Showing posts with label teaching_in_taiwan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teaching_in_taiwan. Show all posts

Saturday, January 9, 2021

A Bilingual By 2030 Throwdown

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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.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Revisiting the "Bilingual By 2030" plan: a note of cautious optimism

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Since President Tsai’s 2nd term began, there has been renewed talk from the government and media interest in the “Bilingual by 2030” program introduced in her last term.

Some of what has been said recently is promising: 


"The younger generation of Taiwanese need to learn how to clearly explain to the international community what kind of country Taiwan is, as well as its core values and its people," the president said. 

She said one major problem of Taiwan's current English teaching is that schools focus more on teaching vocabulary and grammar. 

"We need to provide a comprehensive English learning environment so that speaking English becomes a very natural thing in the country" she said, adding that this will be a major challenge for the government over the next 10 years.


The program follows the same general principles of the “bilingual” English program created in Tainan City under then-mayor (and now Vice President) William Lai. 

I wanted to discuss the various elements of this policy, how they’re being approached on a few different levels, and what the issues are likely to be. I’ve written about this before, but that was back when the plan had just been announced, and nobody was really sure what to say about it, myself included.

Some of my concerns have since been addressed. Others remain, not all of which I'll discuss here. Generally, however, I'm more cautiously optimistic than I was before.

What is the program, exactly?

The first concern is the term “bilingual” - it’s confusing in a Taiwanese context, because Taiwan is already multilingual, so it would have been smarter on the part of the government to call it “Multilingual by 2030”. Thanks to the clunky title, there is a common belief that the goal of this program is to make every Taiwanese citizen fluent in English by 2030. That’s simply not the case. 

The endgame is better as improving the overall level of English proficiency in Taiwan (which is not the same as “making everybody fluent in English”) and making business and government affairs more internationally versatile - a Taiwanese populace that can go out into the world with the language skills they need to study, work or simply talk about Taiwan (or anything else) with foreigners, and a country that is accessible to international business. 

“Proficiency” has many levels, however. Nobody thinks every Taiwanese citizen will suddenly become fluent in English. Even in highly English-proficient societies like Hong Kong and Singapore, actual ability varies quite a bit between individuals. That’s normal. 

Another concern is that the program will simply involve more English class hours in school, which will necessitate importing large numbers of foreign teachers to teach these classes. I don’t know the exact plan for the number of dedicated English instruction hours, but I can say that one big push of the 2030 program is to increase CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) instruction: to teach some non-language classes (such as math, science and history) in English, not necessarily increase dedicated language class hours. This is good, as one basic tenet of language acquisition is that input and interaction in a variety of authentic situations and environments brings about fluency - for example, taking classes in other subjects in that language - moreso than direct language instruction.

One issue with this plan is that there may not be a large enough pool of local teachers who are willing to teach these classes in English, and I’ve already heard of reports of pressure from school administrators on teachers who don’t necessarily want to agree to this, but are being pushed to do so anyway. 

If it actually works, however, CLIL-based instruction has the potential to accomplish what more hours of traditional language instruction could never do. It’s one reason why English proficiency remains strong in former British colonies across Asia: they tend to offer English-medium instruction.

Generally speaking, the more people are informed about the program, or the more involved they are in it, the more optimistic they are about it. That’s a good sign. A lot of ‘involved’ people I know say that it’s a solid idea without a fully-fleshed-out game plan, and how successful it will be depends on how well it’s implemented. It could end up being successful far beyond most people’s modest expectations, or yet another performative act in the country’s repeated attempts to “internationalize”.


The colonial history of English in Asia, and why Taiwan is different

Of course, Taiwan is not a former colony of any English-speaking power. That means it lacks the English “advantage”, but also that English in Taiwan is not necessarily mired in post-colonial discourse. It’s important to remember that in those former colonies, access to English was given primarily to local elites as a way of ‘bringing them into the fold’ - that is, ensuring their loyalty to and even desire to imitate their British colonial masters. For everyone else, the British actually pushed local-language instruction. They framed it as respecting local cultures and customs (at least, one person writing about Hong Kong put it that way, even invoking “Confucian values” long before that term became a drinking-game level cliche), but in another sense, it was blatantly about ensuring that non-elites would not start getting ambitions beyond what the British wanted of them: to remain manual laborers whose efforts enriched the empire.   

