Why our children's
English is inferior
Jan 6, 2006
With the growing importance of English as a means of international
communication, both the government and people in Taiwan have been making
vigorous efforts in recent years to promote the use of this language.
The result has been what may be called a national English-learning movement.
The emphasis has been especially great on teaching children English. English
classes now start in the first grade in elementary schools, and commercial
institutions that teach children English are everywhere.
One might expect, given the craze about English, that the people here,
especially the children, should have been getting along well in acquiring
That, unfortunately, is not the case, in view of the results of an assessment
by the Cambridge Examinations Center (CEC) of the International Learning,
Teaching and Evaluation Agency (ILTEA).
The CEC recently published an assessment of the English ability of children in
English for 2004, which ranks the English proficiency of children in Taiwan 11th
among the 16 countries that participated in the evaluation. This showing is
better only than that of Vietnam, Sri Lanka, mainland China, Japan, and
At the top of the list is Malaysia, followed by Indonesia, Pakistan, India,
United Arab Emirates, Burma, South Korea, Iran, Hong Kong, and Saudi Arabia, in
To those who believe the English education in Taiwan has been fairly
successful, the most shocking aspect of the CEC evaluation is that the English
ability of the children in Taiwan has been regressing from year to year.
In 2002, when the CEC started the assessment of the English ability of Asian
children, Taiwanese children's level of English proficiency was ranked fourth
among the nine Asian countries that participated in the evaluation. In 2003,
Taiwan slipped to the ninth spot among the 14 countries in the race. In the 2004
ranking, Taiwan dropped to 11th place.
The main reason for the lack of English proficiency among our people, in our
opinion, is the ineffective teaching methods used in public schools. Although it
is generally recognized today that the abilities to speak and comprehend English
are essential, in practice most English classes in our schools still focus on
the abilities to read, and the traditional grammar-translation method remains
the most common approach used by teachers. That is to say, children are seldom
taught to use the language for actual communication.
One measure that should be adopted to remedy this situation is to drastically
revise the English textbooks used these days in public schools, which are
designed to improve students' reading abilities and by and large overlook the
abilities to speak and understand. Another is to require elementary and
secondary school English teachers to undergo retraining so that they may be
Another problem that could have been a reason underling the poor performance
of our children in the CEC evaluation is the government's policy of requiring
children to learn dialects. This policy may be well-intentioned. It is designed
to preserve the dialects such as the Holo, Hakka and Aborigine dialects used on
However, the policy means students have to learn these dialects beside
Mandarin and English. Many children are confused and find it hard to cope with
the study of three different speech forms simultaneously. It is time educational
authorities reconsidered this controversial policy.