English is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, which is the official language of 53 countries, including some of the strongest global economies such as the UK, the USA, Australia and Canada. It is spoken in most global organisations, and its importance in business and international relations has made it a key connection in our globalised world. Technology, telecommunications, tourism and transport continually reduce distances, leading us to seek new ways to interact with other cultures and peoples (Johnson, & Johnson, 1994).
Thus, learning English poses new challenges for governments, teachers and students. Governments must develop new policies aimed at teaching citizens the skills since they need to compete in the global market, and these challenges allow for the development of more innovative pedagogical tools. In this essay, I will examine the issues surrounding that teaching English as a second language to elementary school children in Taiwan through various theoretical perspectives. As well as, I will assess how these apply to the real life case of Taiwanese SLL.
The problems will be grouped under the key issue of cultural differences, that is to say those between Taiwan and English speaking countries; however, it is also crucial to analyse the equally key issue of problems which arise from the nature of the Taiwanese educational system - though this is arguably itself a product of the cultural identity of the region.
The most basic cultural difference is that of the language itself, Mandarin having a different script to English, not to mention pronunciation, grammar and structure. Moreover, Taiwanese students often have different mother tongues, be the Mandarin or local dialects (Hokka or Holo). Regional dialects are designed on the curriculum too, which means that English would be considered a third rather than second language, making it even more difficult (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989).
Taiwanese culture is not Anglicised (in terms of TV shows, music), resulting in few possibilities of independent learning outside the classroom, and a lack of the continuity necessary for effective learning based on frequent reinforcement of vocabulary. Much of the English that does exist outside of the classroom (e.g. on clothes, on shop signs) is full of mistakes and can therefore be misleading to young impressionable learners. Incidentally, yearly teacher changes impede continuity, particularly given the itinerant nature of some EFL teachers in Asia. Creativity and innovation are therefore key in teaching so as to motivate children to carry on learning outside the classroom. This is not only the teacher's responsibility however, as educational bodies hold great influence too - and I shall cover certain institutional responses later on, as well as the more direct pedagogical ones (Schultz, 2001).
Taiwanese culture is however arguably more perfectionist than in England, with extreme pressure put on children to achieve high grades. The educational system is relatively authoritarian, possibly leading to a lack of confidence amongst students to dare to participate. This culture fosters the use of private tutors ...