There is no denying the fact that English has become the global lingua franca. However, as far as English teaching and learning are concerned, there is a prevailing belief that the world should be learning not some “English as a lingua franca” variety but “Standard English.” In this post, I want to explore what this kind of “Standard English” that is implicit in English language teaching and learning looks like in Taiwan.
Taiwanese are dedicated English language learners and Taiwan invests a lot in English language learning. Even so, there are often media debates that decry the poor quality of English in Taiwan. So what is the yardstick against which Taiwanese English is measured? It’s American English!
Despite the fact that English is now supposed to be learned for global communication, British English and American English have long been the two models underlying English instruction in English-as-a-Foreign-Language countries such as Taiwan. In Taiwan, it is American English that is regarded as ‘good English’ because of the close historical and political relationship between the USA and Taiwan. ‘English’ for Taiwanese means ‘American English.’ This is a strictly perceptual and ideological issue and means that Taiwan is different from most other Asian countries, where British English is regarded as the ‘good’ or ‘correct’ model to emulate in learning English.
In examining the language ideologies that undergird English learning and teaching in Taiwan, I employed Critical Discourse Analysis to analyze data drawn from private English language schools and buxiban (Mandarin for ‘cram school’) promotional materials. In my PhD thesis (Chang, 2004), which is accessible here, I specifically analyzed school fliers, websites, television commercials, television English teaching programs and English teaching job ads.
Private English language schools refer to schools that offer general English courses for different groups (elementary, secondary and tertiary students, adults) and whose purposes are not geared towards academic tests. Buxiban refers to language schools that offer arduous supplementary English courses for test purposes, such as junior high, high school English, TOEFL, IELTS, GRE and so on.
The following are two short excerpts from private language school fliers in my corpus that demonstrate how American English is promoted and normalized by English language schools in Taiwan.
無國界的世界來臨了， 從小提供小孩子世界通用語言(美語)的環境, 培養最有競爭能力的下一代，是現在父母的期望。
(The time of the world without boundaries has come. To provide little children a learning environment in an international language (American English) and to provide the next generation with competitive ability is every parent’s hope in the contemporary society.) [my translation]
您知道美國小孩子如何開始學美語嗎? 您希望您的孩子有同樣的出發點開始學美語嗎? 100% 純美語環境。
(Do you know how American children start learning their American English? Do you want your children to start learning English as American children do? 100% pure American learning environment.) [my translation]
Text A makes a number of unstated assumptions including the one that American English is the global language. In fact, Text A illustrates three pertinent language ideologies of English language learning in Taiwan: in addition to the fact that American English is normalized as THE English, English is also presented as the global language and it is implied that an early start to learning English is imperative. Text B explicitly tells readers that American English is the Standard English and Taiwanese children need to learn it through an English-only immersion teaching method, and, again, suggests that the earlier a child starts to learn English, the better.
Other evidence for the predominance of American English in my data include lexical collocations involving USA, America or American such as USA degree, American English teacher, North American accent, American curriculum, American teaching method, American English learning environment, and American teaching materials. These all reinforce the notion that only one variety of English – American English – is standard, appropriate, correct and prestigious. As far as English language teaching in Taiwan is concerned, anything associated with the term USA or America or American is viewed as the best. Indeed, no other varieties of English were even mentioned in my data.
The language ideology of ‘American English is best’ constitutes the context in which English language teaching policies are formed and in which English is taught and learned. As a result, English language teaching and learning in Taiwan has become a one-language (American English) and one-culture (American culture) teaching and learning environment and has resulted in widespread lack of familiarity with the existence of any other varieties of English. This, in turn, has resulted in linguistic and racial inequalities between varieties of English and their speakers. It is not uncommon for English teachers speaking other varieties or having been educated in other English-speaking countries (including English-Center countries such as Australia or the UK) to hide their backgrounds and pretend to be American-English-speaking and/or to be US-trained.
The belief that American English is the best English is interlinked with a set of further pervasive language ideologies such as “English is the global language,” “there is an ideal English teacher,” “there is an ideal English teaching methodology” and “the earlier English learning starts, the better.” I will discuss these language ideologies in future posts.