At the beginning of this year I started taking Taiwanese classes at Maryknoll in Taipei. Taiwanese is a language from the same family as Mandarin Chinese (which I already have a conversational ability in) and the difference between the two is said to be akin to that between two Romance languages, say French and Spanish. Not too hard then, right? Ha!
One of the problems facing the Taiwanese learner is the severe lack of resources available for the language. Over the years it has been suppressed (by both the Japanese and the KMT) and only has a worldwide speaking population of around
30 50 million (including near cousin dialects), so it’s not the most popular choice for foreign language study. Add to this the fact that there is no universally agreed-upon system to write it down and that it’s just plain difficult to learn; perhaps it’s no surprise that few choose to do so.
So, what help is out there for English-speaking would-be learners? Well, aside from the materials produced by Maryknoll (including textbooks, dictionaries and tapes) and one other textbook which is pretty poor, there is a small range of stuff available on the net – here’s a brief survey:
Probably the best place to start. The article on Taiwanese is pretty comprehensive and balanced, with some good links.
Simply the largest collection of romanised Taiwanese articles on the web. Uses the Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) romanisation system – the one I learned and use on this blog.
Written predominantly in mixed Han and POJ orthography, I lack the necessary literacy with characters to properly evaluate this site.
Site to learn Taiwanese that starts off quite promisingly, but there are only ten lessons available to view – the rest can be purchased as audio files. Bah.
Has not been updated in some years, but still carries a useful amount of information about the language. Also has a Taiwanese > Mandarin dictionary, but the romanisation system is odd.
Sadly, that’s about it for the moment. As I said, resources are sparse and it requires a lot of motivation to study – the best way to improve is to speak with the people all the time.
Above: Puppet shows are usually all in Taiwanese.