Showing posts with label education_in_taiwan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label education_in_taiwan. Show all posts

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Guest Post: The aftermath of colonial education in Taiwan

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The hiatus continues, but so does my experiment in guest posting. While I wrap up my dissertation, I've been trying to open up this platform to other voices - especially Taiwanese voices. This is re-posted with permission from Annie Lim, lightly edited from her Twitter thread. You can read the ThreadReader version here and on Twitter (where you can also follow Annie) here. I think this is an important story to share because while it's a personal family story on one level, on another it tells the story of the psychological scars of a generation, and how it affects their relationships with their descendants.

- Jenna

The aftermath of colonial education and decolonizing is really tough, especially for families. My parents grew up having the entirety of Japanese era ripped out from text book and only learnt about ROC and China. 228 is a huge taboo to them, talking about it means causing conflict. 


We took a family trip to Tainan and me being a history geek made everyone visit a bunch of museums. The thing about Tainan is that unlike Taipei, people really put their heart and money into saving history (in Taipei many evidence of the past were intentionally whipped out by KMT).

Bits and pieces of colonial past (including the White Terror) are EVERYWHERE in Tainan. And my parents can usually appreciate the beauty of the structures. However, I can see them visibly flinch when anything about the KMT's wrongdoing is mentioned. Even when we are in an art museum admiring Tan Ting-pho's painting...the exhibition has a timeline matching artworks with his life. And in the end it's just, "killed in front of Chiayi station in 228". My parents immediately turned and left the room with me standing there feeling heartbroken.

My parents love us deeply, and they feel a strong sense of regret on how they "failed" to protect their children from the influence of the evil DPP. They are not KMT supporters, but will always choose KMT over any other parties bc anything KMT does looked justified.

Yes, they know KMT massacred people. But they will also argue that its all in the past and DPP is obviously worse than KMT (when we aren't even talking about DPP at all). They don't wish to argue with me, so they choose to leave the scene even when we are just looking at art. 

And here's the thing - everything is politics. Art, history, language, food, music, buildings...everything. Just because Tainan isn't hiding it's past, doesn't mean they are "too political". But, even stating the truth (such as this person was wrongfully killed) is too much. When we are reading about something built in 1930, my mom commented: "Oh! It's from 民國29年" [Republic of China Year 29] and was visibly upset when my sister corrected her saying that 1930 was before "retrocession" so it shouldn't be read in ROC years.

Our family has been in TW for centuries, but here we are, restraining ourselves from latching into fights, because someone taught our parents that this is a land with no history, and killed off anyone who could have taught them otherwise. 


They do not understand why I am so fixated on figuring out WHAT it is that I have been missing.

This kind of behavior can be seen in many people growing up under heavy censorship. Knowledge like this could have brought them physical harm so they will actively stay away from anything that could've make them feel "rebellious". Staying silent and obeying is how they stayed safe. This is the scary part about censorship: the danger isn't always exterior. In order to stay alive, people will actively build the "safe narrative" into their system and stay away from anything that tells otherwise.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Teacher training in Taiwan: expanding your teaching skillset without leaving the country

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The picture isn't related to the article unless you want to get very metaphorical 

When I first arrived in Taiwan, opportunities for professional development as an English language teacher were rare beyond workshops of varying quality through cram schools. Though I can't speak for local English teachers in the formal education system, the lack of professional development options was also an issue for local teachers in cram schools.

I honestly regret coming to Taiwan as an unskilled random white person and starting out in a cram school job - a situation I sought to change as soon as I could afford to - and I think part of that regret is what drives my desire to contribute more to Taiwan than I take from it. As my profession is education, I feel that's where I might be able to make a real impact.

With that in mind, I've hoped for some years that new paths to teacher development could be opened in Taiwan, so that a new generation of English teachers might simply, well, be better teachers and not have to go abroad for that training, as I did. Fortunately, due to the efforts of people who want to effect real change, there have been real improvements and I hope and believe this will improve the overall situation of English language education in Taiwan.

Since joining the community of teacher educators (teachers who develop other teachers), I've been asked a few times about teacher training and development opportunities in Taiwan, and I wanted to consolidate a list of resources for English teachers here - foreigners and locals alike - who want to develop themselves professionally, while staying in Taiwan. 

There's another good post on this topic here, but there are some things not covered in that post, so I'm writing this one. 

Full disclosure: I train on some of these courses, but not all of them. There's no sales motive, and this is not any kind of sponsored post. I receive nothing, and if anyone signs up for a course due to this post, I honestly wouldn't even know.

All of these are open to both native and non-native speakers, so I hope Taiwanese readers of my blog who may be interested in teaching will also consider these suggestions. One way to end white supremacy and native speakerism in language teaching is to make  professional development more accessible to local teachers, which I very much hope to do. Although the TESOL world still discriminates against non-native speaker teachers, the international qualifications (such as the TKT, CertTESOL) will be an advantage for any Taiwanese looking to teach English abroad.


It's worth noting that most of these programs are not officially recognized by the Taiwanese government. Different schools have different requirements: public schools generally want a teaching license but will sometimes take permanent residents with other qualifications. Private schools are more open in what they can accept, and international schools vary quite a bit. Your average cram school often requires nothing (which honestly is a problem), but better jobs in the cram school system either appreciate or require basic certifications. These also provide a good filter when job-hunting: if the school you are applying to doesn't know or care about the certifications listed here, they might not prioritize education. It's good to know that up-front.

I've organized the list roughly by lowest to highest barrier to entry. The first few items are simply online resources and readings, not classes per se. Actual courses you can take will be discussed later on.



Online and Reading Resources


Online resources

There's a whole world out there of webinars and other online teacher development resources, most of which is free or very low-cost (though some is of much better quality, and some is questionable - use some critical thinking to deduce what's what).

Joining an international community of practice through IATEFL membership


Anti-racism resources for teachers

TEFL Equity Advocates


Teacher Training in Taiwan Facebook Page and Facebook Group


Online Courses

If you want to take an online course that isn't quite as intense as, say, a Trinity CertTESOL or CELTA, there are many options. Nile, International House and Oxford University's Department of Continuing Education are generally well-regarded providers. These courses tend to focus on particular areas (e.g. Business English, CLIL, Teaching Young Learners), and can be done with no certification, or after an initial certification. More than one initial certification is now available face-to-face in Taiwan; these are discussed below. 



Reading

Again, there's a whole world of reading out there, so I'm just going to provide a short list of books I've found useful in my own development.

About Language - Scott Thornbury: crucial language awareness for English teachers, especially native speaker teachers who don't know how their own language works


Teaching English Grammar - Jim Scrivener: a resource breaking down how to teach key grammar concepts, including common issues and points to remember

Learning About Language Assessment - Kathleen Bailey: if you're interested in knowing about what makes a language assessment worthwhile and useful

Teaching Collocation - Michael Lewis: this changed my whole approach to lexis as a system, and how I approach it in the classroom. Lewis' other work such as "The English Verb" are also highly recommended


How Languages Are Learned - Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada: a short and engaging introduction to the field of SLA (Second Language Acquisition)

Grammar For English Language Teachers - Martin Parrott: this is not something to read so much as a resource every serious English teacher should have (Swan's book is fine too but I prefer Parrott)

A good learner's dictionary (any publisher, whichever level suits your learners): this will help you develop  your ability to clarify language and concept-check. Big Bad Wolf's 7-day sales often include them at steep discounts. 

The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language - Alastair Pennycook: If you don't have time to read Orientalism (Said), Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Friere) and Teaching English as an International Language (McKay), this book provides a useful introduction to all of those ideas, and takes them further. A word of warning: it was written in the '90s and needs an update, and takes a postcolonial perspective that doesn't always fit Taiwan's situation (colonized more by China than any Western nation).

