In a bid to increase Taiwan's competitiveness, Premier Yu Shyi-kun yesterday promised to make English the nation's second semi-official language over a period of six years.
Yu made the remark in the Legislative Yuan in response to DPP lawmaker Luo Wen-jia's (羅文嘉) concerns that Taiwanese students' average TOEFL result ranked as one of the poorest among Asian countries last year.
Lo said that Taiwanese students' average TOEFL result ranked 20th among 23 Asian counties and he is worried that Taiwan's competitiveness might be jeopardized at a time when a knowledge-based economy is becoming the key to international competitiveness.
Yu said that, despite the fact that Taiwan has no officially declared language, Mandarin has been practiced by both the government and the public as a common language.
"To declare a second official language would involve complicated law-making processes. It would be tremendously difficult," Yu said.
But he also stressed that, based on the importance of English in the modern world, the government still plans to make English the second semi-official language.
Yu referred to President Chen Sui-bian's (
"The President's idea should be carried out. And, in fact, the government has already extended English education to begin at primary school and go all the way up to junior high school," Yu said.
In Monday's ministerial meeting on the six-year national development plan, the Executive Yuan has mapped out a preliminary English-as-second-language plan and included it in the development project.
The plan will be integrated with nine other facets of the development project before being discussed by a Cabinet meeting for Premier Yu Shyi-kun's approval in mid May.
According to Minister of Education Huang Jung-tsuen (黃榮村), who chaired a task force to study the possibility of making English the second official language, the Cabinet would focus on two major tasks to reach the goal.
"First of all, we would like to encourage the entire nation to learn the English language," Huang said. "Secondly, we'd like to push for online English learning."
To encourage the nation to learn the English language, Huang said, the Cabinet is considering extending the age of English learning to cover more younger and older learners.
"We'd like to see pre-schoolers start learning English and the elderly to attend extensive English-language learning programs," he said.
Currently, while some schools start offering English courses at first grade, others only start at fifth grade, depending on the school's facilities and resources.
The Cabinet also plans to encourage college and university teachers to use English as an instruction medium.
Although English is not the current official language, Huang noted that "English is the language which can connect Taiwan to the world, and it is necessary to learn it well."
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