Taiwan’s educational options for foreigners used to be very much focused on the study of spoken Mandarin and the traditional Chinese writing system that form the official language of Taiwan. Whilst access to other fields of study have opened, it still remains the largest area of education for large numbers of foreigners.
Most major universities in Taiwan have a Chinese language centre or department, and they offer the best certified and recognised courses. A list of Ministry of Education approved language learning centres can be found online, along with all the relevant contact information.
People with a knowledge of simplified characters may find themselves re-learning large parts of vocabulary as the traditional writing system has a more complex set of strokes. On the other hand it provides a more distinct and easily recognisable set of characters, once they have been memorised.
Scholarships and study opportunities for foreign nationals are available through programs like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Huayu (Mandarin) Enrichment Scholarship.
Resources for studying
Aside from course study materials like textbooks, useful resources for learning Chinese include newspapers and even children’s story books. These provide a great range of vocabulary and idioms to stretch your language acquisition and expand your character recognition.
Some popular daily newspapers like Guoyu Ribao 國語日報 (a paper focused on education and student matters) are annotated with zhuyin fuhao (注音符號). These phonetic markers break down complex and uncommon words into their component sounds and are useful for foreign learners and natives alike due to the huge number of characters that is required for fluent reading of traditional Chinese.
Zhuyin fuhao is also the prefered form of casual spelling, rather than the romanised alphabet. If you require the pronunciation of a word, having a good grasp of this system will make it much easier to ask for assistance.
Language exchange opportunities are widely available through courses, and websites like Forumosa.com, especially for English speakers in Taipei. Check our Taiwan community to find a partner near you.
Taiwanese and native languages
Due to a growth in the status of Taiwanese Chinese, or Hokkien, in recent years, more media and culture is being produced in this language. Consequently some Chinese language centres offer the chance to learn this dialect, although expats should bear in mind that it is not universally spoken or understood by the population.
Unfortunately, owing to their complex distribution and the various influences of language politics on the island, the languages spoken by the Formosan natives of Taiwan are almost all endangered, with a number having become extinct. The study of them is mostly taking place in very specialised university linguistics faculties, both in Taiwan, and internationally.
Some useful phrases
- Hello - 你好 Li hó (sing.) 恁好 lín-hó (pl.)
- How are you? - 你好無 Li hó-bo
- (I’m) fine, thanks. And you? - (我)真好, 多謝, 你呢？(góa) chin-hó, to-siā, lí neh?
- Good morning - 敖早 gâu-chá
- Good evening - 暗安 àm-an / 晚安 bóan-an
- Please - 請 chhiá
- Thank you - 多謝 to-siā, 感謝 kám-siā, 撈力 ló làt
- You're welcome/That's OK - 免客氣 bián kheh-khì, 熟似 se̍k-sāi