Taiwan is enthralled with learning American English. One of the reasons for this love affair lies in the fact that English is the global lingua franca. In Taiwan, as elsewhere, English is associated with status and modernity: an essential instrument to access the world of finance, economy, technology and science; in short, English is regarded as a tool to achieve social modernization, economic growth and internationalization. To individuals, too, English language mastery promises globalization: it is viewed as the key to achieving a better life and future in a world which is imagined as borderless.
In this post, I would like to show that advertising for private language schools is critical to creating the association between English and globalization and to keeping that discourse in circulation. As in my recent post about Taiwan’s love affair with American English, I draw on my PhD thesis (Chang, 2004), where I employed Critical Discourse Analysis to analyze data drawn from private English language school and buxian promotional materials.
Consider the following example from a TV commercial for the famous Giraffe Language Schools. In this commercial (1:10-1:25), two figures, a little Taiwanese girl and Father Jerry Martinson walk along a beach. Father Jerry Martinson is an American Jesuit priest who, as a Christian missionary and English educator, is one of the most recognizable public figures in Taiwan. In addition to being an influential broadcaster with Kuangchi TV, he is also the founder of the Giraffe Language Schools. The little girl is looking out at the sea and observes that the world is very, very big. She then asks “Uncle Jerry” how to get to the other side of the world. “Uncle Jerry” responds:
美語是孩子通往世界最近的路 ‘American English, for children, is the royal road to the world.’ (My translation).
As in the examples I discussed last week, this commercial reinforces perceptions of the close relationship between native speaker teacher (“Uncle Jerry”), American English (美語), and, particularly, globalization (indicated by the reference to 世界 ‘the world’).
“For children” in this slogan does not refer only to the featured little Taiwanese girl but, by extension, to the television audience and all Taiwanese English language learners. Indeed, the question “How to get to the world?” is a vexing question for all Taiwanese.
Metaphorically, the commercial places all Taiwanese in a child position vis-à-vis an omniscient Western father figure. While viewers are left to fill “the world” with their own hopes and dreams, the commercial ultimately also suggests that the Taiwanese will only ever be able to enter the world, which is assumed to be Western, as child-like junior partners.
In sum, English language teaching schools in Taiwan respond to a need: the need to learn English for globalization and modernization. However, at the same time, that need does not necessarily pre-exist English language teaching schools. In their advertising they continuously discursively construct and re-construct that link between English and globalization.