It’s Chinese to me…learning the language

Posted: February 25, 2011 in Taiwan
Tags: , , ,

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.

Fluenz language program

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
Check, please?

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.

  1. Rachel Marie says:

    Hmm, think I can relate. 😉 I keep a card book in my bag. Thankfully, I live behind a huge mall or I’d never get a taxi driver back to my apartment.

    7 months here, and I’m still limited to maybe 30 words / phrases. But I can understand what people are saying more and more, even if I can’t answer. Eating food out, I get something completely different from what I ordered about 45% of the time.

    I used to try learning / speaking Chinese more, but more than half the time they are so freaked out to be talking to a foreigner (and my pronunciation is so off), they think I’m speaking English. And their accent is different from what you learn in classes – sometime’s it’s like an American trying to understand an Aussie. So my main form of communication is pointing, “zhege” or “nage,” and ridiculous games of charades. Keeps things interesting.

    Good luck at Starbucks. Haha. I think they only have one kind of milk here – 2%. I just say the drink name slowly. And then add “bing” or “rede.” At my most frequented Starbucks, they call out a number for everyone’s order when it’s ready. For me, I see them whispering after they make my drink, “the foreigner, the foreigner,” and then they come give it to me.

    Did you try the bubble milk tea shops last time you were here? I haven’t acquired a taste for it yet, as often as it’s given to me. But they have lots of fun fruit drinks.

  2. Nadine says:

    Just checking in after a long break. Congratulations on your upcoming adoption!! SO excited you get to have your little guy’s bio brother.

  3. Judy K. says:

    Hats off to you two for trying to learn some of the language. I think it shows a real respect for your kids’ birth culture.

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