What are the implications of the spread of English language education in China and Taiwan?

 Yen- Mei Tsai

Date: 24/11/07

Module and code number: MMACOM_25 Education and Development in Asia

Module tutor: Kaori Okumoto


English has become a more and more important language in the world. This is because we need a universal language to communicate with other people when living in the global village. Moreover, the increasing significance of an English language is the consequences of the phenomenon of globalisation. According to Hwang (1965, 18), “English is not only for using in business, politics, and literature but also in science and academic research.” Diwakar (2007, 2) also cites statistics indicating the use of English that “more than one billion people are believed to speak some form of English. … Three quarters of the world’s mail is written and addressed in English and four-fifths of electronic information is stored in English. Half of all business deals are conducted in English. Two thirds of all scientific papers are written in English.” The great amount of people around the world including those people in mainland China and Taiwan has learnt English in order to communicate with others. We could understand the importance of English in mainland China and Taiwan from the standard of graduations being improved in these two countries. Nowadays, universities impose regulations that students are required to take and pass an English language examination, for example IELTS (International English Language Testing System), TOFEL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), and TOEIC (Test of English for International Communication). Students will only be qualified to graduate if they can get the expected score as required by their universities.


Unlike in other Asian countries (for example, Singapore, Hong-Kong, Malaysia and India), in mainland China and Taiwan, English is not chosen to become an official language. The main reason is that, historically speaking, mainland China and Taiwan were not be colonised by any English speaking country. Instead, a great number of populations speak Mandarin in these two countries. Diwakar (2007) states that although many people speak Mandarin, in comparison English is now used wider all over the world. Hwang (1965) assumes that if Mandarin is not too difficult to learn and if Chinese people could have taken the priority in science at first, probably Mandarin may have become the major language in the world at the moment, rather than English. Interestingly, people in mainland China and Taiwan are keen to learn English although their native language is Mandarin, which is a totally different language from English.


Except the reason of globalisation and English heat internationally why people are keen to learn English as mentioned before, why do people in mainland China and Taiwan do their best to learn English and regard their abilities in English as being so important? I will discuss this issue in my essay, based on materials mainly from books and websites. At the very beginning of this essay, I will define some terms which will help clarify the scope of my essay. Subsequently, I will discuss the implications of the phenomenon of the spread of English including the considerations of how English as a universal language spreads, and the factors which caused the spread of English. Also, I will do the comparisons between these two countries, and look at advantages and disadvantages of the spread of English language education through a “comparison” method. Moreover, I will use information as obtained from a radio programme for discussing the case of the spread of English and its implications in mainland China. I will also be based on my interviews with a Master student in investigating the case of the spread of English and its implications in Taiwan. In the last part of this essay, I will provide some suggestions which, as I hope, will be useful for any further work on this topic area.


Definitions of “English” and “education”

In order to make this essay as clear as possible, I would like to begin by defining these two terms, “English” and “education”. There are kinds of English which are used in different countries, such as, in the United Kingdom, in the United States, in Australia, in Singapore, and so forth and of course they are slightly different in spelling systems, vocabulary items, and grammars; (John, 1997). “English”, which I refer to in this essay includes all kinds of English as used in different countries.


In addition, both formal and informal types of education are all called “education” in this essay. Formal education includes all education from elementary schools to universities. Informal one includes cram schools and even the way people learn English by themselves.


As to the spread of English, I will look at the craze of learning English. Apart from English teaching in schools, people learn English in cram schools or by themselves. English learning has become a common activity nowadays. (Taipei City Educational Portal Site, 2008)


Why English is so important?

