International students in Taiwan


Two articles recently published on contain some useful information and advice for foreign students studying in Taiwanese universities.

Jeana Jack, a student at NCCU, has written a survival guide for international students that is full of good advice. She discusses choosing a university, learning Mandarin, finding a place to live and other important things.

I had lived in Taiwan for several years before I became a full-time student here so this made adjusting to university life quite easy. I imagine it must be more difficult for people who have just arrived in Taiwan and have to simultaneously deal with adjusting to life in a foreign country and starting a university course.

The second article was written by me. I interviewed three students from different backgrounds about their experiences studying Mandarin in Taiwan. They talk about the positives and negatives of language learning in Taiwan as well as giving some advice about learning Mandarin. The most common advice for successfully learning Mandarin is that you need a lot of patience.

*photo from used under Creative Commons licence.

ChinesePod goes to Taipei

ChinesePod has just published an intermediate lesson about Taipei. 

The conversation talks about Taipei 101, the National Palace Museum and night markets. John and Jenny then discuss some key points of the conversation and also point out some differences in usage between Taiwan and China.

I don’t subscribe to ChinesePod but occasionally listen to their upper intermediate and advanced lessons. I think their content is quite good especially for providing comprehensible listening input. The podcast mentions that they have many listeners in Taiwan.

If you are observant you may also have noticed a link to the Mandarin Chinese iPod phrasebook at the bottom of the posts. This is free content published by World Nomads Travel Insurance which is one of the affiliate programs I have on this blog. The files are configured for iPod. I don’t own an iPod but if you have one and have downloaded the phrasebook let me know what you think.

End of semester at Shi-Da

I had my last class of the semester at Shi-Da yesterday. The time seems to have passed so quickly. While I did learn some new things during the semester, I don't feel that I achieved my goals. 

I think part of the problem was that the curriculum and teaching style didn't really match my goals or my way of learning. Although the course was very much focused on reading and writing and I don't feel that I made much improvement in either field. Also perhaps my goals are ambitious beyond what can be achieved in a single semester of study. 

I found the teaching style very teacher-centered. Although there were only five people in the class there was very little opportunity to interact with the other students. It would have been interesting to have some discussions and perhaps give some short presentations on the topics.  Perhaps there is an assumption that students that have reached this level don't really need to work on developing their speaking skills. However, I feel that this is a very important skill that can always be improved.

I think the intensive reading approach has some merit, but to really improve reading skills extensive reading is essential. Total comprehension of a text is not always necessary. Also learning to skim texts for important or relevant information is also very useful. Rather than just analysing every text in detail, a variety of approaches to reading should be used in class.

Writing is, I think, the greatest pain of learning Chinese. I really haven't spent much time practicing writing before I started the course at Shi-Da, so I was kind of playing catch up. All the tests were based on writing. I had to spend a lot of time just practicing the new characters in order to be able to write something on the test. As a result I couldn't put more effort into focusing on the process of writing (i.e. sentence structure and organisation of ideas). Also there wasn't much instruction or feedback given on this anyway. No writing was assigned for homework.

The tests were all based on writing. There was dictation (聽寫) and also writing short essays based on the text or explaining vocabulary. Although it is not difficult for a teacher to prepare a test of reading comprehension, the tests never included any reading component. 

All that said, I would still like to study at Shi-Da again in the future. Although I would probably take a little more time to ensure I was placed in a class that better suited my needs. The easiest way to do this would be to sit in on several classes during the first week of semester and choose the one that seems best.  

Also I think that for students who have spent at least a few semesters studying at the Mandarin Training Center (MTC), the results speak for themselves. One of my classmates had reached the Newspaper Readings class after two years of full-time study at the MTC. Wandering the corridors I always heard students from many different countries communicating to each other in Mandarin. I think for any student starting out at a lower level who is prepared to put in the time and effort then Shi-Da is a good place to study. 