The "How To" series (various authors)


This is a whole series of books - they are not very long and not particularly academic, making them perfect for new teachers finding their way. Each book is clearly titled (e.g. How To Teach Speaking, How To Teach Business English, How To Teach Reading, How To Teach Grammar) and easy to read. Other than How To Teach With Technology (not recommended), these are useful introductions to whatever area you feel you might need to improve. They aren't cheap so choose judiciously.

If you are really new to teaching and need a grounding in the basics, How To Teach English from this series is a good start. 



Everything above is a targeted online course, or a self-access resource. Let's leave those for now, and talk about coursework and general teaching certifications that can be done in or from Taiwan.


The first two on the list - the TKT and local TESOL certification - are more directly aimed at local teachers and other non-native speakers. However, every course after that (the CertTESOL, TYLEC and DipTESOL, etc.) are also open to all teachers, and I specifically encourage non-native speaker teachers who think they would be valuable to look into them. A community of talented local teachers is a powerful weapon in fighting for equity in the field.


TKT (Teaching Knowledge Test)

This is the least expensive option among all of the non-free choices, though it's not a course. It's a three-module test aimed more at local (non-native speaker) teachers, though native speakers can take it as well. It's a good way to put an internationally-recognized teaching qualification on a resume and the knowledge that is tested is all worthwhile. With no practical element (that is, no real teaching), however, consider this to be mostly a way to gain some formal recognition of your teaching knowledge, though not necessarily your ability in the classroom.

It's possible to self-study for this test if you have experience and were trained on the job, so a study book (The TKT Course: Modules 1, 2 and 3 by Mary Spratt is a good choice) and the cost of the exams are the only financial layout. 


TESOL Taiwan teaching certification

Of the certification courses that require practicums, this is the most affordable. It's a 35-hour course with one teaching demo at the end and covers all of the basics, and is open to people with no teaching experience. The cohort is mostly local, but foreign teachers do take it, and more than one has said that their school specifically recommended it. 

The curriculum includes a basic knowledge of methodology, foundational knowledge for teaching various skills (speaking, writing, reading and listening) and systems (grammar, lexis and pronunciation) including demonstrations, and incorporates classroom management, lesson planning, assessing learner needs and more. Assessed content includes a short lesson taught by the trainee as well as several written assignments, two observations and an online component. 

This course is taught in English but specifically designed to be accessible to both foreign and local English teachers, non-native and native speakers alike.

The course is offered mornings over 2 weeks (occasionally two weeks plus one Monday), or all day Saturday or Sunday for 6 weeks, all in Taipei. Once a year or so, the Sunday course is offered in Taichung.



Trinity CertTESOL and CELTA

For many years, it was impossible to take this course - or the equivalent CELTA - in Taiwan. That was a major gap in development opportunities for teachers here, as these are internationally-recognized certifications that are required for many teaching jobs outside Taiwan. I had to go abroad to get mine. That has finally changed - the CertTESOL is here!

It's a longer course - Monday-Friday mornings over a semester - with more teaching practicums, which does mean it's more expensive (though divided by input hours, it is technically better value for money). There are other assessed areas too, including exams.

The CertTESOL is a more challenging course. Having done the equivalent CELTA was so beneficial for my teaching practice that my only regret is that I didn't do it sooner, and I can usually tell the difference between a teacher who's taken a course like this and one who hasn't.

CELTA is not offered in Taiwan, but can be done online or through blended learning through various providers. I did mine in-person at ITI Istanbul and can vouch for the quality of the face-to-face course.



TYLEC (Teaching Young Learners Extension Certificate) and other Young Learner Courses

I know less about this program, as I don't train on it and don't teach children, but if you do teach children and want to become amazing at it, this is the course for you. It costs the same as a Trinity CertTESOL - that is, expensive, but cheaper than doing a whole teaching license. It's offered based on demand. It involves input sessions, a written assignment on materials and five hours of assessed teaching practice (I'm not sure how the assessed practice is organized). 

Theoretically, other similar courses are also possible to take in Taiwan, specifically the CELT-P (for teachers of primary school students) and CELT-S (secondary school). I'm not sure what stage of development/availability they are at yet, but check this space for updates, or join the Teacher Training in Taiwan Facebook groups above to hear about the latest developments.



Trinity DipTESOL and Cambridge Delta

This is the next level up from the CertTESOL, and is also finally available in Taiwan starting this year. It is a higher-level certification, meaning you need to meet certain educational and experience requirements. A basic TEFL certification is also highly recommended.

It is equivalent to the Cambridge Delta, meaning that in Europe it's recognized at the same level as a Master's degree (though it isn't one). The DipTESOL is organized into four units and in Taiwan, I believe that three of those four are taught intensively over a number of weeks - ask directly for more information. The first unit - an exam - can be taken after the course. The DipTESOL includes four practicum hours and several written assignments and a research project.

A good reason to do the DipTESOL in Taiwan is that you won't have to find a local tutor for the teaching practicums - it's all handled here, so there's no need to go around asking qualified teachers if they'll take on that role for you. I was lucky in that someone offered. I'm not sure how the teaching practicums are organized (whether they are your own classes or organized by the course).

I have a Cambridge Delta, obtained in Taiwan via distance learning. This can be done entirely through Nile, (yes - the Nile Delta) Bell or The Distance Delta. ITI Istanbul also offers Modules 1 and 3 online.

Module 1 is an exam - you can study for this on your own, but I recommend taking an online course for a few hundred pounds.

Module 2 is teaching practice and written assignments: four hours of assessed teaching practice plus one diagnostic lesson and one experimental lesson (not assessed). The papers for these are killer as the word limits are tight, but you'll learn a lot doing them. There's also a professional development assignment and observation requirements. You can do this in Taiwan through a local tutor, whom you have to find yourself. The fourth assessed lesson is done externally, which may involve flying someone in, which you pay for. They do try to keep costs down, often sending one external assessor across Asia, so you only have to pay for a regional flight and a night in a hotel.

Module 3 is an extended written assignment based on real learners - meaning you need a group of real learners to work with. You write about a sub-field of TESOL, assess their needs and create a course based on the fundamental principles of syllabus design and assessment.



Various teaching license programs

I won't say much about these, as the level of recognition given by Taiwan's Ministry of Education is variable. Online searches bring up a few options, but I've only found one that seems to still be available in Taiwan and comes recommended by people I know: the global teacher certification and Master's program offered by the College of New Jersey in Hsinchu, with courses (and coursework) happening every few weeks. This is a real program through a legitimate university in the United States, and can land you some better jobs. It also qualifies you to take the Praxis II (teaching qualification exams in the US), available on a very limited basis in Taiwan.

The program requires you to be teaching more than English as it's not specifically a TESOL course but rather one for general young learner education, and your practicums are done at your own work location. The program doesn't require a dissertation but it does require you to take the edTPA.

If your goal is an international school job, you might also consider doing a British PGCE online. Here's just one way to do that (there are surely multiple providers). This won't qualify you for public school work but will still be a step up and is likely to be accepted at some international schools.



Master's programs

Most people don't realize that relevant Master's programs can be done in Taiwan. English language programs are held at various universities, including NTNU (National Taiwan Normal University), NCCU (National Cheng-chi University) and NTUST. Others exist - including those at Wenzao Ursuline College of Languages and National Tsinghua University - but I am not sure of the proportion of classes taught in English.

Framingham State University is also looking into (once again) offering courses in Taiwan, though these are not set yet. The course would lead to a Master's in Education with a focus on international education, but does not include a teaching license. You can get on the mailing list here, if you are interested in future courses.

Nile also offers a modular face-to-face MATESOL accredited through the University of Chichester. As you would not actually reside abroad, but rather take courses over a 2-3 week intensive period, I am not sure how or whether this would be recognized in Taiwan.

There used to be other ways to get a face-to-face Master's in TESOL while living in Taiwan - such as the summer intensive program I am wrapping up at the University of Exeter, but most of them seem to have ceased operations (Exeter is closing its MEd summer program, for example).

