Today's Taipei Times has a big article on studying Chinese in Taiwan in the features section. Jules Quartly writes,
Over the past three years the number of students studying Chinese in Taiwan has risen by around 1,500 to 9,143, according to MOE statistics. This is a 5 percent annual increase, but set against the explosion in demand for learning Chinese it is a meager return. Taiwan should be riding the wave of learning Mandarin, instead it appears to be floundering around in the shallows.
It is disappointing that Taiwan has failed to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the rapidly expanding market for learning Mandarin. The article discusses some of the reasons why. These include difficulties obtaining visas and the use of traditional characters and various systems of pinyin.
I think the visa problem is the most serious one. The problem of people abusing student visas and working illegally cannot be ignored. However, instead of a knee-jerk reaction which makes it more difficult for people to study legimately other options should be explored.
I think people often make too much of a fuss about different systems of pinyin. While I think Hanyu Pinyin should be the preferred system, any student who has a good knowledge of one system can quickly learn another. Similarly for traditional and simplified characters there is a lot of overlap between the two systems. Switching from one to the other doesn't mean starting again from zero.
Given China's massive size Taiwan cannot hope to compete with it directly. Instead it has to market its differences and advantages. Most people will automatically look to China as the place to study Chinese. Even capturing a small percentage of the growing market for Chinese language learning will bring many benefits to Taiwan.
Perhaps there are already people in government and education thinking this way. The article mentions,
Toward the end of last year a conference was held in Taipei titled, Opportunities for Taiwan Amid the Global Craze for Learning Chinese. Participants touted Taiwan as superior to China culturally and educationally and emphasized the high standing of National Taiwan University's (NTU) International Chinese Language Program (台大國際華語研習所), or ICLP, formerly known as the Stanford Center. The aim here is to take the high ground of teaching Mandarin and leave the mass market to China.
I hope these ideas translate into workable policies and results. While China will always take a bigger share of the market for Chinese language learning than Taiwan there is no reason why Taiwan can't be the best place in the world to learn Chinese.