Taiwanese language learning materials

I had my last Taiwanese class for the semester at NTNU (國立臺灣師範大學) today. I enjoyed the class a lot, but only studying once a week I didn’t really make much progress. Still I learnt some new words and had fun.

The amount of materials available for learning the Taiwanese language* are quite limited. I have only used a couple of books myself. I have written some brief notes about them here and also added some other resources.

The first Taiwanese textbook I had was Shenghuo Taiyu (生活台語). This book contains no English, but I think anyone who has studied Chinese to intermediate level should be able to comprehend it. The conversations and vocabulary are written in Standard Chinese, Taiwanese using Chinese characters and POJ (Church Romanisation).

The conversations in the book cover fairly simple topics like introductions, talking about where you live and shopping. The book has a set of tapes to accompany it. These days I don’t even own a tape player so I need to get the tapes converted to mp3 files.

This semester at NTNU I have used the materials written by Ms Hsiao (蕭老師) who taught the optional Taiwanese language course. The conversations in this book are interesting and sometimes even funny. They are very much related to the common things one encounters in daily life in Taiwan. Some of the topics include visiting a night market, summer vacation, typhoons and surfing the internet. Hsiao also provided a CD with audio files of all the conversations in the book.

sample text Taiwanese lesson 1

The image is of part of the first conversation in the book. It is written in Taiwanese using Chinese characters, standard Chinese and POJ without tone marks or numbers. The teacher gave us all the vocabulary during the lesson so we could add the tone marks if we needed to.

Update: Hsiao has published a book and CD of her lessons. The title is 實用台語會話 [Practical Taiwanese Conversation]. More details about the book here

The Maryknoll books are also commonly recommended. These books are published by the Maryknoll Institute which has a long history of teaching the Taiwanese language. I have not studied these books in detail, but they use English and POJ.

The Maryknoll books and some other Taiwanese language learning materials and dictionaries can be bought from the Tai-uan e Tiam (台灣e店) near NTU. The address is No. 6 Lane 76 Section 3 Xinsheng South Road, Taipei City (台北市新生南路三段76巷6號).

A number of online resources for learning Taiwanese can be found. Taffy’s blog, Phai-se, hasn’t been updated for a long time, but contains a few helpful articles. I came across a pdf file of Taiwanese language learning resources (original link broken, replaced with link to web archive). Taiwanderful has a page about learning Taiwanese including a list of links. There is also a page about writing Taiwanese using Chinese characters. I wrote this to help overcome the common misunderstanding that there is no difference between writing Taiwanese and Mandarin using Chinese characters.

Update: The previously mentioned blog Phai-se evolved into the website Tailingua. At reddit there is a sub-reddit dedicated to learning Taiwanese called O̍h Tâi-gí (學台語). There is also a YouTube channel Anyong Teaches Taiwanese 【詠仔教你講台語】 . The video lessons include explanations in English. 

* I use the term Taiwanese language (台語). The language is also referred to as Hoklo, Hokkein or Minnan (閩南語).

Page updated on 20 July 2016 with additional information.

Taiwanese class at Shi-Da

Today I had my first Taiwanese language class at Shi-Da. Shi-Da offers the class as one of the cultural classes. They also have classes in calligraphy, name chop engraving and a few others. 

I have made sporadic efforts at studying Taiwanese but so far I haven't got beyond learning a few of the most common words and phrases. However, I think the language is important and useful and it is something that I really want to learn.

The teacher is Xiao Laoshi (蕭老師). She has a Master's Degree in Teaching Southern Min Dialect as a Second Language. As far as I know she is the only specialist Taiwanese language teacher at Shi-Da. She is very enthusiastic and I like her teaching style.

The first class used Xiao Laoshi's own materials. The class mainly covered phonetics. The Peh-oe-ji (POJ) romanisation system was used. POJ is sometimes referred to as Church Romanisation because it was originally invented by Presbyterian missionaries. The teacher commented  indirectly that she uses this system because it is the most well known. There are other systems but they are not in common use.

