Learning Mandarin Chinese is one of the most rewarding experiences you can undertake while living in Taiwan. It will help you not only understand what is going on around you but also allow you to communicate. From ordering drinks and food, to communicating your own feelings and experiences and being able to understand others, it will allow you to participate more fully in this culture.
Choosing the right program is a must and every program listed below has strengths and features independent of the others. You would do well to ask on Facebook, online forums, more importantly make a personal visit to each school you are considering, visit with teachers and also ask students personally how they feel about their experience before committing to a program.
If you want to enroll in one on one study, you should make an appointment with teachers at the individual program to discuss their teaching philosophy and find one that fits your situation best. Understand this will be unpaid time for most of them, so take a small gift (fruit or a tea) to say thank you for their time and be clear about what you want, even having something prepared in writing to show them your ideas about a plan. Based upon their personal teaching style, be prepared to compromise and recognize them as a professional in this field, especially if they have some experience. They may know better how to help you than you know how to help yourself.
Every person has different learning needs and preferred learning styles. There are many options for learning Mandarin, including some great online tools, not all of which are listed here. Don’t waste time and money where others already have done the work to find out which work the best. Before investing your money, make sure you understand your personal learning style and preferences because not all programs are the same or work the same.
I studied Mandarin Chinese formally for a little over two years. When I started, my goal was to read, listen, write and speak. I enrolled in the classroom program at NTCU (National Taichung University of Education). The program at first was overwhelming. 15 hours a week of full Chinese immersion including writing characters and homework. For the first few weeks, I really didn’t understand much of what was going on. I just did the best I could. We (along with most language schools in Taiwan) are taught pinyin (although the teachers can and do use zhuyin for those students who need and use it). Most teachers can speak English in situations where we get stuck, but the farther you go, the less they are willing to do so – for your benefit. The school uses the Practical Audio Visual Chinese books for the classroom based instruction.
I have finished book four of the PACV series. I can say that my ability to communicate on a daily basis is actually quite good. It’s not perfect and I am still learning, but as far as my ability to listen, speak, read and write in both formal and informal situation – I rarely feel over my head.
I am very happy that I stuck it through. As you reach a more advanced level of the language, you realize how much culture is contained within the language, both written and spoken. There are many phrases that are used in common language that you won’t be taught in survival Chinese classes.
There is definitely a price to be paid in time, effort, and of course money to see it through, but I don’t regret any of it. Whatever your goals are for learning Chinese. Find the course and structure that fits you best and then stick it through. Learning Chinese is a marathon, not a sprint. Anyone who tries to sell you a short term course or tells you that you can be fluent in a few weeks is a liar. You may learn some phrases and be able to accomplish some simple conversations, but fluency in this language is not possible in that short a time period.
National Language Centers
National Taichung University of Education +886-4-2218-3286
National Chung Hsing University +886-4-2284-0326 ext. 399
Tunghai University +886-4-2359-0259
Feng Chia University +886-4-2451-7250 ext. 5871
Providence University +886-4-2664-5009
TLI – Taipei Language Institute in Taichung (One of the larger private language institutes in Taiwan with branches in Taipei also.) TEL: (886-4)2321-1998 FAX: (886-4)2321-1209 台灣台中市大道二段489號4樓之3
TLC – Taichung Language Center (started by former TLC teachers who wanted to serve the Missionary community in Taichung, this program has a special focus on teaching missionaries) There is no website, which is why I have included the phone and location.
Taichung Language Center
Taichung, Beitun District, Chongde Rd. Sec.2, #128, 13F-2
TLC will be unable to help you obtain a student visa should you require one. Only TLI and the national language centers can provide this. To qualify for a student visa, you must be enrolled for 15 hours of week or more of study.
All the language centers provide either individual or small group instruction. TLI and TLC can design a program around your personal language needs. They use individually developed materials or materials that you wish to study. Costs vary depending on the number of hours per week, number of students, materials, etc.
For some people, a personal tutor is a better choice and more affordable. If you choose a tutor, make sure you ask for a FREE preview lesson first. Make sure your tutor is prepared, has material laid out in an organized format and can take you from point A to point B. Many people end up paying for conversation classes where they review the same materials over and over again, or even worse they end up paying to be an English tutor for their Chinese tutor.
Online Language Tools: (not yet complete)
Skritter – Character learning tool (subscription based, excellent! Uses the spaced repetition method)
PLECO – App for iphone / android. Possibly the best dictionary, translator. Offers several paid upgrades, including a realtime optical character translator. Also has SRM built in.
Here are a couple of great articles that you might find interesting:
A Realistic Look at the Challenges of Reading Chinese
A New Way to Learn the Chinese Radicals – Very Helpful for Western Learners
ANKI – I don’t use this, but many others do and speak well of it’s features and resources.