In Taiwan, English starts early

Monica Huang is taking a crash course in English. Every weekday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., she and her fellow students forsake Chinese and concentrate solely on English in their private language class in Taipei.

Teachers drill them on vocabulary. Texts and tapes reinforce lessons. The students respond well, but they look forward to breaks - time to take out their toys and do those things you do when you're three years old.

In swelling numbers, parents in Taiwan are insisting on earlier education in English, linking fluency in the language to later success.

Immersion classes for tots have zoomed in popularity. They don't come cheap: At the Joy American School that Monica attends, tuition is about $1,300 a semester, with an additional $300 in fees every month. The annual per capita income in Taiwan averages about $12,000.

Even the Taiwanese government has hopped on the bandwagon, lowering the mandatory age for learning English in public school to fifth grade from junior high. Behind the push is the desire to stay competitive economically and to remain an international center of high-tech development.

In 1968, Taiwan began requiring junior-high students to start English, with the focus on reading and writing.

The new emphasis is on oral skills - and an American accent. While many teachers at the Joy American School hail from other English-speaking nations, American terms and spellings are "de rigueur."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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