Thursday, May 30, 2024

Taiwan news

The Taiwanese government has announced that it hopes to increase the number of ‘English only’ state schools by 25%, bringing to 257 the number of English medium schools expected to be operating by the end of 2023.

The move is part of the county’s ambitious plan to become bilingual by 2030. However, according to the Taiwan Times, commentators are increasingly questioning whether the seven-year deadline is not simply over-ambitious, pointing out that it took Singapore, a former British colony where English was already a Lingua franca among the three main ethnic groups, over 20 years to achieve bilingual status. 

A more apposite comparison would be with the outcomes of English medium schools in Hong Kong, another former colony, but on research with one dominant L1: Cantonese. A major research study led by Professor Herbert Marsh in the late 1990s found that compared to very similar students in Chinese medium education, those taught only English medium had better outcomes in English and, to some extent, Chinese, but scores significantly worse in non-language subjects. Since earlier studies had shown L2 medium education worked well when introduced at the beginning schools, they hypothesised that while early immersion works well, late immersion may not.   

In early February, the Ministry promised to throw resources at the problem: more subsidies, training, teaching materials and new English language examination software. “Through promoting…practical methods of teaching in English we will enhance the professional knowledge of teachers offering the English-taught courses.” The Ministry said for immigrant children, throughout the world, those who arrive before the age of 11 will generally catch up with their L1 peers; on average those who are older on arrival lag behind . 

However, methods and resources may not be enough – unless the teachers themselves speak good English, C1 is often seen as the necessary level. 

In Spain, where a bilingual model of education is widespread, the outcomes, at least in English, have seemed to have varied, depending on the language level of the teacher. In Madrid, which has some of the best results in bilingual schools, a minimum of C1 English is required. According to Xavier Gisbert, the senior civil servant who rolled out the programme across the city region’s schools, teachers who did not reach the required language level were funded to attend local language schools and undertake summer immersion courses in the UK and Ireland. Explaining why language level is so important, the former language teacher said: “We can’t expect students  to be better at the language than their teachers are.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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