I really don’t get it with the Taipei Times. It seems like clock-work. Every couple of months, it pumps out another story about how Taiwan can dominate the Chinese as a second language (CSL) market. They also keep bringing up the HSK-knockoff test that Shida made. If you aren’t familiar with this topic, see my earlier piece: A Test Nobody Wants

The conference, entitled “Opportunities for Taiwan Amid the Global Craze for Learning Chinese,” brought together NTU professors and students in a discussion of how to capitalize on the sheer and growing number of Chinese language students worldwide.

NTU Chinese Literature Department Chair He Chi-peng (何寄澎) unveiled at the conference a Chinese language test designed by NTU professors that he said could replace China’s official HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, 漢語水平考試) evaluation as the world standard in determining Chinese language students’ linguistic proficiency.

Taipei Times: Conference puts spotlight on Mandarin study craze

I suppose it is possible, at least on an abstract level, for the non-standard test that is useless, both for getting China-related jobs at international companies and for entrance to college programs, to replace the HSK as the world standard. It’s also possible for the “global craze for learning Chinese” to give way to a “global craze for learning Portuguese”.

Much of the article talks about what a great learning environment Taiwan presents for foreigners. As I’ve blogged in the past, I think there are some serious disadvantages for lower-level students here. One big one is price. One excellent Chinese university in Harbin offers 20 hours a week of instruction for about $1000 US per semester and room and board for $70 US per month. Studying even 10 hours a week in Taiwan would be much more expensive. Still the largest issue is the large number of Taiwanese people who really don’t want to speak in Chinese with westerners.

I realize everybody’s experiences are different, but I found it extremely difficult to avoid English language situations when I was a Shida student. Even recently, I encounter the situation fairly often. A couple weeks ago, I went to one of my friends’ houses. “If Taiwan really is a superior learning environment, then why not just use the HSK, and then brag loudly when foreign students in Taiwan consistently score higher than those in Hong Kong or mainland China?”As I arrived a group of Taiwanese people were talking in Chinese. I greeted them and introduced myself in Chinese. Instead of “nice to meet you”, or something along those lines, one answered (in English), “Can you speak Chinese?” Then, for the rest of the evening, regardless of whether I was speaking English or Chinese, she answered me in English. She did talk to the Taiwanese people there in Chinese, though. Perfect language learning environment? Far from it. It is one I run into fairly often in Taiwan, though. Beijing, on the other hand wasn’t like that at all. The vast majority of people expected me to be able to speak Mandarin. Better still, foreign students in the CET Harbin advanced program all take “No English” pledges and speak Chinese 100% of the time.

Just from a tactical standpoint, I really don’t understand what Taiwan has to gain by making a separate test. The rest of the world has already settled on one, and just as New Zealand would have a hard time making a test to take market share from the TOEFL or the IEALTS, Taiwan doesn’t have the scale to take on the HSK. Making a separate testing system makes Taiwan less attractive to western students as a study destination, not more so. If Taiwanese schools really do have superior pedagogy and Taiwan really is a superior learning environment, then why not just use the same HSK that everyone else does, and then brag loudly when foreign students in Taiwan consistently score higher than those in Hong Kong or mainland China?

One redeeming paragraph

This article was better than most I’ve seen in the Taipei Times on this topic. There was one very reasonable suggestion.

Formerly the “Stanford Center,” ICLP is an elite school with a forty-year history of providing foreigners with high-quality Chinese language training. Cheng Yu-yu (鄭毓瑜), an NTU professor of Chinese literature, said that ICLP carefully screened prospective students, accepting only outstanding students from top schools overseas.

Cheng called on Taiwan’s Mandarin Chinese training centers to emulate ICLP’s top-of-the-market pedagogical methods to attract more elite students in a bid to fill the “higher-end niche” of the market — a niche not yet filled by China, participants said.

I’ve heard glowing praise of the ICLP from no less than six former students. Not only is it clearly the best school in Taiwan, but it is respected as much as the IUP program in Beijing or the CET program in Harbin. In fact, if I had the money, ICLP is where I would be right now. Considering the vastly higher living expenses of Taiwan than the mainland, the only reasonable segment of the market to go after is the top. People who want the best, and are willing to pay the kind of money it takes to go to those schools likely won’t care about the difference in living costs at all.