English-language instruction key to bilingual policy: Cabinet

Taipei, Dec. 6 (CNA) The Cabinet on Thursday approved a blueprint for developing Taiwan into a bilingual country by 2030, with an initial focus on students under senior high school level receiving English-language instruction exclusively in English in 8-12 years.

“We are aiming to train 2,000 teachers able to use English as a medium of instruction in four years to meet the demand for more English-language education,” Deputy Minister of Education Fan Sun-lu (范巽綠) said at a press conference following the Cabinet meeting.

About 18 colleges for education majors have agreed to provide a series of courses offering training and accreditation of teachers in English-language instruction, Fan said.

With the efforts of the colleagues, the number of teachers able to offer instruction in English is expected to grow to 3,000 in eight years and 5,000 by 2030, Fan said.

Under the blueprint, education was listed as the focal area to achieve the 2030 goal. The Ministry of Education has been given three months to present proposals to promote bilingualism throughout the education systems, according to a Cabinet statement.

It is likely that one of the proposals will seek to ease restrictions on teaching English in kindergartens, and schools at all levels will be encouraged to offer academic subjects taught in English.

Previous administrations have launched initiatives to improve English proficiency, but Premier Lai Ching-te (賴清德) said the blueprint differs from earlier efforts in several ways, according to the statement.

“It is designed to enhance the nation’s overall competitiveness, rather than the ability to pass examinations. It also focuses on enhancing people’s English proficiency as opposed to building the infrastructure for a bilingual environment,” Lai said.

Lai added that the blueprint is intended to forge a culture of English learning for not only students, but the entire nation and that its measures will be driven by demand not supply.

The 2030 goal is apparently a watered-down version of the policy to promote English as a second official language declared by Lai in October last year.

One of the concerns over making English an official language is that it could be prohibitively expensive to have all government documents translated into English.

In contrast, the blueprint does not require all official documents to be published in English, but rather focuses on making information and services provided to foreign nationals available in English, Connie Chang (張惠娟), head of overall planning at the National Development Council (NDC), said at the press conference.

For example, 70 percent of laws and regulations of particular concern to foreign nationals will be translated into English in one year; a glossary of procurement terminology will be established in a year to address the problem of translation inconsistencies, Chang said.

In addition, Lai told the Cabinet meeting that government agencies should cultivate the English proficiency of staff and indicated that ministers and deputy ministers should be able to communicate well enough in English to convey important messages through the international media in real time, according to the Cabinet statement.

However, the Cabinet did not set aside additional funding for the policy.

In the statement, Lai said that related agencies should make use of the English-learning resources currently available and seek allocations from those budgets to support the initiative, until 2020 when a budget will be drafted.

“We hope to trigger supply with demand, capitalize on private resources, and create maximum benefit with minimum cost in order to realize the vision of a bilingual nation by 2030,” he said.