Taiwan - The Best Places to Learn Mandarin Chinese
Taiwan is one of the best places to study Mandarin Chinese, which is one of the more important languages in the world today. China alone has over a billion Mandarin speakers (as well as speakers of other Chinese dialects like Cantonese and Shanghainese), and that’s not even counting the vast Chinese diaspora, or the fact that Mandarin is also the native language of places like Taiwan and Singapore. Regardless of your reasons for studying Chinese, it’s important to choose a method that’s right for you.
I’m learning Mandarin Chinese because it’s useful, but in the process I gradually began to become interested in China and the Chinese speaking world - which prompted a trip to Taipei (largest city in Taiwan) for me earlier this year. Many ESL teachers choose to work in Taiwan in part so they can study Chinese in their free time.
For those who want to master Mandarin and have the money, studying abroad in Taiwan can also be an excellent way to do so. While there are some language differences from Mainland China (including accent and the more traditional writing system), neither is an issue if you plan on communicating with Mainland Chinese later on. Both countries use what’s basically the same language with some minor differences.
Taiwan Versus China - Learning Environment
Taiwan also has some advantages over Mainland China in terms of study and living environment. For one, it’s a more developed, and open, society than China, and cities like Taipei will have a decent amount of foreigners, international students, and English speaking Taiwanese. While programs vary, Universities in Taiwan are generally known to be from decent to great depending on which course you enroll in. Certain Universities in Taipei and other cities are, of course, better than others depending on your personal learning style. Most of the best Taiwanese Universities for studying Mandarin are in Taipei, though there are some good programs in other major cities for those who want to see another side of Taiwan.
For advanced students of Chinese, the lack of censorship and the easier access to reading and learning materials can make all the difference in terms of progress and enjoyment. Taiwan is also not as strict when it comes to visas - depending on which country you’re from, you can enjoy up to 90 days visa free as a tourist (and studying on a tourist visa is perfectly fine). There are some requirements and paperwork required if you want a student visa (like paying all of your tuition up front), but that’s not a difficult process either. Finally, Taiwan also offers the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship, which is granted to foreigners pursuing Mandarin studies in Taiwan. At 25,000 TND a month (840 USD as of this writing) the scholarship isn’t huge but it’s a great way of covering some of your living expenses in Taiwan.
Types of Courses Available
Which University or institution you use for your Chinese studies in Taiwan is up to your own personal preferences. Taipei offers some of the best Mandarin courses in the country, as well as plenty of ways to meet fellow international students and English speaking Taiwanese. Though you might want a quieter environment with fewer English speakers. In that case, other cities - like Kaohsiung in the south - would be better for you. Your level also makes a difference - if you want to learn basic Chinese, some Mandarin programs are geared towards beginners or Westerners used to certain teaching styles.
Finally the amount of time you want to study each day also makes a difference. Some Mandarin programs in Taipei offer courses for only 2 or 3 hours a day, with the rest being homework. Others are far more intensive, with schedules up to 8 hours a day. Having a lighter schedule gives you more time to enjoy Taiwan, and engage in independent learning and informal language practice (such as making Taiwanese friends and doing language exchanges). A more intensive schedule may not give you that freedom but depending on how you learn you may make progress faster.
Choosing the Right Program for You
There are a lot of different Universities for learning Chinese in Taiwan. The best ones, such as National Taiwan University, National Taiwan Normal University, and the Chinese Culture University, are all located in the Taipei area. Most Taiwanese Universities run their Mandarin Chinese programs in 3 month blocks, and average price is anywhere from 1,000 USD to 2,000 USD per semester. Outside of Taipei tuition and living costs might be slightly cheaper.
National Taiwan University’s Chinese Language Division is known for its intensive classes and supportive staff. The tuition fees are higher than average, but it’s a reputable University and most of its Mandarin students leave satisfied. It has smaller class sizes (around 6 students per class) and a higher percentage of Asian students. NTU is also one of the best universities for Taiwanese students locally, so it’s also a great place to meet motivated Taiwanese students as well as fellow foreigners.
National Taiwan Normal University and its Mandarin Training Center are also known for intensive courses, but its administration is not known to be as helpful or supportive as NTU’s. The MTC also offers a lot of homework which may cut into your free time if you want to explore Taiwan. On the other hand, it’s very centrally located in Taipei, with good access to shopping, conveniences, and nightlife - though that does come with larger crowds and higher living costs. Students who want to have an exciting time in Taipei might want to check out this program.
The Mandarin Learning Center at Chinese Culture University is also located in Taipei proper. Unlike the other two programs previously mentioned, the MLC is known for its slower, more relaxed pace. It attracts students from all over the world, with plenty of non-English speakers (thus giving you more chances to practice speaking with your classmates). On the other hand, it’s facilities are lacking compared to other Universities in Taipei - there’s no gym, for example. The lack of facilities may affect your social life on campus to a degree, though some may enjoy the chance to live in a good area of Taipei.
Finally, there’s National Chengchi University, which is still in Taipei City but around 20-30 minutes from the city center. It takes a more communicative approach to its classes than the other Taipei programs, which tend to focus a lot on grammar and writing Chinese characters. Being located in a quieter part of the city can of course, be seen as a good or bad point depending on your preferences. The school’s (slightly) farther away from a lot of the attractions in Taipei, but it also provides a quiet, relaxed study environment with fewer foreigners and more opportunities to practice your Mandarin skills.
That’s only a small sample of the many Universities and institutions which offer Mandarin programs in Taiwan. Many of them offer the same basic courses and fees, though the differences in teaching methods and campus locations can make a big difference in your experience, so choose carefully. Do note that there are also some part time and night courses for Mandarin available in Taiwan for those who are working full time. Regardless of how you choose to learn Mandarin, Taiwan’s number of programs, as well as its ease of living and more open society, make it an excellent choice for those wanting to study Mandarin Chinese.