A few of the students in the class already knew a little Taiwanese. Others knew none at all. There was quite a bit of material covered. As well as the phonetics we also learnt a simple conversation. For the complete beginners it might have been a bit overwhelming.

My only complaint is that the class is only once per week. I think it is disappointing that Taiwan's largest Chinese language school cannot offer more classes in Taiwanese.

I will write some more about the class and the Taiwanese language over the next couple of months.

Shi-Da class outing to Yingge

EMU train at Yingge StationOn a hot sunny Taipei morning our class from Shi-Da met at Taipei Station. From there we caught the train to Yingge (鶯歌). We joined a number of other classes so there were about forty students and five teachers. 

It was a great chance to meet some other students at Shi-Da. Most of the students were from Japan, Korea and various other countries. There was another blogger in the midst, but I was unaware of her presence. Mandarin was the lingua franca. I quite enjoy speaking to other foreigners in Mandarin. All the students on the excursion were in the more advanced classes. As most were not native English speakers then speaking Mandarin was quite a natural way to communicate. 

Pottery in a model kiln at the Yingge Ceramics Museum

We spent some time looking around the Taipei County Yingge Ceramics Museum (臺北縣立鶯歌陶瓷博物館). I visited it last year and I think it is one of the best museums in Taiwan.  

Students doing pottery at Yingge Museum

Next we went to the basement of the museum to try our hands at doing some pottery.  

David's pottery at Yingge

This is a cup that I made and carved my Chinese name into. Some of the other students were a lot more creative than me.  

David and classmates in Yingge

The photo above shows me with my Korean and Japanese classmates. Our Czech classmate had to leave early so she is missing from the photo.  

Yingge Old Street after a shower of rain

After lunch we went to Yingge's Old Street to eat lunch and walk around. There was a big thundershower in the afternoon and we had to walk back to the train station in the downpour. We all got a bit wet, but it was still a fun day. 

One week at Shi-Da

I've already been studying at Shi-Da for a week now. My class has had a few students come and go. There are now five students: two Koreans, one Japanese, one Czech and an Australian.

During the first few days of class I thought about changing to a different level. However, I came to the conclusion that I should stay in the class as I was still learning a lot of new vocabulary and grammar.

I have already read the textbook (Newspaper Readings II; 新聞選讀第二本) before. In my one-on-one class I read about three or four articles from the book per lesson. In the class at Shi-Da it takes about two lessons or more to go through just one article. Before I just read for general understanding, but at Shi-Da the teacher goes through all the vocabulary and the important sentence patterns. He also gives a lot of supplementary vocabulary and associated characters. While it is probably not so good for practicing reading per se, I can still learn a lot of new language. 

Yesterday we had the first dictation test (聽寫). This was the part of the course I was least looking forward to. I haven't really spent much time practicing writing although I put in a few extra hours in the days prior to the test. I didn't do it perfectly but my result was much better than I expected. I will practice writing more although I often feel it is not really so important in this era of computers. Also the amount of time you need to spend to be able to write well could be much better invested in other forms of study, particularly more extensive reading. 

Starting classes at Shi-Da

I had my first class at Shi-Da (NTNU; 國立台灣師範大學) today. There are two Koreans, a Vietnamese and a Taiwanese American in my class. The class I am studying in is Newspaper Readings II (新聞選讀第二本). I have studied this book before in my one-on-one class and written about it on my blog. 

I found the pace of the class a little slow, but still interesting. The style of teaching and the dynamic of being in a group class was something that I wasn't really used to. I was able to learn some new vocab and also the teacher introduced a number of interesting anecdotes about Taiwanese culture. I think the real challenge will be the first test. I am really not confident about my writing ability, although I am sure with the need and incentive to practice it will improve fairly quickly. 

I met Todd during the break. I hope to meet another Taiwan blogger there soon. I would like to meet some Thai students so I can practice my much neglected Thai.  I also hope to get to know students from many other countries.

Next update on the class will be after my first test. I must go and do my homework.