Topdown restructuring of English teaching needed  
China Post, Taiwan
August 3, 2007

Dr. Chaim Melamed, Pingtung
China Post, Taiwan

I would like to respond to the letter ("English exam results reflect a larger problem in Taiwan," Aug. 1) from Liu Chu-chiang concerning the abysmal English language writing skills of Taiwan students. In the university entrance exams, about 10,000 students received a zero score or merely a few marks. She states that educational authorities should examine this intractable problem. This is delightfully naive, as these same authorities caused the problem in the first place, and secondly, have failed to ameliorate the situation for decades.

Sadly, there is no person who is responsible for handling English education in Taiwan, so there is no one to turn to or to blame. Therefore, the situation remains unchanged. She further lauds the countless enthusiastic and diligent teachers serving in secondary educational institutions who have been trying hard! While I agree that many are diligent, I believe that she has missed the point. Diligence is a valued quality when it is a supplement to competence, but competence must take precedence. Would you prefer a competent or a diligent doctor?

According to a number of studies, many teachers of English at the elementary and secondary levels do not feel confident of their own English abilities in terms of fluent oral and written communication, yet these are the same people who are teaching students in Taiwan.

If we are ever going to change the situation, we need a top to bottom restructuring of the system, from the MOE down to the kindergarten teacher. One person at the MOE should be put in charge of English language teaching throughout Taiwan. Teachers should be tested in every area of English language skills, and should be certified to teach in the areas in which they are competent.

At present, we have teachers assigned willy-nilly to teach in any or all areas of English, regardless of their skills or interests. An outstanding teacher of English conversation may be a total dud in teaching grammar. We should also follow Japanís example in setting up a number of English-only or predominantly English, schools staffed with truly competent teachers, so that in future years Taiwan will produce excellent teachers of English, without having to rely on importing countless foreigners.