Before our last trip to Taiwan, we spent several weeks meeting with a tutor from Taiwan and learning some of the Mandarin language through Fluenz.
My husband also used ChinesePod to learn some phrases. It was a good thing – because we were surprised how few people spoke English in Taiwan. My husband was our primary communicator, mostly because he had spent more time learning the language before we traveled.
We used taxi cards frequently in Taiwan. These business cards were written with destinations in English and Mandarin. Our adoption agency and other adoptive families provided several cards prior to our travel. Without them, we would not have been able to communicate with taxi drivers. We picked up a few business cards in each hotel lobby where we stayed, so we always had one to give to the taxi driver for our return trip. Usually the hotel staff had at least one person working at the front desk who could speak some English. That person would write out restaurant destinations and other places we wanted to visit.
It was in restaurants, stores, markets and the train station where our mastery of the Chinese language was tested. I wish my language skills had been better, because it would have been fun to engage people in more than just the very basic of conversations.
Here are some of the phrases we used often in Taiwan, and ones I will be re-learning in the weeks to come. I wrote the Pinyin translation next to the ones I remember, but left the tone symbols off because I don’t know how to insert them. The tones and their correct pronunciation are crucial to the meaning (and interpretation) of the words spoken in Mandarin.
Hello · Ni hao
Thank you · xie xie
I’m sorry/excuse me · Duibuqi
Do you speak English? · Ni hui shuo Yingwen ma?
I want. . .menu, water, coke, etc. · Wo bu yao . . .caidan, shui, coke
I don’t want… · Wo bu yao…
Counting numbers – it was helpful when shopping or buying food (ie. 2 cokes)
Where is the bathroom?
When shopping (helpful at the SOGO Department Stores – the sales clerks are very attentive and stand next to you waiting to help)
I’m just looking.
How much is it? (In the Jade Market, the vendors often use calculators to show you the price of an item – you just have to be able to convert NT dollars to US dollars.)
When at a restaurant or trying to order food:
I want the menu. · Wo yao caidan
I want that, or I want this (usually pointing to food on a menu) · zhe ge, na ge
I think people appreciated our attempts at speaking the language in Taiwan. If anything, we provided them with a little humor from hearing our botched tones and accents. There were a few times I received bizarre looks after I said something – I can only imagine what I may have said. Maybe this time I will be able to walk into Starbucks and confidently order my customized half-caf, tall, non fat, no whip mocha – of course, it may need to be an iced mocha, depending on how hot it is in Taiwan when we travel.