The Taiwanese language

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.

0 voters

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. :unamused:

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”?


Is that the inner sanctum or the inner rectum you’re trying to get into there Dave? What advantage would you get from all the time spent on it? It’s not like you’re going to running in an election one day and need the rice farmers’ support is it?

It is. People who are far away from the issues like to get on their hobby horses and see everything in black and white. It’s like those Pakistanis and Indonesians who think Israeli Jews are all vermin, whereas most Palestinian Arabs don’t think that way, because they know a lot of real live Jews - good, bad, beautiful and ugly just like anybody else. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th…generation Irish emigres who are 100% in favor of the IRA, although most of the Irish people who actually live in Ireland don’t support the armed struggle. And that film Braveheart you mentioned, with the plucky Scots and Irish uniting to resist the cruel English - An American film, of course.

Get free Hokkien (“Taiwanese”) lessons this week! Go and listen to Minister Christopher Sun’s prayer meetings! I saw this guy preaching on television. The good thing is that he says one sentence in Mandarin, and then his assistant immediately interprets it into Hokkien. That is a pretty good way of picking up some of the language. Besides, he is quite a dynamic preacher, so you are not likely to fall asleep during the sermon!

Times and venues:

October 9th - 13th, 2002 [ Choir ] 7:30PM
Taipei Municipal Stadium, Taipei, Taiwan

October 18th - 20th, 2002
Kaohsiung Chung-Cheng Stadium, Kaoshiung, Taiwan

October 25th - 27th, 2002
Changhua Municipal Stadium, Changhua, Taiwan

November 1st - 3rd, 2002
Hualien Municipal Stadium, Hualien, Taiwan

November 16th, 2002 2:00PM, 4:30PM, 7:30PM
Yuen Long Theatre, New Territories, Hong Kong


You can also buy videos:

what would you gain? hell this is taiwan, it comes in handy. most it ever did for me was when an unfortunate situation developed one day involving me my friend a parking spot some fat losers in temple t-shirts and a stick. to make a long story shirt, a crowd developed and one loser tries to get them going, saying “he started it” in taiyu of course. i was right back, no, he started it (true) in taiyu which put a BIG damper on that plan. all the years of study were worth it then :slight_smile:

hell of a lot of fun when out drinking or in taxis. inner sanctum? in certain situations yes but you’re looking at years ahead of you before you get to that stage. of course any taiyu is better than no taiyu so if your interested and plan to be here why not take a few classes. we had a pretty decent teacher at tli before.

It’s a useful tool in business, especially if you don’t let on you understand it…

Taiwanese jokes are funnier too (though not by a great margin)

I believe that there are a number of Taiwanese phrases that are absolutely necessary to get along here. Perhaps other posters to this thread can suggest additional entries. (I am quite serious.)

I recommend you learn the following phrases in Taiwanese.

  1. Can you speak Mandarin?
  2. Can your children speak Mandarin?
  3. Are your children home?
  4. He/She is not here now.
  5. I am full, thank you.
  6. I am an American/Canadian/German (nationality).
  7. I can only speak a little Taiyu.
  8. Do you want to go now?
  9. Good morning/Good evening/ (etc.) greetings
  10. How much is this?
  11. Numbers: 1 - 100, multiples of 100; 1000, multiples of 1000; 10000 and multiples of 10000.

I know all of the above and some additional, but I would only consider my Taiyu minimally basic.

at election time: “could you please turn the radio down?” :slight_smile:

oh, good to know stuff like

thank you

it might get people out of your way faster when you’re trying to walk down a packed sidewalk or getting off a bus.

also, any sort of “bump” into someone/something of someone’s, always apologize. even if it’s not your fault. sorta that japanese concept of “wa” (aka. harmony).

romanized taiyu books are hilarious and difficult even for me, and taiwanese is my first language. you really gotta have someone teach it to you by speaking. and even then, there’s weird accents all over. south vs. north vs. what’s on tv. remember that mandarin only has 4 tones but taiwanese, i’ve heard but can’t figure out or confirm, has anywhere from 9-17 tones!

it’s true tho…i get better service if i speak in “dai-gee”.

Thanks for letting us know.
I have never found an easy way to improve Taiyu.

I don’t think I can hack the tones.

I pass on all of Hartzell’s 11 usefulness but that’s about it.

Guys.,…chill out, only 7 tones now, since tones 2 and 6 obligingly merged to make life easier for foreigners.

