Should Taiwanese kids be learning how to spell in Taiwanese?


#1

Just saw a news report about how kids in elementary schools now have to learn Taiwanese. That’s a good thing I think. Weird thing is they have to learn how to read, spell and write the funky romanized system of Taiwanese.

Is that a stupid idea or what? Surely, it should be all orally/aurally based, but then it would be harder for teachers to test I suppose. Does it always have to come down to testing?


#2

Why is it a stupid idea that children learn to write what for many of them is their native language? I might want to argue about what romanization method would be best – but most certainly not that it should be done.


#3

I admit that I don’t know much about the Taiwanese dialect, but isn’t it possible to render most of the words in Chinese characters? Wouldn’t that be sufficient for most students’ purposes at an elementary level?

Having to spend hours learning romanized Taiwanese seems to me to be impractical and an unnecessary burden. The limited time students have could be better spent learning more spoken Taiwanese IMHO.


#4

OK, let’s look at it from the standpoint of impractical and unnecessary burdens on students.

How much effort goes into learning the roman alphabet?
From the standpoint of additional work, the answer is “none,” because children must learn the alphabet anyway in their English lessons.

How much effort goes into learning the additional requirements for the romanization of Taiwanese?
I don’t know. A few weeks at the school level, I suppose. But the real measure is in the relationship to the next question.

How much effort goes into learning a character-based system for Taiwanese?
A huge amount more than would go into learning a romanization system. Months, years… And even then students couldn’t be counted on to gain (or even retain) full literacy.


#5

Of course kids are going to learn the alphabet anyway. That’s not a problem. It is a problem if they are going to be spending a disproportiionate amount of their time memorizing the spellings of romanized Taiwanese words for tests in school. What’s the point?

Since they are learning regular Chinese characters throughout their school career, why not just use those to learn Taiwanese? You think schools are going to spend just a few weeks on the Taiwanese romanization system? I seriously doubt it. They’ll be teaching and reviewing it for years, just like they did with KK until recently.

If a romanized system of Taiwanese must be learned, as you suggest, don’t you think it would be better to introduce it at junior or senior high? Up until then, 7 and 8-year old students could be learning so much more Taiwanese orally. They would also have much more time for learning about Taiwanese poems etc.


#6

Why is it a stupid idea that children learn to write what for many of them is their native language?

I thought Taiwanese is a dialect and not a language? I.e. there aren’t any “Taiwanese characters”.

In the area of Germany where I grew up nearly every town had it’s own dialect (similar, but with differences) - now imagine we all had to learn our “native language”. Perhaps easier as we use roman characters for our official language and the dialect, but pretty pointless nevertheless.


#7

That is why I said that the Taiwanese dialect can be rendered pretty well using Chinese characters.

Cantonese is a dialect too, isn’t it? Many of the papers in HK are written in the Cantonese dialect.

Ever been to KTV? All those Taiwanese songs have the words in regular Chinese characters. I suspect there may sometimes be words or syntax which can not rendered accurately with characters, but it seems to work quite well most of the time.

Certainly no need to be teaching a romanized system of Taiwanese to 7- and 8-year-olds!


#8

I believe the word “language” more accurately describes Minnan, of which Taiwanese could be said to be a dialect. And I would call Cantonese a language, too. But the whole language/dialect discussion belongs in a separate thread, and probably not in the open forum.

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding here about the nature of Chinese characters. This is not particularly surprising, given that most Chinese people believe many myths about their own language.

The only way characters can be used for Taiwanese is for people to decide on a system (though “system” is probably giving any of the various approaches too much credit) which must then be learned. The amount of effort to learn such a “system” – which would be inherently inconsistent and difficult – is far, far greater than would be required to learn a romanization system.

As for the age at which children should begin to learn to write Taiwanese, I consider that a separate and less interesting topic. What I am taking exception to is the suggestion that characters would be better suited to the task than romanization.


#9

You say it must be learned. But if the language exist already for so long, why does it not have any characters so that they need to invent one?
Point being it’s a dialect, not a language. I mean isn’t it a feature of a language to have a writing already? How is “language” defined?
Or do you know of any other language where characters / words have just recently been created? Would be interesting to know actually.

Cantonese is a dialect too, isn’t it? Many of the papers in HK are written in the Cantonese dialect.

Cantonese is a dialect, too, that’s correct. IMHO they are using Chinese characters (simplified perhaps) and not any new or different characters. Though I did hear there are some (very, very few) own creations - not sure it it’s true however …


#10

I think it’s a big mistake to force the kids to study one of their so-called “mother tongues” at school, whether that be Taiwanese, Hakka, or an Aboriginal language. The kids already have enough on their plates to master Mandarin Chinese, which is such an incredibly difficult language even for native speakers, and also English.

I agree that it’s vitally important for kids to study both Mandarin and English at school, and that as much time and effort as possible should be devoted to ensuring that the students achieve the highest possible proficiency in them. And they need to start studying English as early as possible in order to have the best chance of doing so.