Online options exist, but can be expensive. These aren't generally recognized in Taiwan, though any exams you take in person might be. It's worth checking with your current or potential employer - I can't provide any guarantees. 



PhD and EdD (Doctorate of Education) degrees

If you've come this far, you might be wondering about PhD and EdD degrees. Here's the thing, though: if you've gotten through a Master's, you probably have a clear idea of where you want to go in terms of a doctorate and there's not much I can tell you. Several options do exist that would let you live in Taiwan while doing some coursework abroad, but I can't specifically recommend one, and I doubt any are widely recognized in Taiwan.

All I can say is that PhDs are more widely recognized than EdDs, and as with Master's programs, official recognition generally requires full-time residency and in-person classes.

I'd also say that if you really want to do a PhD, you should not be paying for it. This might not be a big deal if you go to a public university in Taiwan where tuition is low (NCCU offers a PhD in TESOL - same link as above), but I wouldn't plop down the tens of thousands of US dollars that programs abroad charge.

Honestly, either get funded or don't go. I mean it.


Still have questions? Leave a comment, or e-mail me. I can also refer you to good people, including some of the people in charge of some of these courses. I won't put my personal/main e-mail here, but I can be reached at jennalynk (at) yahoo (dot) com. Or join the Facebook groups above. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Native speakerism, teacher training, culture and place

I don't have a good cover photo so just pretend this is metaphorical or something. 


I've been meaning to write this for awhile but current events have been pushing it to the bottom of the queue. Feeling depressed and anxious about the state of affairs in Hong Kong and the rise of Big Uncle Dirk in Taiwan, however, I think it's time for a more uplifting topic.

Teacher training has been my main source of income for about a year now; my trainees are mostly (though not entirely) locals whose first language(s) are not English, but are highly proficient English users. There's a mix of experience levels, though most have had no previous training. 

In the real world, where this is what I'm 'known' for as much as talking smack about Taiwanese politics, I get asked all the time what it's like, how I feel about it, what my impressions are. So I thought I'd share something about that here, as I so rarely write about my actual profession.

Having no particular order in mind for this, I'll just start with what I think is the most interesting part, focusing mostly on the cram school system. 

Native speakerism has been, quite honestly, a cancer in English language education in Taiwan.

I appreciate and value that the work I do is one tiny cog in the fight to end that. Training local teachers who already have the language proficiency but need the classroom know-how to plan and execute a lesson, ascertain and meet learner needs, manage a class room and understand key theoretical basics gives them a leg up: a piece of paper, yes, but also actual knowledge and skills that will make them more effective in the classroom and therefore more likely to succeed in a market that is biased against them.

Not that the word 'native speaker' means anything. I have a former student whom you would not be able to guess, even by accent, was a 'non-native' speaker unless you combed carefully through her writing. I've also met 'native speakers' who were not particularly proficient language users (yes, that's a thing, and the major English proficiency tests generally acknowledge this) and people who have used English since early childhood from countries like India, Singapore and the Philippines but are considered 'non-native'. 

Because, of course, when people say "native speaker", what they really mean is "white". They'll deny that of course - I'm sure I'll get some angry comments - but you it's true. You know it's harder for non-white English teachers, whether they're what might be considered a 'native speaker' or not, to find jobs and command similar pay to white teachers. This was also the attitude on display when everyone's favorite Uncle Dirk dismissed the idea of English teachers from the Philippines (who generally can be considered what most people would call a 'native speaker'), saying "how can a Maria be our teacher?"

Although I don't think that there is a big difference in the classroom between an untrained foreigner and an untrained local with strong English language proficiency, it's hard to argue this to your average person. Training up locals on what I think is a quality course helps make the argument that a "non-native" teacher is no less capable just a little more persuasive.

To be frank, it also feels good to have mostly relinquished my former place in what I see as a racist system. I don't particularly like being a white lady taking up a teaching job that an experienced and trained local could do, and being paid more to do it. It's not that I want to stop all future foreign English teachers from coming here because all the jobs have been taken by locals - I just want the bar to be higher, and the best way to raise the bar is to have better-trained local talent as competition. Bringing in trained and experienced talent from the Philippines and other countries is a great idea as well, and that will be easier if more parents and students (including adult learners) get used to a non-white face leading the class.

This is related to another aspect of teacher training that I find deeply rewarding: the creation of future role models. My trainees, when they become teachers, can be role models to local learners in a way that I could never be as a "native speaker" from an Inner Circle culture (look it up). Someone learning English as a foreign language in Taiwan is going to have a different experience, context and set of reference points and will benefit from having someone with a similar background and experience to look up to and think, "if she can do it, I can too". That's not only more achievable than trying to be 'more like' someone like me, which sets up the impossible standard of learning English as a second language in an attempt to imitate people for whom it's a first language, but I'd argue it's less problematic as well. If the notion of encouraging Taiwanese to imitate Westerners - especially white Westerners - as though we are some sort of ideal - doesn't squick you out...it should. 


Here's where I admit that I lied above: I don't think that's the most interesting issue concerning my job. But I needed to say it to set up my next point. The cultural/identity aspects of Taiwan's education are often thought of as being in flux, depending on who's in power, between "Taiwanization" and "Sinicization". I'd argue, however, that since the debate about identity formation through education has existed in Taiwan - that is, ever since the Taiwanese electorate had a say in the matter - that it's actually been a three-way pull between Taiwanization, Sinicization and internationalization. It's a bit more complicated than that, with both sides trying to claim 'internationalization' alongside their preferred foundation of 'Taiwanization' or 'Sinicization' and both sides being somewhat insincere in the implementation process (though I'd argue the 'Sinicization' side, which I'm sure you've guessed is spearheaded by the KMT, is somewhat more insincere). 

I also happen to believe that 'Taiwanization' is more compatible with internationalization than 'Sinicization' is, despite being dismissed by critics as a form of ethnic nationalism (which it no longer is - if anything that attitude is more evident on the pan-blue, pro-China side). Taiwanization doesn't only seek to promote the notion of a distinct Taiwanese identity, which is a civic identity as much as an ethnic one, and a nation founded on that principle. It also seeks to situate that identity, and Taiwan as a nation, in a regional and global context. Sinicization doesn't go far beyond "we are all Chinese and you just have to accept this identity we've assigned to you". Although this wasn't always the case, it's currently more of an inward-looking movement.

What does all that have to do with teacher training? Well, a lot of people misconstrue 'internationalization' as going no further than a concept of English teaching as something done by foreigners, to Taiwanese students - and bringing in more foreigners to do this. The smiling white person at the front of the classroom telling Taiwanese how to be better "global citizens" through improved English, with "global citizens" of course meaning "people who act in ways that make Westerners feel comfortable".

In a word, barf.

I see internationalization as improving the state of foreign language education without overly focusing on Western countries (which isn't to say that language can be divorced from culture - the general consensus in the field is that it cannot). It's understanding not just the cultural, international and socieconomic context of English learning, but English learning as appropriation - learning it for one's own purposes, to communicate with the outside world as a lingua franca - rather than subjugation to a foreign ideal. And you don't accomplish that with idealized Westerners at the front of every class. You do it with locals up there, or teachers from a range of international backgrounds beyond "Bill is from Canada, and Janice is from the UK!" It helps society get used to the notion that English doesn't have to be a "thing we learn from and about white people", but something additive rather than subtractive, taught for themselves and (mostly) by others who may be like them. And you accomplish that by training up mostly local teachers.

Finally, I simply appreciate a chance to offer the fundamentals of good teaching practice to teachers who will go out and not only use them, but build on them. It's been argued that the sort of approaches I champion are themselves ultimately derived from teaching practices that suit Western cultures better, but I'd dispute that. First, we do talk about methodologies that are currently out-of-fashion, though I don't encourage them. Besides, such methods weren't common in Western countries either until the late 20th century: before that, the way language was taught wasn't that different from how it's taught in much of Asia now. The difference is one of time and institutional constraint, not one of culture.