According to Alastair (1995), there are over 60 countries in the world regulating English as their official or semi-official language and at a great number of important places people also use English in daily life. It seems that English is a tool used to communicate with other people who do not speak the same language, and obviously the spread of English is continuing. Nowadays, in a great number of countries people are keen to learn English because they realise the importance of English. They not only just regard English as a language which can be used in commerce, science, medical and technology, but also a language which could also be used for international communication. Moreover, it is crucial to use English to do trading with other people who can not speak the same language. English has become a universal language, and people know its functions and the necessity to learn it. After seeing the phenomenon of the spread of an English language all over the world, we could try to trace back to the implications behind that. Janina (2002) demonstrated Quirk’s (1988) analysis that we could separate the varieties of the spread of English into three parts; that is, imperial, demographic and econocultural. Janina (2002, 10) continues to state that

his imperial model, in which language is spread via the asserting of political control over colonized peoples……At the same time, Quirk finds the basis of the spread of English to America and Australia in the migrations of English- speaking peoples from the British Isles. This basis has led Quirk (1988) to refer to this type of language spread under the ‘demographic’ model. Finally, he makes econocultural features of language, its combination of economic or commercial centrality and its cultural/ intellectual role in the world community, the basis for his third model of language spread.

He pointed out a cause and effect. People commenced to speak English because of British colonisation. Then, there were more and more people who spoke English such as America, Australia and Canada. People have learnt economics since they needed to live in this world and they could do trading for example. Therefore, English has become important.


The phenomenon in mainland China

I will now discuss the spread of English language education in mainland China and Taiwan separately. To begin with, I would like to discuss the phenomenon (What is happening and why it happened? There is a saying, “Every why has a wherefore.”) and give the happening example which is about the English spread situation, and the implication later on. Bob Adamson and Paul Morris (1997, 3) stated that in Comparative Education Review to express the change of English subject curriculum in Mainland China. “For Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders supporting Western- style ‘modernization’ policies (albeit with Chinese characteristics) the study of English is regarded as necessary for acquiring technological expertise and for fostering international trade.” Facing the reality that students should learn English as well as possible in order to take the superiority and to stand confidently in the world stage. There are five periods of curriculum change in Mainland China. The period one: the end of Soviet influence (1956-60), the period two: a search for quality in education (1960-66), the period three: the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the period four: modernization under Deng Xiao ping (1977-93) and the period five: toward nine year’s compulsory education (1993-) respectively, and the last period is the most important and impressive one. From the 1993 English syllabus in Mainland China, it mainly focuses on achieving economic goals and the main reason is that they think learning English plays an important role in developing economy. That is why they try to revolute their curriculum in order to enable as many students as possible to learn more and more language, especially English. (Adamson and Morris, 1997)


Here, I would like to give an example as to how people including students and ordinary people in mainland China are willing and ambitious to learn English. I will use information as obtained from the upcoming event Olympic 2008 in mainland China rather than interview a Chinese student for example just like what I had done with a Taiwanese student since Olympic is a big issue. For the upcoming event Olympic 2008, Beijing will be the place where the event takes place, consequently in mainland China it is the government’s policy to speak English. (Lixian Jin and Martin Cortazzi, 2002) Owing to attempting to impress people from other countries and provide excellent services to foreigners who will participate in Olympic 2008 in Beijing, people in service industry including some shoppers and taxi drivers who need to serve customers directly have learnt how to speak English. They specially focus on the improvement of their abilities in listening and speaking English skills through taking some courses and listening to the teaching tapes even when they are working. In the following, I am picking up some parts from that conversation which was talked by hosts of English radio program (English Learning Craze in Beijing, 2007). Y represents to Yunfeng, and Z represents Zong Qiu.

Z_ As we are talking about the English learning craze in Beijing today, I have to mention one little anecdote that I encountered just a few days ago.

Z_ While I was shopping in the department store, I overheard several shop assistants discussing a question about English expressions. That was a department store where there are not many foreign customers now.They were talking about something like how to greet an overseas customer in English, by starting with "May I help you?" or "Can I help you?" People are really getting ready for the Olympic Games!

Y_ As far as I know, many people like these shop assistants are keen to learn English as the Olympics waits for no one.

Z_ English is a very handy language when it comes to communicating in an international event like the Olympics. It is no mysterious to me why there are so many Chinese people are showing a great interest in learning it.

