By Liao Hsien-hao 廖咸浩
The worst way to endorse a policy is to do so without consulting others, while being behind the times. The government has been trying to implement a bilingual policy, but the officials involved need to open their eyes and learn from others in the international community. They must refer to those who have tried to implement all-English education in their countries.
The government needs to understand that such education is under serious review. If Taiwan’s policymakers fail to be “international” and learn from other nations, how can they teach Taiwanese to be “international” using the bilingual policy?
Northern European countries are teaching foreign languages. These countries are smaller than others, and few use their languages, so they believe that to “connect with the world,” they must grasp others’ languages, especially those of more powerful nations. The four countries in northern Europe and the Netherlands are often considered model examples of countries that have “internationalized” themselves by acquiring foreign languages.
However, over the past decade, their once diverse foreign language education has gradually become an English-oriented one. As English and these countries’ languages — except Finnish — are all Germanic, derived from Proto-Germanic, it is much easier for their populace to learn English than others.
From the beginning of the 21st century, these countries, spearheaded by the Netherlands, have devoted themselves to internationalizing their higher-education systems — they are actually Anglicizing higher education — by increasing the amount of teaching conducted in English. At this point in the Netherlands, 23 percent of undergraduate courses are taught only in English, with 12 percent offered in English or Dutch. In terms of graduate courses, 77 percent are offered entirely in English.
Voices of dissent have been heard from the northern European countries. Regrettably, given that the de facto Anglicization of higher education has been carried out under the banner of “internationalization,” those who oppose the policy are regarded as too conservative. Things changed in 2018 when a backlash began in the Netherlands.
First, the Vereniging van Universiteiten — now known as Universiteiten van Nederland, or Universities in the Netherlands — proposed a new “anti-internationalization” strategy that aims to limit the number of international students who are monolingual English speakers. The association’s strategy insists that every school must focus on improving students’ command of Dutch.
Beter Onderwijs Nederland (BON, “Better Education Netherlands”) organized by teachers of all levels pushed the arrangement even further. The BON teachers believed that the all-English education would jeopardize the status of the Dutch language in universities; worse, Dutch might be “eliminated” from the higher-education system, becoming merely a colloquial language that is irrelevant to teaching and learning.
BON demanded that English only be used for educational rather than economic purposes; in other words, English should not be used as a means to attract international students.
The group said that most teachers’ English could only be called “Globish” — a broken English of poor quality — which would only lower the quality of classes and lead higher education catastrophically astray.
Recent studies conducted in northern Europe on all-English education also confirmed that teaching in poor-quality English only results in undesirable outcomes. Teachers have to spend more time preparing for classes and are not always able to explain the subject clearly in English, resulting in simplified content being taught. Teachers can find it difficult to encourage students to participate in English and their classes can become dull.
Meanwhile, students can find the classes hard to follow and the content boring, they might lose interest while being unable to participate and afraid of asking questions.
Teaching and learning require a language that can be effectively and accurately used. To teach in a foreign language rather than one that is common among a country’s populace can result in great loss.
In 2018, after the Netherlands took the first shot, the popularity of all-English education in northern Europe ebbed.
The Italian Constitutional Court in 2017 ruled that all-English teaching was unconstitutional. In 2021, the University of Copenhagen required that foreign teachers be able to teach in Danish after six years of living in Denmark.
At the University of Oslo, the primary language used must be Norwegian; English can only be used “when appropriate and necessary.” All students should learn Norwegian, and schools should develop technological terms in Norwegian.
In June, the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science demanded that at least two-thirds of undergraduate courses must be offered in Dutch.
Clearly, these countries have become aware of English hegemony as a consequence of all-English education. They have realized that their own languages and cultures are seriously under threat, but it is uncertain whether these European countries can turn the tide.
These countries’ experiences can be learned from. Should Taiwan insist on following the wrong path?
Liao Hsien-hao is a distinguished professor and dean of National Taiwan University’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
Translated by Emma Liu
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