How Can We Transform Taiwan Into a Bilingual Country?

How Can We Transform Taiwan Into a Bilingual Country?
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What you need to know

The Taiwanese government is determined to improve the country's English competency in the next decade. Beyond education, what kind of policy changes are necessary to facilitate the reform?

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As Taiwan develops its international presence, one of the biggest concerns is whether Taiwan and its people can communicate effectively with the English-speaking world and the larger international community.

To address this challenge, the National Development Council (NDC) and former Premier William Lai (賴清德) have proposed a “Bilingual Nation” initiative to make English acquisition and competency a priority in Taiwan.

A volunteer group called Alliance for a Globally-Oriented Taiwan (AGOT) has assembled to support the bilingual initiative as well as to consult and encourage Taiwan’s internationalization. AGOT is a group of business professionals and academics interested in helping Taiwan to become more competitive globally.

David Chang, the organizer for AGOT and CEO of Crossroads and Wordcorp, is leading the group to work with Dr. Louis Chen of Global Brands Management Association and National Taipei University of Technology, and a bipartisan group of legislators spearheaded by Legislator Karen Yu (余宛如).

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Source: AGOT

AGOT’s main goals are to promote Taiwan internationally and to equip Taiwan with the resources necessary to stand out in East Asia as a favorable destination for investors, workers, and students. To accomplish this, AGOT has proposed a docket of initiatives that would help Taiwan become even more accessible to foreigners.

1) Remove Minimum Capital Requirements for Companies to Hire Foreign Employees

Taiwan’s current labor policy requires a company to have a hefty amount of capital before it is permitted to hire a foreigner on a work visa. Small- to medium-sized businesses in Taiwan would not be qualified to even consider hiring foreign employees. The same rule applies to a foreigner-owned company, which discourages foreign investment in Taiwan as well.

While this policy is in place, it is difficult for foreign investors to take Taiwan seriously as a destination for starting a company.

AGOT has gathered feedback from the international community for Legislator Yu to revise the New Economic Immigration Act to repeal the restriction.

2) Review English Copy on Government Websites

Government websites in Taiwan have notoriously bad English copy and are largely inaccessible to foreign visitors and residents who need them. AGOT has assembled a group of volunteers to highlight the difficulties faced by foreigners and to make recommendations for how the government can cheaply and effectively update their digital resources.

3) Establish a National English Day

One of the largest initiatives spearheaded by AGOT is a nation-wide festival and event bringing exposure to how useful (and fun!) English is, as well as what it can do for Taiwan. The event would be run in tandem with businesses and schools to encourage English use on this day with things like discounts and special offers at participating locations.

AGOT also plans to host a festival in Taipei, and hopefully around the island, where foreigners and locals can mingle, eat, and speak English together.

4) Place English Liaisons and Cultural Ambassadors in Government Offices

Communicating with government offices in English is difficult, which means foreign residents and visitors are reluctant to even try. The government should establish a corps of bilingual civil workers to staff these positions. These workers, acting as liaisons, would handle basic translation and English services and to promote English use where appropriate in government offices.

To start, simple, fun ideas like “English lunches” between English-speaking volunteers and intrepid government employees would serve to start discussions, with the ultimate aim of most government agencies and offices hiring at least one staff member capable of speaking both English and Mandarin. This staff person would be able to update documents and train other employees in basic, practical English necessary to interface with folks like foreign businesspeople or visitors in need of services.

It’s worth noting that some government offices have already started this practice. The National Tax Bureau, for example, is able to deftly navigate language barriers, and hopefully other departments will follow its lead.

5) Improve English Banking Services

Dealing with banking services and financial institutions in English is another nightmare for foreigners. Opening business accounts, applying for credit cards, and acquiring basic funding is nearly impossible without strong Mandarin skills. Even foreign residents with proficient Chinese still face problems due to either legal restrictions or the bank employees’ false perception that foreign residents are not entitled to the same sort of services as Taiwanese citizens.

A few banks in Taiwan claim to be foreign-friendly, but the implementation of English-language services has been slow and incomplete. AGOT hopes to work with banking institutions in Taiwan to improve access and services in English, as well as to educate banks and their employees about the differences - and similarities - in offering services to non-citizens.

6) Legalize Kindergarten English Education

English education in Taiwan is big business. While there is a tremendous demand for English education at pre-elementary age levels, most private kindergarten programs operate in a legal grey area.

This has led to a system of unregulated and overpriced programs employing foreign and local teachers who, often unknown to themselves and the parents of students, are technically working illegally.

For the sake of both students and their teachers, this system needs to change, and thus AGOT is working with educators and legislators to update and repeal these laws where necessary.

How Would These Proposals Help Establish a Bilingual Taiwan?

The whole thinking behind an “English Taiwan” initiative is that Taiwan lacks some degree of competitiveness and visibility when it comes to connecting with international markets. Stronger general English capability among the population, along with easier access to jobs, services, business and academic opportunities, would go a long way to attract diverse talents to Taiwan.

Furthermore, creating a bilingual environment would make it easier for foreigners to settle in and engage with local communities.

How Can You Get Involved?

While AGOT has formed a strong core with an expanding network of individuals who support the initiative, the team is still looking for volunteers and contributors to engage in activities and conversations.

If you think supporting Taiwan’s development and visibility is a worthwhile endeavor, get in touch with AGOT by visiting its Facebook or email David Chang at david@crossroads.tw.

READ NEXT: Taiwan Is Named the Best Destination for Expats In 2019

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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