If their families use any of those other mother tongues (Taiwanese, etc.) at home, then that’s where the kids can pick them up. There’s absolutely no need for them to have to study them at school. A majority of people here speak very fluent Taiwanese, which they have learned at home. If that has been sufficient in the past, why should it be any different now?

There are other families who have no wish for their kids to learn any local dialect in addition to the two key international languages of Mandarin and English. Why should their wishes be overridden and their children forced to learn an extra unwanted language? It’s an unnecesary and excessive burden on already overburdened kids.

Look what happened in Malaysia when the government started enforcing a policy of making all the Chinese and Indian kids learn Malay in school – the general standards of English and Chinese both fell dramatically, which diminished the students’ career prospects and weakened the nation’s competitiveness. The same thing will happen here when Taiwanese and the other dialects are pushed into the school curriculum.

Yes, classes in these dialects should be available as options, either in junior or senior high school, in the same way that German or Japanese might be available as options to kids in Western schools. But they should not be made compulsory. It’s yet another misguided and impractical political decison, like the choice of Tongyong Pinyin over Hanyu, imposed on the poor people of Taiwan by an ideologically blinkered government.


#11

Look what happened in Malaysia when the government started enforcing a policy of making all the Chinese and Indian kids learn Malay in school – the general standards of English and Chinese both fell dramatically, which diminished the students’ career prospects and weakened the nation’s competitiveness.

Bad comparision. I don’t doubt the conclusion but Malay is not a dialect and the official language in Malaysia. English is the business language and widely spoken, but the others are not.
In fact you will find many Chinese dialects in Malaysia and I used to have many Chinese friends there, some could only speak “their” dialect, others several but some couldn’t read any Chinese, too.
Of course it makes sense to teach Mandarin at Chinese schools but “Bahasa Melayu” should not be sacrificed for that.
Malaysia is actually a very different environment due to the mix of different races (around 60% Malay, 30% Chinese, 9% Indian and 1% others), so I think the comparision is flawed.
You would have better argued by saying it doesn’t make sense to teach the language of the ‘Orang Asli’ at schools there … :wink:


#12

Oh, but I would think 3 languages are managable. In Germany we learn German (naturally), then English from class 5 onwards and when entering class 7 we had to choose between Latin and French. There are slight differences from state to state but that’s what I was forced to learn. (I choose Latin in case you wonder - and forgot all of it …)


#13

Speakers of the Chinese languages write in a form of Mandarin. That doesn’t make their languages dialects, it means they have been made to become literate in what is essentially a foreign language (though they may not pronounce it the same as Mandarin speakers). Local forms have been officially suppressed.

Of course languages exist before they have written forms (other than contructs like Esperanto). Really, that’s quite obvious. What would you call Cherokee before the time of Sequoyah, for instance? Plenty of languages haven’t had written forms until the last 200 years or so; missionaries have been in the forefront of devising alphabets and written systems for languages, as was the case in Taiwan.

Ask yourself: Was Mandarin or any other Chinese language really a “language” 150 years ago? By your definition it wouldn’t be, because no one wrote any of the languages as they were spoken. Classical Chinese was a literary form, not something used for speech.

As for what constitutes a language, I would look first to intelligibility. For example, can speakers of Mandarin understand Cantonese without having studied it? No. Shanghainese? No. Minnan (Taiwanese)? No.

Writing Cantonese with characters requires an extended character set, and use of some other “standard” characters in very different ways. It’s not just a matter of tossing in a few extra hanzi here and there.


#14

Mandarin isn’t an incredibly difficult language for native speakers, its written form in characters is. I hope you’ll forgive me if I labor the obvious, but confusion about the difference between written and spoken forms of Chinese is behind many of the problems that language reform faces from the general public.

Because Taiwanese and other local tongues have been suppressed to the point where they are seen as lower than Mandarin even by their native speakers, who then cease to use them.
How many “Taiwanese” couples do you know who speak not Taiwanese but Mandarin with each other? And what do they speak to their children? At least in the north, Mandarin is the standard.

[quote]There are other families who have no wish for their kids to learn any local dialect in addition to the two key international languages of Mandarin and English. Why should their wishes be overridden and their children forced to learn an extra unwanted language? It’s an unnecesary and excessive burden on already overburdened kids.
[/quote]
That’s a tricky and interesting question – one I don’t have time to respond to now. I’ll try to respond later.


#15

Of course languages exist before they have written forms (other than contructs like Esperanto). Really, that’s quite obvious.

But there aren’t any new languages, are there? I am still not convinved that Taiwanese is a language or can be considered as such.
I see your point of speaking before writing, but sooner or later there has been a writing for most languages in the world, let it be Hiroglyphs (sp?), Arabic, Latin etc.
With your idea you could turn any dialect into a language, just create a character set and done.

Speakers of the Chinese languages write in a form of Mandarin. That doesn’t make their languages dialects, it means they have been made to become literate in what is essentially a foreign language (though they may not pronounce it the same as Mandarin speakers).

