Today’s Taipei Times has the following note:
Citizenship changes proceed
Foreign nationals seeking Taiwanese citizenship will be required to have a basic grasp of Mandarin and an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of being a Taiwanese citizen if an amendment to the Nationality Law (國籍法 guójí fǎ) is passed. The amendment was approved by the legislature’s Home and Nations Committee yesterday and sent for further screening to a legislative plenary session. According to the amendment, the Ministry of the Interior will set the standards regarding basic language ability and knowledge of citizen rights and responsibilities. The ministry will also be responsible for testing applicants. Vice Minister of the Interior Chien Tai-lang (簡太郎) said that the amendment is aimed at bringing naturalization laws in line with those of such English-speaking countries as the US, Canada and New Zealand.
According to an official U.S. government Web site on U.S. citizenship and immigration services, “To be eligible for naturalization, you must be able to read, write, and speak basic English.” (Emphasis mine.)
The few Web pages I’ve scanned about Canadian citizenship are not as specific about the language requirement. I get the impression, though, that being able to read and write French or English is not required as long as speaking ability exists. I didn’t see anything specific about the English-language requirement for New Zealand, either.
Official talk of a language requirement for ROC (Taiwan) citizenship surfaced about a year ago. At the time, I called the Ministry of the Interior to inquire about the situation. If applicants for citizenship are required to be able to read and write Mandarin in Chinese characters, this would be a substantial barrier to naturalization — much more so than being able to read or write a language that is written in an alphabetic script.
I was told that reading and writing Chinese characters would not be required. I hope that is still the intention of the government.
I also inquired whether languages of Taiwan other than Mandarin would be acceptable, and I was told they would be. Thus, someone able to speak Taiwanese (Hokkien, Minnan, Holo…), Hakka, or, rather less likely, one of the languages of Taiwan’s tribes, would be able to meet the language requirement without knowledge of Mandarin. I hope that this, too, is still the intention of the government.
I suspect some of the ambiguity may lie in how Guóyǔ (國語) is translated. Most of the time the word refers to Mandarin. Recently, however, the government has occasionally chosen to translate Guóyǔ not as “national language” (i.e. Mandarin) but “national languages” (i.e. the more than one dozen languages of Taiwan: Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka, and the languages of Taiwan’s tribes).