Taipei or Shanghai to learn Mandarin?

Hi people,

Found this forum recently and guessed it seems like the best place to air my questions which have left me slightly confused recently.

I am male British born Chinese 23 years old and am looking to improve my Chinese in either Shanghai or Taipei , I am a city kinda person, love the hustle and bustle of places like Hong Kong etc and would guess that these two cities would make the best choices.

I just quit recently from an oil company in which I was earning a quite enviable sum considering I only recently graduated, however the job was just boring and intolerable and I was working with no one even close to my age which really basically got tedious after a while and after hearing stories of other friends studying chinese in Beijing, I felt an inner calling to do the same.

My current level of Mandarin is about 700 words conversational, I can read perhaps 400-500 simplified characters and can hold SIMPLE conversations, I am however quite a fluent Cantonese speaker and also a fluent Hokkien speaker ( I can pretty much understand Taiwanese i hear on TV to about 80%) which puts me in the unusual position of being able to understand Taiwanese before Mandarin LOL. My Mandarin learning is more about picking up vocab and accent refinment (I have been told i sound like a HK person when i speak mandarin!) rather than learning the grammar which I am already quite familar with

Ok so my choices at the moment are basically ShiDa (sic) in Taipei and Fudan /JiaoTong in Shanghai, I would like to go to a Uni that is multicultural with people from all over the world and also with many of my age group if possible, I would also preferably like accomodation on campus which as I understand most uni’s in Taiwan cannot offer but those in Shanghai can, I have nightmares of basically renting a room in taipei by myself and after class not socialising with anyone! I am basically looking for the place which can offer the best lifestyle as a student which I miss oh so much from my own uni days. This is probably my last chance to study anything formally so would like to make the best of it!!

Can Anyone help me???

If you prefer to live on campus then the mainland is a better choice that Taiwan. They look after you better and you can make more friends quickly and concentrate on your studies. The flip side is that you enjoy less personal freedom than you do in your off-campus DIY lifestyle in liberal democratic capitalist Taiwan - so it’s horses for courses. Bear in mind that my experience of study on the mainland was in Beijing and last time I was studying there was in 1991-2. I am sure there have been a lot of changes since then.

If you like to interact with African, Arab, South Asian and Latin American people, then go to Shanghai because there are very few people from those places in Taiwan. In Beijing I hung out a lot with Africans (mostly French speakers), Italians, Japanese, Cambodians etc. i.e. people who don’t speak English or don’t speak it well, which means more often than not your common language is Chinese so you have to speak it more.

If you value your knowledge of Hokkien and want to improve it, then obviously you should consider coming to Taiwan or somewhere in Fujian e.g. Xiamen.

I should add that an Irish friend of mine studied for a year in Dalian and was very pleased with it. How about Tianjin - near Beijing but cheaper.

Thats all great advice thanks, on a side question however wher do people in Taiwan who study Mandarin usually come from? is it from the US mostly?

I’d say other Asian countries.

I’m sure that you will have a great student experience studying at Shida or in Shanghai. I seriously doubt that you will be on your own if you live off campus in the Shida area. Much more likely is that you will be living with others students–Taiwanese or foreign.

Personally I’d choose Taiwan for its greater freedom and the people who are (a) more friendly and (b) much more your equal because they probably have as much money as you do. In China, it sometimes feels like an invisible wall separates foreigners and the Chinese.

BTW, you will not be all that unique in knowing more Taiwanese than Mandarin. Very common among people with a Taiwanese background coming to study.

Good luck and have fun.

Shanghai. Anywhere but here.

If one of your aims is to develop a standard accent in Chinese, and you already have a basis in other dialects, I might suggest the Mainland over Taiwan, but Shanghai might not be your #1 choice for a great accent. I’d go farther north if I were you.

If you were to go to the mainland to study Chinese, I’d choose Beijing over Shanghai.

I wouldn’t. Beijing is now the most polluted city on earth. China is a fascinating country but I couldn’t live there for much time unless somewhere in the very south or west. Just too damn polluted and you can’t trust anything you eat or drink. Even the Chinese in Hong Kong now don’t want to buy food grown or processed in China. Yeah, I guess if I was 23 again and felt I could put my body through that kind of abuse I might go, but otherwise, forget it.