More importantly, those 'traditional' methods are research-proven to be less effective, depending on what your goal is. If that goal is to communicate, do you think sitting in a 50-person class memorizing texts and repeating grammar points will be the most effective approach, regardless of culture? That English class in Taiwanese schools alone, without outside practice, does not lead to particularly stellar results, should be sufficient evidence that it will not.

But, most vitally, it's that local teachers and students have shown themselves to be open to other approaches. Despite unfounded stereotypes to the contrary, your average Taiwanese student does want their language classes to be more vibrant - fun, useful, communicative - than a traditional grammar-focused approach affords. Your average Taiwanese teacher wants to deliver that, as well, although institutional constraints (such as testing requirements) make it difficult. And as time passes, some of my best students will become head teachers or teacher trainers themselves, and will impart their own advice on what works and what doesn't, and "what works" will be forged of an entirely home-grown consensus. That can happen without me in the picture, but I feel grateful that I get to be a part of it. 


That's just it - I'm not seeking to put people down (such as untrained foreign teachers who come and get jobs easily) or push my own ideas on others. I just want the state of English teaching in Taiwan to be better. My Big Bad - my Final Boss - is probably the national-level exam (and the over-testing that takes place leading up to it). Although there have been changes and improvements, it's not nearly where it needs to be in terms of creating positive washback on the classes learners take. There's not much I can do about that now, but if the overall state of language teaching is both more localized and simply better, it's a step in the right direction. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Alliance for a Globally-Oriented Taiwan kicks off

If you're reading this at all, you're probably wondering what happened to me all month. Yeah, well, I'm wondering too. I've been doing a pre-Lunar New Year deep clean of our apartment as I'm not particularly busy with work. Also, the election's still got me down.

Not because my "team" "lost" (they didn't, really: the NPP is the closest thing I've got to a team I root for, and they performed better than anyone expected, including perhaps, quietly, the NPP themselves). People I don't like win elections all the time and I don't fret about it for two months.

No, what causes a sinking feeling in my heart every time I think about it is a far bigger problem: that, although it would be political suicide for the DPP to make a big deal out of it, interference from China was real, and terrifying. We can't prove how effective it was, but there sure seemed to be some effect, and if that's the case they will try it again. And again. And they very well may win. Yikes. I just...can't.

So, let's talk about something positive instead.

This past week, a group of 90-100 people, foreigners and Taiwanese, congregated in the Legislative Yuan to have a large-scale discussion meeting about how to implement the 'bilingual Taiwan' initiative (you might know it as 'English as a second official language', announced by former premier William Lai). Heading the meeting were legislators Karen Yu (余宛如) Rosalia Wu (吳思瑤)as well as National Development Council leadership, Professor Louis Chen of Global Brands Management Association, STARTBOARD and Crossroads.TW founder David Chang. The general attendees were a mix of teachers, school owners, recruiters, academics, NGO and nonprofit representatives, a few activists and some journalists.

One thing that was made clear was that the point is not to suddenly start forcing everyone to speak English, or spend their own money to go to cram school to study English, or to have all official documents in English and Mandarin (but not any other languages more native to or historically linked to Taiwan, such as indigenous languages or Taiwanese). The point is to develop Taiwan's international competitiveness by making it more accessible in English, and to increase the general public's familiarity with English, while potentially reforming the educational system to emphasize English proficiency. And over several decades, as that.

Put that way, it sounds quite reasonable.

The outcome of this meeting is the formation of the Alliance for a Globally-Oriented Taiwan, with more specific action items to be developed in the coming weeks. At minimum we're looking at advocacy, advisory status and policy proposals. While it has the potential to be another layer of talk, there's also the potential for it to be much more than that.

That two legislators and the NDC made sure the meeting took place, were there and paid attention to what foreigners were saying is already huge: I'm not sure it's ever happened before. For that reason alone it might have some real effect.

I won't spend too much time going over what was said by the leaders - that's been covered extensively in the Mandarin-language media and basically boiled down to "we're on your side", "we want to do this in a feasible way" and, of course, that the point isn't just to be bilingual, it's a push for greater internationalization.

Instead, I'll spend some time summarizing some of what came out of the contributors in the general audience.

Not everyone got a chance to speak (I did), but I was happy to hear that most opinions were dead-on (some I disagreed with mildly; there were just a few that I simply wasn't on board with). And yes, I do equate "dead on" with "I agreed with it", because in this particular field I will not hesitate to say that I know what I'm talking about.

There was a general agreement that we need to do a better job of teacher training in Taiwan, with ideas for this ranging from bringing in better-qualified teachers to building a teacher-training program in Taiwan from scratch. The latter is an idea I disagree with quite strongly: internationally-recognized and up-to-standard teaching certifications exist already, from teaching licenses/PGCE programs to CELTA/Trinity to Delta and various Master's programs. There's no need to build a program from scratch when...frankly, to mix metaphors, that wheel's already been invented.

The key is to make them more accessible in Taiwan. If you want to improve your teaching through formal training here, it's quite difficult: the government doesn't recognize programs like CELTA or Delta or any online programs; often for Master's programs (even reputable ones) there are residency requirements so a part-time student, even if they attend face-to-face, is going to have trouble. So we have to make these programs both available and recognized, potentially with a sponsorship program to make them affordable, too.

The owners of Reach To Teach, a reputable teacher recruiting company, pointed out that Taiwan has no program through which novice teachers can come here and work in schools (even as assistants), and the only way to work in a school in Taiwan is to come as a licensed teacher. Japan brings foreign teachers into public schools through JET by having them work as assistants as they are not qualified to actually teach; I'm not sure about Korea's EPIK program. What's more, in those countries novice teachers often earn more than trained teachers are offered in schools in Taiwan.

What everyone agreed on was that salaries in Taiwan being low for everyone, including locals, was going to make it hard to internationalize and attract foreign talent, and would not necessarily attract much local talent to English teaching, either. Before this can happen, pay prospects here simply have to get better.

Of course, as someone else pointed out, South Korea and Japan are not bilingual countries. Because, of course, countries where English is more widely spoken got that way through historical (typically colonial) means, but also because those countries routinely employ a large number of local teachers and don't rely on foreign ones.

That's really key, not only in terms of getting enough foreign teachers to do the job, but also cutting down a native speakerist view of English: that English is a White People thing, that White People go to Other Countries to teach Local People, who Learn It. But a country only becomes multilingual when locals are there making it happen. You can't import that kind of culture shift, nor should you.

(Obviously not every native speaker teacher is white, I'm talking about perceptions, not reality.)

There was a huge outpouring of angst, as well. That's not a criticism; I happen to agree with much of it. The notion that Taiwan needs to 'attract' more foreign talent bothered some, who pointed out quite rightly that many talented foreigners are already here, but can't get work outside of English teaching. Some stay and teach because it's all they can do; some leave because there's just no career future here and go to Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, back to their native countries or elsewhere.

There was also an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the lack of readable English information on Taiwanese websites, including government websites. If Taiwan is truly going to become an English-friendly country, at the bare minimum all government websites need to be translated completely into (good) English.

Quite a bit of dissatisfaction was expressed over Taiwan's horrifying national examination system (including from me). I pointed out that research consistently shows that elementary-school language teachers in Taiwan are happy to incorporate more modern teaching methods into their practice, but  junior and senior high school teachers aren't, and the big difference is that older learners need to be prepared for the massive battery of mostly-useless and actively harmful exams that they have to take. The teachers themselves have said this quite clearly. There is simply no way for a language education program that actually results in English language proficiency to exist side-by-side with those exams.

