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Taiwan uses traditional script, unlike the Chinese mainland. (SC)  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Taiwan

Taiwan Languages

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A mix of Taiwanese (閩南話, Minnanhua, sometimes called Holo), Mandarin, Hakka and other Asian languages are spoken on the island, as well as several aboriginal Austronesian languages. Mandarin is the lingua franca, but Taiwanese is spoken as the primary language by around half of the population. In the north, where there's a large concentration of so-called "mainlanders" (those whose families came to Taiwan from mainland China in the 1940s as refugees from the Chinese Civil War), most people speak Mandarin as their first language. Taiwanese is spoken in abundance in the south and in rural areas.

Mandarin, Taiwanese and Hakka are all tonal languages, which make them difficult for Westerners to master. On the Mazu Islands, the dominant Chinese dialect is Mindong or Eastern Min (閩東語, also known as Hokchiu or Foochowese), which is also spoken in the area around Fuzhou and the coastal areas of northern Fujian.

Although Mandarin in Taiwan (where it's known as 國語, Guoyu, meaning "national language") is nearly identical to Mandarin in mainland China (普通話, Putonghua, "common speech"), there are different technical and translated terms. Also, most Taiwanese people speak a distinctly accented version known as Taiwanese Mandarin. For example, Taiwanese Mandarin tends to not differentiate between the "s" and "sh" sounds in Mandarin. Despite this, Taiwan is highly rated as a place to learn Chinese, because the society is far freer and more easygoing than mainland society.

All people schooled after 1945 are generally fluent in Mandarin, although it is sometimes not the language of choice. Many of those aged 70 or more aren't fluent in Mandarin as they were schooled in Japanese or not at all.

The Taiwanese are very accepting of foreigners and react with curiosity and admiration when outsiders attempt the local tongue. Generally, most people in Taiwan converse using a combination of Mandarin and Taiwanese by code-switching. Taiwan continues to use traditional Chinese characters, the script also used in Hong Kong and Macau, rather than the simplified versions used on the mainland and in Singapore.

Taiwanese is similar but not identical to the language spoken across the Taiwan Strait in Xiamen. Unlike Xiamen Minnanhua, Taiwanese Minnanhua has some loan words from Japanese as a result of Japanese rule.

Public transportation announcements in major cities are made in Mandarin, Taiwanese, Hakka and English. In other places, they may or may not include English. In the cities, younger people generally speak a basic conversational level of English. Children often understand more English than their parents because studying English is thought to be important. However, attempts to speak Mandarin or Taiwanese will be met with beaming smiles and encouragement, by and large.

Quite a few people, especially in Taipei, are proficient in Japanese due to the high number of Japanese visitors. Staff at tourist attractions such as museums, hotels, popular restaurants and airport shops speak Japanese in addition to English, Mandarin and other local languages. In fact, if you are a visitor of East Asian descent who can't understand Chinese, when a worker realizes this he or she may try speaking to you in Japanese before trying English. In addition to this, some older people still understand and speak Japanese having lived through Japanese rule.

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