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Among the numerous universities and vocational schools in Taiwan, there are 221 departments of foreign languages and 90% of them are English departments. In regard that the supply of English-speaking talent exceeds the demand, the Ministry of Education considers it necessary to restructure the academic distribution while many scholars are in favor of cutting the amount of English departments and replacing them with departments of Southeast Asian languages and other rare languages.

UDN reports, Dean of College of Foreign Languages and Literature at National Chengchi University (NCCU) Zhang Shang-guan says that nowadays everyone can speak English and it is no longer a special skill. The Japanese-speaking field is also over saturated. Each year, 8,000 students graduate from Japanese related departments while the job market only has around 1,000 job vacancies. The outstripped supply of Japanese-speaking talent will sooner or later result in the elimination of related departments.

Zhang contributes this to the deficiency of the nation’s foreign language policy. He says the nation should examine the current situation and adjust the distribution of departments of each language to fit with economic trends and national development policies. NCCU has started to catch up with the trend and plans to apply to the Ministry of Education for establishment of Southeast Asian languages departments.

Liberty Times reports, Chen Chao-ming, a professor at NCCU English Department, says the number of Korean and Southeast Asian languages departments are too scarce. This could endanger the development of international enterprises and cause talent shortage.

Dean of College of Liberal Arts at National Taiwan University (NTU) Chen Ruo-shui says the free market should determine the reduction or increase of English departments, and the government’s mission is to help develop languages that lack resources and need support, such as the Southeast Asian languages. “We should create the supply by starting from cultivating the seeds."

Storm Media reports, National Chi Nan University (NCNU), National University of Kaohsiung and Tamkang University currently have departments related to Southeast Asian languages. Li Mei-xian, chair of the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at NCNU, points out that their students can not only the languages but also understand Southeast Asian cultures. Enterprises look to hire these students even before they graduate.

UDN reports, Southeast Asian languages have become gradually more popular in recent years. According to The Center for Public and Business Administration Education (CPBAE), NCCU, the number of students taking Vietnamese courses annually was no more than 200 in the first few years the classes were offered. But since 2012, the average number of students has increased by 400 to 600, more than the number of people that registered to take European languages, such as French, Spanish and so on.

Li also says, younger students are becoming interested in learning Southeast Asian languages. The landscape in Taiwan has changed a lot over the past decade. We can find plenty of Southeast Asian cuisine everywhere and many families have experience interacting with new residents from Southeast Asia countries. There are also many young people who choose to backpack to Southeast Asia or doing volunteer work there. “Southeast Asia has become a cool culture," says Li.

Translated by June
Edited by Olivia Yang