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BEST WAY TO LEARN TAIWANESE // TOP TIPS TO FOLLOW
Taiwanese Hokkien is the main dialect spoken on the island of Taiwan, but what is the best way to learn Taiwanese?
Today, we’ll reveal all, from the people who have been there and done it!
The main challenge with learning Taiwanese is that due to the prevalence of Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan, much of the younger generation in Taiwan does not speak the Taiwanese dialect as well as the older generation does.
This means that if you choose to study Taiwanese, you will be more hard pressed to find good resources, which in turn means that you will need to use the resources you have much more fully.
Below are some of the best tips we could think of for learning this very unique language
Taiwanese is a variety of the Min languages
It can be understood both in Taiwan, as well as in Fujian and Guangxi provinces in Mainland China and in parts of Singapore.
Tip 1 – Watch Taiwanese Dramas
Tip 2 – Watch Taiwanese TV
Tip 3 – Use the Taiwanese Anki Deck
Tip 4 – Use A Taiwanese Dictionary
Tip 5 – Get A Taiwanese Teacher
Best Way To Learn Taiwanese #1 – Watch Dramas
The first step of learning any language is getting its rhythm and feel. For this, lots of exposure through listening is crucial, even at the beginner stages.
Thankfully, Taiwan has been a great source of Taiwanese language dramas and TV series, which provide a lot of clear, standard Taiwanese listening practice.
The Youtube channel “Formosa TV Dramas” is an amazing source for finding loads of dramas, some with as many as 100+ episodes, all with Chinese subtitles (in case you already know Mandarin Chinese).
Watch Drama Taiwanese TV
The next step, once you are comfortable with watching Dramas, is starting to watch Taiwanese TV channels.
If you have Taiwanese channels available in your country, Formosa TV (民視) has a variety of shows and news programs in Taiwanese.
Otherwise, many similar resources are available on Youtube. Similar to the Formosa TV Dramas channel, the “Formosa TV Taiwan Lecture Hall” is a great resource for specifically spoken Taiwanese.
Differing from TV Dramas, variety shows and lectures are held in fast-paced spoken Taiwanese, which is a great step up from the clearly pronounced content in Taiwanese Dramas.
This is important though, DO NOT try to understand every single thing said and definitely DO NOT get demotivated by this.
The aim here is to get a feel for the language and see if you can catch some words from your knowledge of Mandarin and recognise repeating patterns and words.
Level Up – Watch the News
One of the toughest challenges of language learning is listening to the news, due to the combination of advanced vocabulary, high speed and unfamiliar topics.
If you have reached this stage, you can pat yourself on the back for doing such an amazing job, first of all!
Formosa TV again is great for such content on Youtube with its News Channel, which has short videos both in Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien.
Many of the videos are shorter than 10 minutes, with a variety of them being as short as 2-3 minutes.
Download the Taiwanese Anki Deck
Best way to learn Taiwanese (or any language for that matter) – flashcards and spaced repetition software.
We are big Anki fans at LTL (check out our full Anki review here).
For those unfamiliar, Anki is a powerful flashcards app that can help you review materials through a Spaced Repetition System, showing you sentences or vocabulary at just the right time before you forget it.
To start actually learning the language in detail, our LTL Taiwanese Deck on Anki is a great resource for hearing frequently used sentences, recognising patterns and learning new vocabulary and grammar through context.
Another great SRS tool is Hack Chinese which is a superb way to drill those characters.
You can learn using simplified or traditional Mandarin. For Taiwanese you’d be using the latter.
If you want to find out more about Hack Chinese, we wrote a review about it and also filmed a video review to give you a more hands on look at the tool.
Best Way To Learn Taiwanese #4 – Use a Taiwanese Dictionary
During your study using the Deck above, as well as when listening to Taiwanese spoken content, you will inevitable hear a lot of unfamiliar words and some of them will stick with you, without actually knowing what they mean.
