Should we force students to speak English in Taiwan’s bilingual classes?

Recently, one of my students asked whether or not they should force their future students to speak English in their bilingual class.

On the surface, this question has a fairly straightforward answer: No, you shouldn’t force your students to use English in your class.

In fact, the Ministry of Education has advised teachers against forcing English in their classes.

But beyond policy, we really shouldn’t be forcing our students to do anything.

I hope I am not being overly semantic, but our job as teachers is not to force our students to do things; it’s to encourage them to do things for their own benefit, even if they don’t necessarily want to.

And more often than not, our students won’t want to speak English.

So, how do we encourage but not force? Put simply, we create a need for English.

A need can be any activity that requires English to complete. An overly simplistic example would be a classroom routine where students say good morning to the teacher to receive the worksheet for the day. Students would know that to get a grade in class, they need the worksheet, and to get the worksheet, they should greet the teacher in English.

But please don’t get me wrong; I am not necessarily recommending this specific activity; I present it as the simplest example of a need to use English.

Now, the natural follow-up question may be, well, what if students still don’t respond? Should I just give up? Or should I force them?

Neither is particularly ideal.

What I would recommend instead is to reflect on why a student isn’t responding to the need you have set up.

Jacquelynn Eccles developed the expectancy-value theory, which I believe can help with this reflection.

In its simplest form, expectancy means a student’s expectations for success, or in other words, when the student views the activity as something they can be successful with. If the student does not believe they can be successful, then they are likely to reject that activity.

However, even if they believe they can be successful, students may not engage unless they also see value. Value can mean a host of things, such as seeing the activity as useful or enjoyable.

But, more often in school settings, value comes from the student’s belief in the importance of doing well in school, which can be supported or hindered by many factors, including peer relationships, teacher-student relationships, attitudes toward the subject matter, or other past experiences in life and school.

Going into more detail on expectancy-value theory and how it relates to student behavior in school would take us far outside the scope of this video.

But as it relates to today’s question, my point is this.

If a bilingual teacher creates a need, that is, activity where English is needed, and the students can successfully achieve that activity, alongside a reasonable drive to want to succeed in the class, then there should never be any need to force students.

I think new bilingual teachers often miss the target with expectancy. They create a need, but not necessarily one where students feel they can be successful.

Toward this end, I have three concluding recommendations. Teachers need to be knowledgeable about the developmental path of foreign languages, know where their students are on that developmental path, and develop bilingual activities with student expectancy and value in mind. If you do those things, you’ll put yourself in a better position to encourage students to use English rather than have to force them to do so.