The issue, of course, is that parents and some teachers fight viciously against any attempt to change the system. The parents think that more accurate assessment is somehow 'less objective' (not realizing that the tests their children are taking now aren't even accurate or related to real-world language use, and take away so much learning time as to actually harm their overall achievement) and some teachers are afraid they'll lose their jobs if schools suddenly start doing things differently. We need to work with both groups to advocate for change and convince them that there's nothing to be afraid of.

And, as usual, immigration is a massive issue. Those of us who want to stay forever - the well-secured roots of an international Taiwan - are concerned with how difficult it still is to obtain dual nationality or even an employment Gold Card. As a friend of mine pointed out, his employer (Academia Sinica) interprets the dual nationality requirements as stated to mean "we'll do what we need to do to get your application through when you get tenure". Imagine having to be a tenured professor at Academia Sinica before you can even approach dual nationality as an educator! Making it easier to move here and work is important for new immigrants; dual nationality is a core concern of us long-termers. Without it, internationalization can't happen, as we'll always be outsiders.

The downside of the meeting is that a lot of the issues discussed - low pay, lack of career opportunities for foreigners etc - are not easily solvable by the government. Even if they were, there's an entire legislature to convince. Two progressive legislators and the NDC are a good start, but it's not the end. There's a lot to be done and simply "this doesn't work! We can't get good jobs!" isn't something that can be specifically targeted, especially when locals are also struggling in a slow-growth economy.

The upside is that, again, it's huge that the meeting happened at all. People in government are interested, and listening, and that's more than I could say even three years ago. (And for us foreigners, is a big reason to support the Tsai administration). That's something, and we need to turn it into something real.

Monday, October 8, 2018

IELTS bends over for China

Another day, another money-making entity kowtowing to China. This time the culprit is IELTS, the international English proficiency test that is the exam of standard for those hoping to study in the UK, Australia and several other countries (most of Europe if English is the required language, Canada, New Zealand - many, if not most, American universities accept it as well).

This makes no sense to me. Sure, China is a huge market for IELTS, but China needs IELTS as much as IELTS needs China. Chinese students and others hoping to move abroad need to take IELTS to make it happen, period. An innocent reading of this would be that many Chinese want to study abroad, and everyone - including the government - welcomes these international connections. A more sinister one is that China can more effectively expand its United Front operations abroad if it has a large contingent of Chinese abroad to facilitate that, including students. Most of those students would have to take IELTS.

So - unlike with airlines - this just doesn't make sense. IELTS could have told China to suck an egg and I don't see that China would have had a choice. Why didn't they? The only answer I can come up with is cowardice.

In my dreams, every IELTS examiner in Taiwan (or enough of them to make an impact) goes on 'strike'. They refuse to examine, or examine only at the bare minimum to keep their certifications, causing a severe examiner shortage that the IELTS head office will have to deal with. They don't budge until Taiwan is called 'Taiwan' again.

In reality, I know how unlikely that is to actually happen.

Here's a ray of good news, if you are an IELTS examiner who is angry about this change. If you don't want to refuse to examine - though come on, do ol' Lao Ren Cha a solid and refuse to examine! Make the consequences real! -  it is possible to get in touch with the IELTS head office. Ask your employer in Taiwan (so that would be either British Council or IDP) for the correct contact information and encourage them to complain in an official capacity, as well. Don't just leave this to the Taiwanese government. Then write to them.

It's not much, but it's better than trolling Air Canada for kicks (though by all means, do that too). Someone might actually read your letter and then politely respond to you with some British blather that translates to "we don't care", but it's something.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

An internationally-recognized English teaching certification course is now available in Taiwan!

Trinity CertTESOL is coming to Taiwan!

As a teacher trainer myself, I'm very excited about this. One of the biggest flaws in the industry of English-teaching workhouses and abbatoirs here is that, once here, if you don't already have a basic pre-service teaching certification, it's difficult to get one as there were no offerings in Taiwan. No Trinity CertTESOL, no CELTA: two of the only - if not the only two - internationally-recognized programs that include practicum hours. And, as a teacher trainer, the only two that I can personally wholeheartedly recommend.

In addition to tuition fees, that meant leaving the country for a month (and losing a month's worth of income, if you could get the time off at all) and paying all associated costs with living in another country for that month - possibly as well as rent back in Taiwan. I know it was a huge financial burden when we went to do CELTA in Turkey.

Now, that's no longer necessary: on November 5th, a part-time (Monday-Friday, 9:30-13:30) certification course is finally available locally! If you can be free in the mornings, you don't have to leave Taiwan or stop working.

Trinity is equivalent to CELTA, which means that it will be useful to you even if you leave Taiwan. Having not only been through CELTA but also Delta and in the middle of a Master's program in the same field, I can say that it's worth it. The curriculum is sound - and I'm a teacher trainer who has completed an equivalent course herself, I would know - and the practicum hours set it apart from weekend or online courses. You will certainly become a better teacher because of it, if you take what you learn from it and incorporate it intelligently and thoughtfully to the classroom while developing your own style.

It's also important to remember that these certifications aren't meant to create insta-teachers or classroom superheroes. Nothing can do that except experience, reflective practice and consistent, high quality professional development. They are pre-service programs, which means they are open to people who have never taught. They aren't even meant to give you all the skills a professional needs: entire multi-year teaching programs exist for that, and not even they can accomplish it. They're meant to give you the fundamentals you need to be competent in the classroom as a novice teacher, or to improve your practice as a current teacher, with the assumption that you will receive further development and institutional support from your employer (how much institutional support you are considered to need post-certification will vary). They are stepping-stones to higher-level in-service teaching degrees. They get you on the track - they're not the end of the road.

You may be wondering how such a certification can help you in Taiwan. I admit that's a real problem here: the complete lack of any sort of qualifications needed to be a "teacher" in Taiwan, and how certifications are generally not rewarded well, which feeds the cycle of mediocrity and poor teaching practice.

But, better jobs in Taiwan do exist. There are fewer of them, but they are generally only open to teachers who have these certifications, or at least, those who do get their resume pushed to the top of the pile. These jobs tend to be more professional and pay better (though I wouldn't say they are wonderful - almost no job in Taiwan is). You may be frustrated that at Happy Oxbridge Engrish Scholar's Acadamy, you won't get a raise for doing this program, and I'm sympathetic to that.

But, better places to work will actually consider you seriously if you do, and that will come with better pay and other perks, like the ability to request more time off (unpaid) or more time off in total (perhaps paid).

Oh, yeah, and you'll just be a better teacher for it.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Of peanuts and monkeys

Screen Shot 2018-09-08 at 11.46.38 AM

This is perhaps the third time I've written about this in a week, but I just have more to say.

I've been thinking about a few issues I'd like to [try to] tie together: reactions to my post about how long-termers in Taiwan aren't here for the money but are aware they're being undervalued, the general state of English-language media in Taiwan, and English as a second official language in Taiwan.

When I wrote about long-termers and low pay here, most reactions were supportive. The negative ones landed into two groups: those who think NT$66,000/month is fair, or even good, pay for a job that requires several years' experience, high level skills and (unfairly) a Master's from abroad, and those who said the pay wasn't important because the job would be good for someone who would be in Taiwan for a few years and would likely just want to beef up their resume.

So, let me toss some word salad about why both groups are wrong before I move on.

In terms of fair pay, the fact that pay is too low in pretty much every other sector doesn't make $66k for this sort of job acceptable. If you can make just as much money (or more) as a Dancing English Clown at a cram school, a job that requires no qualifications, experience, education, training, professional development, skills, talent, work ethic or consistent sobriety, why would you seek to improve yourself so that you might qualify for a higher-level job, especially one that states right in the ad that you'll be doing consistent overtime in a stressful environment?

And why would you want to take all of that education, experience and skill to make just about enough money to drink at Bar 7 and live in a shared flat or rooftop cesspit with paper walls, if you have any hope of saving meaningfully? Because after you pay your student loans on that foreign Master's degree and save NT$30k each month, that's about what you can afford, if you have no dependents. If you've gotten a postgraduate degree, learned Mandarin and acquired translation skills and experience, you are probably not 24 anymore, and would rather live like an adult.

