Looking South Episode #15 – Education – Language Learning

In this week’s episode of Looking South, Eric Gau sits down with Joanne Hsu from the Bureau of Foreign Trade to discuss her experiences studying foreign languages in Southeast Asia.

Listen here.

Transcript below:

Eric Gau: Good morning. I’m Eric Gau, and you are listening to Looking South here on ICRT, the program where we examine the central government’s New Southbound Policy. Recently, we’ve been looking at educational exchanges under the policy, and here to talk to us about language learning is Joanne Hsu, an associate trade officer from the Bureau of Foreign Trade. Miss Hsu, good morning, and welcome to the program.

Joanne Hsu: Good morning, Eric.

Eric: That leads us into my first question. What Southeast Asian language have you learned, and what made you choose that language?

Joanne: The language I learned is Indonesian. Actually, I am quite interested in Southeast Asian countries. Since, I have been to Singapore as an exchange student, I have traveled around there learned a little bit Burmese. So, I chose Indonesian as my second foreign language and decided to challenge myself. At that time, I haven’t known that the dots would be connected looking forward. Looking back now, the dots are all connected and opened up new paths in my career life.


Eric: What made you choose Indonesian, as opposed to other Southeast Asian languages you could have picked up?


Joanne: The other option is Vietnamese. But I think Indonesian is easier to learn.


Eric:  How difficult did you find learning Indonesian? And what kind of program did you take to learn this language?

Joanne: When you first look at Indonesian, it looks like English, but you just cannot understand that. Since Indonesian has no tenses, no words of gender, it’s spelled as what it’s pronounced and what it sounds. It’s easier to learn comparing to English, Mandarin, or other Southeast Asian languages.

Eric: It uses the same English alphabet in writing, so if you know English already, from schooling here in Taiwan, you’d have an easier time picking this up, at least from the reading and writing perspective.

Joanne: Somehow, the vocabulary, you can know it comes from, maybe it comes from English, but I think actually it comes from European languages. It’s just that you learn that in English, and the first foreign language of mine is English, so I can only think of English to Indonesian in my mind.

The program I took is the BIPA program in University of Indonesia. It’s the Indonesian program for foreign speakers that is divided into three levels, including elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels. 70 percent of the participants are from Korea, 20 percent from Japan, and 10 percent from other countries. In class, we had quite inspiring learning environment, since our teacher encouraged us to raise our hands to ask questions and we can discuss with our classmates.

In addition to the regular course, we also have other activities like “Indonesian Day” for BIPA students to participate in singing contests, short drama contests, and so on. We also got field trips, that the teacher would take us out of campus. We also got speech contests. Extra curricular is my favorite part, because we learned how to play traditional instruments, dance in the traditional way. Last but not least is the fun games to celebrate National Independence Day of Indonesia in Indonesian way in August.

Eric: For this program, did you sign up as an individual, or was this as part of a government program to help people get into Southeast Asian schools, or something like that?

Joanne: It is a government sponsored program, for me to go there. But there, I am just one classmate, same as the others. The participants are university students who exchange there, or they are expats from private companies or from government.

Eric: What benefits do you see from learning another language? What do you hope to do with your proficiency?


Joanne: I do benefit from the program, since I’m in charge of trade affairs between Taiwan and Indonesia now in Bureau of Foreign Trade. I can talk with Indonesian official in their language. I can search information in Indonesian. Furthermore, I have tried several times in interpreting Mandarin and Indonesia, but it is really challenging for me.  Although my performance was quite satisfying, I think I still got quite a lot to improve. So in the future I hope I can expand my background knowledge and try to learn more relevant terms in different fields.

Eric: Who do you think would benefit from these kinds of language learning programs? Why those kind of people?

Joanne: Anyone who is interested in Indonesia and Indonesian can benefit. To be more specific, the people who want to study or work in Indonesia will definitely benefit from these programs, because after the intense training courses, expats from government and private sectors can speak accurately while knowing the culture and nationality. Students who want to take a bachelor’s or master’s degree in Indonesia can build up the language ability to qualify for application.

Eric: How are these language programs increasing interaction between Taiwan and the New Southbound Policy partner countries?

Joanne: From my point of view, it is hard to see the outcome immediately, but it is definitely a positive circle for both countries. Cuz we would both understand each other’s culture, meaningful festivals, experience the friendliness of people. In class, we can network with foreign classmates who are in the same interest. Out of the class, we mingle with local students that teach us out of textbooks. After that, we share our experiences to the followers and friends on our Instagram and Facebook, which will enhance the understanding to Indonesia if they are not so familiar with.

Eric: What would you say was the most memorable part of your time spent in Indonesia?

Joanne: There are many great moments there. The most impressive part is return to my Indonesian friend Yubi’s hometown to celebrate Lebaran.

Lebaran is the “Festival of Breaking the Fast”, which is celebrated by all the Muslims worldwide to mark the end of one-month fasting.

When I spent the holiday with Yubi’s family, we distribute food to the poor, pray in the mosques, we visit the graves of ancestors, also go to relatives’ houses. I also got money in colorful envelopes, just like we got red envelopes during our Chinese New Year. So thanks to the hospitality of Yubi’s big family, it got wonderful memory there.

Eric: We’ve been chatting with Joanne Hsu from the Bureau of Foreign Trade about her experiences learning Indonesian. Ms. Hsu, thank you for joining us on the air today.

Joanne: Thank you for having me. Thank you, Eric.

Eric: That’s it for today’s installment of Looking South on ICRT. Next week, we’ll continue looking at the impact the New Southbound Policy has on education. And remember, you can find this and past episodes of the program on the Looking South blog, or on the podcast section of the ICRT web site or app. I’m Eric Gau, and I’ll be back at the same time next week. Thank you for tuning in.

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