Taiwan works to make travel and recreation more English-friendly
By Douglas Habecker Translated by Ann Lee
Taiwan is an island blessed with an abundance of scenic, cultural and recreational options for local and foreign tourists alike. As an ever-growing number of foreign visitors are discovering, this country offers many delights outside of major urban areas, from the lofty forested mountains of the Central Mountain Range to the stunning natural beauty of the East Coast and the abundant pockets of Taiwanese, Hakka and Aborigine culture found in towns and villages across the island.
A large part of on-going efforts by central and local governments, private businesses and non-government organizations to create English-friendly environments is directed towards the promotion of travel, tourism and recreation. This covers the use of English information to promote, educate and draw foreign visitors to Taiwan's attractions, and then to make these sites as accessible, user-friendly and enjoyable as possible. Although criticism was directed towards the lack of English information and English-friendly environments in the past, significant headway has been made in just the past few years with the direction, evaluation and assistance of government organizations like the Executive Yuan's Research, Development and Evaluation Commission (RDEC), which has been helping coordinate work in this area.
"We want foreigners to be able to enjoy convenient, informative facilities and signs with educational explanations. The goal is to help them have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the places they visit," explains RDEC Department of Regional Affairs Deputy Director Nancy Juang, who has been heavily involved with English-friendly efforts. "There has been progress with some pretty good print materials and websites, but some English still needs to be improved....We have to do better and make things more user-friendly."
The bulk of English information falls under websites, printed materials and signage. As a growing number of foreigners are beginning to discover, just about every major scenic and tourism destination is now covered by a website, sometimes multiple websites. One of Taiwan's most famous scenic destinations, Alishan, for example, is the main focus or featured prominently in multiple websites created by the Council of Agriculture's Forestry Bureau, the Alishan National Scenic Area Administration, both Chiayi county and city governments, and the Ministry of Transportation's Tourism Bureau. In fact, the biggest challenge in such cases is often ensuring that all relevant sites are interlinked for easy access. Several key "umbrella" websites, such as the very comprehensive Information For Foreigners (http://iff.immigration.gov.tw/enfront/) and the Tourism Bureau (www.tbroc.gov.tw, www.taiwan.net) sites, remain critical for directing foreigners to other sites.
As English websites proliferate, the other natural concern is quality, in terms of spelling, grammar, style, content (including regular updates) and organization. Although difficulties in all these areas remain, regular evaluations by the RDEC and other organizations are providing feedback and advice for improvements. A final challenge is to promote these websites to users, often best done through search engines, links to other sites and marketing via signs and print materials.
Print materials remain a key means of delivering information to visitors before and during their travels. Here, too, similar challenges are being met. As a growing number of brochures, booklets, maps and other materials are being generated, work is on-going to ensure that less-than-perfect first efforts are improved in terms of quality and usefulness. Foreigners themselves are playing a role in this, as they provide useful feedback, constructive criticism and editing skills. Another seemingly-simple challenge is ensuring that print materials are produced in sufficient quantities and effectively circulated so that they reach the hands of visitors--with distribution points ideally included tourist information centers, transportation hubs, hotels and other similar locations.
Good English signs are one of the most basic means of ensuring that foreign visitors easily reach attractions, navigate smoothly while they're there and gain a deeper understanding and enjoyment through their experience. The island's major government transportation organizations, including the Ministry of Transportation and Communications' Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA), National Freeway Bureau, and Civil Aeronautics Administration, are currently making very large strides towards providing English signs and services to help travelers on their way. This includes a wide assortment of areas, from useful signage in airports and train stations to direction maps and English service announcements. In one outstanding example of public/private cooperation, the Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation has won widespread praise for its international-grade standards for English information and services that have set new local benchmarks.
When it comes to English services, central and local governments often face big challenges in finding qualified English speakers. Progress is being made with some very creative solutions to be found in the most unlikely places. Kaohsiung county's diminutive Fongshan TRA rail station, for example, is able to offer English information broadcasts by making use of volunteer English-major interns from local universities, providing a win-win situation for all involved. On a more general basis, government employees in a broad range of organizations are being strongly encouraged to earn GEPD and similar English aptitude certifications.
Although Taiwan has come a long way in making its attractions, government and non-government representatives alike are stepping up efforts to make the country a more competitive player in the global tourism market. This determination, coupled with a open-minded attitude and constructive measures, is helping to guarantee that future visitors will find an even more welcoming, user-friendly Taiwan when they visit this beautiful island.
For a closer look at many of the scenic/recreational destinations and organizations that exemplify English-friendly efforts, visit the RDEC's 2007 English Carnival, open to the public daily between Dec. 11 to 13, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (opening 2 p.m. on Dec. 11), at the Taipei Show Hall 2 at 3, SongLian Road near Taipei 101.