During his term of office as the mayor of Tainan, premier William Lai drafted a long-term plan to adopt English as the second official language of Tainan over a span of ten years. He gathered experts in various professions to establish the Committee of Making English Tainan’s Second Official Language, as well as Tainan City Office of English as the Second Official Language (OEASOL), which has since been responsible for directing, organizing, and conducting affairs regarding this matter and supervising the latest progress of the plan.
The spokesperson of OEASOL stated that the results of the EASOL policy are significant; several foundations have been laid and are recognized by foreign media, who praised the systematic fashion in which bilingual education is carried out in Tainan, calling the city a pioneer in this field. Though there is still space for further improvement and expansion, the endeavors of Tainan City Government are undeniable.
There have been local representatives who casted doubt on Tainan City as an environment devoid of opportunities to speak English, which, according to them, is difficult to be popularized among civilians and in tourist areas. This issue is, however, common throughout Taiwan and a result of its geographic nature: unlike in Europe where language exchanges are more likely to happen between adjacent nations, Taiwan as an island is isolated from countries that speak foreign languages. This is why a comprehensive policy is needed to break the barrier. It is utterly important, if not absolutely necessary, to ameliorate the English-speaking environment and enhance the next generation’s English proficiency. Are we to sit quietly and remain indifferent to this subject?
Enhancing citizens’ English abilities is like penetrating a rock with dripping water: patience is needed and noticeable results will not be immediately attainable. Hence, it would be absurd for one to expect all employees in the Tainan City Government and local parliament to be fluent in English within three years. An immense amount of practice and time is required for anyone who strives to master in English or even just use it in daily conversations; the challenge to make Tainan an English-speaking city is understandably difficult. OEASOL is acutely aware of this yet more than determined to carry this “mission impossible,” believing that maintaining the status quo would not change anything in the long run -- people would still avoid using English. “Our enemy is not slow growth but inaction.” the spokesperson of the office argued, “we are eager to prevent a future where young adults question, ‘why didn’t the government do something?’” Noticing that it is considerably harder for adults to learn English, the EASOL policy places an emphasis on bilingual education in primary schools and secondary schools, where students could start learning English young and more efficiently.
Taiwanese people who were born between the 50s and 70s are often weaker in listening and speaking compared to reading and writing in English due to the traditional system of high-stakes exams where only academic excellence is prioritized. English-usage has thus become a tool for perfecting grades but not a way to communicate. The Tainan City Government has attempted to twist the situation by encouraging English teachers to teach English completely in English, further implementing a bilingual education curriculum, namely the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) program, in which English is integrated into other academic subjects. A research team at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) submitted a report suggesting that the program has bore fruit and been acknowledged by international scholars, who described it as “a great leap (in English-learning).” The research report will be shared in the 11th Conference of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF11) that is scheduled in July, 2018 in King’s College London in London, United Kingdom. In addition, to increase students’ exposure to English, OEASOL is now recruiting volunteers among Taiwanese who live abroad and have English as their native language to teach English at local primary schools and secondary schools. By simultaneously adopting different approaches to better the English-speaking environment, OEASOL strives to change not only how teachers teach English but also students’ attitude towards English as a language, which has been traditionally perceived as merely a tested subject in school.
OEASOL also regularly holds events such as English-reading Festival and Learning English Through Baseball that provide English-learning materials to citizens for free in hopes of motivating them to learn English. In terms of government agencies, not only are all sectors within the city government encouraged to form “English-learning study groups,” but also the human resources department, in particular, established an elite class for English presentations and started holding oral competitions among civil servants. Similar measures have also been applied on facilities within the city government: the majority of government documents has been bilingualized, which is followed by another series of bilingual programs conducted on public facilities and industrial and commercial services as well as English-learning website for citizens.
The spokesperson of OEASOL indicates that Tainan citizens’ strong desire to learn English is conspicuous. From having the 1500 spots opened to free TOEIC Bridge testing sold out in seconds to being overwhelmed by applications for participating Peppa Pig’s Story Time as part of the 2018 Tainan English-reading Festival before the information was even released -- it is without a doubt that learning English is a high demand in the city. The aforementioned events are all funded by local business and mostly by Flomo Educational Foundation, who has been a major financial resource for activities like such. OEASOL hopes that civilians’ opinions would prompt local representatives to support the city government in arranging the budgets for promoting English-learning events.
The city government also turned its attention to the tourism aspect, establishing the English Friendly Emblems program which aims to make services and cultural experiences available to English speakers. The program offers free translation and design services to sectors like public transportation, hospitality and retail, and markets and pharmacies which allow English speakers to navigate the city more freely with bilingual apps that are accessible via QR codes scattered throughout the city. Training lessons for English-speaking tour guides, bus and taxi drivers, as well as bilingual pamphlets that includes information of taxi fares and translations for tourist spots are also provided. Currently, OEASOL has made bilingual menus for more than 500 local shops in Tainan. There are even bilingual divination poems in temples that make guidelines and taboos to worshiping deities clear to foreign visitors, who would then able to comprehend more thoroughly the local religious scheme.
OEASOL indicates that, though most of their work is not promoted directly amongst the public, they have been consistently receiving positive responses. Mr. Huang, who lived in Tainan, stated that when he realized that there is English in local temples and snack shops as he strolled around the city with his parents, he was astonished: “our hometown is really making progress.” The Tainan City Government once received a letter from an official from the European Union who expressed that, during his private trip to Tainan, he was pleased to discover that an ordinary restaurant in Tainan offers a bilingual menu; the effort made in creating an English-speaking environment left a strong impression in him.
OEASOL emphasizes that the basis of the two primary objectives of the EASOL policy -- to ameliorate the English language environment within the city and to increase English proficiency levels among Tainan citizens -- has been accomplished. As exceptional achievements have been made over the past 3 years, the office has received sponsorships from businesses such as Flomo Educational Foundation, Studio Classroom, TOEIC Bridge, and Voicetube, who respectively provided aid in various forms. It is therefore evident that the EASOL policy is widely supported by not only citizens but also corporations.