If all that makes you feel squicked out - it should. 

What Taiwan seems to be attempting to do is compete with these former colonial nations (yes, I treat Hong Kong as a nation) in terms of English proficiency, without the colonial baggage it came with. I honestly cannot think of another example where that has been successfully done. 

The good news is that this freedom from an English-speaking colonial history means that the English education in Taiwan can be discussed in terms of its utility for Taiwan domestically and in terms of international communication. 


The real key: local talent

This would also not necessitate the mass import of foreign teachers of dubious quality (I’ll get to the quality of instruction later). It would not even require bringing in many teacher trainers to train up locals. 

Instead, the hope is that the country will tap its domestic language teaching talent - the best and most qualified Taiwanese teachers - who can be trained up and mentored to become teacher trainers themselves. The “foreigners” - which includes foreign teacher trainers already based in Taiwan - would at that point take on more of a support and mentorship role. There could be some outside help and possibly new teachers hired from abroad, but mostly the plain is not to kick current teachers out in favor of a bunch of foreigners. Instead, it’s to create a robust CoP (community of practice, in which experienced teachers with training skills induct more junior or novice teachers into the profession) that is self-sufficient and self-renewing from within Taiwan. 

There are other initiatives - translating government documents and websites, ensuring that travel and business information and basic services are available in English - I’m less qualified to speak on those plans. I do hope the government realizes that there is already a strong base of Taiwan-based editors and translators - both local and foreign - who could potentially do a good job with this if they were properly recruited and incentivized. 


Addressing Concerns: Local and minority languages


There are concerns that focusing on English will damage the status of local and Indigenous/minority languages (some of these criticisms are clearly partisan attacks - ignore those - but not all are). This is an issue, but I don’t think it’s as dire as some are predicting. First of all, there’s a lot of intersectionality in those local languages. Taiwanese is generally considered one, but we can’t exactly call it a ‘minority language’, can we? Outside of northern Taiwan, it’s not. And Taiwanese - suppressed for so long by Mandarin - has also played an oppressor role against Hakka and all of the Indigenous languages. 

I do think if we’re going to talk about English as the potential oppressor of these languages, that we first need to grapple with the damage that was intentionally done to them by Mandarin (and perhaps less intentionally, but still just as damagingly, by Taiwanese). This is where a ‘multilingual’ rather than ‘bilingual’ perspective would be helpful. 

The thing is, these local languages tend to be community-learnt. Attempts to turn local and Indigenous languages into ‘school subjects’ have not generally been successful - if my reading is correct, that’s true around the world. They tend to flourish when their widespread daily use is promoted in communities, supported by a variety of media that users of those languages can consume.

The question is, what do these speech communities want in terms of promotion and support of their own languages in Taiwan? Has anybody asked them? (I’m guessing not.) What kind of funding might they want, and how might it be used? The government would have done well if, while turning its eye to English, it had also focused on building multilingual initiatives - asking these various communities in Taiwan what sort of support they would like, and then providing it. Not every family teaches their children the language of their ancestors, and whatever support they might want in changing that pattern, where it exists, is vital and should not be pushed aside in favor of a sole focus on English. 

English, unlike local languages in Taiwan, will probably not be learnable in a ‘community’ setting such as this for quite some time, if ever. From that perspective, the plan to increase exposure to and use of English won’t necessarily be taking much away from local languages - they would occupy two different spaces, and already do. Tsai has said that one goal of this “Bilingual by 2030” plan is to equip Taiwanese with the ability to tell Taiwan’s story to the world, which is a laudable goal. English - a second language - would be a language for looking out into the world, and welcoming the world to Taiwan. Local languages would exist for living within Taiwan, and maintaining local knowledge and heritage.

That’s not to say that local languages can never have a place in schools in Taiwan. But, it will be hard enough to get local teachers ready to teach non-language subjects in English. How difficult will it be to find teachers who can teach math, geography, health or other subjects in Taiwanese, or Hakka, or Atayal, or Rukai, or Amis? I certainly think it would be a worthwhile effort, but I would not expect immediate results. 


