Do Taiwan’s Bilingual Classes Need Language Objectives?

A lot of teachers in Taiwan have been asking recently whether they still need to write language objectives, citing a professor’s post on Facebook saying they do not.

The short answer to this question is the professor’s post was true: the Ministry of Education is no longer encouraging professors to recommend bilingual teachers to write language objectives.

But, like most things in life, it isn’t that simple.

Let’s start with the reasons behind why language objectives are no longer being promotred.

Unlike in Europe, where they practice Content and Language Integrated Learning, often known as CLIL, the current trend in bilingual schools in Taiwan is to focus exclusively on content rather than balancing content and language.

Instead of providing explicit instruction in language, as would be done in CLIL, bilingual teachers in Taiwan are simply tasked with providing opportunities for exposure to English in their content classrooms.

To understand this distinction, it may be helpful to refer to a framework by Paul Nation called the Four Strands.

Nation proposed the four strands as a framework for foreign language classrooms, but this framework is helpful for understanding when language objectives are appropriate in the bilingual classroom.

The four strands are meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, language-focused learning, and fluency development.

Language objectives are most applicable to the strand called language-focused learning. In this strand, students’ attention is deliberately drawn to the features of language, be it sentence structure and grammar or discourse-level features. In other words, it is teaching about language.

But generally, the teaching about language remains the role of English teachers in Taiwan, not bilingual teachers.

Of course, bilingual teachers may teach students to a few new vocabulary words, but vocabulary alone doesn’t constitute language-focused learning in my mind, because students always learn new vocabulary words in their content classes, even in their first language. It only becomes language-focused learning, and subsequently, CLIL, when sentence level and discourse level features are also directly taught, and in my experience visiting Taiwanese bilingual schools in northern Taiwan, that is rarely happening.

So if we are not doing language-focused learning, then having teachers write language objectives serves no real purpose.

Does that mean bilingual teachers ignore language altogether? No.

Though bilingual teachers may not do language-focused learning in their content classes, they should be facilitating the other three strands, meaning-focused input, meaning-focused output, and fluency practice.

To briefly explain, meaning-focused input and output are where students engage with English that is around their actual proficiency level. It doesn’t mean they have to know every word nor have to be 100% accurate, but they have to know enough words or be accurate enough to understand or express meaning. Fluency practice is similar, but the difference is that students would know 100% of the words and would be 100% accurate.

With this in mind, bilingual teachers in Taiwan do not need to write language objectives, but they do need to consider how students will engage in English communication in their classes. In my program, I refer to these as communication objectives. Bilingual teachers don’t need to explicitly teach language, but they do need to consider what and when students will hear, read, speak, and write English in their content classrooms.

So while the short answer to the question was yes, no more language objectives in the Taiwanese bilingual classroom, the longer answer is that bilingual teachers should be focusing on how they will facilitate English communication at the appropriate level for students in their class. Therefore, my recommendation is that teachers write communication objectives for each lesson, defining when students will be exposed to meaning-focused English.