Others say that this job is aimed at young Taiwanese Americans spending some time here but not planning to stay, or for those looking for a springboard to gain experience. This also misses the point: first, this isn't a newbie job. This could have been an excellent post for an early-mid-career bilingual professional writer, editor or translator, who might well have stayed on for years improving not only their own work, but elevating the English-language output of MoFA as a whole. It could have been a boon to both some lucky long-termer and to MoFA, who would get excellent work in turn.

That is, if it had been positioned that way: as a good but demanding job with a great salary, rather than as a short-term lark for an ABC kid with a Master's who's in Taiwan.

This whole idea of getting some experience in Taiwan and then leaving actually bothers me quite a bit: there are those of us who wish to stay, and as I've written three times now, we try to contribute and give back to Taiwan in gratitude for what Taiwan has given us. Although I won't spend paragraphs bashing them, I have less respect for those who come, take what they can get from Taiwan, and then leave. It strikes me as a little selfish. I have a more profound appreciation for those who want a fair shake from Taiwan, but also want to give back to this country in a sustained way. And yet, one of those grab-and-go types will probably get this job. MoFA will have a revolving door of people who never really develop themselves and get merely passable work, and Taiwan won't benefit.

Which leads to my next point - if the national government is serious about sweeping initiatives like making English a second official language in Taiwan, it's going to have to shake up its whole attitude toward a lot of things. It can't have a MoFA attitude towards English education, asking for everything and offering nothing.

The government needs to think about employing the right people (which it can attract with the right offers), taking seriously the idea that teaching, writing, editing and translating in English are professional careers that people do over a lifetime and seeking out those people, and basically getting quality by paying for quality in terms of remuneration, benefits and work environment. There are those of us who want to stay, who can do good work, but who aren't going to be attracted by what's currently on offer. We're here and we don't want to go anywhere - if the government is serious about bilingualism, internationalism and multiculturalism, it needs to provide more enticing reasons to stay, and stop creating jobs aimed at grab-and-goers.

And it needs to take those people seriously when they point out the flaws in the status quo vis-a-vis English education in Taiwan: from a poorly-regulated cram school industry to, as a friend pointed out, the fact that students who only learn English in public schools generally don't come out having learned any English, to the way the exam system, through extreme negative washback, hinders the whole process. It needs to hire people who can then develop something better, and that's where long-termers looking to contribute to Taiwan come in. We - not just me, I'm nobody, but we - can actually do this alongside and in support roles to talented, passionate and qualified locals, but only if the will is there. We can't take a grab-and-go attitude.

This isn't true only for the government, but for the education system as a whole: from buxibans to universities, if you want talented educators who can actually help Taiwan achieve English as a second language, you need to not only give those who are already working toward this end a better environment in which to succeed, but to offer jobs that entice talented professionals, not a revolving door of Chads and Braydens who aren't implementing even so-so curricula well, and will go back to Idaho in a few years anyway without seriously considering whether they actually contributed to Taiwan.

Oh yeah, and if you are serious about multiculturalism, how about treating the many Southeast Asians who come here for work with a little more kindness and respect? Even just better working conditions and pay, not being all racist towards them, and not raping or enslaving them would be a good start.

This bleeds over into English-language media as well. Why is Taiwan News, which is essentially a gossip rag peddling the same sensationalist articles translated over from Chinese-language gossip rags, now the most recognized English "news" source in Taiwan? How'd we hit the bottom of that barrel?

Because there aren't very many jobs for talented journalists in Taiwan, either. By all accounts, the Taipei Times made a go of it once, but are now so under-resourced that even if there were talk of updating its website and media strategy for the 2010s and beyond, the resources just aren't there to make it happen. It was (is?) the English-language paper that both the expats and the Taiwan advocate Beltway crowd read, and probably never would have been a huge money-maker given its smallish target audience, but it could have sopped up the market that Taiwan News is currently engaging.

Great people have worked at the Taipei Times - and some have even worked at the China Post (believe it or not) - but they all leave. Few people build a career and stick with it, because the jobs on offer just aren't that great. We all know about the one guy who wrote a whole book on it (though you'll need a nacho bowl for all the shoulder-chips it comes with), but I've heard this from many sources. Low pay, long hours, hardly any time off (typical Taiwanese annual leave, which means not much at all), difficult environment. No wonder the best journalists they hire, if they can attract them, cut their teeth and then leave. The state of English-language news reporting suffers for it.

A friend pointed out that this has real-world consequences: she was talking about racism in Taiwanese society specifically towards Black foreigners (which is absolutely a thing), but it also has international consequences. If Taiwan News is the best we can are willing to do, and Taipei Times is offering peanuts and putting out thin content, what news about Taiwan from local sources is reaching the pro-Taiwan influencers abroad? What effect does this have on Taiwan advocacy internationally? What effect does it have on reporting on Taiwan from outside sources? Would that improve - because the state of it is pretty damn bad - if local news put out better, thicker, more compelling stories in English (and Chinese, but this post is about the foreign community)?

Could they perhaps accomplish that if they offered better jobs to committed long-termers looking to make a difference?

The long-termers will stick around - most of us, anyway.  We'll continue to fight for Taiwan in whatever way we can, and carve out niches for ourselves. I do the work I do (I have no single employer, by design) because I can get some satisfaction that way, and make sufficient money. If Taiwan wants us to come out of our little self-carved niches and join the fight for real, there have to be opportunities for us to build real careers in important and useful places, which offer adult remuneration and conditions for real skills.

If Taiwan engages the long-termers who are looking to contribute more meaningfully (and the locals too), the country will be better for it. Media, education, the government.

But if this work continues to toss peanuts our way, we aren't going to pick them up.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

This whole "English as the second official language" thing

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So you've probably heard that Premier William Lai has promised to make English the "second official language of Taiwan", with the idea that English, being an international language, will help raise Taiwan's visibility and competitiveness.

You may also recall that Lai enacted the same policy when he was governor of Tainan - this is clearly some sort of pet favorite project of his. Of course, if you've been to Tainan, you might notice that English isn't particularly widely-spoken there. That's not a critique of the programs in place, it's an observation from my trips there: the program may be fantastic, but I have not personally noticed a city-wide improvement in English proficiency.

This leads me to wonder whether Lai likes this particular policy because it looks sweeping and potentially transformative, it looks forward-thinking (and specifically focused on a world outside China), but is ultimately toothless. There will be no accountability when language proficiency goals aren't met, which is great for him.

And they will not be met, because the Ministry of Education, at the national level, doesn't know how to set second language proficiency goals that are based in real-world communicative competence. I doubt any study providing reliable data about overall English proficiency in Taiwan will be done.

Hell, forget communicative competence - I'm not even sure scores will go up on the crappy, useless, garbage English exams they've got now.

(Oh, sorry, I should use professional terminology. The tests lack most types of validity, are inauthentic, are so indirect as to be thoroughly unable to measure real-world ability, tend not to test at the discourse level and often don't even make sense.)

I don't mean to imply that I disagree with the general idea of making English a second official language. Many countries have English as one of their official languages, including India, the Philippines and Nigeria. At first glance, it also seems as though these countries do have high(er?) rates of actual English speakers.

That said, those same countries also tend to have a colonial history that is intertwined with English, which Taiwan does not. Generally, English as one of the official languages in those countries happened because of that colonial history, so while there may be correlation, there's no proof of causation. English-medium education in those countries is more likely to exist regardless of official language policy.

I'd still be otherwise on board though: there is a lot of evidence to support the idea of bilingual education, if this is where the policy were going to lead (but it's almost certainly not going to lead there.) A big question in multilingual education is whether policies create learners of languages, or users of languages. I would be strongly supportive of evidence-based, professional-led (as in, actual language teaching and second language acquisition professionals, not ministry officials with general Education degrees) movement towards an English education policy that sought to create users of languages, with assessments and measurements designed accordingly. (Check out the Routledge Handbook of Multilingualism for more on multilingualism in general, including this topic.)