The dividing lines of English

As English seems to always bring class divides with it, there's a concern that middle class and wealthy urban Taiwanese will benefit more and deepen inequality. One can see signs of this already among the children of the upper middle class and wealthy, who are more likely to grow up around English, have family members who speak it fluently, often studying abroad themselves. In a sense, it echoes the way English was brought to Asia originally. Just remember that the same used to be true for Mandarin in Taiwan.

That is a real concern to be addressed if we want to break down these barriers. If a robust CoP is created that has Taiwanese teachers training their junior colleagues, rather than bringing in foreigners to train up locals, then that knowledge will be more easily disseminated to smaller communities and schools with fewer resources. I’d also suggest making education resources more equal across the country, obviously. 

It is quite unreasonable to expect a kid from a more marginalized community to grow up in Mandarin, and then pick up several second languages (English plus Taiwanese, or Hakka, or an Indigenous language). It’s more reasonable to work towards a society where both Mandarin and local languages are learned as mother tongues within various communities, with some education support available in ways requested by those communities for non-Mandarin languages (Mandarin has been so wholly foisted on Taiwan that it hardly needs any support), and English is more robustly taught as a second language. 

In fact, I’ve met more than one person in Taiwan who prefers to communicate in their local language (usually, but not always, Taiwanese), will choose English as their next preference, and will avoid Mandarin if at all possible. That means there is an opportunity for English to push back against Mandarin language imperialism in Taiwan, if people decide to use it that way.


The demand side

Some have spoken of the need to create ‘demand’ for English, not just spending money creating supply of instruction. I’m less worried about this - the demand is there, if we can connect it to learners’ actual motivations. There are teachers in Taiwan who reluctantly admit that many students see English merely as an academic subject, and study it simply to get a test score and further their education. But, leaving aside the massive amount of English-language media that many Taiwanese do consume and express a wish to better understand, there’s the fact that most regional business (not just global business - I mean across Asia) is conducted in English. As much as China might like it to be otherwise, English, not Mandarin, is the language of regional communication in Asia. 

Are Taiwanese youth interested in communicating with people from other Asian countries? Do BTS fans want to connect with each other even though they don’t all speak Korean? Are politically-minded youth interested in the meme-heavy Milk Tea Alliance or its slightly stodgier, more clearly political Network of Young Democratic Asians? Are they interested in working or studying abroad, or working in Taiwan for an international company?

Yes, many of them probably do. 

The demand is there, and it’s not always a function of linguistic imperialism, where the periphery is trying to imitate some sort of White, Western center. We just need to connect it to how we deliver the supply.


Institutional constraints: testing

That’s where my own concerns come in. The research is clear that Taiwanese teachers in general are aware of more communication-based teaching methods, and in fact there is a strong (though not universal) desire to use them. (I've read this research but need to get a dissertation draft in - I'll link it when I have time). 

Elementary school teachers report the highest feeling of freedom to teach their learners in communicative ways. At higher grades, however, the washback from the testing system causes teachers to feel they need to focus more on preparing learners for major exams.

In short, a large number of teachers in Taiwan want to do more with language education, but feel constrained by tests that simply do not reflect actual language knowledge. (I’ve seen some of the tests. In some cases the expected answers are actually inaccurate, or only one answer is accepted when more than one answer is possible.) 

If everyone wants to move away from focusing mostly on “grammar and vocabulary” and towards communication,  then the biggest obstacle holding them back is the exam framework. At least for foreign language education, it simply has to go. If there has to be an English requirement for school admission at all, require an international proficiency exam score (the cost of this should be subsidized for students from lower-income families) or simply have an oral interview. 

And yet the exam framework is the one thing nobody is discussing doing away with.


More institutional constraints: language teaching qualifications

My other concern is the language teachers that the government is hoping to bring in from other countries. As it stands now, one can get some teaching jobs in Taiwan with just a substitute teacher’s license, which can be obtained with little or no experience and minimal training in some places. However, reputable and internationally-recognized language teacher training programs - such as the CELTA, CertTESOL, CELT-P, CELT-S, TYLEC and more (there are others, including higher level training programs) - are generally not recognized. 

Part-time postgraduate programs like mine, which is face-to-face but takes place over several years, are also generally not recognized. There’s no reason at all for this, as part-time programs deliver the same content as full-time ones.

There has been talk of Taiwan creating its own language teacher training program, which feels unnecessary as there are so many good ones already available. But without recognizing the programs which already exist, there is no clear existing local framework to assess the quality of these new hires.

When assessing teacher training programs, it’s not difficult to figure out which ones deserve recognition. We don’t have to officially sanction shoddy weekend or online TEFL certifications.  Stipulate a minimum number of practicum hours that candidates must teach and pass - let’s say, 6 - and you’ll have weeded out all the scams and be left with more reputable courses. 

And yet, there is not nearly enough discussion of changing this paradigm. 

Along with that, it would be smart for the government to officially pivot away from native speakerist policies that privilege inexperienced Westerners from a handful of countries over qualified teachers from around the world, which could bring a diversity of knowledge and intercultural awareness to Taiwan. In fact, improving intercultural awareness might be the biggest benefit of Bilingual By 2030. We also need to do away with nonsensical laws:


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What’s odd about this rule is that English is not an official language of the US, UK or Australia - which have no official languages. And yet, you can get a language teaching job if you are from any one of them. Guess where English is an official language - places like Nigeria, the Philippines, India and Singapore. And yet you don’t see schools or the government rushing to hire teachers from these places, either. 

Finally, I have grave concerns about the buxiban system, which I won’t go into here - we all know what the problems are. Buxibans could be a force for good in making English more widely accessible as a tool for communication, but not as they currently exist. Parents, however, often have no clear way of assessing which buxibans attempt to provide quality language learning, and which are overpriced daycare centers. I would like to see that change. 

Cautious Optimism

I’m more optimistic than many about Bilingual by 2030. 

While not all Taiwanese will become ‘fluent’ or even highly proficient in English, nobody is expecting them to. Those who do use their English skills to go out in the world and introduce Taiwan to the international community - whether directly through activism or indirectly as simply Taiwanese citizens living abroad or working with foreigners - will be worth all of this effort. 

If implemented soundly, it has the potential to make Taiwan more interculturally aware - imagine a Taiwan where blackface videos aren’t considered comedy! - without necessarily impinging on or damaging local cultures and speech communities. If the right trainers are found to participate in a robust local community of practice in which Taiwanese teachers take the lead, more teaching qualifications are recognized, a CLIL program is successfully implemented after sufficient (and ongoing) training and support, and the English examination system is completely dismantled, Taiwan might successfully do what few countries have managed: gain the benefits of an English-proficient society without the colonial baggage. 

The fact is that Taiwan can’t isolate itself. Certainly local languages certainly matter and deserve support and attention to the same extent as English, but while Taiwan can’t only look outward, it can’t navel-gaze either. If Taiwan wants to see the world on its terms and maintain its sovereignty in the face of a screeching, frothy-mouthed, annexationist neighbor, it has to get those messages out to the world. Like it or not, as of now the way to do that is better English education which focuses on English as a communicative tool rather than a purely academic subject.

Honestly, it is possible to do both: to promote local cultures and support local speech communities, and support greater internationalization. I honestly think the two are only mutually exclusive in the minds of people with their own agendas.

Generally, I believe that the government understands this. They get the big picture. They see why it’s important and what the endgame should look like.

I do worry that some of the details are being overlooked, some of which - like the complete unsuitability of the exam system and the lackadaisical, uninformed way qualifications are often evaluated - might be exactly the details that bring the whole thing down. I worry that a focus on bilingualism rather than multilingualism will turn out to be a liability. 

But, there is still time to do this right. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Schools in Taiwan bear more responsibility for racism and native speakerism than "market demand"

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There is no reason for these doors to be closed. 


When I first moved to Taiwan, I worked at one of the big chain cram schools. Every Friday, I had a class of rowdy upper elementary school kids. I wasn't very good at my job - frankly, I should not have even had that job - and they overwhelmed me. My co-teacher was an Indonesian woman who was simply amazing. Better than me, for sure. She probably still is, even though my teaching now would be unrecognizable to anyone who knew me then. The kids were awed by her; they listened to her. 

