Showing posts with label english_learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label english_learning. Show all posts

Saturday, January 9, 2021

A Bilingual By 2030 Throwdown

IMG_9843

Bilingual by 2030 is a complicated topic on its own terms alone. Using it as a hook on which to hang your favorite opinion without discussing the merits of the actual policy is not the way to go with this.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

If a "bilingual", "globally-oriented" Taiwan is the way forward, immigration reform for educators is imperative

Just a quick thought at the end of Lunar New Year that struck me as I chatted about my life in Taiwan with a friendly British couple on the beach. Links to come later as I can't easily add them on an iPad. 

They asked me if dual nationality in Taiwan was even possible, or if I would have to give up my original nationality to get it. I told them sincerely I was happy that recent changes to the immigration laws in Taiwan created a pathway, but dismayed that the path was entirely too narrow and impossible - as an educator, I'd have to be a university professor (assistant or associate - I forget which because that's so far off for me that it doesn't matter yet.) I mentioned that I have friends at prestigious institutions like Academia Sinica who have been told that this is interpreted (incorrectly) to mean "when you have tenure", so they won't even write the necessary letters for their academics until that happens. 

"Imagine," I said, "having to get tenure at Academia Sinica before you even qualified as an educator!" 

It was the same thing I'd told Legislator Karen Yu just a few weeks ago. 

My husband joined in, "It seems like a rule that was put in place with very little thought - like some people in a room just decided that sounded good, but which has a huge effect on people's lives that the folks in that room are totally unaware of."

And I've come to realize, as those whole "bilingual country" and "English as a second official language" talk starts slowly creaking its wheels towards actual action, that if the government is serious about it, that immigration laws, especially for educators, simply need to be loosened. Now. 

The usual pushback to people upset that they don't qualify for dual nationality in Taiwan (like me!) is "this is the set of talents/skills that the government has decided it needs, that's why it's comparatively for someone in STEM to jump through the hoops, but difficult for teachers. They want STEM workers but don't need so many teachers. Deal with it!" 

This is of course nonsense, though I do acquiesce that this is what the government *thinks* are the skills it needs to attract to Taiwan. What's horseshit is the notion that Taiwan actually needs more talented foreign STEM professionals. Taiwan has reams and reams of local STEM talent, the best of whom are leaving Taiwan due to low pay and poor working conditions. (and even so, if anything there's a surplus of engineers and IT professionals. Perhaps pay would go up if they were more scarce.) Foreigners aren't going to take those jobs in any great number because the jobs aren't very good; what it needs is to provide attractive enough opportunities to get its own talent to stay, and perhaps some foreigners as well. Taiwan is not a developing country; what it would take to satisfy top Taiwanese talent is not far off from what it would take to attract foreigners. Expectations don't differ that much. 

But what Taiwan actually does need - or will need in the coming years - is talented educators. It's true that there is a surplus of not-very-well-trained "English teachers". While I support a way forward for them in the field that involves better apprenticeship and training than what is on offer now, they are not the ones I mean. We have a lot of those (too many, in fact) and not enough trained and experienced foreign educators - whether you have a teaching license, a Delta or a postgraduate degree. Among those who are here, a disproportionate amount are English teachers or non-specialized teachers of young learners; teachers who specialize in other subjects are harder to come by. We have even fewer experienced language teacher trainers - and I don't just mean among foreigners. There aren't that many options for teacher training in English among locals either. 

The government seems to have realized this - the talk at the meeting before Lunar New Year focused at times on this need. But they don't seem to have realized that if that is the talent Taiwan must attract, then one of the best ways to get those already here to stay and attract new professionals is to make it easier not just to move here, but to stay. That is, to further amend immigration laws so that teachers who want to build a career here have a hope of staying on as citizens, someday, if they wish. 

If we're going to really go ahead with a "globally oriented Taiwan" - that is, a country where English is integrated culturally to a degree that eases the road to greater internationalization, which is the actual goal - Taiwan is going to need more than a handful of professors who currently qualify. 

They are going to need teacher trainers (you know, like me). Not just to train up foreign teachers, but locals as well (which is what I focus on). No country actually achieves the level of 'bilingualism' that the government says it aspires to with foreign teachers alone: you'll notice that English medium teachers in countries like Singapore, India, Hong Kong (I'm calling it a country and don't care what you think) and the Philippines are overwhelmingly local. They're going to need advisors, translators, editors and tutors. They are going to need English proficiency test examiners (even though tests like IELTS suck for political reasons and you should not take them if you can avoid it.) 