Remember, though, if you are learning to SPEAK and UNDERSTAND a language, you do not necessarily have to know what the “dictionary form” (the original form of each syllable before the tone change rules apply) is/was. What you need to be able to recognize and/or produce is the actual spoken form.

I use a modified form of Church Romanization which makes it quite easy for me to remember tones (because I’m a visual learner, so things that are visually striking help me a lot), and of course I learn using my methods even though that means I end up ‘facilitating’ the class rather than just taking it as a student. This means I get plenty of repetition of the very small number of words that are the focus of each day’s lesson, rather than a buckshot approach of somebody pointing and naming as happens in a lot of language exchanges for lack of anything more structured to do.

Here’s the “modified” form of Church Romanization for tonal spelling – I call it “TOT”, “Tonally Orthographic Taiwanese”.

For tones 1 and 8 (which are the high tones): for our purposes, they are pretty much the same as both are pronounced in the high register (TLI and Maryknoll seem to have slightly different opinions about how 8 should be pronounced, but for the sake of convenience I’m going with TLI on this one as it simplifies everything and people still seem to understand me OK). So, we write them with ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. We can easily distinguish between 1 and 8 because 8th tone syllables would end in -p -t -k -h and 1st tone could never end in those sounds.


For tones 7 and 4 (which are the mid-register flat tones, more or less) write them with all lower-case letters. Again the difference between 7 and 4 is easy enough to see because 4th tones end in a the above-mentioned consonant series while 7th doesn’t:

lim guan whatever…

For tone 5 (the rising tone) use all lower-case plus the last letter CAPITALIZED to show how the tone is going up:

hI liM khiA etc.

Tone 2, the falling tone in Taiyu, is the opposite: the first letter is CAPITALIZED and the others are not:

Khi Aa (if you have only 1 letter you do have to double it to be able to show the contour in tones 2 or 5, same as for Mandarin TOP tone 2 or 4…sorry!)

That just leaves the sticky problem of tone 3, which is that obstinate low short tone. To be honest we couldn’t come up with an elegant way to note it (originally thought of using a period after an all-lower-case syllable to show that it was low in sound but thought later that that might wreak havoc with sentence writing if anyone was so crazy as to do that) so for now we use a single quote ’ at the end of the syllable written with all lower-case letters to denote 3rd tone. This isn’t visually elegant but it’s easy to type, the single quote isn’t a character that is commonly used in Taiwanese if you are writing (possessives being done with a word, not 's of course) and it’s easy to enter on your PDA or your cell phone when you send annoying messages to friends in Romanized Taiwanese. So, you get:


We write the “o with a dot after it” vowel sound using the number 8 instead for ease of input; also I think the shape is somewhat reminiscent of the original letter. The nasalization is handled with an asterisk * after the syllable (try getting a superscript “n” on any of the above-mentioned devices!! :unamused: )

Anyway, as was the case with TOP (Tonally Orthographic pinyin) I find that using this system helps my tone retention a LOT, and I didn’t have to learn an entirely new system. Once you get used to it it’s surely no stranger than any system of romanization used for Taiwanese, and I believe it is pedagogically sound and useful. Anybody studying Taiwanese is welcome to give 'er a test drive, especially if you’re using flash cards regularly (such as on SuperMemo for Palm).

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Culture University’s Mandarin Center (JianKuo road on the southeast corner of Ta-an park) has Taiwanese classes for foreigners during the 12:00 lunch hour. The courses are cheap and the teachers are good. I’m taking the second level now.

The current term started two weeks ago. I don’t know if they will still let you in, but it’s worth a try.

(Some idle thoughts :bulb: )

It’s a funny thing but lost in the rush to present “Taiwanese” as the legitimate language of Taiwan it appears forgotten that there’s also a sizable Hakka speaking community - most of whom don’t 'taiyu

I do think Minnanhua is important in Taipei. Not in the sense that its going to be use internationally nor that it will be computerized and foreign materials be localized on to it.

However, stereotype is still commonplace that Minnanhua is lower-class unless you speak opera-like minnanhua and perform at Chiangkaisek memorial hall.

I personally don’t speak Minnanhua and am learning quite a bit from songs and from conversation with Taiwanese.

I find some expression are useful:

Phai sei = excuse me
Mai ke au = don’t push it too hard
Mai ke khao = don’t cry baby
Mai ke Jai ke seng = Michael Jackson :slight_smile:


anton xie