English in Taiwan: Taiwan Behind in English Proficiency

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According to this article in the Taipei Times, Taiwan is behind in English proficiency. If that is news to any of you teachers out there, shoot yourself. One of the themes that draws together people from many nations in Taiwan is shop talk. I have heard personally from many gifted teachers and many terrible teachers how teaching in Taiwan truly is.

Sure, there are battles everyday teaching in Taiwan, some of which include: bad apples, rotten eggs, scrambled eggs, stupid eggs, the king of 8 eggs, white wood, space farmers, ADD, rudeness, pigs, cows, gays, T’s, and poo poo (just to let you know, poo poo is the funniest thing you can say to a youth in Taiwan). If you are going to go to Taiwan, you will need a good amount of time getting used to the classroom behavior of the Taiwanese and learn Chinese yourself at the same time. It will aid you, and make sure you learn all of the Taiwanese curse words as well. When I first arrived, I had a student say her name is “Cow”. I thought it was funny. Everyone else thought it was hilarious. Why? Because in Taiwanese “Cow” is the grandfather of all curses, like our esteemed “F” word.

Children in Taiwan go to the mandatory elementary, junior and high schools. Then, it’s off to an assortment of English, Chinese, science, math, and other cram schools, (known as Bu Xi Ban’s). It is there that they get even more homework assignments that they will need to copy before the next class. These poor kids don’t have time to be kids. Maybe Taiwan should just change their official language to English. Then they would accomplish two things. A) Piss off China and B) Be the only country that can’t speak their official language.

Taiwan is performing badly on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), a recent report said.

In a report which listed the 20 countries that had the most people taking the language-proficiency test, Taiwan was only 17th, after Japan (12) and South Korea (14), and worse than Vietnam (13) and Pakistan (15), the Chinese-language United Evening News reported yesterday.

Are you surprised that Taiwan is so low? Here are the top 5 obstacles to learning in Taiwan according to the British Council:


1. It has no standardized teaching materials.

This is true! Every school uses a different book it seems. There are some staples of the Taiwan English Beast’s diet though, like Let’s Go, Let’s Talk in English, and a gaggle of other books with English words and phrases in them. There are some better ones. I do think most of them suck. As a teacher in Taiwan, especially the bu xi ban scene, you know that it isn’t what you teach, it’s how foreign you look that really counts. Bonus points for being white! American born Taiwanese that have were raised in America but come to Taiwan after they graduate have encountered prejudice because they don’t look foreign.

2. Second, there is no communication or guidance to improve students’ weak points

There is a lot of communication and guidance to improve students’ weak points. It just doesn’t mean that the students will decide to work harder on their English grammar. I will go out on a limb and say that grammar is the bane of Taiwan’s English existence, and if you can have any student properly conjugate more than 6 verb tenses in a row without a mistake, I will give them an IELTS diploma right now. Granted, the diploma will be straight out of my home printer and not worth jack but I still challenge you to find these students.


3. Teaching design is restricting

I knew two teachers that once taught and labeled themselves the dog and monkey show. What was the question?

4. Teachers and material are not in accordance with international standards

I once heard something funny. You can add. “What do you mean….” before any sentence you just heard, turn it into an attacking question and make an argument out of it. Put on your best Brooklyn accent and give it a try. What do you mean … teachers and material are not in accordance with international standards?

Yeah, so what. Salaries, sick days, pensions, paid vacations, holiday pay, and of course more are not up to par either. No wonder you get so many people here for one year. There isn’t such a bright future in being a buxiban teacher. It is however great for making some cash and seeing the world as a single person. Many foreigner teachers here suffer for 6 months or a year working at cram schools between extended vacations in Thailand, The Philippines, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, India, etc…

5. A lack of sufficient learning facilities.

If there is one thing there isn’t, it’s is a lack of learning facilities. You can usually throw a rock from the door of one buxiban to the next. They are everywhere. As far as quality? It’s like fast food. I’d reckon to say it’s all crap, but you do find a gem, like a Taco Bueno that gives you hope that the system isn’t totally corrupted. You may even feel that, “It’s more bueno”.

An employee with the British Council was quoted as saying that in an ideal situation, the students’ level is first tested, and then they are taught according to their level.

Taiwan has implemented a General English Proficiency Test (GEPT), but this test does not fit into the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

It is hard for students to learn English well when teaching methods are lacking, the staff member was reported as saying.

What do you mean teaching methods are lacking? It took me a long time to learn how to play all these games…

I know this article is a bit of old news, but I will go on record saying that learning English in Taiwan is like going down the 7 story water slide “Der Stuka” in Florida that is nearly a straight drop down. You are initially frightened by it. Then you do it because everyone else is doing it. When you drop, it is exciting and scary. Then finally, you end up with a grade 5 wedgie and you spend the next 2 weeks pulling your bathing suit out of your bum.

About the Author

I am a cultural geographer by nature, and now a photographer, videographer, musician, and webmaster.

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