If you want to know why Taiwanese kids study English constantly yet so many can hardly speak it, look right past your folk theories (though some are better than others) and look straight at that. Taiwan as a nation, whether in buxibans or the formal education system, simply does not seek to create language users. Target that, and you've cut the whole damn knot.

That's not likely to happen, however. Even if the programs in place in Tainan are good - and I have it on solid authority that they are, despite a lack of data about their overall effect on English proficiency in the city - national-level obstacles in how language education is viewed in Taiwan will almost certainly make it difficult to roll-out an effective, modern program nationwide.

The overall reliance on exams create absolutely terrible learning benchmarks (benchmarks themselves not necessarily being bad things, it depends on how they are designed and applied). Teacher training, when it is good, can't make up for this due to the pressure to give in to negative washback (I haven't read the material in that link but Kathleen Bailey is reliable, so I feel confident posting it).

The main issue, to my mind, is the overwhelming negative washback of the stressful national high school and university entrance exams. There is already some indication that the exams create a situation where elementary school teachers feel free to implement communicative language teaching (CLT - which is hardly a new concept; it was developed in the 1970s) whereas teachers at the junior high school level and above feel more pressure to teach using older methodologies that they feel better prepare learners for the test (rather than preparing them to actually use English).

If something so mild and mainstream as CLT can't even be successfully implemented nationwide at all grade levels, I don't see how a more innovative curriculum might overcome this obstacle.

This is not a criticism of the teachers themselves. I began my own teacher training career believing teacher training in Taiwan was abysmal; now I've seen enough of their knowledge base and classroom practice I have a more optimistic view. My only gentle critique is that there is a heavy focus on the Applied Linguistics/SLA side of teaching, and not enough on pedagogy/methodology/classroom management and how to apply them.

Others who would have a strong basis of knowledge for evaluating teacher cognition (including their knowledge of how to teach), who have talked to teachers in other contexts in Taiwan, tend to agree: the teachers may well know what they are doing, but there are a lot of barriers to being able to implement their ideas in the classroom.

However, I see no evidence that people in charge of managing language teachers and curricula at the national level know what they are doing, or can handle pushback from more traditionally-minded critics. That's not going to change overnight, and the best-trained teachers in the world will struggle with that hurdle.

On the plus side, multilingualism is not necessarily subtractive - the Taiwanese government got that wrong when they made it illegal for kindergartens to employ foreign teachers (which doesn't necessarily mean the same as not allowing English to be taught in them; I can't find any sort of law against that, but that was certainly what they were going for). The government assumed English would be subtractive and take away from local identity, when it never had to be that way.

Learning a second language at any stage - even at the stage where it could be a second native language, or L1 - doesn't take anything from knowledge of one's other L1. It may take a little longer for both native tongues to develop fully, with a long intermediary "interlanguage" stage, but research clearly shows there is no adverse long-term effect. (For more on this, I recommend Lightbown and Spada's How Languages Are Learned).

If adding English as an "official language" does not have to be subtractive to local languages, then wouldn't it be additive? As in, gaining an additional skill on top of the linguistic competencies one would gain simply being born and raised Taiwanese? Research does show that additive environments produce more successful learning outcomes. I would hope so, but I do question why English is prioritized for "official" status over Taiwanese Hokkien, Hakka or any indigenous languages as languages actually spoken natively in Taiwan. It's hard to make the case for English being an additive rather than subtractive language competency when it is being pushed to the forefront ahead of other neglected local languages. That's close to the definition of what it means to be subtractive!

A final thought: there will be people complaining about this policy as "linguistic imperialism" - I see where they're coming from, but I take a more, let's say, postmodern view. Modernism states that English can only be introduced as a language in a colonial or postcolonial context exploitatively: that it is always subtractive, never additive, and always seeks to overlay this new identity of "English speaker who therefore conforms to Western/Inner Circle norms" onto whatever original culture exists in any given place.

Look...sure. But Taiwan isn't some poor postcolonial backwater exploited by the West - it's a developed democracy exploited by China (where the idea of Mandarin as an official language originated!) If anything, Mandarin is more of a linguistically imperialist language to have as an 'official language' than English!

Taiwan, rather, tends to use English in an 'appropriative' way: those who really learn it want to learn it so they can use it to their own ends, to meet their own goals. Those goals might be as lofty as disseminating a message - perhaps writing an op-ed for the Washington Post about Taiwanese identity - or as workaday as advancing in a chosen career. Taiwanese use of English is far more in line with a postmodern, World Englishes or English as a Lingua Franca model of second language use than a "linguistic imperialism" model.

So, there ya go. This could work - it could be a great idea. We could come together to create a language learning paradigm that created users of English rather than just learners. We could torpedo the language exams, because they are useless trash. We could turn English into something additive to Taiwanese culture - and use it as yet another way to differentiate Taiwan from China.

But we won't, and Taiwan will probably suffer for it. Whatever might have caused the disconnect between Tainan's attempts to implement innovative English curricula and my anecdotal observation that proficiency has not improved, it likely exists at the national level as well and will cause the same problems.

Even now, I notice it is difficult for my students to effectively talk to foreigners (they generally get better after they work with me). Many have expressed a desire to promote Taiwan abroad. Some are actively trying to do this, or hoping to, but they come up against their own language competency limits, and get discouraged. It takes longer to communicate effectively when this happens, and people just don't have the time. As a result, the 'case for Taiwan', the soft power of the Taiwanese people themselves, never quite makes it out of the larval stage. And I see little to suggest that Lai's grand vision for English is going to help those who want to grow wings, because there is no indication that there is a plan to overcoming the obstacles it will face.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Improve English education in Taiwan with this ONE WEIRD TRICK!

My work in Taiwan is dominated by adult students who ask for help with accent training. They need to do business with Koreans, Japanese, various speakers of Southeast Asian languages, Australians, Latinx people, Indians or various Europeans.

You see, all their teachers have been from an "Inner Circle" country (UK, Ireland, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand). They are therefore most used to those accents, North American ones in particular. They might meet people with those accents, but for business, there is a real need to better understand other Englishes.

My life in Taiwan is unfortunately punctuated by people bloviating about how racism in the English learning industry is somehow acceptable because of "choice" or "the market" or something (their arguments don't make much sense, because they are constructed mostly to avoid confronting uncomfortable issues rather than as stand-alone opinions).

They might try to say that this is acceptable because of some sort of subjective "clarity" of certain accents, although of course how clear an accent is depends in great part on how exposed you are to it compared to other accents (these people are not exactly experts in second language acquisition).

Some pontificate on how it is preferable to be taught by a "native speaker", usually with a very poor understanding of second language acquisition or what being a "native" or "non-native" speaker might actually mean. There is even less recognition that many people in India, Singapore, Nigeria, the Philippines (and more) are, in fact, native speakers, let alone questioning why they aren't recognized as such.

(The answer is racism, by the way. But that's hard for Johnny McBackpacker to admit when it casts doubt on his strongly-held opinion that "the market" is the Fairest Arbiter Of Them All.)

My life in England is characterized by mostly non-native speaking classmates, all of whom are fluent in English, and all of whom know more about the pedagogy of how to teach English than the average Johnny McBackpacker.

Sure, they have accents. But many of them have the accents that my adult students say they need to better understand for their work. Every last one of them is qualified to teach in Taiwan, but many if not most would struggle to get hired here.

We talk about all sorts of things, not least of which is the idea of English as a lingua franca (ELF) or English as an international language (EIL). Most English learners speak regularly with other non-native speakers, some perhaps almost entirely so, especially if they are using English in business or academia.