My reason for not choosing Beijing is that I spent a 2 week holiday and basically agreed with the more unpleasant aspects which other members have mentioned, its dusty , their mandarin accent bring tears to my eyes when I hear it and the food is just inedible for a southern chinese , dumplings this dumplings that, soaked in some putrid vinegar eww Shudders.

I agree, but then I did the bulk of my study in Taiwan.

I can’t understand why so many people are suggesting China? Shi Da is fine, the teachers there also bung on a Beijing accent for you. Taiwan’s a great place, oodlwes more freedom as suggested elsewhere.

However, given your oil background, you could try that city off Bohai gulf . . . ummm . .??


I recommend Taipei over Shanghai, especially given how you already speak Hokkien. The default language for most conversations in Taipei is Mandarin, so you can work on that, but you’d be able to fall back on Hokkien when need be.

I wouldn’t worry so much about the need for on-campus socializing. You’d be fine off-campus in Taipei; people here are friendly. And there are always Forumosa happy hours for meeting more people.

Food here in Taipei is diverse, inexpensive, and delicious. You also have real freedom of speech, cleaner air than in Beijing, and more chances of making friends who treat you as an equal.

As for pronunciation, while northern China may be better, it is possible to learn good pronunciation here if you are cautious. Chances are your teachers will be screened for proper pronunciation (can anyone confirm this?), and it isn’t hard to screen potential language exchange partners by pronunciation if you already have a good start on 捲舌 juan3she2 (retroflex, i.e., curling your tongue back to pronounce sh, ch and zh in pinyin).

I began with a self-study program at Ohio State, and the audio tapes and teachers there all had perfect pronunciation, as did my LE partner, who was from Shanghai. After a year of that I came here to do diligent self-study while teaching English, and found that one can overcome the lack of retroflex in the pronunciation here through diligence in looking up new words encountered aurally. I focused on learning through conversation, so this diligence was a must; but if most of your new vocab will come from coursework, the phonetic guides accompanying it and the teacher’s pronunciation should make this less of an uphill battle.

Overall, having travelled three times briefly through China and having lived here in Taipei 11.5 years, I’d recommend Taipei. Learning traditional characters here is a major bonus, as it’s much easier to learn trad. then simplified, rather than vice versa.

I’d put more stock in the opinions of those who’ve actually done the Mandarin programs here than in my own opinion, though. :wink:

The problem is that accent won’t come just from what you hear in class. If that were the case, we could all buy a couple of CDs and have perfect accents! (I wish!)

In Taiwan, you’ll be surrounded by non-standard speakers of Mandarin. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Taiwan. I lived there for a good many years. I still enjoy interpreting for Taiwanese delegations becuase there is a special feeling of being with “home folks”. But I had to put in a year or so to “standardize” my Mandarin after returning to the States. As a white person working with Chinese, a little variation is acceptable, but if you’re Asian-appearing and want to use Chinese professionally, it’s important to have a standard accent unless you specifically want to identify as a Taiwanese. I know another Taiwanese interpreter here who has gone to considerable trouble to do just that.

Remember that most of the Chinese you’ll deal with in this world are NOT Taiwanese, and there is a higher value placed on the standard accent even if the people who are praising you for it can’t produce it to save their lives.

Just saying.

Now, you need to decide how important those factors are to you, balanced against convenience, environment, costs, the fact that there’s a whole lot more English in Taiwan, etc. etc. etc. Accent isn’t the only factor, but it is important IF you’re working toward certain goals. If your goals are different, or not yet so clear, then giving more weight to other factors might be more reasonable.

But Ironlady, I’ve not been anywhere people ALL speak standard Mandarin. Surely it’s the biggest pig Latin language of the world, erh, after English?


In Beijing the local people think that a Taiwanese Chinese accent sounds feminine on a man. Not aggressive and guttural enough. :unamused:

[quote=“Huang Guang Chen”]But Ironlady, I’ve not been anywhere people ALL speak standard Mandarin. Surely it’s the biggest pig Latin language of the world, erh, after English?

