Before traveling to Taiwan, you might wonder - what language do people in Taiwan speak? Taiwan actually adopts a diverse linguistic background which has passed on for countless generations. Because it has a rich historical and cultural setting, it significantly influenced the Taiwan language until today. Language is a valuable asset. So, it’s important to know the language Taiwanese people use, whether you’re here for traveling, studying, working, or doing business. We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about Taiwan's language.
Traveling around Taiwan, either by bus or metro system, you might have noticed that the station announcements are made in several different languages besides Mandarin and English. Fun fact, other unfamiliar languages you’ve heard are also the common languages spoken in Taiwan. Let’s dive into the details.
Besides Taiwanese Mandarin, there are several other languages spoken by the locals in everyday life.
1. Indigenous Languages
Taiwan has a rich linguistic history traced back for thousands of years. Not many people know that indigenous languages spoken in Taiwan are known as the Formosan languages. These languages are part of the Austronesian language family, one of the largest language families in the world.
Although there are only 2% of the Formosan population in Taiwan, their indigenous languages play a vital role in Taiwan's cultural heritage. To begin with, the languages serve as a preservation of traditional knowledge, such as specific jargon and concepts related to herbal medicine, agricultural methods, or cultural rituals. Additionally, they demonstrate a unique cultural identity, helping individuals connect with their cultural roots. Besides, indigenous oral traditions such as storytelling and songs are the sources of cultural narratives and histories. Despite the declining number of speakers of the indigenous languages these days, their unique features are essentially the source of pride and identity within the respective communities.
2. Mandarin Chinese
Mandarin Chinese has been used as the Taiwan official language since 1945, making it the main language in Taiwan that is widely spoken. People in Taiwan have a unique Taiwanese dialect that is slightly different from Mainland China. For this reason, it’s also common to address the language spoken by native Taiwanese people as Taiwanese Mandarin. It’s true that Taiwan language adopts a high level of diversity and cultural influences, but Mandarin still dominates almost every aspect of Taiwanese lives.
3. Taiwanese Hokkien (Minnan)
Taiwanese Hokkien or Minnan is a widely spoken regional language in Taiwan, particularly in the Southern part of the island. The language has its roots originating from Fujian province in China. In fact, it was the main language spoken in Taiwan before being displaced by Mandarin Chinese. However, Hokkien is still regularly used by many Taiwanese locals.
Hokkien has long had a significant cultural influence on traditional rituals. For instance, various religious practices, such as prayers and offerings would conduct ceremonies and rituals in Taiwanese Hokkien. Besides, speaking the language in important family gatherings like the Lunar New Year celebration, builds a strong connection among family members of different generations.
It’s rational to wonder - what is the written language in taiwan? This is because most foreigners are more exposed to simplified characters when they first start learning Mandarin Chinese.
Traditional Chinese Character
Taiwanese writing might look more complicated compared to the characters you see in Mainland China. This is because Traditional Chinese characters are used for written communication in Taiwan. Accordingly, it forms the basis for official documents and academic materials.
Such characters are significantly important in portraying cultural and historical aspects that are deeply rooted in Taiwan for centuries. That being said, each character reflects historical context which serves as a linguistic heritage. Most importantly, the traditional characters help distinguish its unique identity from mainland China, where simplified characters are utilized.
Chinese characters represent the exquisite historical context of Chinese linguistics. Thus, being able to distinguish between simplified and traditional Chinese characters is crucial for anyone delving into Chinese language and culture.
Chinese writing consists of over 50,000 characters representing numerous vocabularies, which makes it one of the most complicated languages to learn, even for native speakers themselves.
Traditional Chinese used to be the standardized writing method in every Chinese-speaking region until simplified characters were established in the 1950’s. The main reason behind the change is because the People’s Republic of China government hoped to enhance China’s literacy rates and education. In other words, they believed that Traditional Chinese characters hindered the learning curve of their people.
On the other hand, Taiwan is one of the few regions that still uses traditional characters. Taiwanese writing which adopts traditional Chinese preserves the orthodox characters that have passed on for centuries. That being said, the formation of each character reflects the foundation of Chinese culture enabling learners to genuinely understand how the aesthetic Taiwanese writing originated.
It’s easy to identify traditional Chinese since they typically have more strokes compared to simplified ones. However, the fascinating part is that one traditional character mostly represents one word, while the simplified version may express various words with the same character.
Here are several examples:
As you can see, simplified Chinese is basically derived from traditional characters while containing a hint of the former structure. The aforementioned key differences do have an impact on language learners. It could be more challenging for learners to pick up the complexity and stroke count of traditional Chinese in the beginning. However, the characters provide a deeper understanding of Chinese culture and historical context. Thus, those who learn traditional characters may find it easier to adapt to the simplified version.