They write Chinese characters, traditional or simplified - but IMHO not Mandarin. Mandarin is the official “Chinese” language based on the Beijing dialect.
I mean you can also write Bavarian or most other local dialects with High German characters, but still it’s not a language - it is a dialect.

Come to think of it - they do actually teach that in school down there, don’t they!?
Still no language though …

What would you call Cherokee before the time of Sequoyah, for instance?

A car with character perhaps? :laughing:


#16

If Taiwanese is not taught in schools then the language will be as good as dead in Taiwan within fifty years. Most young people in Taiwan speak Mandarin, not because they are forced to but simply because they receive all their education in that language and are most comfortable using that language. Many young people cannot speak Taiwanese even though their parents might speak it fluently.

And if you are going to learn a language in the modern world you ought to know how to write it. Using standard Mandarin is not really the best way to write Taiwanese. There are some differences in the languages which mean certain sounds or words in Taiwanese can’t be accurately represented by satandard Chinese characters. Learning a romanisation system for a language which for many students is a mother tongue should not be a huge burden.

btw Taiwanese is a language, not a dialect. Or perhaps it is more correct to say Taiwanese is a dialect of Hokkien.


#17

i almost don’t need to reply here because cranky laowai is saying everything that needs to be said. but lest someone think he is alone in his opinions :slight_smile:

rascal, saying taiwanese is a dialect of mandarin is like saying italian is a dialect of spanish. they have common roots but are completely different languages. you might consider both to be dialects of “chinese” but not one to be the dialect of the other.

remember that mandarn itself had no written form until 100 years ago, before this there was only literary written chinese which was used throughout china. that taiwanese still has no written form does not make it less of a language. it is simply a language that because of Taiwan’s history has never acquired a commonly accepted written form.

an on-line dictionary search shows this for dialect:

1 a : a regional variety of language distinguished by features of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation from other regional varieties and constituting together with them a single language b : one of two or more cognate languages c : a variety of a language used by the members of a group d : a variety of language whose identity is fixed by a factor other than geography (as social class)

under b you could call taiwanese and mandarin dialects but not one of the other. your german dialects are cleraly covered under one. but that is not the case for minnan and mandarin. as cranky rightly points out taiwanese is one dialect of southern min.

cl also points out very well that spoken mandarin is no more difficult than other languages, the characters are though! “just using the characters” for taiwanese raises a very large number of complicated questions, not least of which is having to learn the character associations for various commonly used words! this would have to be LEARNED and believe me it would be far, far harder than learning a romanization. in fact it would be impossible. there simply ARE no commonly accepted characters for much of Taiwanese an entire system would have to be created first! on the other hand, a romanization is very feasible and quite easy to learn. you need to do your homework on this point spack. perhaps if people went through life singing ktv songs it would work, but i think that would have a number of other negative effects you havent quite thought through :slight_smile:

cantonese does have a commonly accepted written form using characters, but this is not something that someone just pulled out of a hat, is has taken form over time. it also has to be learned, just as cantonese must learn baihuawen in order to read newspapers etc in that langauge.

as for the value of learning one’s mother tongue, this depends on your viewpoint. consider that taiwanese education has been surpressed for political reasons for 100 years. kids used to get hit if they spoke taiwanese at school. they were taught to think it was low class. the simple fact however is that it is the mother tongue of the majority of people on the island. that it be taught for a few measly hours a week in school in most of the world would be decried as a gross violation of human rights, but in taiwan it is considered “too much of a burden” for children to learn it in favor of Chinese and even ENGLISH god help me. i wonder what the malays would do if the chinese and the indians came over and took over for 50 years each not allowing malay to even be spoken in school. if that were the case your comparison might be more valid, Omniloquacious.

i’ve gone on a bit but i’ve given this one a bit of thought and research over the years :slight_smile:


#18

The sentence that put me off learning Taiwanese for many years:

“The incense you brought back from Hong Kong is very fragrant”

In Mandarin you have only one one character (


#19

interesting example! the character for “pang” is 芳 but most people wouldn’t know that. i do only because i studied it. just as a test i asked my wife, a native speaker, what the written character was and she said 香 . all this would have to be learned.

this character also points out a big problem that would make characters for taiwanese even worse of a written system than they are for mandarin. for many characters there are “literary” pronunciations as in “hiong” and “baihua” pronunciations as in “hiuN” for 香. less than ideal to say the least.

but chinese people have to have their characters, i’m sure they are teaching them. a textbook i saw once was using a good system, no 香 for pang or ridiculous mandarin sound loans like you see in advertisements.


#20

I had a student who recently got 3rd in the national Taiwanese high school speech contest. She rendered the whole speech in characters. She says there is already a standard in place for writing Taiwanese in characters. Which doesn’t surprise me in the least.

An earlier poster said that they wondered if a language had been invented from scratch and a writing system to accompany it. I think that Basa Malay is such a language. It was essentially invented by the Dutch as a form of pidgin.

I think preservation of language is important in a cultural context.