Taiwan has announced plans to make English its official second language and to thereby become a bilingual country. Although it is not yet clear how exactly such an ambitious project will be carried out – there are a number of hurdles to overcome first – the aim is nonetheless clear: to create an environment where English is everywhere, allowing Taiwan a more prominent place at the international table. It’s a deeply political move, which reminds us, even though the circumstances were very different, of a similar decision made by Singapore half a century ago. Schools will be at the heart of the national movement and a major factor in its eventual success.
At our own level, the French Section is involved in the project to make Taiwan bilingual. A few months ago, I welcomed a delegation of Taiwanese educators who were interested in knowing more about the FS French-English bilingual pathway. I presented our methods and explained the choices that we have made over the years. Bilingualism in schools is a multifaceted option that raises numerous, often prosaic, questions: which subjects should be taught in which language? Should we offer the French curriculum taught in English, or teach an Anglo-Saxon curriculum? Should classroom space be shared between the two languages or separated into different rooms for different languages? Should we go for macro or micro alternation of languages (macro being a day for each language, micro being two hours of each language at a time)? Should we recruit Anglophone teachers who can speak French or simply recruit the best Anglophone teachers? What kind of dynamic should we hope for between co-teachers? How can we be sure that both languages and cultures have an equal footing? How can we facilitate intercultural leadership?
The French-English bilingual pathway that 95% of our primary families experience daily is the physical incarnation of the answers to all of the questions we have asked ourselves over the years – and continue to ask ourselves! Sometimes the answers are found contingently, sometimes they are the result of arbitration based on scientific cognitive studies. Our French-English bilingual pathway was not born fully-formed as it is, and it is not set in stone. We observe how it functions on a daily basis and introduce modifications annually – ensuring that it is as efficient and effective a bilingual system as possible. Our expertise and know-how in the field of bilingual teaching and learning are widely recognised. We are often asked to share our experience, and we are glad to do so. We were happy and proud, but not surprised, to learn that our Primary Head, Carine Capel has been asked by the AEFE to lead a teaching training seminar for colleagues in the Asia Pacific zone on the very topic of bilingual language learning.
Educational cooperation is one of the missions of French schools abroad, so we are as ready as ever to assist local Taiwanese schools in their project to forge a bilingual society ex nihilo (a Latin phrase I didn’t manage to squeeze into last week’s letter!). We see it as a great opportunity for the French Section and for the French language: when everyone can speak English, being trilingual will give a certain few an edge. It’s the choice that FS Taiwanese families have already made – they were ahead of the game by a generation!
Have an excellent weekend,