Reflections on the recent petition calling for a stop to Taiwan’s Bilingual 2030 policy

On April 7, 2023, an online petition titled「雙語政策」有違國家語言發展法精神,影響國家正常教育發展,建議停止錯誤政策,落實多語臺灣、英語友善 [The “bilingual policy” violates the spirit of the Development of National Languages Act and affects the country’s normal educational development. It is recommended to stop the harmful policy and promote an English-friendly multilingual Taiwan] was posted on Taiwan’s government public policy participation platform Join.gov.tw.

According to this editorial in the Taipei Times, the petition received a maximum 5,000 signatures within three days, suggesting the sentiment to stop the Bilingual 2030 policy is shared by many (or, at the very least, 5,000) people in Taiwan.

Here is an English translation (my own) of the petition’s opening:

行政院強推「雙語政策」,不僅有違《國家語言發展法》多語臺灣之精神,更已嚴重影響國家正常教育發展,有鑑於此一錯誤政策對國家造成之深遠影響,為使學校教育重回正軌,維護學生受教權,建議停止此一破壞臺灣語言生態的中英雙語政策,落實「多語臺灣,英語友善」。
[The Executive Yuan’s forced promotion of the “bilingual policy” not only violates the spirit of multilingual Taiwan in the “Development of National Languages Act “, but also seriously affects the normal education development of the country. To set the country back on track and protect students’ right to education, it is suggested that the Chinese-English bilingual policy, which is harmful to Taiwan’s linguistic landscape, be stopped and an “English-friendly multilingual Taiwan” policy be adopted.

From this, we see two main points of opposition to the bilingual education policy:

  1. Concerns bilingual education will affect student learning outcomes.
  2. Concerns that bilingual education will affect efforts to revitalize local languages in Taiwan.

Both are certainly legitimate concerns and should be a part of the discussion around bilingual education in Taiwan. I’ll provide my brief thoughts on both below.

Will the Bilingual Policy Affect Learning Outcomes?

Regarding bilingual education affecting student learning outcomes, I believe this is legitimate if English is used as the exclusive language of instruction in a subject classroom, particularly if the students have lower levels of English proficiency.

But does English-medium instruction = bilingual education?

No.

And in fact, Taiwan’s bilingual policy does not require exclusive English in high schools (as I discuss here), and the policy for junior high school and primary school is even more flexible for teachers to choose how multiple languages may be used in class.

If teachers are properly trained on appropriately using languages in the bilingual classroom, I think bilingual education can lead toward positive outcomes for both subject learning and language development.

Unfortunately, I do not believe appropriate bilingual practices are being implemented at this time in many classrooms in Taiwan, based on my and my colleagues’ observations.

Proper long-term teacher training can help toward this end, but my feeling is the implementation is outpacing our current capacity to properly train bilingual teachers, and as a result, the potential for deficits in learning outcomes is real.

Will the Bilingual Policy Negatively Affect National Language Revitalization?

As I have written previously here, I do not necessarily believe the bilingual policy in and of itself puts national language revitalization efforts in jeopardy, but I do contend that the fact there are two separate policies rather than one integrated language-in-education policy is cause for concern.

A multilingual education in schools is possible. In Luxembourg, there are three languages used for instruction throughout the curriculum: Luxemburgish, German, and French. Garcia (2012) describes what this looks like:

“When children enter schools, they are first taught in the home language, Luxemburgish; but very soon the same teacher introduces German, which is genetically related to Luxemburgish, for initial reading and writing. Subsequently, the primary school teacher responsible for all subjects introduces French as a subject.”

[Later, in secondary school], “history is taught in German or in French, depending on the grade. Philosophy is taught in French when handling French texts, and in German or French when handling German texts. French is used to teach political economy, civics, mathematics, physics, and chemistry; but biology and geography is taught in German in the lower grades and in French in the higher grades. Economics is taught through the medium of French, whereas arts and music are taught through either German or French, depending on the grade.”

Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective by Ofelia García

Could Taiwan do something similar in schools with a national language, Mandarin, and English?

I don’t see why not.

But it would require a lot of stakeholder support and a significant amount of coordinated planning and teacher training at all levels of education.

Concluding Thoughts

I do not think the general spirit of the Bilingual 2030 policy will inherently lead to the issues put forth in the petition, but I do have some major concerns that the policy’s implementation may very well result in undesired outcomes for schools and society.

Does this mean I support a full stop of the bilingual policy?

I’m very conflicted on this.

