Since the start of 2017, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) has been a reliable partner of Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) to train Filipino language teachers and devise instructional materials for Taiwanese learners.
Aiming to augment the previous initiatives of the New Southbound Policy, the MOE decided to include Southeast Asian languages, including Filipino, to the new curriculum to be implemented next academic year of 2019. The Taiwanese government views this initiative as a meaningful step to reinforce linkages and connectivity among the nationalities of the ASEAN member states.
MECO prioritized teacher training by organizing two workshops last 2017. Two professors from the Filipino Department of UP Diliman were invited to serve as facilitators of the workshop, namely, Prof. Aura Berta Abiera and Prof. Althea Enriquez.
In addition, a five-day cultural immersion trip for these teachers were organized last August 10-14, 2018. Through the Lakbay MECOnnect program, these teachers were able to avail a partial subsidy for their travel expenditures. They visited three sites, namely, Manila, Iloilo and Guimaras.
MECO’s innovative teacher trainings caught the attention of the Kaohsiung city government. “City government officials were delighted upon knowing the training strategies conducted by our office. They inquired about the details of our workshop and tailored a similar action plan for the Vietnamese language teachers”, shared Irene Ng, director of the MECO Kaohsiung extension office.
In addition, pilot teaching sessions are currently on-going in four locations in Taiwan, namely, New Taipei, Kaohsiung, Taitung and Pingtung.
On the other hand, MECO is also helping the ministry to devise a total of 18 textbooks to facilitate the language learning of Taiwanese students. Twelve books are allotted for elementary student learning while six books are assigned for junior high school level.
Through MECO’s close coordination with UP Diliman’s Filipino Department, the four initial draft of the textbooks released by the MOE is currently under review by Filipino language experts. These textbooks were designed to attract the attention of young students by providing graphical representations in teaching Filipino vocabulary and grammar. The idea proposed by these initial manuscripts is to introduce the Filipino alphabet, basic pronunciation, grammar, and sentence construction. Filipino folk culture and values are also inserted in the textbook activities and exercises.
Increasing Taiwanese interest to Filipino language
Even before the MOE announcement about the inclusion of Southeast Asian languages in Taiwan’s curriculum, a number of Taiwanese young professionals have already showed their interest in learning the Filipino language while some of them deliberately learned Filipino by hiring migrant tutors.
Wendy Chang, 23, shared her experience of learning the Filipino language last 2015. Recalling her experience as a volunteer for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) sheltered by the Serve the People Association (SPA), she noted that her desire to establish friendship with Filipinos served as her main purpose to learn the language. She attended classes offered by a bookstore in New Taipei City and is currently improving her oral skills in Filipino through enrolling in an online language platform.
Similar circumstances also pushed Jun Lin, 24, to learn Filipino. “Learning this language is very useful in my current job as a legal coordinator for migrants in SPA. In addition, by learning the language for four months, it made me realize that this language is a stepping stone for me to have a background in Bahasa Indonesia and Spanish” noted Jun via e-mail interview.
On the other hand, Taiwanese academics argued that learning Filipino language is a way to reinforce cultural cooperation and to re-establish historical linkages between the Philippines and Taiwan. Professor Kenzi Chen, a post-doctoral fellow at the International Center for Cultural Studies of the University System of Taiwan (ICCS-UST), intended to learn Filipino in order for him to conduct field research among Filipino migrants in Taiwan.
Consequently, Larry Lai, 29, an assistant researcher at the Institute of Ethnology of Academia Sinica, also shared the same reason. Having learned the language from a Filipino studying his doctorate degree in National Chengchi University, he shared that he needed the oral fluency in order for him to conduct participant observation among Cordillera natives for his dissertation.
Aside from achieving foreign policy objectives, the upcoming new curriculum of the Ministry of Education will also contribute to Taiwan’s quest for harmonious multiculturalism. Teaching a Southeast Asian language to immigrant students is expected to reconnect them to their ancestral roots.
In the case of Filipino language, Irene Ng of MECO Kaohsiung noted that two out of the 100 Filipino language teachers who underwent training are children of new immigrants.
“This is a big break for them. They get the chance to promote the Filipino language and culture. This is the reason why we also branded them as ‘tourism ambassadors in Taiwan’ ”, said Ng in a text message.