That school treated her well, though I will never know if we were paid equally (I can't be certain, but probably not). In the years after, I came to realize something: such respect is rare from schools in Taiwan, for both teachers of color and non-native speaker teachers.

These are two distinct groups - non-native speakers can be White, and native speakers are often not - but the way many schools in Taiwan think about both groups is rooted in White supremacy. Many will prioritize hiring, or only hire, White teachers. Others will hire only native speakers, but not native speakers of Asian heritage. Or they will define "native speaker" ridiculously narrowly - as though the term is possible to define at all.

Native speakerism is as wrong as racism in language teaching, an issue I've gone into before. The qualities of a good teacher include experience, quality training (which may not be the same as a certification, though some certifications are better than others), an appropriate level of English, the ability to plan and execute useful lessons well, preferably over the course of a complete syllabus, and who has good classroom management practices, and an open-minded, hardworking, growth-oriented mindset.

This is already well-known in Taiwan. However, when confronted with the issue, these schools will say it's "the market". "The market" demands native speakers. "The market" prefers White teachers. "The market" will take teachers who are not White, but no Asians. "The market" wants native speakers, but will take a European non-native speaker over a native-speaker teacher of Asian heritage.

The schools never examine their own role in how discriminatory the entire system is.


However, starting from that first year in Taiwan, it has become clear the market is not the main problem. Yes, one will meet racist or native speakerist parents and students; I don't deny they exist. But good teachers - wherever they come from and whatever language they learned first - tend to build strong relationships with their learners. Good teachers are usually successful in the classroom - even more so when the schools that hire them stand by them.

While some parents and students are unreasonable, for the most part, when asked to open their minds to a teacher who looks different or has a different accent to what they expected - they do.

The biggest problem, then, is likely the schools. Why do they insist that students and parents will only accept a certain type of teacher, when that's not necessarily the case?

For some, it's simply that they're businesses and don't prioritize education. As such, they're not willing to stand by quality teachers and take a leading role in changing the minds of the "clients" who do make racist or native speakerist demands.

For others, I suspect it's a manufactured preference: selling your "clientele" on the idea that White or 'native-speaker' teachers are somehow inherently superior, even though they aren't.

By the way, there's research to back this up, too.

You probably don't believe me yet, so instead of droning on about it, I'm going to turn my platform over to a group of teachers with varied stories, but who have all experienced some form of marginalization in English teaching in Taiwan. Note the key commonality: when their employers stood by them (and even sometimes when they didn't), these teachers all managed to build strong rapport with their learners, and in some cases the learners' parents. The so-called "market" was often open to instructors from a variety of backgrounds.

Let's start with T.'s story of a new colleague:


At the [school] a few years ago, they had a [private] practice of not considering Asian Americans for English teaching positions. Not that it was public. As the only female instructor, I felt it was essential to replace me with a woman, especially since three-quarters of our students were female: it's hard to prepare adult students to socialize in international settings without access to a female perspectives, experience, or role models.

I was disappointed--and incredulous--when someone told me, "no women have applied." Another employee showed me that several women had indeed applied, but that they had Asian names. I wrote an email to the entire office celebrating the fact that women had applied for the job and explaining why it was so important.
Because of the nature of the organization, and  Taiwan's constitution forbids racial discrimination, and because the director was a humane man, the administration took it seriously, interviewed Asian Americans/Canadians, and hired one.
Conventional belief had it that students would be dissatisfied with Asian-looking teachers, doubting the quality of their English. Instead, the new teacher was extremely popular with the students who valued her perspective of being of Asian descent in Canada and the U.S. The fact she looked Asian probably made it easier for our female students to imagine themselves navigating international business environments in English. So the belief that "customers" will be dissatisfied with teachers who are of Asian descent is outdated.
Even if it isn't, it's unethical and cowardly to give in to that as a business strategy--even when the problem is that parents of kids going to buxibans are unable to assess the authenticity of someone's English. Management needs to educate these "customers" and support their teachers, not cater to racism that sometimes exists primarily in their own imagination.
"Market demands." It seemed people were assuming they know what the "market demands," and were mistaken.
People will justify racist decision-making by saying they are doing it because someone else asked them to, as if they have no responsibility themselves for perpetuating racism when they enforce such "demands." It's not their own racism, it's someone else's that they are enforcing. It doesn't matter what they do or don't think if they enforce racist requests.


