Saturday, December 28, 2013

English as a second language, again?

Election is really something that is inclined to drive people crazy. Politicians would try anything to win and voters are forced to watch all the farces. 2014 is going to be Taiwan’s election year and crazy things are beginning to pop up. Here is one.

Few days ago, Lai Qing-de, the DPP mayor of Tainan City, announced to launch a 10-year project to make English a second official language so that the city might be easier to interlock with international communities.

However, what Lai had proposed was not news. Similar idea was suggested by DPP ten years ago to make English a quasi-official language of this country when they were in power. Hectic discussions went for months without avail before quieting down.

Whoever raised the idea of making English another official language probably do not acquire any linguistic background to tell the difference between English as a second language (ESL) and as a foreign language (EFL). Hong Kong and Singapore are examples of ESL for they were both British colonies for over a hundred years. English is deeply rooted socially and has already become a second language commonly used for instruction in schools and communication in business, whereas English is only learned inside the classroom and for business as a foreign language in countries like Taiwan, Japan, or Korea.

It would be a huge construction project if English is going to be a second official language. I would like to ask Mayor Lai if he thinks it possible to make all civil servants of his city hall to use English to communicate fluently with all citizens in ten years, not to mention that they have to draft and print all official documents in both languages. Making English a second official language is definitely not an easy task as labeling bilingual street signs and constructing an English city website

I do not deny Mayor Lai’s good intent to make Tainan more internationalized like Taipei. However, Lai should consult with English teachers than his campaign strategists if he really wants his check cashed. 

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