[lg policy] Taiwan: Study to show if English a good fit for nation

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Jan 29 15:36:56 EST 2018

Study to show if English a good fit for nation
By Shih Hsiu-chuan  /  staff writer, with CNA

The government has toyed with designating English as Taiwan’s second
official language and is now willing to seriously study the matter.

Premier William Lai (賴清德) has asked Minister of Education Pan Wen-chung
(潘文忠) to lead a feasibility study on the issue and submit a report.

In launching the study, Lai directed the ministry to break down what he
said was a “major policy goal” into steps and outline how each step could
be achieved within a given time frame.

Declaring “English as a second official language” as a policy goal would
“help us focus our efforts” on elevating English standards in Taiwan, which
is important, considering the widespread use of English in international
transactions and communications, Pan said.

“If that objective is set, everyone will know where we are heading. We must
set our own pace and work to attain the objective a certain number of years
from now,” Pan said in an interview with the Central News Agency.

Although Mandarin Chinese is Taiwan’s most mainstream language, the nation
does not have any official languages, so it is unclear what having English
as an official language would mean in practical terms.

An official language is generally understood as a language “commonly used
in society and within government in our daily life, [just like] how we use
Mandarin Chinese,” Pan said.

However, he was not ready to define what such a policy might entail beyond
that, other than to dismiss concerns that the government would operate in
two languages right away or would establish certain measures that might be
difficult for people to fulfill.

“The point is not to define what an official language is, but to create a
rich English-language environment,” he said.

The idea of making English an official language was first proposed in 2002
by then-president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), but the study led by Pan is the
first to evaluate the proposal. About 20 professors of English, experts
with international experience and government officials comprise the

At the committee’s first meeting on Nov. 14 last year, it addressed issues
such as the desirability and implications of English being made a second
official language, whether it is necessary to stipulate an official
language, how to implement an official language and problems with English
instruction in Taiwan, Pan said.

At its second meeting on Jan. 17, the group reached a high degree of
consensus that the nation needs to improve its linguistic environment,
because it is critical to language acquisition, regardless of whether
English becomes an official language, Pan said.

The committee suggested that if English is to be made an official language,
the government needs to map out steps and complementary measures that could
lead to attaining the goal, he said, adding that these and similar issues
are to be further discussed over the next few months before the feasibility
report is completed in May.

Whatever the committee’s conclusion, it will likely spark debate, as
Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Rosalia Wu (吳思瑤) found after
rekindling the goal of making English an official language at a legislative
hearing in October last year, when she urged Lai to list it as one of the
nation’s “strategic goals.”

She also said that an office should be set up under the Executive Yuan to
direct efforts toward achieving the objective by 2050.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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