How good is your Taiwanese?

I would say my chinese is pretty fluent. I write, read etc…
I’ve been married for 8 years, my wife is from Tainan, and for some reason I never picked Taiwanese. Everytime I talk to my wife and say, “OK, let’s really do it now, speak to me in Taiwanese” it last for…2 hours and back to Mandarin, which we speak 95% of the time.
I am very interested in this language and have been trying to learn it for almost 6 years and no success, except the common swear words and little funny phrases.
How about you guys, for those of you who are interested in this language and speak it well, how did you do it? I’d like to know. Any advices?

I wouldn’t say I speak Taiwanese well (just about well enough to get into trouble, but not back out of it again), but you learn Taiwanese the way you learn any language. You probably wouldn’t learn Korean by saying “Speak Korean to me now.” You’d take a class somewhere, or at least reduce the level of what’s going on to something really, really simple.

I don’t particularly like the Taiwanese textbooks out there – they’re even farther behind the Mandarin ones! But if you’re a traditional learner, the Maryknoll series is amazing. Of course each lesson is like 40 pages…but if you ever DID learn all that stuff, you’d know quite a lot. Plus, if you go to their language center on the corner of Zhongshan and Zhongxiao in Taipei, the first question the priest in charge asks you is, “How long do you want to take to get through those books so you can really start learning?” :laughing: (Not that I’ve done it yet…but it’s on my list. Really…)

I’m fluent in Mandarin, and a couple year back decided to take 6 months at TLI. It is an extremely difficult language to learn unless you have grown up speaking/hearing it. The most difficult part of the language is that almost all of the characters’ tones change almost all of the time (ie: if you say a character by itself, it is one tone, if you pair it with another, it changes). That makes it difficult because Taiwanese people will correct your pronunciation of an individual character, and when you immitate them exactly, but say it in the middle of a sentence, it is wrong. In other words, the average Taiwanese person doesn’t know how to teach you how to speak Taiwanese. The only way you can learn it in everyday life is to memorize full sentences, or complete phrases. You can’t learn it character-by-character as you can with Mandarin.

Another difficult part of learning Taiwanese is that there are different accents/tones/pronunciations in different cities (ie: Tainan/Kaohsiung, Taipei, Taichung etc.) Pick one and stick with it. Unfortunately, this also makes it impossible for the average Taiwanese to correct you when you are wrong, because chances are you are right and they just learned a different word/accent/pronunciation. I can’t tell you the incredible number of times in which two Taiwanese people have gotten in arguments over the proper word/accent/pronunciation to teach me on an individual word. It’s sort of like an American correcting a Taiwanese who learned English from a British person–the British accent is not incorrect, but the knee-jerk reaction would be to correct it, especially if it’s only used occasionally.

Listening comprehension, on the other hand, is not so difficult to learn. I can probably understand about 40% of television mini-series, and most of what taxi drivers say.

So if you want to learn Taiwanese, I’d suggest:

  1. You must take a class. Find a decent text book, and a teacher who is willing to stick to the text at the beginning (rather than the “sieve” approach, in which they toss you a bunch of sentences and hope that have of it will stick in your “sieve-like brain.”
  2. If you want to learn Taiwanese from your wife (or anyone else, really) don’t learn it character-by-character; learn it phrase-by-phrase.
  3. Try to find out where your Taiwanese friends learned their Taiwanese, and if possible, stick to learning the accent/pronunciation of just one area. (This is something you will have to figure out yourself, it is a concept which is often lost on many Taiwanese unless they have excellent command of the language, and even consider it their mother tongue).

Good post Scooter. I’d add that you need to get some tapes, for the very reason that you mentioned - the situation with the tones is insane - you cannot learn character by character, and then read a sentence. You have to hear the sentence.

I picked up a few phrases once by playing a tape (which I’d put onto MD) over and over int he background. Then I did a little class with Ax and Iris at Wenghua, where I learnt more. Then i forgot it all. But recently I’ve been trying to listen and see what I can pick up.

My goals with Taiwanese are quite different than my goals with Mandarin. I just want to be able to say what people are saying. I don’t really need to be able to speak it well.


