Houston Community News >> Taipei to Model English Village Project on Korea

7/29/2007-- An English village will soon open its doors in Taipei City to offer children and adults alike an all-English environment. "Experiencing first-hand is an important part of learning. We should offer students a place where they can incorporate English into their daily life," said Huang San-chi, principal of Taipei Municipal Wenhua Elementary School.

Huang said the Shan Zai Hou Culture Research Center in Yangmingshan is an ideal spot for the project, because there is already an infrastructure in place at that location.

Currently, the research center belongs to the Bank of Taiwan and it plans to utilize the 14-hectare land for business. The government is evaluating whether to reserve the land for the English village.

"We can save some money if we set the village there. All we have to do is remodel the existing buildings into an English-speaking town. Still, the estimated cost is NT$100 million," said the principal.

Huang suggested the idea to the Taipei City government in 2006, and it was approved by the then Mayor Ma Ying-jeou.

The Department of Education (DOE) sent a group of educators to South Korea earlier this year, to study the country's experience and achievement with English villages in the past three years.

There were three different types of English-learning spaces the group visited: small-scale themed houses, English communities, and English towns, explained Huang.

He indicated that the different scales of learning environments will also be applied in Taiwan. In addition, he said he has proposed to the DOE current and future goals to accomplish the project step-by-step.

"South Korea now is pushing hard for internationalization and English is an important element in the process. Korea has done a great job in building English communities. Taiwanese certainly cannot fall behind in improving our English abilities," said Huang.

The English villages in South Korea are all located on Gyeonggi Province and were built near the capital, Seoul.

One such village located in Jamsil Elementary School in Gyeonggi is a good example of how to make classrooms more interesting and attractive to students. The school turned two rooms into an airport and a bookstore. Students can purchase books or "fly from" the simulated airport.

The English village project in Taipei will model itself after Jamsil's layout. "It is easier to decorate classrooms to look like real stores, like coffee shops or department stores and it will not cost as much as an entire English town," said Huang.

Under the scheme of English-learning theme rooms, it is expected that each elementary school in Taipei set two to four rooms with teachers. The DOE will allot and estimated NT$500,000 for each school, according to Huang.

"Those schools in the same area can discuss the design together. They can build different stores and allow students learning exchanges and therefore enrich schools' learning resources," said Huang.

Once the theme rooms are built, the project will move to the next stage, English communities.

Huang said he hoped the DOE can set up four English communities which will be located in eastern, southern, western and northern Taipei.

"The English communities will be as large as a school and students will learn the language via first-hand experience and by living there. The elementary schools will take turns to have daily to week-long classes in the communities. The plan was inspired by South Korea Ansan English Village," Huang said.

The village was opened in August 2004 on Daebu Island as the first English village in South Korea. It covers an area of 184,800 square meters, including athletic facilities. It employs a content-based curriculum, with courses including drama, cooking, and robotics.

The communities will require both Taiwanese and foreign teachers to teach English. Huang indicated that while learning is necessary, a good accent is indispensable too. That is why English native speakers are needed in the learning environments.

"Foreign teachers can do a lot to strengthen students' speaking ability. For kids, when they meet a foreign teacher they have to use English to communicate with them. But if it is a Taiwanese teacher instead, children will intuitively speak Chinese," said Huang.

The ultimate goal of the project is to build an English town. It takes it a step further from the Ansan village -- the English town will be more like "moving" abroad.

Similar to South Korea's Paju Camp English Village, the atmosphere of the town will make people feel as if they are in a real English-speaking country.

Opened in 2006, Paju Camp is a 277,200 square-meter village modeled after a town in England, complete with such facilities as a city hall, a police station, cafes, and even a science theater. There are over 500 residents who live on-site year-round.

"To build an English town is a lot work which takes a comparative amount of time and money. It might need at least three years to prepare the town for use," Huang stressed.

In the future, the English town will not only allow students to take classes there, but everyone is welcome. It can also be a tourist spot in the same manner as with the Gyeonggi English Village.

"It will no longer be necessary to go abroad to learn English. In the English villages, people will feel they are in a foreign country. They can watch movies, have fun in shopping malls and enjoy days without any Chinese speaking," said Huang.

"All schools have a positive attitude toward this project and we cannot wait to see the villages," remarked the principal.   

(Contributed by China Post)