Taiwan’s English language education: A living dinosaur

Taiwanese napping

By Trista di Genova, The Wild East / Editorial

The Taiwanese fare abysmally in international English scores. Why?

Part of the reason could be attributed to the difficulty  of learning such a vastly different language. According to the US State Department, Mandarin is one of the world’s most difficult languages for English speakers to learn (rivaling Cantonese, which has even more tones). The reverse is definitely also true; English is linguistically a polar opposite. In other words, English is a bitch for them, just like learning Mandarin is for us!

But why is the Eng-a-leesh so poor here, when it would seem the Taiwanese actually have a linguistic advantage? They’re bilingual in Mandarin and Taiwanese, and often get by on basic Hakka, or one of the many other indigenous languages. Mandarin and Taiwanese do share the same written characters, making the otherwise mutually incomprehensible easier, which partially explains the ‘gift’ . But according to linguists, language learning is supposed to get easier, the more of them you learn. But is the Eng-a-leesh really being learned?

Other Asian populations, for example Philippine or Hong Kong, manage to achieve a good average English language proficiency. True, these examples were both colonized and acculturated by Western powers in the past, by regimes who, importantly, implemented a comparatively more competent system of English language education.

I think Taiwan’s educational system itself is the culprit responsible for its students’ embarrassing English performance. English language learning in public schools in Taiwan is so bad (How bad is it?), foreigners in mixed marriages routinely  ‘vote with their feet’. Evidence in education’s failure can be seen in the way foreigners remove their children from schools here to send them ‘home’ for a proper education; that, is if they can’t afford exorbitant costs of sending them to international schools here, like TAS (Taipei American School). Foreigners in Taiwan would never want their children to face the spirit-crushing high school entrance examination process in Taiwan, and subsequent high school ‘penalization’ that comes after the age of 12.

But why does Taiwan’s English education blow, so hard? Historically, Taiwan’s educational system was implemented by the Japanese colonizers (1895-1945), whose only goal in creating an island-wide educational system was to assimilate the Taiwanese and create an unthinking labor force. Thus math and science, even some innocuous fields like arts education, were advanced at an early stage. The Japanese mine bosses created schools to educate their own children; Shyr Yeu boarding school in Jinguashi is one example of this.

In Taiwan today, one can see the Japanese autocratic style of instruction lives on in Taiwan schools, with hourly testing, constant ‘drilling’ of students who must at all times remain quiet and silent in this boot camp atmosphere. They ‘write’ their homework (like ‘automatic writing’, as opposed to actually ‘doing’ it), preparing for tests by rote memorization. They are not supposed to contribute anything to class discussion, only look straight ahead, motionless, under the constant threat of punishment if they do otherwise; much like the British school system in The Wall. Up until only this past decade, corporal punishment was a fixture in classroom discipline.

So is it any surprise that high school students in Taiwan today seem like robots in the classroom, paralysed with shyness and insecurity? I personally observe a massive difference in the spirit, energy and confidence between junior high and high school students in Taiwan, and it seems sad they grow up in such an oppressive learning environment.

Another major problem is this: Taiwanese students rarely if ever have the experience of learning English from native instructors. This failure in the public school system has single-handedly created the rise of the multi-billion-dollar buxiban industry. Buxibans are big business in Taiwan, and maybe why education policy so far at least has  refused to overhaul the system.

Cram schools are a form a ‘supplementary education’ that actually demonstrates the failure in its high school education.Taiwan’s pervasive cram school system may be the only good job degree-holding foreigners can get, which is the positive side. But after teaching here over a decade I have come to the conclusion that buxibans are just a symptom of a bankrupt English language policy in Taiwan’s public schools.The buxiban industry then forces parents to shell out Ivy League tuition rates, so that their children actually learn English  properly, from a native speaker.

Taiwanese learn English for ten years in the public school system. So why can’t they speak it? Everybody else who studies a language ten years is usually proficient, or fluent.

Another enormous problem is due to insufficient teacher training and qualification in Taiwan. The current policy actually prevents foreign degree-holders from teaching in public schools, so schools cannot provide enough competent English language instructors in the public school system..

The problem with the current English education policy in Taiwan is it effectively shuts out a potential stream of degreed foreign teachers.  Thus you see bizarre situations where otherwise exceptionally qualified teachers are forbidden to do so., For example, in my case I hold a Master’s degree from Oxford University, and married to a Taiwanese but somehow it was against the law for me to teach at Ruifang Junior High School last year. Ridiculous!