Y_ I've talked to quite a number of taxi drivers who are also learning English, and many volunteers are also making their language preparations as well. All these are part of an ongoing English learning campaign that many Beijing citizens are participating to prepare for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Z_ We'll visit an ordinary Beijing residential community to find out what's going on with their learning experience.

Y_ All class members are with the community's English Association for the Olympics.

Z_ Most of the association members are retirees. The head of the community's English Association for the Olympics, Xia Fengzhi in his 60s is one of them.

Y_ Let's now listen to Xia Fengzhi about how he felt about these past six years and the Olympics.
"Ever since we won the Olympic bid, more people joined in our community's English classes. In the year 2005, we founded the English Association for the Olympics. As the association expanded, I became more and more interested in learning English. Many of us are volunteers for the Beijing Olympics as well. So during the event, we will be helping overseas tourists with their shopping and sightseeing whenever needed."

Y_ His association has grown into the biggest of its kind in Beijing. The English learning campaign in Beijing is also encouraging more people to become more comfortable speaking English regardless of their age, occupation and education.

Z_ Hu Zhiyun is a new member and she wishes to do something for the first Olympics to be held here in Beijing, China.
"By the time when the Beijing Olympics comes, I believe many foreign friends will come to visit Beijing. Not all of them can speak Chinese, I think, so it would be better for me to talk to them in a language that they can understand. English is a language that's widely used around the world, so I would learn to speak English so that I can tell them where to go if they want to find a certain place. At the same time, it will also be an opportunity for me to learn about their culture and customs, and enlarge my horizons about the world."

Z_ But I really would like to know who are teaching these Beijing residents English.
Y_ Let's meet one of them, Edward Ohlin, from the United States, who is now working in Beijing. He is a volunteer English tutor for the English Association in Tuanjiehu Community.

Edward Ohlin stated, "There is a passion now about learning to speak English. And I find the students are eager and captive and interested in learning. People are interested in what's going on in other parts of the world."


According to this radio programme which was picked up by me, I could feel how English has become so important and popular in mainland China. People in mainland China learn English not only because it enables them to communicate with foreign customers and do their business, but also because it can help broaden their horizons to know more about other people’s culture and custom. From this information, we could find out that the English craze exists not just in students but in all citizen. Even a volunteer English tutor, Edward Ohlin, who is from the United States, can feel the passion of people in mainland China. Beijing Olympics really excites people’s interests in learning English.


The phenomenon in Taiwan

I will now turn to look at the present situation in Taiwan. Among the foreign languages taught in high schools, colleges and universities in Taiwan, English is the most popular one. (Ho, 2003) According to Chen (1996, 324), although English plays multiple functions in Taiwan, the stated objective of English language teaching in Taiwan’s education system is confined to learning English for further studies, particularly studying abroad. Chen (1996, 324) also stated more recently that the reason for learning English was to help students in high school and universities have access to the scientific and technological advances in the West. This is one of the benefits of learning English, which is an economic reason.


Sung, shih-hao (2004) divides his explanation of education into two parts: formal and informal education. In formal education, which refers in particular to school education, it has specific educational purposes and contents. As mentioned in the last paragraph, students should learn English as a compulsory subject in the third year in an elementary school. Informal education is another type of education which people receive after the school education. For example, people can receive an information education through cram schools. There are a lot of cram schools in Taiwan which provide English lessons, these schools are known as "busiban" in Taiwanese. It is very common for students to go to cram schools after the dismissal of a class. According to the statistics (see the table below) as provided by Kaohsiung City Government and as officially approved by Ministry of Education, the number of foreign language cram schools is increasing year by year. (Kaohsiung City Government, 2008) The reason why students follow the national curriculum to learn English at their earlier ages than before is that English learning heat is more popular. Moreover, if anyone expects to have a better job, he/she is required to improve his/her ability in English language skills.

