Original URL: http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/taiwan/archives/2003/03/17/198369

Students should begin English in grade three
REFORM: The Ministry of Education said when it begins its 2005 elementary school English-language program, children will not be forced to learn before they are ready

Taipei Times
Monday, Mar 17, 2003,Page 2 

Minister of Education Huang Jong-tsun (???) said in a meeting with heads of local educational authorities last Saturday that the government's policy to implement English teaching programs in elementary schools will begin at the third-grade level, and it is impossible to extend the program further to the first grade.

One idea that solidified the ministry's decision is the theory that learning a second language for children at an early age might not necessarily prove as efficient as allowing the children to wait until their analytical abilities have improved.

The ministry also pointed out that if the children develop their general knowledge in their native language, such skills will enhance their ability to pick up a second language.

"The English programs regulated by the education ministry in primary schools will only be offered to third-grade students and above," Huang said to the directors of local education bureaus from 25 different counties and cities in Taiwan.

"The policy will ensure that Chinese-language education is not undermined," Huang said.

English education in primary schools starts in the fifth grade, and will be extended to the third grade starting in 2005.

However, reports from the ministry showed that at least 17 of the nation's 25 cities and counties have begun English education for first graders because the high demands for students to learn English as early as possible have propelled local school authorities to begin their English education programs in grade one or even in kindergarten.

Director of the Taipei City Bureau of Education Wu Ching-chi (???) yesterday said "Taipei City introduced the English language to first graders by simply laying a foundation to stimulate the students' interest in learning English. The program is not aimed at adding to their course load or deprive them of a Chinese-language education."

"Chinese-language education is the top priority. The role of the English-teaching program is to arouse their interests, so that it will be more conducive for them to learn more sophisticated English in the future," Wu said.

Second-language acquisition linguists and education administrators have argued that learning English at an early age doesn't necessarily lead to better proficiency in a second language.

"It is well-established that younger is not faster; older children acquire second languages faster than younger children. Studies of bilingual education show that those with a better knowledge of the first language do better in second language acquisition, Stephen Krashan, a renowned cognitive psychologist and second-language acquisition linguist who is based in California, said in his letter to the editor to the Taipei Times last Monday.

The head of the ministry's Bureau of International Cultural and Educational Relations Li Chen-ching (???), who also has a doctorate in linguistics, said, "Competence in English is related to competence in Chinese."

"Increasing numbers of elementary school students in the Taipei area are speaking acceptable English because they tend to have a stronger basic Chinese-language education," Lee said.

Ruby Hsu (??), an English teacher at one of the nation's biggest chain English cram schools, said, that "Ninety percent of my students from junior and senior high schools attended English cram schools during their childhood, but there are very few whose English proficiency is outstanding."

Hsu said the best time for students to learn English is between four and eight -- before the third grade -- when one's Chinese-language study load at school is not heavily enforced.

"A bilingual environment for children at that age will help them acquire English, whereas third graders or students in higher grades tend to demonstrate lower results when they are required to study large amounts of Chinese at school," Hsu said.

Private children's English institute teachers also said that students should begin learning English as early as possible.

"There won't be mutual interference between Chinese and English-language education when they are immersed in a bilingual environment. And as long as they learn English consistently without any breaks in between, the results generally reveal they can learn it well," said an English teacher surnamed Huang from the Hess English School.

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