It’s not what THEY speak, it’s how they perceive what YOU speak. And you can control (theoretically, at least) how YOU speak. It’s just another aspect of “getting your way”, so to speak – creating the impression you want to create at any given time.

唉呦, 不會呀!


Oh I know all that, but I tell you, my heart skips a merry beat when Pekinese remark, “how come you got a Taiwan accent?”

I’m not a buyer of that correct accent stuff, though I have many friends that do care very much. One mate of mine out does most mainlanders with much pride. Personally I can barely understand a word he says and neither can almost anyone else I know in Taiwan. His PhD was in Ming literature and he throws in archaic terms just to grind it in further.

Not my style as they say.

Extending it out to teaching English in Taiwan, personally I don’t particularly like some north American accents do but like others, southerners for example. However I prefer English (despite being Australian . . . actually I hate Australian accents). Such a subjectiv\ve business.


Just another question, will I be able engage in any form of employment i.e teaching English (Or even Cantonese!!!) entering on a student visa?, I’ve had a brief look at some of the other sections on this forum but cant seem to find a solid answer

I did just about all of my formal study in Taiwan and had little trouble acquiring a “proper” accent. I paid a bit of attention to it, but I didn’t obsess over it. Most mainlanders who spend any amount of time talking to me have a difficult time guessing where I learned Chinese, probably because like a lot of second langauge learners, my accent is standard to the point of being flavourless. As far as vocabulary, my range of it probably leans toward ROC/Taiwanese Guoyu kind of word choices and usage, but that’s not really what most native chinese speakers will really be picky about unless you start using a lot of stuff that is clearly from dialect (which a lot of people do anyway).

I think Shanghai or Taipei would be fine. I think it’s a good idea to skip Beijing. At the elementary and intermediate levels (most should figure for one to two years of full-time study to get to high intermediate), you can get just as good instruction in Shanghai as you can in Beijing. You will probably have the chance to hear a lot more accents in Shanghai. You’d run into plenty of non-Beijingers in Beijing too, but the social pressure for them to standardize their Putonghua is so great that you won’t hear many full-blown regional accents there. Your teachers won’t emphasize it, but if you are going to be a successful user of Chinese in China, you need to build an ear for regional accents from pretty early on. Friends of mine who studied in the northeast and especially in Beijing seemed especially slow with comprehending speakers with regional accents when they actually entered the real world.

I don’t really agree with folks who assume that it is better to learn traditional characters before simplified. I don’t think it really matters. I learned traditional first. I hear lots of people say that it’s easier to learn simplified after traditional rather than the other way around, but I don’t think there is really any evidence for this and I think the question is irrelevant anyway. Consider the following:

-How many of us who learned traditional first actually “learned” simplified? I can read simplified no problem, but I sure as hell can’t hand write paragraph length pieces of language with just simplified characters. I don’t know any native or non-native speakers of Chinese who can do handwriting with 100% accuracy in both systems without the aid of a little conversion book. And who cares? Whenever I do any formal writing in either simplified or traditional, I do it on the computer anyway.

-it’s a bit silly to say that all of those students who learned simplified on the mainland first have more trouble learning traditional than those of us who did it the other way around. The fact is, hardly any CSL students who learn on the mainland ever need to do any reading in traditional characters. Aside from the very few who are going to use Chinese for academic purposes, most never need to learn traditional. They never even come in contact with it unless they move to Taiwan or HK. On the other hand, those of us traditional character learners who need to use Chinese professionally almost certainly have to learn to read simplified at some point. The few folks I’ve known who went in the opposite direction from mine probably did no more complaining about learning traditional characters than most of us have ever done about learning simplified characters.

If you do happen to learn on the mainland first and then you later move to Taiwan or HK, your traditional character writing teachers will no doubt try to break you of mixing simplified with traditional when you’re doing any handwriting. This is BS. Even in Taiwan, most people simplify plenty of words when writing by hand. In HK, everybody seems to do it. The only time you shouldn’t do it is when you’re doing any sort of formal writing. You’d be doing that on the computer anyway, so I don’t think it much matters whether you learn to write simplified or traditional characters first.