The following is an article I published at English.Tw.
Many friends have published their thoughts on why they wanted to learn English. Well, I can not type in Chinese because I don’t have any software to input Chinese characters. I am not familiar with the keypad phonetic input either. (I am a computer dummy, you see.) So, I am just going to post my thoughts in English.
My grandparents grew up under Japanese rule, so they were quite fluent in Japanese. Every time when they had serious matters to discuss but did not want us to know, they would speak to each other in Japanese. Growing up with my grandparents in Chiayi, I realized a very important benefit of speaking a foreign language; a language is a tool to communicate, including secret messages. (Unfortunately, I didn’t get to learn much in Japanese, but only our code names in Japanese. Heheheh…)
When we were living in Si Men Ding, Taipei, my tall handsome neighbour, three years of my senior, was a product of interracial marriage. However, his mother later remarried and moved to the USA with the new husband. He was left to be raised by his grandparents as their son. This guy had blond hair and blue eyes but could not speak a word of English. When his grandfather died, I was the one who dialed up 411 international operators to try to locate his mother’s new phone number and delivered the sad news to her family. I realized, English is a tool that I can use to help people, and get messages across to people who are foreign to our culture outside Taiwan. (Heck, I didn’t get a date with the guy but I told myself then, I might be able to make some money speaking English one day.)
In the 70s and 80s, when businessmen carried their briefcases and travelled to foreign lands to promote the “Made in Taiwan” label, we realized the power of international trade in Taiwan. Most of these Taiwanese businessmen would tell you that inadequate language proficiency was the major stumbling block for them. If you were fluent in English, you were literally guaranteed a job and a bright future. That’s what I was told and I was determined to be one of those who could travel far. (I was too short and stocky to be a flight attendant but hey, maybe I could be a tour guide one day, I thought.)
Of course, I studied studiously like every other teenager in Taiwan. However, I did not have a chance to go to any cram school all the time. The only cram school experience I had was when I was entering the first year in junior high school (grade 7). I went to a cram school for a month during the summer to learn K.K. phonetics, which turned out to be the best investment my parents ever had for me.
I jumped on the wagon of choosing English as my major in the university. I was really interested in linguistics. Unfortunately, I was not a great student per se. I did not put solid work to study the language at school. (I regretted that deeply even to this date!) Instead, I listened to English radio programs and I sang English songs. I participated in English drama, theatre and even directed a couple of plays. I did everything related to English but not thorough study in English. Fortunately, I got myself a few jobs that required English as a tool when I was in Taiwan.
With a degree in English Language, I thought I was finally getting somewhere. Little did I know that it was useless when I got to Canada. My language skill might count for something when I was in Taiwan, but was not valued as much when I got here, because everyone speaks English! I had to re-learn and re-train in order to establish a career path here. Thank Goodness, I have the tool to help me do just that, because I can speak English. English is an important tool for me to learn new skills in the foreign land!