should not give up.
Ever since the government launched the bilingual nation policy, it has yielded positive results thanks to the hard work of many cities and counties nationwide.
Some schools have integrated bilingual education offerings into their strategy to recruit students. Taipei’s experimental bilingual schools always reach their full enrollment capacity. It is evident that Taiwanese parents welcome bilingual education.
Su’s surprise claim that Taiwan would not become a bilingual nation is not only confusing, but also perturbing.
As people say, “education is a century-long plan.” A major policy must be stable and must not be changed overnight.
Taiwanese need the government to clarify the direction of its bilingual nation policy as soon as possible. Otherwise, Su is embarrassing the Ministry of Education, and local governments, schools, teachers, parents and students are left wondering what happened.
Tsai Jr-keng is a retired elementary-school principal.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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