I must admit that growing up I never paid much attention to any Asian language, always thought that as a Spanish native speaker I should remain on the same root of languages; and so I came here with zero knowledge, wait, not zero, I was able to say “Ni Hao!”
One of the challenges I’ve faced since my arrival in Taipei has been the language, thankfully there are a lot of people who handle a basic to a good level of English, however, to wander around is a lot easier to speak the basic stuff. This was a wonderful discovery; you can read more about my first impressions here: Discovering beautiful Taiwan
So, taking advantage of my free time, and considering that eventually, I would like to work and make a living while I’m here, two weeks after our arrival I enrolled in a private institute to learn Chinese mandarin. Not going to lie, after my first class I ended up with a little headache and a sore throat!
Language Schools in Taiwan.
Since we are living in New Taipei City, I only consider the schools in the nearby area; however, I’m sure there are plenty of options in other big cities like Kaohsiung, Tainan, and Taichung.
I started making a little online research and reading all reviews of the main schools here, and after my arrival I went personally to each place in order to make sure about the location and the overall feeling of the school, as well as to find out about pricing, since is very difficult to find it online. Here I summarize my top three findings:
Mandarin Training Center.
This school belongs to the National Taiwan Normal University or best known here as “Shida”. Being part of one of the main universities here gives them a lot of credibility and has a lot of students, however, I believe the format and the length of their classes are not for everybody. This school is for people who can stay in Taipei at least for one year or more, their enrollment is made once a year, you need to apply in advanced around May, then if you are selected you need to fulfill all requirements and be here ready to start in September.
The big advantage this school has is that since day one you will be totally immersed in reading and writing the Chinese characters. There are several schedules for you to pick from and the whole college environment will help you socialize and find new friends in your same situation. Have in mind though, that they can take up to 25-30 students per class so it won’t be as personal and conversational as you may like.
This school offers scholarships thru government programs, if you are interested you can find more information on their website. MTC at NTNU.
Taiwan Mandarin Institute.
Located in the same area as Mandarin Training Center, this school is more focused on foreigners who would like to learn a bit of Chinese while they are staying here. This school offers a new class opening every Monday, however, this only happens if there are at least three people signed up for it. They offer classes in the morning, and in the evening (in case you need to work during the day), as well as several private classes where you can pick the most convenient hour during any weekday.
The great thing about this place is that they only open groups of up to six people, making the class more oriented to participation; you have almost a personalized experience. They start focusing more on conversational skills and pushing vocabulary, also, they use the book developed by Mandarin Training Center, which is the certified one. The bad thing is that, since there are a lot of students just passing by, as you would move forward you may not have enough classmates to open the next level group with you.
Taiwan Chinese Academy.
This is a private institute in the same area as Shida, just like Taiwan Mandarin Institute, has a focus on foreigners vacationing or living short-term in Taipei. However, they do have fixed starting dates so is a good idea to arrange your arrival according to their start time.
They have several classes in the morning and evening as well as private classes according to your schedule; they also focus on conversational learning slowly transitioning to reading and writing. Since they have fixed dates you may find continuity easier as they will always have enough people to start.
How to choose between Chinese Schools?
I strongly recommend you to sign up for language classes as soon as you arrive, it doesn’t matter how long you will be staying, take advantage of your time, not only for the sake of learning a new language but also in order to immerse yourself in this beautiful culture and learn beyond words.
Please have in mind that the only institution that can help you with a student visa is Mandarin Training Center; with the other two schools, you need to apply yourself for your visitor visa according to the rules and requirements for your country. Also, for Shida, you need to prepare your papers and have them translated to English, in case your papers are written in other languages, and have them certified by a Taiwanese diplomatic office near you. With the other schools, you only need to show your passport.
Taiwan Mandarin Institute and Taiwan Chinese Academy charge around $22000NT (around $740USD) per 12 weeks, two hours a day, from Monday to Thursday. On the other hand, Mandarin Training Center charges $28000NT (around $940USD) for the same period of time, only their schedule is five days a week. Books and other materials are extra on all of them. Please double check all pricing directly with them prior signing up at this might change with time.
All three of them offer nice non-mandatory extra class activities, different every week so you can start connecting with all the wonders that Taiwan and its culture has to offer.
Last but not least, if you are serious about speaking Chinese any time soon, practice will help you a lot, don’t be afraid to start practicing with the personnel at the restaurant or tea spot. However, if you don’t want to be that exposed yet, I recommend you to use two apps that you can download to your phone, one is Hello Chinese, and the other one is called Chinese Skill. Both will help you learn more vocabulary as well to practice the pinyin and pronunciation. If you are into podcasting I recommend you the one from Chineasy, very interesting and very up to the moment.
I must admit I was a bit negative about all of this, during my first weeks I found myself feeling frustrated, but as I continued and discovered the beautiful symbolism of every character and every word made me realize what a wonderfully rich language this is, and the challenge it represents just makes me want to overcome it even more!