The time for kids to start having bilingual education in Taiwan is way overdue and should be the choice of the people. At present in Taiwan, preschoolers and kindergarteners cannot legally attend schools that provide full immersion classes in a language that is not Chinese Mandarin or Taiwanese. This applies to all pre-schools and kindergartens in Taiwan. In other words, if a Taiwanese has a child that is under the age of about seven and is attending a school that teaches classes in English, it is essentially illegal, according to government regulation.
A while back I had the opportunity to sit down with several members of Taiwan’s Council of Labor Affairs to understand why the government has established such laws. “The government believes such policies are created out of fear that Taiwanese children may become bias towards another language and perhaps forget and/or discriminate against their mother tongue and native culture,” said one official. “We think if children were to become this way then later down the road wouldn’t want to reside in Taiwan and wouldn’t contribute to the development of our country,” said another official.
The two officials also went on to reference how Taiwan has an increasingly larger brain drain due to many citizens leaving the island in pursuit of lives and careers abroad.
However, my questions to CLA also happened to coincide when renowned linguist Noam Chomsky was visiting Taiwan and had a press conference at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica. He responded that establishing such laws have no affect on influencing a child’s brain in the way it will respond to its own mother tongue, but instead create a society that essentially cuts it off from possibilities.
In a child’s case, the parent should have the decision whether to send their child to receive bilingual education or exposure in a second language setting, not the state. Taiwan is hurting itself by implementing policies that permit children from receiving diverse education and is causing schools to take “illegal” action that negates a child from receiving language training in an appropriate, comfortable environment. To implement a policy that refuses some one the right to study a skill that is essential to human beings has a very takes away from the education that people deserve as a basic human right.
Any linguist will tell you that the most important time for a child to start absorbing a language naturally and replicating it like a native speaker is roughly between 3-5 years old. After those ages, it’s not that children can’t learn a language, obviously, but they will have lost a golden opportunity when their brain was simply able to absorb it unconsciously rather than having to analyze it.
There are many consequences and complications that are brought to children, foreign teachers, schools as well as the government as a result of such laws. Parents are eager to get their children started on learning another language like English in order to increase the child’s competitiveness so that their children will have a more successful and diversified future. But what the parents don’t know is that the government prohibits these types of schools from legally being able to have such classes.
And so, the cycle of teachers running away when CLA officials come to those English immersion schools continues.
Ironically, Chinese Malaysians start learning English, Bahasa Malay, Cantonese and Mandarin from an early age and grow up using primarily Chinese throughout their whole lives, as that is the language of the culture they identify with the most.