And yes, they're going to need just regular teachers. Not just English teachers; if Tainan is any indication, this push is going to go hand-in-hand with a bilingual education model, where regular subjects are taught in English. This model isn't particularly common in Taiwan, although schools with multilingual curricula exist; educators who are familiar with it will be needed, and a number of them will be foreign. Teacher training programs and certification courses will hopefully become more readily available in Taiwan - I have high hopes for international standard pre-service certifications, including those run by Cambridge and Trinity. But those require trainers, and to get to a point where locals can do those jobs (as such training does not currently exist in Taiwan), we'll need foreign teacher trainers. 

So, it makes absolutely no sense, from this moment forward, for the government to imply through its immigration law that it does need foreign engineers but it doesn't need teachers. It makes no sense to set the bar for educators so ridiculously high that almost no-one meets it, and to predicate it on a job some valuable educators may not even want. 

Personally, while I think I'd be a fine academic, I find a lot of meaning in teacher training, especially training up non-native speaker teachers. This is a real contribution to Taiwan - but to become yet another university professor teaching the same old academic writing and speaking classes? That is also meaningful, but we have a lot of them already. Are more of those what Taiwan really needs, at a time when it will be gearing up to train a bunch of new teachers in modern methods that are not currently common here?

Many of us are already here, and have made Taiwan our home. We want to stay and contribute, and one of the best ways the government can ensure that we do is to make it feasible for educators to gain dual nationality. Taiwan is a fine place to live as well; surely some newcomers will want to stay. 

It's time for Taiwan to truly open the door to them, and amend its immigration policy to reflect the talent it says it needs. 





Thursday, October 18, 2018

Taiwanese teens know that their English classes are terrible

IMG_5461


As an English teacher who believes in the power of authentic communication in language learning -after all, that's how I learned Mandarin - I've been following the work of Taipei Teen Tribune with interest. It's an English-language 'new media' website with articles written by Taiwanese teenagers, with a lot of really great content (and a useful site to follow if you want to know what Taiwanese youth are thinking). And as a professional, I'm interested in how it has helped Taiwanese youth to develop their English language proficiency.

Recently, 12th grader Irene Lin wrote this insightful piece about what it's like to learn English in Taiwanese schools. It goes something like this: 



Many students, who are able to get high grades on tests, are incapable of having an actual English conversation nor write an 

essay on their own. Lessons are designed for students to be able to answer grammar questions and fill vocabulary into sentences rather than practical usage.

Treating English like a math problem is the major flaw in Taiwan’s English education. Students are taught to look at a sentence by breaking them down into pieces based on parts of speech. Overemphasizing grammar and neglecting content causes students to misuse vocabulary and leads to a lack of ability to comprehend meaning.


Lin suggests a solution that pretty much every professional educator with solid training can get behind:


The amount of reading, writing, and speaking needs to increase to solve the problem. However, we not only need to increase the amount but also its difficulty. Students learn more vocabulary through a novel compared to a five paragraph text; learning to write an essay provides the opportunity to learn critical thinking, an ability that Taiwanese education has never taught.


The analysis itself could go deeper, but what is said is spot-on. I'd bend over and do backflips to have a student like this in my classes, and I don't even teach teenagers (I work with adults). Essentially, she's spot on that macroskills work needs to be increased by a massive amount, with an eye to creating users, not learners of the language. Taiwan's secondary school language curriculum currently focuses on passing the various national exams, which in turn are focused on a grammar-structure-heavy view of language.

It's a classic example of negative washback, and the effects are already well-known: while many Taiwanese English teachers are open to more communicative-competence oriented language teaching, only elementary school Taiwanese teachers of English feel they're able to actually incorporate this into their teaching. This is true even in Tainan, where "English as a second official language" has been a policy for a few years now: elementary school teachers are overall more enthusiastic than junior high school ones, almost certainly due to the pressure of preparing learners for national exams.

At the secondary level, teachers repeatedly say that the pressure to prepare learners for exams (which do not focus on communicative competence at all) keeps them from meaningfully incorporating learning approaches that are shown to produce competent users, not just test-takers.

There is just no way to incorporate anything like communicative teaching, task-based learning, a lexical approach or the Big Mama of bilingual education - CLIL, or Content Language Integrated Learning - at a national level as long as the teachers are still pinned to the wall vis-a-vis the national exams.