All the youth of Taiwan are missing out ‘thanks’ to Taiwan’s backwards English education policy, and if officials were smarter they would relax these rules. According to an educational consultant to the Taiwan government, the education ministry is currently reviewing its policy on foreign teachers, which currently only allows foreign teachers licensed from their home state to teach English in Taiwan public schools.

The public schools suffer from Taiwan’s current policy, too. Since foreign teachers are given no pension or other benefits than the pleasant teaching experience, only semi-retired teachers from abroad bother – or would be allowed – to teach there.

Even Noam Chomsky, speaking at Academia Sinica a few years ago, noted the absurdity of Taiwan’s language policy, which makes it illegal for foreign native teachers to teach kindergarten. Everyone knows that is the age where language acquisition is like drinking water.Taiwan officials’ arguments against early immersion in English are tellingly specious: namely they fear the children’s Mandarin skills would somehow be compromised. Studies have proven bilingual education to actually enhance overall verbal ability.Their fears show their fundamentally flawed understanding of language acquisition, behind the misguided education policies they are inflicting upon the public.

In the meantime, to this day, foreign teachers are being deported for teaching 5-year-olds in Taiwan. Buxiban owners get around the law by lying to naive foreign teachers saying that it is all legal, and showing us the school’s ‘escape hatch’ in the likely event of a police inspection.

What’s damning for the students is that the Taiwanese who are teaching English in public schools rarely have a basic grasp of English themselves. One might reasonably ask then, so why are they considered qualified  to teach Taiwanese kids English? After all, a nation truly interested in improving in any field would properly train and educate its educators – just a little common sense here!

Let’s look abroad, and consider France’s approach. French teachers of English must spend a year in an English-speaking country, as part of their ‘formation d’enseignant’. Since many Taiwanese want to study abroad anyway, why not capitalize on their willingness, to implement better training of the teaching corps.

It is absolutely clear to me why Taiwan’s language scores are so dismal. Their educational system  is overall oppressive, its teaching style parochial, and its English language education in particularl is bankrupt and misguided in the policies that guide it.

And until today, little if any attempt has been made to update that dinosaur.

Taiwan can achieve ESL proficiency if policymakers model the system on one of the many other countries that have achieved success in ESL proficiency. Taiwan must begin with revamping its educational system, if it wants to prepare its citizens for the 21st century.

What do you think? Leave your comments below !


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Check yourself at this July 12 Taipei yoga workshop

art of yoga

Confirm attendance on <a href=”https://www.facebook.com/events/1672052289683562/“>Facebook</a>

We welcome you to join us for a nourishing day of yoga and transformational Bio Behavioral activities to help you resolve negative habits and thought patterns. In this half day workshop, we have a professional psychologist to guide us in making mental and behavioural changes in a scientific way which can lead to greater positivity and self awareness. Also, don’t miss the chance to learn more about Ashtanga and Yin yoga!

歡迎您加入此次瑜伽轉化的旅程。此次研習的學習,藉由心理醫師的解說以及冥想老師的引導,幫助您改善生活上的一些負面的習性和情緒,並以科學有邏輯的方式進入冥想:Yoga Nidra (睡眠瑜伽)。並且課程內容的安排,可以對於阿斯坦加一級(Ashtanga primary series)及陰瑜伽(Yin Yoga)的練習有著進一步的認識。

Lynn Chou (RYT), Canada STOTT Pilates certificated instructor, Ashitanga& Rocket Yoga certificated Instructor, NAHA aroma therapist, published author of 4 books, owner of Lavender Yoga& Pilates studio and the promoter of Easyoga Taiwan will teach yin and restorative yoga to allow the body to relax deeply and kick stress to the curb.

