Interesting Observations #4: Taiwanese Don’t Care about your Mandarin

Actually, the title of this post is not quite correct.

During my week in Taiwan, my Mandarin was praised, but significantly less frequently than my Cantonese is praised in Hong Kong.

台灣! 我很想念你哦!

台灣! 我很想念你哦!

In Hong Kong, I hear such phrases on a daily basis[1]:

“你中文好叻喎!”
“你住咗香港幾耐? 四年? 嘩, 好犀利!”

And, I hear these ones on a monthly basis[2]:

“你係唔係香港土生土長啊?”
“你媽咪係唔係中國人?”

In Hong Kong, in perhaps only 30% of interactions I have with random people, is no comment made on the standard of my Cantonese.

However, in Taiwan, around 50% of such random conversations went without comment[3].

Perhaps it’s because foreigners speaking fluent Mandarin is relatively more common in Taiwan? What experiences have you guys had? How often do people comment on your Chinese? Do you like them commenting[4]? And has the frequency of commentary changed as your Chinese has progressed? Leave a comment! 😀

[1] If you can’t yet read Chinese, Cantodict can help you translate.

[2] I am not making these up, although I’m sure that apart from my darkish hair I look nothing like my mother is Chinese.

[3] Despite fewer people caring about my Chinese abilities, I did have the following conversation, which was a standout:

店長: 你國語說得很好耶. 你住在台灣嗎?

我: 不是, 我住在香港.

店長: 哦? 我還以為你在台灣長大…… 香港人的國語好像講得…… 不太好……

[4] Personally, I find it tiresome, and dislike being drawn into the same old conversation repeatedly, but hey!

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8 thoughts on “Interesting Observations #4: Taiwanese Don’t Care about your Mandarin

  1. People here in HK are of the impression that their language is the “hardest in the world”, wherever that may come from. They think it has nine tones, and so on. [I do think it’s quite hard, but mostly because the writing system is so cruelly hard, and does not even encode the same language people here speak, so it’s not easy to learn Cantonese using written resources for example] Also, quite few expats learn it here, and learning resources are a bit scarce. So if somebody non-Chinese-looking speaks reasonable Canto, it’s a big anomaly for them.

    • Hey Sara,

      Presumably you get the same kind of reactions!

      I think you’re probably right – they do like to go on about the 9 tones and how it makes their language impossible, and also agree, of course, about the difficulties posed by the writing system.

      (I take comfort in the fact that most people’s written Chinese is far from perfect, because it demonstrates how difficult it is, even for natives, to speak one language and write another.)

      ~E

  2. To me as I improve in fluency I get the same reactions but I think because I’m in NYC I won’t get as many chances to bridge into full-on conversations, which is sort of a bummer for me (conversations I feel are sooo important). It’s rare to find someone who just doesn’t care about English and will go along with my semi-broken grammar. It’s strange but the one place I felt at home was an American casino that’s known for having huge numbers of Cantonese speakers. I was sitting down gambling and talking with my wife in Canto, it was pretty cool that no one cared about the foreigner because they were all focused on their chips instead!! I actually gamble like three times a year and don’t want to waste money just for 30 minutes of peaceful stress-free Cantonese; so in the meantime I’ll keep plugging along to get better.

    • Also I don’t get ‘the same’ reactions as you Eldon. Your Canto is light years ahead of mine. But because I can read a bit and sit at yum cha without speaking English wit my in-laws then yeah, I get hit with the ‘waah, why is your Cantonese so good?’ ‘You can speak with them and order food?? ‘That’s so cute your accent’, ‘Do you know Mandarin too, because Mandarin is very important etc etc’

  3. 依我來看跟10到15年之前相比外國人講普通話不足為奇。十年之前在台灣我每次跟陌生仍剛剛開口說幾句你好之類的簡單會話,台灣人大驚小怪地說Your Chinese is very good!那個時代大陸人有所好一點了,可是現在區別天壤之別咯。現在要求有所高一點了

      • 随着IT革命的深入发展、我们老外已经尝到它的甜头,所以中文水平毫无疑问已经提高了,在中国社会跟陌生人已经获得认同感令我高兴不已。

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