The statistic: The growing number of foreign language cram schools in the last ten years in Taiwan


Year: 2008

5363家    ( number: 5363 )

Year: 2007

5355家    (number: 5355)

Year: 2006

4979家    (number: 4979 )

Year: 2005

4457家    (number: 4457 )

Year: 2004

3896家    (number: 3896 )

Year: 2003

3304家    (number: 3304 )

Year: 2002

2778家    (number: 2778 )

Year: 2001

2249家    (number: 2249 )

Year: 2000

1784家    (number: 1784 )

Year: 1999

1347家    (number: 1347 )

http://ap4.kh.edu.tw/afterschool/html/statistics.html (updated 15th January, 2008)


People learn English because not only they want to be more competitive for their career but also for being competitive and improving their ability to connect to the globalised world. Based on the electronic paper (2007) of the 241th volume as published by Ministry of Education in Taiwan, the authorities of the state enterprise believe that the authorities of the state enterprise choose people's ability in the use of English language skills to be the main criteria in deciding whether they want to employ the expectant or not. If you can speak fluent English, you can be more competitive in the society. People are encouraged to learn English in Taiwan. Why should we learn English, even though we live in Taiwan? This is a common and popular question which has brought up a great discussion amongst people. As to this question, some people might say learning English means you worship foreign things and fawn on foreign powers. According to the electronic paper, people who worship foreign things and fawn on foreign powers could not really speak English. In addition, some people refuse to accept this kind of people's behaviour; therefore, they raise this issue. From the electronic paper, we could learn that we could change from learning English to Chinese and we should promote it to let Chinese become a united language. Indeed, it is very crucial to have a language in common for people, but we do not live in the economic self-contained times anymore. On the contrary, we are facing economy which we have great dependency on and competition with other countries all over the world. We have no choice but help supply each other’s needs if we would like to survive. Although the population whose native language is Chinese is highest in the world, English is the most widely used language. When people who do not speak the same language want to do international trade, they would use English to communicate with each other. Also, when professors write an essay, they prefer to choose English because their essay could be read by others easily. If they do not do it this way, their essay will not be as famous as may have expected. (Wu, yao-chou, 2003)


As a Taiwanese, I experience the craze of English learning in Taiwan. Therefore, I chose qualified method to demonstrate the English heat. In order to know more about what people think about it, I interviewed a MA student, Miss Chen on 15th December, 2007, in my department of my university in Taiwan. She was sent to a private institution to learn the basic English language when she was an elementary school student and the main reason is that there are a lot of people who overestimate their ability in communicating in English. Later on, English became a compulsory subject when she entered a junior high school. Some classmates of her even went to cram schools after the class for the sake of improving their English as much as possible, and this situation is getting more and more popular in Taiwan. Since all students are normally required to pass the entrance examination in order to enter high schools and universities, Miss Chen is also required to do so.


Moreover, English has played a very important role when she took the examination, and in some cases the results of the English examination could determine which school she could enter and how good this school was. Furthermore, she noticed that government changed their policy that it was compulsory to teach English from the third year in elementary schools to senior high school. In her opinion, the government did that because they began to realise the importance of English. A lot of parents became aware of the importance of English; therefore, they sent their children to cram schools at the earlier ages of their children. Some of them believed that if children could start to learn English when they were little children, and they could have a good foundation of English. She thought that government changed their policy as a result of and which reflected the growing trend for the popularity of English. Moreover, I asked what she thought about learning English in our society. She stated that it was necessary and it was really important to have English ability. She needed it when she went travel, got the latest news, communicated with people who did not speak the same language, did international trade and so forth. In other words, it is better for us to learn English and to have a good English ability in order to live conveniently. On many occasions we should use English to make contacts with people. We could even receive the latest news and information which are written in English right away without waiting for the translation.


