Maryknoll Language Service Center


On Studying Taiwanese Hokkien (台語)

The other week I started studying Taiwanese Hokkien (台語) at Maryknoll’s Language Service Center in Taipei. I highly recommend their teachers. Although church romanization is extremely painful and confusing to pick up, the teachers all have around 20 years of experience in teaching Taiwanese and are excellent at drilling proper pronunciation and tones into you.

I’m finding the language absolutely fascinating. Whereas Mandarin has 4 distinct tones, Taiwanese has 7! It also has a ridiculous variety of sounds. I haven’t ever taken a linguistics course, so it’s hard for me to accurately describe it, but in learning the difference between all these aspirated, not aspirated, voiced and unvoiced, and nasal sounds, I feel like I went through some sort of mental olympics game. Heck, I’m still feeling that way with all the tone sandhi (another super-fun aspect of these 7 tones is that they often change to completely different tones based upon their position in the sentence and relative to other words!)

I’m in a super-happy place though, because I used to fear languages/dialects with more tones than Mandarin. At one point I bought a Teach Yourself Cantonese book and my experience with it could simply be described as failure. However, I feel I can conquer any Chinese dialect now! Bring it on! I no longer fear any tonal differences! Huzzah!