Countries that use simplified characters include Mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia. It is used as the standard for every aspect such as official documents, educational materials, and daily life text messages. Meanwhile, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau adopt the traditional characters for the same purposes.
With over 1.3 billion native Chinese speakers around the world, there’s no wonder why the demand of learning Mandarin keeps growing year by year. There are diverse options available if you’re looking for effective ways to tackle the language. In fact, Taiwan is one of the best Mandarin learning destinations you should not miss.
Given that Mandarin is the main language in Taiwan, there has been an increasing trend of foreigners coming here to study with professional native Taiwanese teachers.
Here are some of the best language institutions to help master your Mandarin in Taiwan:
Another great option is to explore the learning opportunities provided by universities and colleges in Taiwan. There are over 60 Mandarin Chinese Language Centers affiliated with different universities in Taiwan. The best thing is that they offer a wide range of courses and extracurricular activities to help you immerse yourself in not just the language, but also the Taiwanese cultures.
Most importantly, the courses are open year-round for all learners, regardless of age, interest, and study goals. You can visit Taiwan Mandarin Educational Resource Center and look for the best school and course that best suits you.
Another effective way to ace your language skills these days is by learning from online platforms. More and more people tend to lean towards online websites and mobile applications since they are highly flexible, and learners can access engaging learning materials anywhere, at any time.
Established by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE), Huayu 101 is one of the most popular learning platforms that provides learning scenarios for short-stay foreigners in Taiwan. It provides dialogues for everyday Chinese on topics covering “Greetings,” “Accommodation,” “Shopping,” “Order,” “Transportation,” and “Asking for help.”
Alongside this platform, you can use Pleco as a translation tool to help you search for vocabularies you need to know. Additionally, it provides a flashcard feature to help you memorize important vocabularies in daily life.
If you’re looking for an authentic language learning experience, you should consider signing up for cultural immersion programs in Taiwan. Besides intensive mandarin courses, you’ll have the chance to participate in outside-of-the-classroom activities that can make your learning process more enjoyable.
There are various programs provided by Taiwanese universities. National Taiwan University, the top ranking university in Taiwan offers language and culture courses for students of all levels. Besides daily in-class Mandarin courses, you will be encouraged to interact with NTU local students using Taiwanese Mandarin. The fun part is you’ll also get to explore cultural and historical places around Taiwan.
The Taiwanese government has long been promoting education opportunities to attract foreign students to study in Taiwan. For many years, it has successfully attracted over one hundred thousand oversea students to come and experience the Taiwanese language first hand. One of the government’s initiatives is by establishing scholarships such as the MOE Huayu Enrichment Scholarship (HES) with the aim to encourage international students to study Chinese in Taiwan.
If you’re interested to apply, note that you must meet all the eligibility criteria. Scholarship recipients will be provided with a 2-month summer course or 3-month, 6-month, 9-month, a year- long Mandarin courses. Plus, you’ll also be supported with a monthly stipend of 25,000 NTD. How better can it get?
Learning Chinese as a foreign language is never a waste of effort. Especially if you are looking for career opportunities in Taiwan, being able to speak Taiwanese Mandarin will add a huge advantage to your profile.
If you’re on the hunt for a job in Taiwan, having fluent Chinese communication skills will certainly make you stay ahead of your competitors. Be it full-time or part-time jobs, you’ll find it easier to access Taiwan’s local job market. This is because many positions require Chinese proficiency listed on the job descriptions. So, hiring expats or foreigners who are fluent in Mandarin would break the language barrier and ensure a smooth team collaboration.
If you’re a job seeker, we recommend the best job search site in Taiwan, CakeResume, to help you land on your next dream job.
You can’t deny that language proficiency is a must if you want to run a business in a foreign country like Taiwan. Being able to master Taiwanese Mandarin skills will help you navigate through local regulations, as well as deal with government agencies and local authorities with ease. Another plus side is that you’ll be able to build business connections or local partnerships in the Taiwanese business communities.
On top of that, it will be especially valuable for businesses seeking to expand their reach. So, there’s a high opportunity that entrepreneurs with Mandarin proficiency can enter the vast Chinese market such as mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, or other Chinese-speaking regions.
Now, you know all about the Taiwanese language, we highly suggest you strengthen your Taiwanese Mandarin skills with the source that best works for you. It’s also important to choose a reliable resource for career development and guidance like CakeResume. As a resume building and career community platform, it’ll help you create a strong profile and offer useful tips for obtaining a professional career journey in Taiwan.
--- Originally written by Ainee Setthamalinee ---