Compare the implications of the spread of English language education in these two countries---advantages and disadvantages

By comparing English education in mainland China and Taiwan, we can see that there are both advantages and disadvantage of learning English. I would like to discuss about advantages first. Because we need to use English to communicate with other people who do not speak the same language, that is why we should learn English in this case. For example, when we meet foreigners, we can have a conversation with each other. Also, when we go traveling, it is very crucial to speak English in order to obtain useful information. In particular, from an economic perspective, when we do international trade, we need to introduce our idea and programme to our foreigner partners. That is one reason why we need to possess an ability to communicate in English, in turn, this enables us to get a better job. In addition, most essays are written in English because English is the most widely used language in this century. If we would like to obtain more updated information, we should possess an ability to communicate in English in order to understand it. Therefore, we could always know what happen in the first place. It is an interesting phenomenon that people in mainland China have been trained to speak English in order to prepare themselves for the upcoming of Olympic 2008. This event will be held in Beijing. Why are people so keen to learn English? They realise that if they wish to build up their business and gain benefits, they should have the ability to communicate with foreign customers to know what they need because it is virtually impossible that all the foreigners might be able to speak Mandarin. We could see that English is a language for people to communicate.


Apart the above advantages, there are some disadvantages tha I will turn to discuss now. Some people might wonder why people in the world have learnt English rather than Mandarin although Mandarin speaking population is more than English speaking population. Probably, the main reason of the significance of English is the British colonisation of other countries. As I showed what Quirk’s model previously, he demonstrated that English speaking population had increased because of British colonisation. The United Kingdom was the most powerful country which colonised a lot of countries; consequently, the countries which were colonised by the United Kingdom took English as official language. Therefore, people realise that speaking English can help them feel convenient wherever they go. However, I do not wish to expand on this issue in this essay.


What is more, in these two countries, children are asked to learn English to prove they are elite. We could see from the entrance examination. If students could get high score in English subject, they will have more opportunities to enter a good school. Therefore, some people started to worship foreign things and fawn on foreign powers. Also, in my opinion, some people place the high value of foreign culture and abandon Chinese culture. They are considered losing national identity. For some little children, they started to learn English when they were still very young. It is a dilemma. In deciding to study English, some of them may find it difficult to have a good foundation of Mandarin, so English can make them feel confused. There can be a lot of confusion between English and Mandarin caused by the differences between these two languages, for example their grammars and spellings are different from each other.



The questions of whether or not, and why, we should learn English are the big issues to people in mainland China and Taiwan. I have argued the implications of English heat in the world and pointed out how important English is in this essay. Besides, I have discussed the craze in mainland China and Taiwan and have done the comparisons of English education between these two countries. Therefore, I found out that the situation in these two countries is quite similar. Whatever the reason people in these two countries are learning English, the fact is that they are learning English for having a better life. Most of the people are keen to learn English with their own reasons. They understand that learning English has been a popular trend all over the world, and if they want to compete with other people, they should at least possess this ability. According to Alastair (1995), there are over 60 countries in the world regulating English as their official or semi-official language. People in a number of important places also use English in their daily life. It seems that English is the tool used to communicate with other people who do not speak the same language and obviously the spread is continuing. Nowadays, people in a great number of countries are keen to learn English because they realise the importance of English. They not only regard English as a language which cab be used in commerce, science, medical and technology, but also a language which could also be used for international communications and a crucial way to do trade with other people who do not speak the same language. English has become a universal language, and people know the function and the necessity to learn it. We should try to trace back to the factors behind that after seeing the phenomenon of the spread of English language all over the world. According to Quirk’s (1988) analysis, which was separated into three parts--- imperial, demographic and econocultural, these are the first steps why English speaking population is higher and English has been introduced to a lot of countries widely. Although mainland China and Taiwan have never been colonised by British people, they have still been influenced by English heat.


It is necessary to learn English and we could use it in practice. English has become a a tool used by people for communicating with others. It is also interesting to know other cultures and customs through English. We learn English because it is useful and it is worth learning. A proverb says, “Every why has a wherefore.” There are a lot of advantages for us to learn English after analysing it. Living in a global village, we can not live only with a limited view of this world. On one hand, we understand that learning English is better than not to learn, so we should keep going. On the other hand, we should know the purpose of learning English. Language is a tool for communicating but not a tool for abandoning our own culture and look down on people who do not speak English. Last but not least, this topic is always an interesting topic for people to think about. If I have an opportunity to do any further research on this issue in the future, I would try to extend it by investigating whether or not people who possess an ability to communicate in English are more likely to have a better job and live happily.



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