[lg policy] FEATURE: Taiwanese diplomats hone regional language prowess

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon May 21 11:19:31 EDT 2018

 FEATURE: Taiwanese diplomats hone regional language prowess
By Joseph Yeh  /  CNA

For decades, Taiwanese diplomats focused on sharpening their skill at using
the languages most commonly used around the world, such as English,
Spanish, French and Japanese.

However, most of them have little knowledge of languages spoken in
Southeast Asia, even though tens of thousands of people from the region
have come to work in Taiwan or are married to Taiwanese.

So when President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office in May 2016 and initiated
the New Southbound Policy to reduce Taiwan’s economic dependence on China
and bolster ties with ASEAN members, there was a new urgency to build up
the proficiency of Taiwanese diplomats in ASEAN languages.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for cultivating the
nation’s top diplomats, has taken up the challenge to address the language

Its most important initiative came last month, when it added two new
language categories — Vietnamese and Indonesian — to the Civil Service
Special Examination for Diplomatic and Consular Personnel, the national
test used by the ministry to select its diplomats.

The examination used to test candidates on 13 possible languages, but among
them only two — Thai and Malay — were exclusively spoken by ASEAN members.

When the new languages were added last year, 13 candidates took the
Indonesian exam and four took the Vietnamese exam, with a candidate for
each landing a job at the ministry, it said.

Beyond recruiting new personnel, the ministry has since last year required
Taiwanese staff at all of its offices in ASEAN member nations to study the
local language, and a total of 73 people are now participating in language

Young diplomats are also being sent to ASEAN members for language training,
an initiative that precedes the New Southbound Policy.

The ministry has been sending people abroad for language training since
1997, but it was only in 2013 that training in ASEAN member nations become
an annual routine, ministry spokesman Andrew Lee (李憲章) said.

By August, the ministry will have sent nine diplomats to Indonesia for
language training, and six each to Thailand and Vietnam.

Twelve of them were sent before 2016, while the remaining nine will have
been sent since the launch of the New Southbound Policy.

Lee said the ministry is increasing the frequency at which it is sending
staff to ASEAN members.

Aside from learning the local language, the trainees also take courses on
the laws, trade issues, international relations and diplomatic matters
related to the nation that they are visiting to sharpen their professional

Fenny Chiang (江瑜婷), a young diplomat who joined the ministry two years ago,
is one of three personnel who are to travel overseas for training in August.

She is to study at Thailand’s prestigious Chulalongkorn University for 10
months to improve her Thai.

Chiang said she studied Thai in college because of her personal interest in
a Thai TV drama and the beauty of Thai script.

She took two semesters of Thai and decided after joining the foreign
service in 2016 to apply for the overseas language training program.

With her familiarity with the language and the renewed emphasis on
relations with ASEAN members, she was a perfect candidate for the project
in Bangkok.

Such language training has proven invaluable for Taiwanese diplomats, and
Frank Yen (顏銘男), a secretary at Taiwan’s representative office in Hanoi who
studied Vietnamese from 2012 to 2013, might know that better than anyone


 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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