Ask Matt: Studying Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan

Dear Matt,

I am trying to find a Mandarin course in Taipei, Taiwan which starts in October (anytime) for myself and my husband.  We have never been to Taiwan and do not speak any Mandarin. We have found a course which starts in December, but we just can’t wait that long to go!


Dear Emily,

Although I don’t live in Taipei, I know of one school that can probably help you.  It’s called the Taipei Language Institute. It offers courses pretty much any time that you want.  They have branches in Taiwan’s major cities.  Last I heard, as long as you can round up enough students to start the course, they will start one for you.  To round up other students to start study at the same time as you, it would be easiest to post on an expat community forum such as Forumosa (Taipei) or Kaohsiung Living(Kaohsiung).  Also, I think that if you were to contact them in advance, they could help to place you in a class that hasn’t filled up yet.  I’m sure that beginner classes, being most in demand, start up somewhat frequently.

One thing you may want to consider when choosing your school, is what you want to learn.  Do you want to read or read and write?  If you want to learn to write, it will more than double your workload, as characters are very complex and only learned by rote memorization.  Most Universities only offer writing/speaking courses.

It’s my understanding that TLI, however, focuses first on speaking (to help you learn to get around Taiwan) and then moves into the characters. I have never studied at TLI, but know many who have.  I’ve never heard anyone say it was spectacular (but learning Chinese is never spectacular).  I have never heard anyone complain about it though either.

You have one more option, with regards to school. Thats to apply for a sixty day multiple entry visitor visa.  This visa is good for 60 days, and can be extended three times (six months).  Then, you could stay in the country without a student visa, and study with a private tutor.  Most I know charge about NT$4-500 ($12-15 USD) per hour.

I would also recommend, of course, that you both start studying before you come.  I’ve found the Pimsleur language tapes to be very effective.

I’m sure that if you do a bit of searching you can find some helpful free websites online as well.

Good luck with your studies.



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6 thoughts on “Ask Matt: Studying Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan”

  1. I studied at TLI in 2000-01 in Taipei and I thought it was a great introduction to Mandarin. You’ll share the classroom with students of all nationalities, and class sizes are not much more than about 7 students, and probably smaller. There are cheaper language schools than TLI but I haven’t seen evidence that they are as good. Like Matt said, TLI teaches you Mandarin without teaching the characters in the beginning but they give you the option to study them on your own. Some Mandarin speakers think it’s bad to study the language without the characters, but if you start with the characters you might get stumped by the difficulty and not continue. I found the speaking-listening approach to be good, and was speaking broken Mandarin in a few weeks and after a year and a half of studying I was fairly fluent. If you study at the TLI on Roosevelt Road, ask for Mr. Zang, a great and funny teacher!

  2. I also studied at TLI and took the most direct route possible, i.e. one-on-one speaking and reading. I agree with you, Matt, that learning to write more than doubles your workload. I didn’t have the patience and I couldn’t see the benefit of it (that’s just for me, though). If you want something more in depth, you could try one of the universities – I know ShiDa is very popular for Chinese language learning.


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