Back in Taiwan, the consequences are not surprising - all that learning of English from Canadians, Brits and Americans (the so-called 'preferable' native speakers) has actually put those students who tell me they need help with accents at a disadvantage. They get to work and realize, oh, all that time I spent with Teacher Becky listening to dialogues between Tim and Karen, but I actually have to communicate with people who don't speak like Becky, Tim or Karen. I have to do business with Sandeep and Cheng and Fumiko and Nnedi and Abdurrahman and Lupa. 

Of course, most people making hiring decisions are not educators. Even if they realize that they are actually disadvantaging their learners by not providing the English education many instrumentally-motivated Taiwanese learners are likely to need, they don't care. "It's the market." And the market wants white - even Inner Circle "native speaker" teachers who aren't white struggle to get hired.

And I just can't help but think, if y'all hired fluent English-speaking teachers from around the world, ensuring that most learners through their time studying English were exposed to a variety of Englishes, maybe not so many adult learners would come to me asking for help, which I have trouble giving with my Standard American accent. Maybe if we hired more English teachers whose usage represented the speakers and Englishes our learners would actually be communicating with, we wouldn't have this problem.

I mean, I don't want to say "duh", but...duh?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Another kind of missionary

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A very "Chinese" Last Supper at the Catholic church in Yanshui, Tainan


Something that's been kind of in the back of my head for awhile, brought to the fore by my friend Donovan's interview with a missionary, and then the editorial some guy wrote about it. Now I'm writing about the editorial. Perhaps someone will write a piece about my blog post, and someone will tweet about that, and someone will write an editorial about that incendiary tweet, and then someone will Snapchat it or Tinder it or Grindr it or Blendr it or whatever the kids are doing these days, right up until Donovan covers the whole thing on ICRT again. The circle of life.

Anyway, friends and regular readers will know that I don't care for missionary work. I understand that many missionaries do other good things for communities, but I can't condone the 'I claim to respect your culture but I actually think this part of my culture is better and you should trash what you did before' attitude, or the idea that one does good works toward the ultimate goal of converting people. I say this even as I acknowledge that I can like and even respect individual people of good character who are missionaries.

In any case, what struck me about Mr. Angrypants here wasn't his views on missionary work which I largely agree with, but this:


Academic institutions must focus on the enhancement of logical, critical and independent thinking. Unfortunately, core values of the local culture here are not amenable, often even inimical to such essential educational goals.

The prevailing culture here is authoritarian and honors blind obedience, its education awards rote learning without understanding, it discourages young people from thinking for themselves and it punishes inquisitive minds.


The disingenuous educational paradigms are implemented in so many classrooms here on a daily basis. Therefore, there is no need in Taiwan of an additional input of uncritical thinking by religious groups that aim to hijack the minds of young people through the indoctrination of dubious contents.



I don't entirely disagree with this, though I don't necessarily think my education was that much better. But, it can't be denied that this is a large component of the educational system in Taiwan. Every time I start thinking "oh it's not that bad", I recall a story an adult student (and legit genius and overall cool person) once told me. As a student, he'd had to write three essays, each on one of Sun Yat-sen's Three Buzzwords Principles of the People. For the first two, he just restated what was in the textbook, and got perfect scores. For the third, he decided to offer his own insights as well (I've forgotten what they were, but I remember being impressed with his incisiveness), and got a C.

I don't even blame Taiwan for it too much: it's a holdover from authoritarian rule (dictators want populations that can read, write and do math, but not think too much) that sticks because it claims on the surface to have cultural legitimacy (I'll come back to this). Changing it would take a complex organized effort that considered parents, professional curriculum development, exams, administration and long-term teacher development. I understand why it's so slow to happen.

In short, he's got his tenses wrong. The prevailing culture in Taiwan was authoritarian, but is now democratic with a strong penchant for social movements and activism. The education system just hasn't gotten with the program.

I also suspect quite a few Westerners fundamentally misunderstand the historic role of education in many Asian cultures. Yes, it involves a great deal of memorization, especially of the "classics" (or math equations, or grammar patterns, or whatever). If you do this, you will pass. But historically there has also been a belief that to be truly 'educated' - to be a scholar - it's not enough to simply memorize. You have to take what you've learned and glean insights from it that you can apply to real-world situations. You have to be able to use it, extrapolate on it, consider it, do something with it. Otherwise, you might pass, but you're not a scholar.

Or as we call it in the West, critical thinking.

I'm not an advocate of this particular method of leading learners to criticality and inquisitiveness - it's outdated and just doesn't seem to work that well - but it's simply not true to say that educational traditions in Asia sought to suppress such traits.

But that's not where the real problem lies. This is:


There is another reason for concern. It is obvious that so many young people in Taiwan are literally clueless about major issues that move the world. Their life experience is minimal, their minds are soft and malleable, underdeveloped, easy to bend....

Often, young people are emotionally and intellectually insecure; they have never developed their own ideas about topics of general concern. They are lost when having to move within competitive networks of opinions, assertions and claims — the stuff the modern world is made of.


Therefore, they can be easily manipulated and “guided” by those who do have opinions, no matter whether they are good or bad.
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Asian Mary, Jesus and Joseph
(Frankly I'll take this over white supremacist blue-eyed blonde-haired Jesus)


I'm guessing he doesn't spend a lot of time around Taiwanese student activists. If you think they are easily manipulated or their opinions can be changed or bent, just ask Ma Ying-jiu how that worked out for him.

Seriously, this is one of the most offensive things I've ever read about Taiwan.

Mr. Dude turns a somewhat-valid criticism of the educational system in Taiwan into a narrative of ‘these poor dumb mindless Taiwanese are at the mercy of these missionaries’ as though they are hapless victims too stupid and thoughtless to run their own society.

You know, that society that I just noted above has a strong tradition of activism (nevermind that it used to be called 'rebellion')? The one with arguably the most successful democracy in Asia, some of the freest press in Asia if not the world, with a developed economy that they (not the dictatorship) built?

That society, apparently. According to him, it's full of morons who don't even know how to have opinions.

This literally makes me want to spit. While I don't pretend Taiwan is perfect - there are many issues here that deserve strong, if not vicious, criticism - in this particular way, I have to wonder if we're living in the same country. I mean, sure, I meet idiots here. Every country in the world has its thinkers, its average people and its, um, dimmer bulbs. Every country has its leaders, its normal people and its blind followers. But to just not see all the creativity and insight around him? What's up with that?

For every thicker-skulled person I meet, I also meet people like my student above, who risked a failing grade just to write what he really thought. I see students occupying...all sorts of things, or trying to. I see the student I had who envisioned his presentation as a series of interconnected three-dimensional cubes, in a really insightful way that I hadn't even considered as a potential mind map. I see all the great Taiwanese fiction I've read recently, the beautiful films, the students I tutored who came up with a way to safely and more easily carry water over long distances while using the movement of that water to charge a battery that could be used for electricity, the creatively-decorated cafes, the young people with ideas that they'll launch once they get the money.

I see that while the authoritarian-holdover educational system in Taiwan is accepted, it is not particularly well-liked. Most Taiwanese are well aware of the flaws, and it's entirely understandable that fixing them seems like an impossible effort (if you want to criticize this, fine, but go look at American public schools in underprivileged areas and come back and tell me you still think Western countries are 'better').

I see a country where the education system doesn't teach critical thinking, but plenty of people learned to think critically anyway.

So this guy thinks he has all the answers for how to make Taiwan better and if we’d just do what he says those poor, poor, POOR widdle Taiwanese wouldn’t be taken in by those evil big bad missionaries. Just listen to him, he’ll fix what’s wrong with Taiwan.

He knows how to make this foreign culture better, more thoughtful in ways he can relate to, more like his vision of what it should be like. Of course, without his brilliant insight Taiwan will be lost. Barbaric. Stuck in the past. Or something.

In other words, he's just another kind of missionary.