Any native English-speaker who has studied Mandarin Chinese should be familiar with the Pinyin system for romanizing Chinese characters. Did you know there’s also a romanization system for Taiwanese? It’s called Peh-oe-ji (pronounced Beh-weh-jee).
Taiwanese is a dialect of Chinese similar to the Min Nan Chinese dialect spoken in Fujian Province of southeastern China. The official language of China is Mandarin Chinese, which is usually what people mean when they say they speak Chinese. However, there are local dialects of Chinese that are so different from Mandarin Chinese that a Mandarin Chinese speaker would not understand a local dialect speaker. Taiwanese is a dialect of Chinese local to the island of Taiwan.
For comparison purposes:
- Taiwanese Peh-oe-ji: Lín chia̍h-pá bē?
- Mandarin Chinese Pinyin: Nimen chi baole mei?
- Literal translation: Have you all eaten yet? (a common greeting in Taiwan)
I grew up in America speaking English as my native language. I gained a basic understanding of Mandarin Chinese when I was little but spoke Taiwanese conversationally at home because it is the only language my grandmother spoke. I’ve since learned more Mandarin Chinese as my Taiwanese abilities atrophied.
Perhaps someday I’ll have the time and desire to strengthen my Taiwanese language skills, but that’s not a high priority for me at this time. A quick Google search turned up a few resources if you’re interested in learning some Taiwanese:
- Washington D.C. Taiwanese School is a Taiwanese school in Potomac, Maryland
- Omniglot has information on Taiwanese language, along with useful phrases
- Word Reference Taiwanese Hokkien has some basic words
- Wikitravel has a Taiwanese/Minnan phrasebook
- Tailingua has an introduction to the Taiwanese language
- Su Yu Chi has a bunch of Taiwanese language and culture videos
- LearnTaiwanese.org has a lot of language resources
- Taiwanese Secrets has an overview of Taiwanese language
- If you want to see the possibilities, here is an American teaching Taiwanese
- Taiwanderful has another listing of resources