Language education is more than empty talk

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Dec 11 13:26:11 UTC 2006

Published on Taipei Times

Language education is more than empty talk

By Chang Sheng-en it

Sunday, Dec 10, 2006, Page 8

A recent survey conducted by CommonWealth (Ux) magazine shows that as many
as 80 percent of teachers, students and parents think that the quality of
Taiwan's college education is poor, and almost 70 percent of professors
think that the Ministry of Education's (MOE) ongoing five-year NT$50
billion (US$1.5 billion) project will be unable to create world-class
universities. So there is still room for improvement. Take our
English-language education, for example. In the face of globalization,
Taiwanese college students' English proficiency is well below par. English
is not a required course at most schools except in the freshman year.
During the 15th International Symposium on English Teaching last month,
teachers said that although government leaders vowed in 2002 to make
English a "semi-official" language within six years, no plans or measures
had been proposed over the past four and a half years.

Such language policy is imprudent and irresponsible. Education is the
foundation of a nation and has to be taken seriously. How will Taiwan
improve its students' English to the level where they can compete with
Singapore, Hong Kong and other countries? To advance our language
education, Jack Richards, a leading professor in teaching English as a
second language, proposed some valuable suggestions during a recent visit
to Taiwan. The MOE should take these into consideration as it amends its

First, expand learning hours. Second, scale down objectives. Third,
provide teacher training. Fourth, teach English in elementary schools.
Fifth, promote bilingual education. Sixth, try innovative solutions.
Seventh, redesign the curriculum. Eighth, rely on the private sector.
Moreover, according to my teaching experience, the best way is for
learners to link learning to their interests and practice the language
regularly and consistently. For the former, if a learner is a music fan,
he or she can listen to more English songs and sing along with their idols
to increase input. For the latter, listening to an English radio show for
15 minutes or English story CDs every night may be a good idea. Keeping a
diary or a weekly journal in English is also an effective method.

Studies show that activities like keeping a diary can successfully promote
"learner autonomy," eventually moving them from "teacher-centered" to
"student-centered" learning. It not only stimulates practice but also
reduces anxiety, encouraging them to keep trying or even think in the
target language. Since it is difficult for teachers to thoroughly correct
all their students' work, such authentic activities -- along with specific
checklists and evaluation forms -- serve as an alternative way for
practice. Learners can even exchange their journals with one another to
make these tasks more fun. It would, of course, be better if we could
reduce the large class sizes in Taiwan. For example, at certain
prestigious Japanese universities, there are only four students in each
English pronunciation class. But in Taiwan, I have heard that in some
schools there are 70 to 80 students in every pronunciation class. How can
teachers possibly correct students' pronunciation under such
circumstances? No wonder the quality of our language education has
gradually lagged behind that of other countries.

The situation clearly proves that unrealistic goals and empty slogans will
take us nowhere. If we really want to catch up with the rest of the world
and improve our competitiveness, we need to strengthen our language
education in a more effective and efficient way. Hopefully, the government
can pay attention to this, and take language teachers' suggestions into

Chang Sheng-en is a lecturer in the Department of Applied Foreign
Languages at Shih Chien University.


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