I am curious to know the different reasons people have for studying Chinese. I know that some people may want to be translators (some posters already are translators). What are some other reasons for studying Mandarin? Fun, a skill for the future, a skill for living in Taiwan? Please let us know.
Well I guess some would rather not learn chinese - some of the excuses I hear are really “interesting” - like “nothing learned - nothing forgotten” - I have been here 5 years, and never found a need for it yet - I am isolated from the need to speak chinese.
For me - it is one of the languages most people speak here - why not learn it, rather than live in some sort of expatriate haze. It is more than a little useful to be able to read signs in the street. Maybe - one day - I will get to the point where I can ask locals for directions ))
I think it’s just essential for living in Taiwan. I hate not understanding what people aresaying and not being understood. I can talk to people now, but I still hate things like not being able to abuse people quickly and fluently
Also I love it.
Maybe a better question would be: Why do some people not learn Chinese? It’s a lot easier nowadays to live in Taiwan, or at least Taipei, without being a part of the society. But it’s the people who live here and don’t bother to learn the language or participate in society here, preferring instead the “expatriate haze”, who propagate the patronizing segregational attitude most Taiwanese hold for foreigners.
Taiwanese are not “just that way”, they have developed their attitudes towards foreigners from their experience with foreigners. So the next time you walk into a store and the clerks start to giggle and use idiot sign language to communicate with you even though you speak Chinese, thank all the foreigners who went before you in addition to the local education system.
It has been suggested in this forum that very few, if any, foreigners here now see themselves as immigrants to Taiwan, as if this would be beneath them because they come from western countries. Most see themselves as just traveling or even “slumming”, and don’t see the need to pick up the language.
Back when I was working at TVBS several years ago, we interviewed one missionary who had been in Taiwan and China for 50 years and didn’t speak more than pigeon Chinese. Another woman who had been in Taiwan for almost that amount of time could only speak basic Chinese.
Perhaps this has to do with the attitudes of some of the “old-timers” Hartzell mentioned before, and I’m sure that times were very different back then. But the way Taiwanese see foreigners today stems from the way foreigners here have traditionally behaved as much as from the culture here. Many more foreigners speak the language now, but I suspect it will take some time and more progress in this respect before it garners a change in the way most people here react to foreigners.
Learning languages is fun for me, although I don’t have a ‘good ear’ for languages. I also like observing what is going on around me, analyzing it, trying to draw tentative conclusions. You need to understand people to do that. Also, I was surprised at how quickly I could understand people and people could understand me, so that was motivating. If I hated Chinese culture, but knew I had to stay in Taiwan for some reason, I would not learn the language. If I were extremely busy in a job where I didn’t need Chinese, I wouldn’t put as much effort into it. Maybe people who have never experienced a different culture and who first come here say, in their 40s and up, are too set in their ways to enjoy the novelty. Just a thought- I have never met a person who came to Taiwan after their 30s.
I continue learning Mandarin because I need to improve it further for interpreting purposes, and interpreting, IMHO, is the most fun job you can get paid for legally. (Except when you get stuck not knowing a word…then it’s not much fun, hence my motivation to continue studying!)
As for Taiwanese, I try to learn Taiwanese for a couple of reasons. First, I have friends who speak it, so it’s kind of social. Second, my husband doesn’t speak it, so I can use it to discuss him with the aforementioned friends! Third, as a language teacher, it’s always good to continue learning and being in the elementary stages of some language so that you can better understand what your students are facing. Some teachers learned their languages so long ago that the experience is not so fresh in their minds. Fourth, if you’re ever teaching teenagers, even one phrase of Taiwanese establishes your “coolness” forever, and puts them on their guard because they don’t know if you know only one phrase or more.
Why Chinese? 1) I think everyone should speak two languages really well. Mine are English and French. Now I want Chinese to be my third language. 2) I want to understand what my students are saying (the kindy ones, not the older ones) so I can help them learn English better. 3) Because it’s so damn frustrating to live somewhere where you can’t even read the name of the restaurant you’re eating in much more than “guan-something-something-happy-something-shop”. It’s nice to be able to read 30% of the characters here, but personally I want to understand a little more. I started learning Mandarin a year before I came so that I wouldn’t be completely helpless once I arrived.
Kinda a strange place to ask folks why people don’t study Chinese as this board if for folks who DO study it! But I guess then there are folks like me who study Chinese on and off because we think we should (it IS the local language after all) and it WOULD be useful (though obviously not a necessity if we’ve got this far without continued study)…
But I can tell you the main reasons I don’t really dedicate myself to studying… I don’t NEED it, I’m incredibly slow at it, and I don’t enjoy it. And given those conditions, it’s really hard to motivate myself to invest the time and energy in studying and practicing, especially when I could just pick up another English class or surf the internet or read a good book or take a correspondence course on psychology. I do really enjoy teaching English and even if I don’t get paid, I prefer it to studying Chinese. Heck, I prefer studying organic chemistry.
However, I do know some Chinese. My year plus of on and off study allows me to carry out simple transactions smoothly, make small talk and read the characters I need (place names, food, etc). I just feel like for more study to really “pay off” I’d have to be almost fluent and that would take years of intensive effort. If I enjoyed studying Chinese the way I enjoy learning dancing (even though I’ll never perform) or learning science (even if I’ll never apply it), I would be doing it.
