China Times Article on All-English Kindergartens

There is a feature article in today’s China Times on English learning in Taiwan. While the article touches on efforts to overcome the rural/urban divide and on English instruction in the universities, it is primarily a hostile look at all-English kindergartens. I have summarized some of the highlights for your collective amusement.

“Many problems begin in All-English kindergartens…,” where foreign teachers demand “No Chinese.” Xiao Zhaojun, Associate Professor of Primary Education at Hualien Teacher’s College, said that when she went to a local kindergarten to pickup a friend’s child, she saw a “No Chinese” sign and an American flag on the wall. She said she felt like she had entered an American concession.

The article notes the resentment that non-english speaking teachers feel in public schools that emphasize English instruction. One Hualien teacher says that at her school students who speak English well are placed on the A track where they receive more attention. She would like to help the students in the B and C tracks, but she doesn’t speak English. “The school wants to become known for its English programs–which country are we citizens of?”

Another parent claims that her daughter speaks Chinese with English syntax and that she is becoming “culturally different”–that she is extroverted, likes to be hugged [!], and demands that people say “Sorry” to her.

Children who study at All-English kindergartens are said to have emotional problems, maladjustment, and even childhood mental illnesses [!].

Children think that English is a superior language and Chinese an inferior one because “as soon as the foreign teacher shows up, the Chinese teacher is like a servant.”

The article concludes that this reflects a “colonial mentality” in Taiwan and the “superficlal utilitarianism” of the Taiwanese people and government."

I can’t believe what I just read. Children suffering from mental illness because they studied English at kindergarden?!? Give me a break! If anything I would look at the pressure that kids face in their childhood from their parents as the cause of maladjustment. Not language learning. And increased cultural awareness? Sorry not buying the, “My little Sally has changed since we sent her to Happy Purple Elephant Playtime Kindergarden.”

The English only requirement in the classroom is so that the kids can learn to think in English. It is not some draconian meassure thought up by malevolent westerners who feel resentment towards little Chinese kids.

“Guess what I did today?” says the evil wai gwo laushi. “I made the kids speak English.”

“You cruel bastard!”

This could simply be a reaction to the changes that happen in the personalities of people that study a foreign language. At a certain point, you aren’t studying a language, but a culture. And this opens your mind.

Of course, if you have an open mind in a closed-minded society like some parts of Taiwan, then you’ll look mentally ill. Ironic isn’t it?

You have to admit that there are individuals who take English to an annoying extreme. These are the same folks who not only demand that all foreigners speak English with them, but also demand that Chinese people speak English with them. I’ve had the misfortune to meet girls who rearrange their grammar so as to make it seem as if they’re ABCs or otherwise pretend to have some sort of accent to make themselves seem more fashionable. I’m not saying the Kindergartens are to blame, though. Society in general is probably more at fault for these idiots.

Meanwhile, back in the US, 22 states have adopted various forms of English Only legislation since 1981, banning bilingual education, bilingual voter information and other government communications in any language other than English. A federal bill is presently pending in Congress which, if enacted, would amend US law as follows:

English would be designated the official language of the U.S. government and therefore the ONLY language that federal employees and officials, including members of Congress, would be permitted to use for most government business.

The above mandate would extend to all federal “actions, documents, policies … publications, income tax forms, informational materials,” records, proceedings, letters to citizens, and any other written communication on behalf of the U.S. government. Any language other than English would be prohibited.

Exceptions to the ban on use of other languages would be permitted only for limited purposes involving national security, international trade and diplomacy, language teaching, criminal proceedings, certain handicapped programs, and the preservation of Native American languages.

An “entitlement” would be created, ensuring the “right” of every person to communicate with the federal government in English – in effect, a guarantee of language rights, but for English speakers only.

Naturalization ceremonies would be specifically restricted to English only.

Bilingual provisions of the Voting Rights Act, which guarantee minority-language voting materials in certain jurisdictions, would be repealed.

What was that Einstein quote about human stupidity being infinite? :unamused:

Interesting article.

I want to comment on a few points as I used to teach in these kinds of kindergartens:

It is not usually (if ever) the foreign teacher who insists on the No Chinese policy. It is the principals and supervisors at the school and they almost always have the full consent of the parents.

The problem of chidlren not being able to speak either language with complete fluency is well known. The problem I believe is the parents do not spend sufficient (if any) time with their children after school speaking and reading and communicating with them in Chinese. Since these kindergarten are expensive we can assume that a good many of the children have Filipino or Thai nannies at home who do most of the work taking care of them. Naturally the children’s Chinese skills will deteriorate in such an enviroment.

In Canada we have French immersion kindergartens which can be half day or all day. I have heard no comparable complaints that children are losing their ability to speak English.

Of course they are not beginning until they are 5 years old unlike Taiwan where they can be as young as 2 or 3 and may not have good language skills yet. I had a 4 year old boy in one kindergarten class who didn’t even know his colors in Mandarin because his family spoke Taiwanese at home. Actually, from my little nephew (or rather his mother), who is four and a half, I learned it is pretty common now for 4 year old kids not to know their colors or numbers up to ten in either Taiwanese or Mandarin. Can you imagine this? Four years old and they don’t know their colors? This means no one is taking to them at home.

As for the children learning that English is a superior language, yes I can believe that. Foreign teahers make double what the Chinese classroom teacher does. And she is left with all the dirty work, of wiping pigus, putting the kids to bed, disciplining them, etc. In some cases, if the classroom teacher is also a qualified English teacher, she may be doing the real work of teaching the children English, while the foreign teachers, who tend to come and go, and have little or no training, get all the credit and respect from the parents.

As for children mental illness, I also can believe that is happening. For example, there is a kindergarten near Sogo called GymBaby where the stated goal of the owner (a PhD in education from the States) is to have the children be able to read the Taipei Times in English when they get to grade one. The kids are put on an intensive phonics training course that would not be accepted even back home. In fact most of the bilingual kindergartens try to teach their children to read English at a pace that also is much higher than back home. And they usually don’t accept the concept of late bloomers, or the commonplace observation that boys tend to be 6 months to a year and a half behind girls developmentally. So yes I can believe there is potential for great stress in certain children in these programs.

Some of the comments made in the article were exaggerated, even inflammatory, but the general observation that bilingual English education in the pre-school and kindergarten level needs to be more closely monitored is, in my experience, correct. I hope some other people who have actually taught in these kinds of schools can comment here.