FSI Standard Chinese course: Are the learned language skills useful in Taiwan?

I’m learning Chinese by systematically working through the old FSI course, titled “Standard Chinese: A Modular Approach”, located at https://www.fsi-language-courses.net/fsi-standard-chinese-a-modular-approach/ . I really like the course and am maybe 15-20% done so far.

I wanted to confirm that learning Mandarin from this course will in fact allow me to be understood in Taiwan. For example, here is the most advanced conversation at the end of the course:

Would this kind of language be understandable in Taiwan? Can I expect to be able to lead daily life in Taiwan (e.g. going to the city offices for registration/tax issues, renting an apartment, etc.) by learning “Standard Chinese”? Are there locations in Taiwan – maybe in the countryside? – where Standard Chinese would not be understood by the locals?

I realize that even after completing this course, the journey has just begun and significant self-study afterwards will still be needed: learning new vocabulary; learning reading/writing; and practice with other native-level materials like radio shows and TV shows.

The Chinese as spoken in that conversation would be comprehensible for the most part, but the accent will sound really grating to the Taiwanese ear. There’s enough useful vocabulary and sentence patterns that the material should be useful I guess. If you can find recordings with a more neutral accent it would help you sound a little less like you just stepped off the plane after five years in Beijing.

If you are going to stick with the FSI material, I’d suggest listening to a lot of recordings of Taiwanese Mandarin speakers so you can adjust your accent a bit.

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Continuing to plow through this FSI course, I’m now at about 25% completion. Slow progress, but progress nonetheless.

At my current point in the course, it has been drilling me on the usage of the following monetary units as used in daily sales transactions:

  1. dollar: kua4i
  2. dime: ma2o
  3. cent: fe1n

Are these units used in Taiwan these days?

Kuai, yes. Mao and fen only appear in chengyu and other expressions. They aren’t used in real life.

What units would you use for the following sentence? “In total, that makes 55 cents.” The way the course teaches me to say it would be: “yi1 go4ng, wu3 ma2o wu3 fe1n qia2n”.

Wow this course is a good laugh. I just randomly listened to one of the mp3s.

“Did you bring a tape recorder?”

“I have twenty reels of recording tape with me”.


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In Taiwan, dollars are the smallest units. That sentence wouldn’t happen.

The course is from the 1970s (80s?), so there is certainly some old terminology (but even outdated words are also interesting to learn). For example, in the current lesson, set in the PRC, they were also talking about buying supplies at so-called “supply and marketing cooperatives”, which also raises the question of if such “cooperatives” still exist under the same name these days. The word taught in the lesson is “go1ng xia1o he2zuo4she4”. I assume nothing of the sort exists in Taiwan, but maybe in China? At least Google Translate was able to translate that phrase correctly, so the phrase is known to The Google.

Ah, got it now. Any idea about China?

I have to chuckle though about the whole premise of the purchasing scenario, because I assume that in modern China, the vendor (if he or she even exists) would probably just direct me to scan some QR code into WeChat, instead of bothering to speak of and deal with cash.

It looks a very comprehensive resource if your interest is learning about this era I suppose.

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The same trend is happening in China. It’s mostly yuan (kuai) as the smallest unit, with jiao (mao) and fen coins becoming pretty rare. I’ve still got some jiao and fen coins and even bills, but they’re from the early 90s.

We use dollars and cents when talking about prices in the US, and probably other places/currencies as well.

Fen coins and bills have been collectors’ items since at least the 2000’s.

I second this 100%. Even Shanghainese find those northern accents strange in my experience. If you go full Taiwan in the accent department though, you may sound strange to mainlanders (even southerners).

A few more observations:

  • 單位 – the term still exists, but these days people are more likely to ask what 公司 you work for.

  • 公寓 does mean apartment, but 房子 is often used in the same sense.

  • “Canton” is as quaint now as “Peking”, though that didn’t stop them from using it in the English name of the 廣州塔.

  • Some of those cooperatives may still exist somewhere, but they would also be collectors’ items in a sense. Ditto workers’ cultural palaces – in Guangzhou there’s a metro station named after one, but good luck finding the place if you exit there!

Oh yeah, and I think checkbooks are pretty rare now too. :face_with_monocle:

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