P. is from India, and holds a Master's in English Language and Literature. He's a native speaker just as much as I am; the only difference is the variety of English that he speaks.
Having completed by BA Honours in English Studies from a top university in India (2nd for Humanities and Social Sciences), I interned at a school through AIESEC in Taiwan in 2013. I was asked to teach some English lessons and share insight into Indian culture for a primary school in the outskirts of New Taipei City. It was a great experience and I got along really well with fellow colleagues and students overall. I was subject to occasional comments from students about how “black” my skin is and got questions asking me to clarify.
Wanting to pursue teaching in Taiwan, I started looking out for job opportunities. I was a young graduate, who was well travelled and spoke English as a first language – I thought the world was my oyster. I was reminded very quickly in all these ESL jobs forums on FB that I’m a “non-native” speaker of English, I have no knowledge of the “culture” to teach it and should go back to where I came from. These harsh attacks from both Taiwanese and White people in Taiwan.
I found myself a scholarship to do my MA in order to stay, and then looked for jobs. I was so disillusioned for 2 years. There were no opportunities. When some interviewers spoke to me on the phone, they would be so thrilled to hear about my qualification and experience. But when they saw me in person, they were surprised that I was not white. “We didn’t know you were black. Sorry we don’t hire black people.” 

The kind of racism I faced from White teachers was even more shocking. I expected them to be better allies, but they merely saw me a rat coming in to destroy the ESL market and reduce their wages. Even people I considered friends refused to let me help them cover their classes when they wanted time off – they too told me I was Indian and non-native so not good enough for the job.

I tutored math to a kid; I wanted to tutor the kid English instead, but they said I’m Indian so I should teach math, and they chose a white French woman with questionable English to teach him instead. Then I got an online teaching gig where I had to lie that I was Canadian or British. That was my entry point into teaching – I already had a student visa so they were happy to give me the job after a demo and a blatant lie about my father being a Western man. I did this for a few years.

After completing my MA, I started a PhD [but still had trouble finding a teaching job]. This gave me an entry point into universities as a lecturer. I must add that I only got this job because a White female friend left her post there and recommended me. I cried for hours wondering if it was real.

While students took some time to get used to me, we shared a really special bond every semester. They appreciated that I had a unique outlook to my teaching, brought creativity in the classroom, taught ESL through literature and had a more communicative approach in my teaching. Soon I found another part-time gig at another university. I was doing very well there too. I think I can say for sure that I was probably the only, if not the first, Indian to lecture at an English department in Taiwan. While this felt really amazing, it also came with its challenges. There was no scope for development, full time jobs at universities are non-existent, and no PhD means goodbye, eventually. They paid terrible wages for such a position.

This is why I eventually left Taiwan after 5 years. While I saw some success, the cost of it was much more than I could handle. Having moved to Vietnam, I make twice as much money, have professionally developed so much and work at an international organisation where my identity is seen as an asset rather than a liability or something to cover up.



R. is a teacher from Southeast Asia who speaks Mandarin, and whose English is indistinguishable from what some would define as a 'native speaker':
[I experienced discrimination at] one of those big high school chains. I had to take a test (which I aced) and an interview and the other two people they hired they literally just grabbed from the street because they look foreign. The job was to grade essays and we finished early. The two were allowed to leave early. I had to assist the front desk until my time was up. 

[In another job], I was told I spoke English too quickly at the interview. Then they went and called me a “bilingual” teacher and offered me 550 (with my 10+ years of experience) and said to my face that if a white person rolled in fresh out of college they would be offered 600. This was the moment I decided to stop speaking Chinese unless necessary. I made it my goal to be indistinguishable from a native speaker, a goal I reached maybe a decade ago. 

I don’t get repeat students too much because I teach mostly test prep so it’s usually one shot and done but I do get some students through word of mouth. And my business English students requested more classes when we were done with our first round.