Lynn C
作家,生活家,自家管家。Lavender氧身工作坊總監,加拿大STOTT Pilates認證教師 美國瑜伽聯盟Ashitanga 200hr認證教師, 火箭瑜伽認證教師,美國NAHA認證芳療按摩師,Easyoga 蒲公英大使。個性幽默,喜歡思考及安全有邏輯的呈現課程。Lynn老師將會帶領陰瑜伽入門課程。

Farrah Furtado (E RYT)
Director of Kaohsiung Yogi school (RYS) and best selling author will lead us through Ashtanga Vinyasa + Yoga Nidra.
INFO: https://www.facebook.com/AshtangaVinyasaMysore?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Farrah Furtado,
美國瑜伽聯盟學校Kaohsiung Yogi 協辦者,美國瑜伽聯盟Ashitanga教育講師
並為美加地區知名暢銷小說家,來自於藝術世家,為葛萊美得獎歌手Nelly Furtado的親姊姊。
Farrah 至今以周遊列國至少25個國家,對於阿斯坦加及各式冥想技法有著深入的學習,尤其擅長睡眠瑜伽(Yoga Nidra)

Guest speaker :Andrew Reeder

Andrew studied his masters in clinical psychology at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, South Africa.

Worked at Livingston General Hospital in Accident & Emergency treating attempted suicide patients and trauma assessment/treatment, Lifeline as telephone trauma and suicide therapist, Elizabeth Donkin Psychiatric Hospital as Clinical therapist and diagnostician for psychiatric conditions and NMMU outpatient clinic as clinical therapist.

Andrew began studying psychology in 2000 and his love and passion for the subject has grown exponentially since that time. His majors were in philosophy and psychology with specific focus on psycho-dynamic theories, psychopathology and depth psychology. His research for his treatise focused on the bio-psycho-social model and looked specifically at the post traumatic growth of rape survivors. Andrew has worked at several South African general and psychiatric hospitals as a clinical therapist and suicide/trauma therapist.

客座講師 Andrew Reeder

南非納爾遜.曼德拉大學 臨床心理學碩士畢業



1:00-2:30PM ASHITANGA VINYASA YOGA (PRIMARY SERIES) –Farrah 阿斯坦加一級練習 Farrah


Congnitive-behavior theory: Making use of the CBT model of psychology to create increased awareness of how our automatic thought processes can lead to negative behavioural patterns. Once these thoughts and behaviours are brought into the conscious mind we can make use of simple tools to change and adapt our thought processes to lead to a greater sense of awareness and positive transformations can then take place. E.g. creating a more realistic and less negative thought process which may result in feelings of anxiety and worthlessness. We will look at a holistic overview to see the root cause of these thoughts and replace them with more accurate and reasonable ones.


3:30-4:30 YOGA NIDRA MEDITATION: HEART SPACE- (Sankalpa) ACTIVATION- FARRAH 睡眠瑜伽冥想法:尋找意願能量 Farrah
Yoga Nidra, is an ancient meditation technique which has a multitude of benefits and has been scientifically proven to improve health, wellness and activate “Sankalpa”
( your resolve or intent) in the realm of the subconscious & superconscious. This meditation helps to remove emotional blocks to effectively manifest your heart’s desire.

睡眠瑜伽冥想法(Yoga Nidra)
冥想法目前已被多數醫學研究證明是可以啟動我們淺意識及超意識中的 Sankalpa ( 意願能量)。藉由這樣的練習方式,我們可以逐漸去除掉情緒中的負面障礙,更有效率的朝向正面的目標及願景。

4:30 Tea time 休息午茶時間
修復陰瑜伽 Lynn
Yin Yoga
A restorative yoga which can help you to relax and increase flexibility using passive state postures.

Time 7/12 Sunday 1pm-6pm
location Lavender Yoga&Pilates studio (the studio will provide mats, water and some delicious tea!)
tuition: 2500NT early bird 2000NT till 7/7 (bilingual class ,the translator fee included, the location would provide yoga mats, water, snacks and course completion certificate)

時間:2015 7/12週日下午1-6點
地點:Lavender氧身工作坊 (提供瑜珈墊,水及簡易茶點)
費用:2500NT 早鳥價 7/7為止。


This workshop will provide you with 6 hrs Yoga Alliance certification. 此研習將頒發瑜伽聯盟(Yoga Alliance)6小時證書。

Please register by sending Kaohsiung Yogi an email and attach wire receipt for confirmation.

1.) Bank Transfer

銀行:Bank of Kaohsiung 高雄銀行六合分行
戶名:Name of account: FURTADO LISA ANNE
A/C#: 217210418031
高雄銀行代碼:Bank of Kaohsiung Code# 016
Bank Address: Liu He Branch 1-2 F, 27 Liu He 1st Rd.

2.) Transfer tuition via Paypal account:

Thank you kindly,

OM, Shanti!

Kaohsiung Yoga school FB Page:




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