Bilingual and multilingual education has the potential to be of great benefit to students who receive it. However, this form of education is complex and requires a lot of planning and training. It isn’t as simple as just adding or changing the language of instruction–it requires changes in practices and beliefs among all stakeholders in all areas of the school. And to be frank, change takes time … perhaps longer than the seven years until 2030.

If Taiwan can accept that the road to a quality bilingual education will take a great amount of time, effort, money, and willingness to try new things, then I see no reason not to continue working toward this goal if society desires such.

But if policymakers, school administrators, and educators continue to think of bilingual education simply as “adding English in a classroom”, then perhaps a reconsideration of the policy is in order.

On Taiwan’s Plan to Create a Standardized English Proficiency Test for Universities

On September 8, 2022, the Taipei Times ran a story titled “Standardized English proficiency test to be prepared for universities: official.”

Why is a new English proficiency test needed for Taiwan?

As per the Bilingual 2030 policy, for bilingual benchmark institutions (also referred to as beacon bilingual universities and colleges) “by 2030, at least 50 percent of all sophomores in the university or college should have achieved at least CEFR B2 level English proficiency in listening, speaking, writing, and reading” (p. 14). Of course, tests are needed to measure whether such benchmarks have been achieved.

However, the arguments against the currently available international English proficiency tests are that (a) the content does not reflect the language students develop in EMI programs (for example, TOEIC testing general English) and (b) the cost of the tests is too expensive.

According to the Taipei Times quoting Department of Higher Education Director-General Chu Chun-chang, “this has led to student complaints and even lawsuits over content deemed unsuitable for college students.” Thus, a new, locally developed test has been proposed.

It seems the cost issue has more or less been solved, with the newly proposed test developed by the nonprofit Language Training and Testing Center (LTTC) estimated to cost only NTD$1,000.

However, I am more interested in how the first problem—test content—will be addressed. Language isn’t a simple divide between general English versus academic English; academic English is inclusive of countless disciplines, each using language in unique ways.

According to this Chinese-language article from UDN, the plan is to first develop a common test for all subjects (which I don’t see as an improvement over current tests like TOEFL or IELTS), followed by one differentiated by academic fields.

The latter would probably be the most appropriate for evaluating language outcomes of EMI courses, but the time and investment that would be needed to create such a suite of exams seems unrealistic.

I am not saying it won’t happen, but I suspect if it does, it won’t happen for quite some time. It should be interesting to see how this story develops in the future.

What is “Bilingual Teaching” in Taiwan?

In my last post, I discussed the definition of EMI in Taiwan. Now I will look at another term–bilingual teaching.

The Bilingual 2030 policy defines different approaches to higher education, which uses EMI, and senior high school and below, which should implement bilingual teaching.

But what does bilingual teaching actually mean?

At least for senior high school, the Ministry of Education (MOE) K-12 Education Administration has defined bilingual teaching as follows (SOURCE: 教育部國民及學前教育署補助擴增高級中等學校雙語實驗班計畫):


「雙語教學」係指,單一節課之教學語言,以英語為主、國語為輔;其中以英語教學之時間,至少達該節課程時間 50%以上。

[“Bilingual teaching” means that the main instructional language of a class is English, with Mandarin acting as a supporting language. During a class, English should be used at least 50% of the time.]


From this definition, it seems the MOE has decided on a convergent model of bilingual education (García, 2009).

Convergent models develop bilinguals to use a target language in a specific domain (e.g., science) without attending to the development of the local language in that domain. If sustained over time, the result is usually that the bilingual can communicate in that particular domain in the target language well, but being able to use the local language in that domain is far from guaranteed. (Use of the local languages in other domains may be fine though.)

Qatar has several case studies reporting that Arabic–English bilinguals graduating from English convergent programs struggle to use Arabic in their professional lives (e.g., Yyelland & Paine, 2009).

Is this what Taiwan wants–bilinguals who can exclusively use English in some subject domains?

Of course, it is not my place to answer, but there may be valid arguments for either position. For example, Taiwan may be perfectly satisfied with using English in the domain of technology, but perhaps exclusive English use in music or health would be more contentious.

My concern at the moment is that the outcomes of a convergent model have not been adequately considered. I think a multiplicity model, where both languages are developed in a domain simultaneously, would make the most sense as a general policy, but it may also be more difficult to implement in practice.

Nonetheless, from all the calls for more clarity on what bilingual teaching is, the MOE has delivered. Whether or not these definitions are the best path forward for Taiwan is now the debate.