Basically, the students I’ve had seem to like me. The problem is getting through the interview process because I’m often vetted for my ethnicity and passport.

C. has had issues with parents preferring White teachers, but once in a teaching position with school support, was able to be successful, showing that it is possible to fight the racism that exists in the market if schools would take a leading role:

I was born, grew up, and graduated university [in the USA]. I don't know how anyone could argue with me being American after that.

The first school I worked at I didn't know better, but I later found out that white teachers were often paired with a Taiwanese local teacher so that there were two adults to wrangle 30 students. Since I spoke Chinese I had to juggle my class on my own. I also discovered that the White teachers were paid an additional 20,000 NTD per month. I quit.

I worked at a language school as the administrative staff at [a well-known school for teaching foreigners Chinese]. Initially the school was hesitant to hire me because they said students wouldn't know who to go to if they had questions to ask in English. I suggested I should have a sign that read "English secretary". One more than one occasion the parents of a fellow overseas Chinese would come with the student to the office and demand to speak to the 'white lady' they'd spoken to on the phone. It sometimes would take me about 5 minutes to convince the parents that was me.

I have had parents and students quiz me about my English. One mother insisted my English wasn't adequate because she walked into the break room to see me eating a [typical local food] and a real native speaker of English would never eat that.

My current school generally doesn't print my last name on our public roster because of security reasons and because they've discovered my enrollment is higher when parents and students don't see the last name is [a common Chinese name]. My problem wasn't always hiring. My problem was staying the job, typically once the parents met their child's English teacher (me) and complained to the school about my Asian-ness.

Currently, I'm employed at [a language center at a major university] where my clients are the students themselves with minimal parental interference.

I got along great with my students. Currently I would say my students like me a lot too, I have several who have continued on with me for 4-5 years. It's a continuing education class so students can continue to enroll as long as they like.

In previous jobs my problem has been more parents, but it's also schools being too lazy to defend their teachers and just bowing to parental pressure. I mean, if a teacher (me) can help students score well on the TOEFL or win speech contests the school should go to bat for this teacher. Instead they let me go and hired a White teacher because that was the parental demand.


B. is a qualified non-native speaker who was denied opportunities as a non-native speaker, but whose nationality and first language were not an issue once hired:

I've faced this a couple times in person in my years in Taiwan. I'm from Mexico and that was enough to be denied opportunities.


My story is not particularly shocking or entertaining to retell, but living through it felt surreal. The contact person at one school (a private primary school, if memory serves me correctly) and I had exchanged a few emails, she had seen my CV, I went to the school for an interview, and she was very happy with our meeting. Everything pointed to me getting offered the job. Then she went away, left me in that office for a while and when she came back she said she could not offer me the job. I asked why and she matter-of-fact blamed it on my being Mexican. 

Alas, I couldn't get answers. It didn't matter when I pointed out my perfect [English proficiency test] score, my education at an international school, my experience teaching for many years, my teaching certifications - nothing mattered in the slightest. I was told one time at a teaching job interview, almost certainly at this one but I can't be sure, that it wasn't the hiring person's choice but the parents’.

I told her that her reason was insulting and absurd. She didn't budge. She didn't seem nervous or ashamed. Just matter-of-fact. This insensitivity was more than anything, what I found most confounding. I tried to keep my share of the dialog exchange short and calm to give her a chance to explain, to coax a better rationale, but I couldn't take the conversation anywhere. It was as if she simply couldn't muster enough empathy to stay present in our conversation.

I'd had many jobs before and since. I loved the two teaching jobs where I worked for the longest (at least six or seven years). I have experience teaching at all ages, kindergarten to high school, children and adult language centers, large class rosters and small, individual tutoring of children and adults, almost always English because that's where job offers are in constant supply, but occasionally was happy to accidentally land Spanish gigs too.

I first taught at that buxiban when I subbed for someone else. When they were ready to offer me a permanent part-time position they were unsure about my nationality. They asked me to take a test, perhaps it was the the GEPT, and when the perfect result came back they put aside all their concerns — if any customer ever asked they could proudly show them my score. So my nationality really was only ever an issue during job seeking.

