How well do you speak Taiwanese?
- Rather fluently. I can handle most everyday situations in Taiyu.
- Decently. I can do a lot with my Taiyu, but it still needs work.
- Not too well. Only the bare basics, pretty much.
- Passively. I can understand some Taiyu, but can’t respond in it.
- Not at all. Taiyu is a completely alien tongue to me.
How many of you here, excluding Mormon missionaries, can carry on a meaningful conversation in Taiwanese? I’m in the process of deciding whether or not to learn it.
Before I came to Taiwan, I made a friend back in the US who’s half white American and half Taiwanese – benshengren, and DAMN proud of it! His attitude is that waishengren (those of recent mainland decent) are disgusting, uncivilized invaders, and that self-respecting benshengren have no truck with them. Along with this attitude is his feeling that Taiyu is real language of Taiwan, and that while Mandarin will get me into the front lobby of Taiwanese society, the doors to the inner sanctum can only be opened with Taiyu.
Granted I haven’t been here long, but I seem to think my friend’s attitude on the differences between Benshengren and Waishengren is a little bit dated. Kids in the school where I work don’t seem to give a damn where each other come from – I even have kids who are part Japanese, Korean, or SE Asian, who seem to be accepted just fine.
As to Taiyu, I’m in only partial agreement. I think many Taiwanese people find it advantageous, even kinda cool, to be able to speak a language I can’t. I’ve showed up in traditional markets several times to bargain, and had the vendors switch right to Taiyu after I replied to their comments about me in Mandarin. I’d love to be able to match them, a la Mel Gibson in Bravehart (ou en francais, s’il vous plait!) Students of mine love to curse me and complain about me in Taiyu with their classmates. I’d love to be able to curse them back.
Everyone here seems to speak Taiyu. It doesn’t seem to be limited to benshengren. Same with Mandarin. I’ve never found myself in a situation where Mandarin hasn’t sufficied. Granted it might take me a minute to realize that the person who says “hawn-tsaeh” is talking about tomatoes.
Do those of you who’ve been here longer recommend I learn Taiwanese? I’m daunted by it, I’ll admit, because I’ve never tried to learn an unwritten language. Though I love to learn new languages, I’m not a language “picker-upper”. That is, I need to study the beginning and intermediate levels in a structured classroom setting, or at least with a well-written textbook and some tapes. The one attempt I’ve seen to romanize Taiyu gave me nightmares.
I guess it comes down to whether or not my Taiwanese-American friend’s opinion about the “inner sanctum” is true. What would I most certainly gain by picking up the island’s “real language”?