It’s not like I haven’t tried at all! Anyway, it’s about time to try something new and head back the States. But I expect Taiwan will always be a part of my life somehow.
Paogao makes a very valid point extremely well. The behaviour and attitude of a significant of foreigners during my time in Taiwan was appalling and often embarrassed the attempts of other foreigners to integrate with local Taiwanese on a social level (and I don’t just mean shagging them!). It is of course true to say that any one can be pushed over the edge from time to time, and scream at the top of one’s voice at a noisy neighbour or whatever - this is not limited to Taiwan of course - it is only human nature. What irritates me more than anything else is listening to foreigners who usually know very very little about what they are talking about berate the Taiwanese as a whole because of their own failure to understand what is going on around them. Listening to foreigners attempt to impose their own intrinsicly questionable cultural values and half-baked ideologies upon the Chinese or Taiwanese makes me wonder how foreigners are ever to be accepted into Taiwanese society. The ignorance is also mutual, but to an extent I understand the point of view of a Taiwanese who says “this is my country, why should I bother trying to understand the viewpoint of a foreigner who chooses for the sole purpose of financial gain to live here temporarily ?”
Before I went to Taiwan I assumed Americans were all fat abrasive cultural imperialists with bad dress sense and a grandmother from Cork. That’s because that was all we ever got over here in Ireland. To my enormous surprise that vast majority I encountered were well educated, travelled, easy going, and none had a granny from Cork. The gobsh*ite ratio for all the nationalities I have come across in Asia is roughly the same. So whatever caused the Taiwanese to form their views about foreigners, it must have been a minority of the total foreign population, but it will have been the drinking and fighting portion with most exposure to the widest range of Taiwanese in the worst possible circumstances (full of drink, shouting, stealing our women etc). On a night out in Taipei, the Bad Foreigner can annoy restaurantuers, taxi drivers, the police, barmen, wanna-be gangsters, 7-11 staff, hospital staff, next-door neighbours, and anyone within a mile radius of the above.
Whilst I feel that learning to some degree (not necessarily fluency) the language of your host country is of immense benefit, there are plenty of people living in Taiwan (and elsewhere) who don’t speak Chinese, but have a great intuitive understanding of how Taiwan relates to them, at least. All these people need is a verbatim interpreter. Many people I have met can speak several languages fluently and talk nothing but total cr*p in all of them.
My reason for learning Mandarin. BEIJING 2008 baby.
Will get myself a plane full of fatcat business men, and throw in everthing from Guotie upon landing at the airport to a straw rice farming hat for the trip back.
Anyway, those interested in joining this ‘ride’ ought to brush up on their communication skills, and then forward me an email.
Amos, Yi Ge Bei Zi Yi Ge Ji Hui P/L
When foreigners come to my home country, I expect them to make an honest attempt at learning English. Not being a hypocrite, I reciprocate.
I spent 7 years in Malaysia and picked up only a few words. One reason was to learn (don’t laugh) English and because it was easy to communicate in English down there.
I don’t think it would have been a problem for me to learn Malay, but then I never really wanted to either.
Now I moved to Taiwan and want to learn Mandarin, spoken and written - the latter quite essential when you go into a restaurant etc.
As well I do like the Chinese writing for some strange reason (perhaps because it’s so different), so to understand that I also need to learn how to speak.
I am supposed to stay for two years but it may be longer, or I may move to Mainland China - who knows. In any case I don’t won’t to make the same “mistake” twice and now that I think my English is pretty good (well, so I am told) why not learn a new language?
And if I won’t stay around here I won’t loose much, in fact I can only gain something.
Especially here where you are exposed to it every day it should be easier to pick up … so I hope.
Let’s not forget that some of us are learning in order to be able to stay here legally. Otherwise I could not have obtained my ARC. But I feel like I have admitted too much already…I too would like to say that I sincerely enjoy learning languages and it is fun to be able to communicate with people in thier own language. It makes it easier to get along in life,whereever you may be. My year learning chinese here has been fun and rewarding and it is easier to make new friends.
I don’t need to speak Chinese for my job here, but I still think there is great value to learning. I do go some way with the ‘if you live here you should’ argument, but honestly I find the true value more compelling. It is in order of the language level you need to get the benefit:
- [*]Understand people in stores, know how much money you need to spend...[*]You don't get lost so easily and can ask people for information and directions.[*]Spend time with people who have not studied English to a high level (by necessity a fairly acedemic elete!) and appreciate how they see the world.[*]Read place names and road signs. Very helpful for getting around![*]Start to make sense of written documents, advertising, and letters. What appeared mystifying, foreign and illogical then turns out to be fair, well structured and emminently sensible... just nobody translated it into English.[*]Make Chun Tian (red character signs pasted up at new year time)[*]Get what you want, and argue your case if necessary[*]Gain real insights into Chinese culture, visual art in addition to literature is very dependent on language.[*](For old age) Create caligraphic works of art.
I think the reason most people don’t try or give up learning is that it is really hard, requires serious investment in time, and takes some time to reach even a basic level of spoken communication.