Relationships with parents were rare but when they existed I always felt we had good rapport, and when we weren't in complete agreement about something it might be because they're surprised when I tell them their kid's participation in class is an asset. "my shy kid? That’s the first time I’ve heard that!" Perhaps people underestimate how different we can be in another language. I can't think of a single instance where a conflict with a student was at all related to my native-speaker status or nationality.

I tried hard to give them cross-cultural perspectives on linguistic prescriptivism, emphasizing that certain pronunciation of grammatical differences are normal for different communities, but I don't feel like they needed to listen to that from me in order to recognize that whatever linguistic differences were discernible in my own speech didn't take away at all from the quality of the education they were receiving.



S. is a Black American woman and talented teacher who has faced discrimination from "the market", but has been successful and popular with students when working in more professional settings:
I haven't worked at a school that was racist against me for the same reason I don't have friends who are white nationalists. They kinda already exclude me from their lives. [Years ago things were worse], but most schools that discriminate against black people nowadays tend to be [low quality] schools that are below my standards.

[In some cases] I lost performance points for things like "not smiling enough" and for losing students from a class where the parents were actually racist. [I know that because] they sat in the back of my classroom, chatting in Chinese so all the children could hear. They got pissed when I reminded them it was an English immersion classroom, even though I didn't comment on the fact that they were bitching about the Black teacher.

There were schools where kids came back to the school or skipped grades just to be in my classes, and where school owners put their kids specifically in my classes. There is optimism about good schools. But unfortunately it's not easy to find them - not unless you know what to look for.

And for non-white teachers - we don't have the freedom to walk into any job and play glorified babysitter while nursing a hangover like a white person can because those kinds of schools tend to be only about appearance over quality.

Fortunately, however, many of those schools closed down when parents and schools realized that schools that put effort into an effective English program were better than some place whose entire "curriculum" revolved around hitting flashcards with sticky balls and squeaky hammers.

As the quality and expectations of parents have risen, especially under the fact that parents now tend to only have one or two kids who they invest a lot of time and money into with the dropping birth rate, they are seeing through the façade of some unqualified dude who looks like he just stumbled in drunk from an all-night pool party (which more often than not was the case) to wanting to know the results and seeing more professionalism.

N. turned down a job with an online tutoring service because of their discrimination against others, a "business decision" that appears to have been made based on exactly zero market research:
I had a job interview for a curriculum director job. It was a tech company that was developing an online tutoring service. In the interview, I was told I would also have to find and hire teachers. The following conversation won't be 100% accurate, but it is a faithful representation of what happened. 

(Keep reading past the British bit. I'm including it because the racist bit appeared to be a lesser concern for them.)

“There is one problem, we can't use British teachers, only Americans.”
“Because of the accent?”
“Yes. We're launching this service in China, and they're not familiar with British accents.”
“OK, I understand that.”
“Oh, and we can't use Black people.”
“Sorry?”
“Yes. Because we're targeting second-tier cities in China, we're worried that people won't accept Black teachers.”
“Right, I can't do this job.”
“We know it's not...polite, but we have to do it.”
“It has nothing to do with being polite. This is wrong.”

I forget what I said, but I tried to explain why it's wrong. The interview ended.


The same company, but different person, contacted me last year to see if I could teach for them. I couldn't but asked about the policy. They said they had no idea what I was talking about, but more importantly, told me they hire people of all different races.


These stories all point to the need for schools to examine their own role in perpetuating racism and native speakerism in language teaching in Taiwan. The demand for White, native-speaker teachers exists, but it is not a given and is certainly not immutable. I do believe if these traits were to cease being advertised as some 'special' qualities of teachers in various schools, students would adapt.

If the focus were instead on hiring quality teachers, advertise that and stand by their staff, language education in Taiwan would improve overall. Market demand for White, native speaker teachers would reduce considerably. Schools could take a leading role in this change, and the success that good teachers who don't have the right 'look' or 'sound' have found in their roles shows that such a shift would be largely successful.

Instead of excusing away racism and native speakerism with "but it's the market", we should all call on schools to change the part they play in perpetuating these prejudices, and call on ourselves to be aware and reflective as well.