When learning a language, a great way to improve is by going abroad to study that language. As a Mandarin Chinese learner, there are two main places where you can go to do this: Taiwan and mainland China. But how can you figure out which one is right for you? Let’s take a look at what each of these places offers for Mandarin learners.
What does Taiwan offer for Mandarin learners?
I’m starting off with Taiwan because that’s where I chose to study Mandarin. I was first drawn to Taiwan because of my interest in Taiwanese culture. However, besides my personal interests, I also thought that Taiwan had a lot to offer me as a Mandarin learner. Here are a few things to consider when making your decision:
1. The Schools
Taiwan has many high quality learning institutions. When it comes to learning Chinese, the top choice for most students is the Mandarin Training Center (MTC), run by the National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei. Founded in 1956, MTC is one of the oldest and most highly regarded Chinese language programs in the world.
2. The Curriculum
When it comes to written Chinese, traditional Chinese characters are used in Taiwan, which may be a positive or a negative depending on what your preference and goals are. I personally learned simplified Chinese characters first but had to switch to traditional characters when I studied in Taiwan. It was a bit challenging at first, and I had to put in extra time to learn the traditional versions of characters. However, my teachers were understanding of the fact that some students had a background in simplified Chinese, and I was able to adjust fairly quickly.
Some prospective students worry about the phonetic system used in Taiwan. In Taiwan, people often use Mandarin Phonetic Symbols (注音符號), sometimes referred to as Bopomofo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) or Zhuyin (注音). Most Taiwanese people use this system to input Chinese characters when they type. However, in my experience, language schools in Taiwan offer Pinyin, likely because many international learners start off using this system and find it easier.
Another consideration in terms of what you will learn in Taiwan is the style and accent of Mandarin that is spoken there. Taiwanese Mandarin, just like the Mandarin in different regions in mainland China, has its own characteristics. It is often said to be more gentle sounding, as it softens sounds like “zh,” “ch,” and “sh,” and it doesn’t add the “er” sound to the end of words. Some word usages and pronunciations in Taiwan also differ from those used in mainland China. For example, in Taiwan they pronounce the word for garbage (垃圾) as “lèsè,” while in mainland China they say “lājī.”
3. The Cost
Many students choose Taiwan because of how affordable it is to study and live there. The government also offers scholarships for foreign students learning Chinese, namely the Huayu Enrichment Scholarship. This scholarship gives students a monthly stipend to support their studies at an approved Mandarin language center for between two and nine months.
4. The Environment
International students generally find it easy to adjust to Taiwan, especially Taipei, where most students will find themselves. Living standards are high, locals are known for being exceptionally friendly, and Western comforts are fairly easy to find. Taiwan is also known for its rich culture, beautiful scenery, and ease of travel. Many people take trips around the entire island via train, scooter, or even bicycle.
What does mainland China offer for Mandarin learners?
Now that we’ve discussed Taiwan, it’s time to turn our attention to mainland China. As the origin of the Chinese language, it’s often the first place that people think of for learning Mandarin abroad. Let’s take a look at what mainland China offers for Mandarin learners:
1. The Schools
Mainland China has many well-known Chinese language programs. One of the most popular schools to learn Mandarin at is Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). The school opened in 1962, and its main purpose is to teach Chinese language and culture to foreign students. BLCU is also known for producing most of the textbooks used in language schools in mainland China.
2. The Curriculum
In mainland China, simplified Chinese is the standard. If your goal is to learn simplified Chinese, China is an ideal place to do so. Not only will you be taught to read and write simplified Chinese characters in class, you’ll also be exposed to them in your daily life in China.
The official phonetic system in China is Pinyin, so you can expect to use this during class. In addition, most locals will have learned Pinyin as children and still use this system to input characters when typing on their computers or phones.
Many students chose to study Mandarin in China because they prefer the mainland Chinese pronunciation or feel that it is the most standard form of the language, especially the Chinese spoken in Beijing. However, due to the variety of dialects in China, you will likely be exposed to many different accents and even different word usages. While this may be confusing at first, it could help hone your listening skills and expand your understanding of the language.
3. The Cost
The cost of living and tuition in mainland China varies depending on where you go, and many universities offer scholarships for international students learning Chinese. However, language programs in mainland China may be a bit more expensive than in Taiwan in general. To get an idea of the difference, let’s compare the tuition for two courses with similar weekly hours and class size from BLCU in Beijing and MTC in Taipei:
|School||Program||Class Size||Hours||Course Duration||Approximate Cost|
|BLCU||Regular course||15-25 students||20 per week||One semester||US $1,685|
|MTC||Intensive B||13-20 students||15 per week||One semester||US $945|
4. The Environment
Mainland China is huge, which means that it offers incredibly diverse landscapes and endless places to explore. Chinese learners usually study and live in large cities, such as Beijing or Shanghai, which offer plenty of modern amenities. However, on weekends and school breaks, students have the opportunity to travel and experience other areas. Some people also choose mainland China because of the large number of business and job opportunities there. Students hoping to find a job abroad after studying Chinese consider this a plus.
So should you go to mainland China or Taiwan to learn Mandarin?
As you can see, both Taiwan and mainland China offer a lot of great opportunities for Mandarin learners. It all comes down to what your priorities and goals are, so the choice is yours!
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