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MECO sees benefits for Taiwan with English as official language

2018/06/27 21:30:48

Photo courtesy of Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO)

By Keerthi Sridharan, CNA intern

Two Philippines officials based in Taipei said it would benefit Taiwan if English could be adopted as an official language in public institutions and in workplaces.

An initiative to make English an official second language in Taiwan has stirred up debate about the advantages and disadvantages of such a step.

In Singapore, Hong Kong, India and the Philippines, where English is listed as an official language, the societal and cultural impact has been significant.

The Philippines declared English an official language in its 1987 Constitution, which states, "For purposes of communication and instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English."

CNA spoke to the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) about what such a change looks like in practice.

"We've been using English since we were born, even before it was an official language," said MECO Deputy Resident Representative Carlo Aquino.

MECO Deputy Resident Representative Carlo Aquino/photo courtesy of MECO

"The measure was intended as a unifying force across the Philippines. We have more than 100 dialects: the Bicolanos, the Ilocanos, the Visayans, the Ilongot, the Tagalogs, and many more ...all of them speak different languages. So in some parts of the Philippines, if you speak Filipino, people won't understand. But because English is an official language, if you speak English, people will understand."

Taiwan, he said, has no immediate need for such a "unifying force."

Schools, offices first

The practical steps of implementing such a change, according to Aquino, are centered around education and the workplace. "English being an official language means that it is used as a measure of instruction," he said. "The first step to implementing that is to use it in schools and in offices."

Taiwanese scholars and university professors are currently doubtful that the initiative will have much success in improving English proficiency in Taiwan.

"Taiwan is totally different from the Philippines in terms of language," said Hazel Javier, MECO director for tourism. "There is an expectation that if you're in Taiwan, you will learn to speak Mandarin, so there isn't a lot of familiarity with English the same way that there is in the Philippines."

"One of the reasons for this is that American culture is very pervasive in the Philippines," Aquino added. "Television, radio, movies, billboards, newspapers...American culture influences us on a daily basis."

"Colonialism also played a part in the level of English immersion, because Americans sent teachers right away, and introduced their culture and language to us," Aquino said.

He added that Taiwan has a different history, and that may play into why it has taken so long to introduce a measure of this nature.

Good for tourism

However, both Aquino and Javier are enthusiastic about its potential implementation. "Travel and tourism in the Philippines is very promotable because we can market that it's an English-speaking country, and that increases our tourism base across all English-speaking countries," Javier said. "Perhaps Taiwan would also benefit in this way from such a measure."

Aquino spoke to the cultural and societal impact of English within the Philippines. "Making English an official language definitely promoted cultural growth in the Philippines, and it equipped our workers with the means to communicate with prospective [foreign] employers."

"If English is introduced [in Taiwan] as an official language, perhaps a lot of Taiwanese youth will choose to study here instead of places abroad," Javier added.

New doors for bizmen, workers

"English is a universal language, so to make Taiwan an English-speaking country naturally would open a lot of doors for Taiwanese businessmen and workers alike. Even in the potential event that we lose some of our ESL demographic, and fewer Taiwanese students come to the Philippines to learn English, it would be beneficial for both countries for a measure like this to be put in place."

"An English education is not necessary for someone to be financially or economically successful in the Philippines today, but it's definitely an advantage to be fluent in English," Aquino said.

He concluded that Taiwanese workers would have a similar advantage if the measure was put into place. "From a practical point of view, we believe that it would benefit everyone involved."

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