Hey Bri–that’s funny, I put my tapes on MD too! I actually tossed my learning materials in a box and left them there for a couple years, and when I pulled it out again, I was surprised by how much faster I was able to pick up the stuff the second time around. I don’t know if it’s because learning just a little bit of Taiwanese opened up my ears/mind for a little subconscious learning during the hiatus? I wonder if that’s unique to Taiwanese?

hey guys, can I get a copy of these MD, or could you tell me where I can get the tapes?
I learned Mandarin by watching cartoons and reading little kids story books. Not so with Taiwanese, but I like the approach of sentence by sentence and listening to tapes. Please recommend some.

I agree, Scooter’s right on the money, though I never had any big problem with the different pronunciations. If you’re aware of it you should be ok.

I speak pretty well, though it could be a lot better. It’s been a 12 year struggle since I decided I didn’t want to just sit around watching TV and grinning stupidly every time i went to my parents-in-law’s house. About learning Taiwanese, I’d say this–IT’S VERY HARD. Good luck! It can be done :slight_smile:

A problem for me in Taipei has been that it’s really a Mandarin speaking town. try speaking taiwanese to people who can speak and you’ll usually get mandarin in return. my own mindset re: speaking mandarin is just far easier has exacerbated this situation. if i had been down south i’m sure i would speak far better now.

[quote=“igorveni”]hey guys, can I get a copy of these MD, or could you tell me where I can get the tapes?
I learned Mandarin by watching cartoons and reading little kids story books. Not so with Taiwanese, but I like the approach of sentence by sentence and listening to tapes. Please recommend some.[/quote]

a good bookstore for this kind of stuff is the “lucky bookstore” in the shida student activity center on hoping.

Rigth on, maybe I should envision a move to Tainan for a year or two, I’ll definitly speak Taiwanese then!

Shortly after my birth my parents were attending TLI, so my amah was my inital caregiver. For that reason, I spoke Taiwanese and Mandarin before I spoke English. I also attended local schools for a couple of years. My brother, the next child to come along, also spoke Taiwanese and Mandarin first. The last three kids spoke only English as by that point in time my mother was no longer at school and was home with us. We lived in Taiwan until I was sixteen when my family “returned” to Canada.

Strangely enough, when I returned to Taiwan after twenty-seven years ( okay, I just gave away my age!) I found that although I still speak Taiwanese quite well and can get along with little problem for the most part, my Mandarin absolutely sucks! I simply cannot seem to understand or speak with any sense of proficiency. This can be extremely frustrating as I find that I am constantly having to ask people to switch over to Taiwanese. It almost always causes a big stir around me and it’s hard to get business done when people are oohhing and aawwing at the oddity of it all. Usually the younger people I am dealing with have to find someone older who speaks Taiwanese to translate.

I am getting better with my Mandarin but it is slow going. Someday, I hope to be able to learn to read and write as well. The little I did learn as a child has completely left me.

ShiDa apparently offers a Taiwanese language class. It’s taught in mandarin.

That doesn’t help, because once I wanted to go there and I was refused because I didn’t have a diploma from my home country. They said I needed some kind of High School degree or whatever, like it means something. Anyway, Shi Da is a no go for me. But thanks. :wink:

is pretty good…i sat in on one or two of the classes last year while at shida for mandarin training. the teacher…what a nice lady…

i speak taiwanese fluently, only cuz thats what my parents speak at home…started to learn mandarin later in life, in high school, college and now…

taiwanese first, then mandarin…its tough…things don’t ‘make sense’ when u first start the mandarin lessons…everything seems/sounds ‘funny’…now things are fine…

good luck learning taiwanese…


This site may offer a little help:

Also, if you go to any large bookstore here in Taiwan, you should be able to find some tapes on Taiwanese - some very cheap tapes. Just NT$400 for a 90-page booklet and 2 cassettes. The nice thing about the booklet is that it has four lines of text for each sentence;

first line = “pinyinized” Taiwanese;

second line = Chinese characters that represent the Taiwanese “word” (I don’t know the “official” name for that);

third line = English situational equivalent (or an attempt);

fourth line = Mandarin situational equivalent.

Be warned: Spelling errors are abundant and the speakers don’t slow down.

Note: It is smarter to transfer any of your language tapes onto CD or even better, to minidisc, the highly underrated digital medium. Otherwise, they’ll be ruined from constant rewinding. :slight_smile: