Why do so many Taiwanese speak English to foreigners?


Original Title: Why do they feel the need?

This is a rant!

Why do a large number of Taiwanese feel the need to always speak English to foreigners - and I mean the clearly non-Asian foreigners, even before they are spoken to? I don't mean the 'practical', but more the psychological reasons?

Are they ashamed of their language? Do they have an inferiority complex towards Westerners? Are they showing off? Is it shear ignorance of what goes on inside the mind of a foreigner? Are they worried about looking ridiculous if the foreigner did not understand some basic words like 'sorry' or 'excuse me' or 'thank you'?

Or is it an overwhelming sense of sympathy and niceness to help out the poor foreigner?

Are they scared of letting in other cultures into their world and just treating them like normal human beings?

Is it just their culture and nothing personal against me and I am never going to change it?

Is it the fault of foreigners themselves for acting superior and expecting to be treated differently?

Why doers it never occur to a lot of them that maybe the best way of making foreigners feel at home and comfortable is just to be indifferent to them? Maybe more people would stay in the long term?

I love this place (minus the craziness affecting everyone) but I don't want to stay here any longer just because of this awkward feeling of being an outsider 24/7. Please don't remind me to improve my Chinese - because that is not the point of this rant.


Maybe they just want to practice their Engrish?
Sank you!


"practicing" their English is a practical reason...I am not looking for those :slight_smile: . You forgot Solly! Solly!


Are you talking about the "creepy old guy coming up to you yelling 'Hello! Hello! You are America people?'" or the dad who suddenly starts speaking English with his bewildered kids and trying to make them say a few words against their will when he sees there's an adogah in earshot?

Be more specific, man!


well...check it out.
Here's my take on it.
I'm not a "foreigner"...atleast I don't look like one.
When I was serving my 1 year mandatory military service here in Taiwan, as soon as anyone found out I grew up overseas...I would get bombarded with questions (often silly ones) about this and that...but usually about American women.

"Oh you grew up in America? Man I heard them girls are like stacked/hot/loose blah blah"


"Oh you grew up in America? Man I heard you guys can own as many guns/rifles/shotguns as you want blah blah"

As if that weren't annoying enough...they would start throwing out random english at me whenever they got a chance...usually when there were other people around.

To the natives...I believe they just think that it's cool/exotic/refreshing to meet/talk/see a "white man" or any kind of foreigner.

So yes...I think it's just the way Taiwanese culture is and there's really nothing anyone can do about it.

Besides the Japanese...I seriously think that if the Japanese starting wearing Cross Colours or parachute pants...the youth of Taiwan would follow suit.


Well, I have this highschool mate who went to Japan on a scholarship many years ago and settled there, hence acquiring a Japanese accent to his once perfect Chinese articulation, making it almost incomprehensible. On the rare occasions when we meet up, I would make a deliberate effort to AVOID speaking Chinese so to spare myself the pain of listening when he reciprocate.
So maybe this is not about them being ashamed of their own culture or refusing to make a foreigner feel at home afterall. :wink:

  1. There's the store clerks who automatically speak English when serving a foreigner. They're just trying to cater to the foreigner, who they reasonably assume doesn't speak Chinese. My beef is when they keep speaking English even after I've responded to them several times in Chinese.

  2. There's the strangers who come up to talk to you when you're minding your own business, walking down the street and clearly wearing headphones. :fume: In such cases, I point to my headphones and indicate that I can't hear them. Duh.

  3. There's the elderly people who start speaking to you out of the blue when you're sitting in an eatery; after a while it dawns on you that they're speaking English even though you can't understand what they're saying. I just nod and smile, and plan my escape.

  4. There's the students who want to practice their English with you. Some are cool, but others are plain annoying.

And others...


There are also some long term foreigners who don't get to speak much English at home who will pretend they like hiking just to hang out with me and speak English. I don't like those types.

But to answer grumpy's questions: all of the above and a few you missed.


I think they just want to practice English... I mean, I doubt they're intentionally trying to wind you up :laughing: Usually people will be happy (and relieved) to lapse back into Chinese when they realise that your Chinese is better than their English, but occasionally they will persist. I don't mind as much if English is the stronger mutual language, but it does get a bit annoying if them using English is hampering communication. I'm thinking less of social situations here and more of formal situations....say, a landlord or bank clerk. There is one lady in my local 7-11 who insists on using English every time I go in, and for some reason it drives me up the wall. Other than that it's mainly just waiters in Mos Burger saying "Welcome" and "Here is your meal, sir", which I don't mind at all.

One of the strangest and most annoying occurrences happened in Mcdonald's last year. I went to the counter and, in Chinese, said I'd like a Big Mac meal (while also pointing at it). The guy looked scared and confused, then turned to his fellow worker and said "我不會講英文!!". He then turned back to me and said, with several pauses and stuttering, "... can't.... speak English.....wait.....". Then I replied with "沒關係,我會講國語!" He then replies instinctively in Chinese, saying "稍等一下", then comes back with the designated English speaker, who says "hello". Wanting to make a point, I repeated "我會講國語", and the new guy then takes my order with the whole exchange in Chinese, the other guy standing there looking confused. Now, you might be thinking that I just have sucky Chinese (quite possibly true!), but I don't think that's why I wasn't understood. I think it was more an assumption on his part that I couldn't speak Chinese, and nothing (even speaking Chinese!) was gonna change that. I mean, even if I was completely mute, I was pointing at the damn Big Mac meal.

I wonder, how good does a Western-looking person's Chinese have to be in order to avoid these sorts of situations?


Bust out some Taiwanese!
That'll stop 'em in their tracks for sure!


I believe many think that by speaking English they are in someway gaining "face". Either by being able to show a foreigner that they can speak English, or by showing those nearby that they can speak English. This obviously excludes people who work in shops and have been told to speak English to foreign customers.


Within reason. If you need to communicate with someone, and they want to speak English to you, do you have the right to tell them not to? You can always just answer in Chinese if you like. I used to get more annoyed by this, by now I just roll with it. Of course if their English is not good enough to communicate effectively, that's another story. But I find those people will always start speaking Chinese pretty quickly.


I can see how it seems to be a bit condescending if you've lived here a while, paid your dues, and speak Chinese well enough to make it happen... but as a n00b, I have to admit to being grateful when they size up my gringa clothing and blonde hair and start right up with English. I've been trying to learn the basics but it is massively harder here than it is in say, France... I don't need to tell you guys that but maybe you've forgotten how agonizing it can be and how much it sort of fucks you off when the p's giggle behind their hands at you when you try your few pitiful Chinese phrases out.

OK, so it's going to take me a while to learn enough Chinese to really be able to order food more complex than 'whatever I'm pointing to, xie xie' or to ask about the ingredients of something... until then, show off your English all you want, I'll give you props for it and we'll all be happy.

Truly, I even more want to learn enough Chinese to understand what people are gossiping about in the elevator... they think I can't understand... and they're right, for now.


This thread gives me a feeling of Déjà vu.

It used to bug me, and sometimes it still does, but mostly, I don't care anymore. I'm like, "Whatever!" Once they inevitably get lost (if you insist on speaking English I'll roll with it and speak like I speak to any other English speaker in English) and switch to Chinese, I'll roll with that also. If they switch to Taiwanese, I'm screwed beyond piesay, gali gong and muakien (sp?).

Perhaps there's a Taiwanese thread on a forum somewhere entitled, "Why does 'Johnny Laowai' always insist on speaking to me in broken ass 3 year old Chinese?" :idunno:


ROFL; no doubt there is. I also do the "speak really fast and use a complex vocabulary" thing. If you really want to get rid of them, ask a lot of complex questiions and look confused by their response. Usually the subsequent loss of face is enough to send them scattering. The headphone thing works, too. I often use them w/o turning on or even attaching my MP3 player! Honestly, though, some are just trying out their English to see if it "works"; I have no issue helping them out. On the other hand, if my body language clearly says, "LEAVE ME ALONE!" in a way that can't be mistaken in any culture, I let loose with the face-breaking. Bring on the leprosy of pride!


Within reason, of course. For instance, I'm mainly annoyed when I'm in a hurry, and their attempts at barely comprehensible English slow things down. But if it ends up being a pleasant, friendly exchange, all the better.


The vast majority I meet want to speak in Chinese, its the rare occasion I meet someone who tries out their English, which I'm happy to do so, as my native tongue is a lot more able to express itself than my far from eloquent Chinese.

  If you're talking about the street vendor types, greeting you with "hello" or "how are you" , this is just a friendly gesture smile and return the greeting. In business, count yourself lucky that people are able to speak English. 

  If someone is able to engage me while I am speaking fairly fluently, thats cool. Anything less, and we usually switch to mandarin, I'd say as your Chinese fluency improves, less people with will engage you with English, except of course the very basic "hello how are you", which in my opinion, we should take as a friendly gesture.


I really don't get this rant. We want to shop at Walmart in Taiwan and have big American-style kitchens in our homes, sunny weather just like in California. Basically we want everything exactly like back home. But when the locals are trying to speak to you in English (your native language!) we get pissed off?? I think foreigners are harder to understand sometimes than the locals.

Besides, I know from experience it is not a typical Taiwanese thing. Same thing happens to Americans living in Europe for example (except perhaps for France), even though people can only tell they're American from their accent when they speak, not from their looks. I think people actually think they're doing you a favor in trying to speak your native language with you (of course many just like to practice). And who can blame them for assuming your preferred language must be English? Americans aren't exactly famous for their multi-lingual prowess.

And have you ever thought about that Americans would probably do the exact same thing to Taiwanese or Chinese people visiting the States, ie speaking to them in Chinese at every opportunity? I'm sure they would, if they only could (加油!)

Conclusion: just accept that you're a foreigner in this country and get over it. We all have to.


I studied Japanese, lived there and then returned to Australia. If I saw a Japanese person I'd feel this odd compulsion to just let them know I could speak Japanese. It was an affinity thing and a vanity thing, id driven basically, rarely ever did I have their genuine interests at heart as in trying to be helpful.


I don't mind at all. In my early years in Taiwan, I was a bit annoyed by it. But I think that was only because I had this "Leave me the F alone you freako" attitude. Now, I don't give a hoot. Usually I'm the "freako" now. The unwanted touching does irk me though. Some folks feel the need to touch a person while they try to communicate with them. I don't like touching people or being touched. Especially if it's an elderly man. A young woman might be ok..... :sunglasses:

What really bothers me is when a Taiwanese comes up to me and tries to lecture me about something in Chinese. A couple months back I had a freako try to lecture me about not buying food from the convenience store when he was actually buying food from there also! Then he tells me not to wear my helmet in the store. But he was wearing a hat AT NIGHT. I think he may have had some mental problems.....