Schools and colleges have bilingual curricula so students can learn a target language as they study the main subject matter, but the consensus in Taiwan’s education system is that the specialty should be the main focus, placing English secondary.
The Ministry of Education has adopted the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages’ B2 standard as the language skill threshold for teachers to give bilingual instruction.
Teachers with a B2 level or higher are considered equivalent to university graduates who majored in subjects other than English, so it is assumed that they are able to participate in discussions within their own field.
The B2 standard is limited to language proficiency, whereas in reality, teachers carry out instruction in accordance with their experience.
The required expertise includes cross-disciplinary knowledge encompassing the main subject and the language of instruction, or “English for specific purposes” (ESP).
However, there are only a handful of bilingual or all-English academic programs at the secondary or higher-education level in Taiwan with access to teachers capable of ESP teaching.
While serving as a bilingual examiner in Taipei and New Taipei City for the past two years, I have found that the items assessed and scale used do not include an assessment of the ability to teach specialist subjects in English, mainly due to the serious shortage of this kind of cross-disciplinary talent.
When examinees teach a demonstration class, English-language examiners dare not assess them regarding the main subject, while those who specialize in the subject cannot assess their English proficiency.
Education cannot wait. Bilingualism is already under way, so until policies are clarified, business, government, academic and research institutions should prioritize finding solutions.
For example, they could establish ESP specialist work groups, and select various levels and types of schools as case studies for teaching methods and assess their effectiveness.
Going from point to line to plane, this would empower all teachers engaged in bilingual instruction.
ESP is likely to be a key term that gradually emerges in Taiwanese education, and could be a crucial factor in the long-term success or failure of the government’s policy of “developing Taiwan into a bilingual nation by 2030.”
Tao Yi-che is an adjunct assistant professor of English as a medium of instruction at National Taipei University of Business, and is responsible for implementing the plan for bilingual instruction at the Affiliated High School of National Chengchi University.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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