A study commissioned by the Ministry of Education found that the ideal period for learning English is from elementary school to the first year of junior high. The quality of children’s English learning during this period will affect their language acquisition abilities when they grow up. Furthermore, the concept of “continuous learning” is crucial for elementary school students; they must continue to learn and accumulate knowledge to ensure their language learning is never constrained by limitations. 

The five-year study, which involved auditing countless elementary school English classes throughout Taiwan, found that English education in Taiwan is overly focused on memorization. Because English is seen as just another academic subject, students end up having to memorize vocabulary and grammatical rules by rote, which erodes their interest in learning the language. 

If parents want to invest in their children’s education during their most receptive years, then experts suggest thinking about how to ensure the children would be willing to continue learning. This is the only way to guarantee the quality of English education in Taiwan. 

Two English Classes a Week Are Not Enough

Dr. Chao-Ming Chen, Professor at the Department of English at National Chengchi University and President of the Global Education Association in Taiwan (GEAT), stated that repetition is essential when learning any language. However, at the moment elementary school students only have two English classes a week

 “It is impossible for children to make progress under the current English education paradigm, unless the child has a prodigious memory.”

-Chao-Ming Chen, Chair Professor at the Department of Applied Foreign Languages, Shih Chien University

According to Professor Chao-Ming Chen, in the exam-oriented education system that currently exists in Taiwan, English classes often focus on memorization of vocabulary and grammar, which leads to students failing to keep in mind that language is actually a skill. Elementary school English classes should place a greater emphasis on practicing the applications of the language, otherwise students will have trouble recalling and using the correct grammatical rules when the time comes. For example, even if students have memorized that third person verbs should have an “s” appended to them, they won’t be able to apply the rule consistently when speaking or writing if they haven’t used it in a practical setting before. 

Memorizing Traffic Rules Does Not Make You a Driver, and Memorizing English Rules Does Not Make You an English Speaker

Professor Chen noted that English education in Taiwan does not treat English as a communication skill. Instead, English classes treat the language only as an academic subject, and ignore the fact that the keys to language learning are consistency and immersion. Professor Chen suggests creating more immersive English classes, to allow students to continually practice their language skills. Additionally, supplementary digital teaching materials can be used so that English appears more often in everyday life. 

For example, physical education, music, and art classes have high levels of interactivity, and the contents of these classes often involve introductions western culture. Consequently, it may not be a bad idea for instructors to teach these classes in English, as it would provide a variety of opportunities for immersive learning.  

 “English is a communication skill, and not just an academic subject. I suggest helping children develop their willingness to learn, and to integrate English into everyday life, so that English can be found everywhere.”

-Chao-Ming Chen, Chair Professor at the Department of Applied Foreign Languages, Shih Chien University

Children of English Experts are Proactive in Learning and Reading

It is also possible to help children encounter English more frequently at home. Take Professor Chen’s children as an example. His children are exposed to English starting from a young age, such as through picture books. After they finish reading a book, the children are asked to create their own sentences with five of the verbs they learned from the book, or to retell the story in their own words.

For example, the “I Can Read” series are some of his children’s favorite books. They tell the story of a young boy and his good friend, a dinosaur. The dinosaur’s sheer size means that he often runs into amusing situations, which helps draw and keep the reader’s interest. The verb “left” appears often in the story, so Professor Chen would ask his children to make a sentence with this verb, such as, “My dad left home this morning.” 

 “Once children are drawn in by the story, then they’ll want to know what happens next, which leads to a greater willingness to learn on their own.”

-Chao-Ming Chen, Chair Professor at the Department of Applied Foreign Languages, Shih Chien University

According to Professor Chen, children absorbing the structure of a story and reconstructing it represents a natural review of the contents they have just read, which helps with memory retention. Additionally, reading picture books or storybooks can stimulate children’s imaginations, while also teaching them important life lessons from the characters in the stories.

To break free of the rigid constraints that can affect English education in Taiwan, Professor Chen suggests creating a solid foundation of reading in elementary school English classes. Students should read texts out loud, which will improve their fluency and comprehension, and allow them to understand what the author is trying to say.  

Professor Chen does not believe that parents must talk to their children in English at all times while at home, but he does think that a set time every day for English would not be a bad idea. For example, parents could read English stories to their children before bedtime. If parents are worried about their own pronunciation, there are many resources available to help them, such as audiobooks. Indeed, if parents and their children learn together through these resources, then the bond between parent and child will also grow stronger.

See also