A good dictionary is crucial at this stage, and you can use it to fill in the gaps with words and sentences that you clearly remember thanks to repetition, but cannot understand with context. For this, iTaigi is extremely useful and can help you build your vocabulary, even suggesting synonyms and other similar words.
It even has a ranking system, where users can vote on how natural-sounding/commonly used certain words are.
Keep in mind that specifically this resource is completely in Chinese, so basic ability in Mandarin is definitely a benefit here.
Get a Taiwanese Teacher
After having listened and practiced enough, you are now ready to start speaking the language.
For this, getting a Taiwanese teacher becomes necessary. At this stage, you do not yet speak the language fluently and have certain understanding of words and sentence patterns.
As most native speakers will not have the patience or dedication to wait while you slowly build your sentences, it can be quite hard to find such people to help you at this stage.
Therefore, having a Taiwanese teacher sit down with you, listen to you and help you improve your speaking speed, recall of vocabulary and grammar patterns is invaluable.
Go To Taiwan
There is a point to be said about immersion and how important it is for learning a language.
As mentioned at the start of this article, an unfortunate fact of life is that the younger generation of people in Taiwan do not speak Taiwanese as often as the older generation does.
However, going to Taiwan and specifically hanging out in parks, near temples and other areas with a majority older population, you will inevitably hear a lot of Taiwanese around you.
This is especially true if you spend part of the time in Taipei, and part of it in smaller places in the South of Taiwan, such as Taitung or even smaller places like Yunlin.
Get To Know The Locals
At this point, trying to use the language with the locals is an obvious next step.
As mentioned, locations such as temples, churches, recreational parks and such are teeming with older retired people, who do not only have the benefit of being carriers of Taiwanese Hokkien as their default language, but also do not have other matters to attend to thanks to their retirement.
This means that they simply sit around and are more than happy to talk with people, especially foreigners who are learning their language.
Getting to know people in any language is always a great way to learn a language.
Participate In Communities
One other way of getting to know the locals is through participation in the community.
Special events such as Taiwanese religious festivals are an extremely common occurrence and are celebrated in virtually all temples.
Similarly, there is a big community of Christian followers, who meet together in church or other religious settings and interact, in many cases in Taiwanese.
There are even special Taiwanese language Masses happening in many church centres every week. The community is extremely welcoming, even if you are not religious, as long as you are respectful of their beliefs.
Best Way To Learn Taiwanese #9 – Get Inspired By Others
As language learning is a long process that takes many years, it is easy to get demotivated along the road. Keep in mind that you should never compare your own progress with the progress of others.
You should ONLY compare your Taiwanese to how it was a week/month/year before, so as to see how you are improving.
Nonetheless, watching other fluent Taiwanese speakers can work as a motivator to further try and learn the language. Your thought process should be “It will be amazing when I reach the same level as this guy/girl” rather than “How will I ever get to the level of this guy/girl?”.
For such a motivation booster, the channel Aiong Taigi has a great educational benefit, as well as a good start for the Youtube Rabbit Hole of suggestions for content focus on appreciation of Taiwanese language and culture.
Best Way To Learn Taiwanese #10 – Listen to More Taiwanese Content
Now that you have been studying Taiwanese for quite a while, it is time to go back to the start!
At this point, you should try and rewatch the dramas and shows you saw at the start of your journey, and instead of just getting the feel of the language, you should try to catch as many words as possible and see if you can recognize the sentence patterns from your previous studies.
Again, DO NOT get demotivated if there are many things you do not understand. Language learning is a marathon, not a sprint, and you should go back every few months to rewatch the same content to compare what you understand now as opposed to what you understand 3, 6 and 12 months earlier.
There you have it! The best way to learn Taiwanese, right there in one easy to follow guide!
While we might have provided the tips in a graded manner, feel free to mix and match.
Motivation is key here, so if you find that you enjoy certain ideas more than others, feel free to use them also at the start.
The more exposed you are to the language, and the more engaged you are with it, the better your Taiwanese will become! Learn to enjoy the process!