Let's learn Taiwanese!

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Do you speak Taiwanese? Lí ē-hiáu kóng tâi-gí bô?

Welcome! This is a placeholder page for what might become a section on learning the Taiwanese language (also known as Taiwanese Hokkien). If you have any interest in seeing this area developed further, please .

What is Taiwanese?

To answer that question, we first start with a really brief history of Taiwan. The island of Taiwan is located off the coast of China. There have been many waves of settlers that have arrived on Taiwan over the centuries.

Interestingly, the earliest group to arrive are not considered to be ethnically Chinese. These people are often known as Taiwanese aborigines and are called the indigenous population. Today, it is estimated that only about 2% of the population of Taiwan are the indigenous peoples. There are many ethnic groups within the indigenous population, and the languages they speak are not related to Chinese, and are considered part of the Austronesian language family. In fact, many now consider Taiwan to be the original homeland of the entire Austronesian family of languages, which includes languages such as Tagalog, Malay, Javanese, Maori, Hawaiian, and Malagasy.

The language generally referred to as "Taiwanese" is often considered a dialect of Chinese, though also considered a separate language in the Chinese language family. It is known more formerly as "Taiwanese Hokkien" or "Hoklo".

It is estimated about 70% of the population of Taiwan speaks Taiwanese. Most of these people migrated from the Fujian and Guangdong provinces of mainland China to Taiwan during the 1600's.

In the 1900's, Taiwan came under the control of Japan, and Japanese became the official language of Taiwan. After World War II, the Republic of China regained control of Taiwan, and Mandarin became the official language. During this time, the government banned the public use of Taiwanese, which caused a significant decline in Taiwanese Hokkien. Since the late 1980's and 1990's there has been a bit of a revival for the language, though Mandarin is by far the most common language and is the primary one for communication in official and business contexts.

How different is Taiwanese from Mandarin Chinese?

Spoken Taiwanese is not mutually understandable with Mandarin. That is, a Mandarin speaker would not generally be able to understand someone speaking in Taiwanese, and vice versa.

As far as writing, Taiwanese does not have an official writing system. Taiwanese speakers generally write using Chinese characters. Most of the characters used for Taiwanese Hokkien have a similar meaning as in Mandarin, though there are significant differences. If you're not careful, your potato might become a peanut.

There have been a number of attempts to create a "romanized" system of writing to represent the spoken Taiwanese language. There are several systems in use, however there is no one official system. Since these systems are based on the phonetics of Taiwanese, they are quite different from the romanized Mandarin Chinese systems. The oldest and possibly the most commonly used is known as Pe̍h-oē-jī (POJ), which is used on this page.

How to learn Taiwanese?

If you are interested in starting to learn Taiwanese, the first thing is to using the Feedback form below. If there is enough interest, we will have Taiwanese lessons and information right here.

For now, a good place to start would be the Beginner's Guide to Taiwanese (learntaiwanese.org). You can also try this video which has audio at YouTube.

In the meantime, check out our other language sections.

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