The exams themselves need to either be scrapped (at least the foreign language sections, though I'm of a mind to say the whole thing should go, with more proficiency-oriented assessment methods taking their place), or revamped so completely that they look nothing like what learners do now. There is just no place in modern language learning for pages and pages of grammar analysis without any nods to practical usage or even meaning in context.

There's just no other reasonable way to teach English for proficiency - you can't expect teachers to do that and to produce test-takers who can handle a grammar-heavy sit-down exam at the same time. The tests have got to go - but good luck convincing parents, some old-school teachers, and more conservative officials in the Ministry of Education that.

Certainly, meaningful skills and systems practice should be a part of any meaningful language-learning curriculum, but it's not enough to say "increase the difficulty."  As other professional educators in Taiwan have noted when reading this, another big issue is that the ways in which language classes in Taiwanese schools are already difficult are not the ways that will produce proficient users of English.

For example, as a knowledgeable friend pointed out, there's a glut of vocabulary in the current curriculum - far too much to absorb in any real way. If the target language for each class is 4-5 new words at most - but those words are truly used in terms of collocation, colligation, common usage, presence in idiomatic speech and more, and strongly contextually presented, by the end of a typical Taiwanese student's education, they will have still learned thousands of words - more than enough to be proficient, if they can use them across several collocations and phrases.  The difference is that they'll be more likely to actually remember what they learned, rather than trying to cram five times that many lexical items into their brains, vomiting it all up on tests, and then forgetting most of it soon after.

That Lin and her peers already know they're receiving a sub-standard language education is a start. That Lin is able to say clearly that her education does not teach her to think critically is, ironically, a sign of critical thinking ability. It gives me faith in the new generation, so I'll kindly thank you to stop calling them strawberries and mindless phone drones.

All of this leads right back to issues with making English a "second official language" in Taiwan


The idea itself isn't a bad one, and the stated goals of the program are actually quite reasonable. The goal isn't to make everyone a fluent speaker, or even necessarily a fully proficient one. They're to make Taiwan a more navigable, understandable destination for foreign visitors and businesspeople - essentially, to internationalize. They're to make English less 'scary' (so, for example, maybe shop assistants won't run away when they see me because they're afraid to speak English; nevermind that I speak Mandarin), and to improve the English curriculum that Taiwan already has. The timeline is reasonable as well.

That said, the fact that Taiwanese youth already go through about a decade of English classes in school, and most who don't come out speaking English in any meaningful way (those who do have almost always taken additional after-school language classes) is a massive problem. Simply having more classes won't help if the curriculum is ineffective. But if the curriculum doesn't work because it's preparing learners for exams rather than teaching them to use a language, it can't be changed unless the exams change.

Tainan is already doing a good job with this on the tourist end, with improvements such as English audioguides now available for major temples, so that any visitor can take a self-guided English-language tour of a number of Tainan temples, and by all accounts the work is quality.

When it comes to improving actual education and proficiency, however, my big worry is that there's simply no way to know if it's working. There seems to be no assessment mechanism built into Tainan's program, which is a yellow (if not a red) flag itself. Even if there were, it's so new that we'd have no idea if it were working by how anyhow; it's too early to know. That Lai has announced the initiative at a national level now is pure politics.

These issues aside, the problem that Lin dances around in her piece is exactly the thing that I fear will torpedo the program: we have no idea whether the continued existence of the national exams in Tainan is having an effect on the "English as a second language" program there, because there's not only no data, but no mechanism that I know of to collect it. Now, imagine that problem on a national level. I just don't see how this is going to work unless we kill the test-heavy way languages are taught in Taiwan now.

That itself is hard to do unless we clean house in terms of the teachers and Ministry of Education officials who will fight such changes, and not just hire "more teachers", but implement improved training for those teachers (both foreign and local - the time is here when it comes to no longer allowing uncredentialed 'native speakers' to be hired as English teachers in Taiwan, with little or no institutional support or meaningful training once employed. Although that's how I got my start, the system simply has to change.) For foreign English teachers, insisting on an internationally-recognized certification - especially now that one will soon be available in Taiwan - and setting parameters for which certification programs are accepted is just a first step.

On top of that, an entirely new curriculum will have to be written, which challenges learners in appropriate ways. What it means to assess learning will have to be entirely re-vamped. Only through consulting with experienced, trained teachers can we ever hope to do this well. 


Until that happens, we might be told that English education in Taiwan is going to change, but teachers will continue to prepare for the ludicrous national exams, and students like Irene Lin aren't going to see their language education get any better.

I'm not holding my breath. 

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

0-2


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.