Studying Chinese in Taipei

The Study Life

Blink and here we are, already towards the end of March.  Today marks my first complete month here in Taiwan, and what a crazy and wonderful month it has been!

From settling in after the big move, to getting my head around bureaucracy in a foreign language, running around the city, making new friends, and amongst it all, another birthday…my life is now a constant cycle of eat, sleep, study and trying to get to the places to do these things.

…Run…pant…5 more minutes…I’ll just make it…

This seems to be me everyday. I am a fresh student of the Chinese Language Division at National Taiwan University (國立臺灣大學). Even though I wake up almost two hours earlier for class, I always seem to be in a rush to get there. Mainly because I am too busy wandering the streets in search of my next yummy breakfast or chillin’ at home watching Archer before school. To get to CLD, I take pretty much any form of transport there is available in Taipei.  Via walking, subway, cycling, bus, running of course, and sometimes when I’m very late, by taxi.  This is required if you’re living in Xinyi (信義區), approximately forty minutes away and are easily distracted with whatever you come across on your way to class.

Situated in the Gongguan (公館) area of Taipei,  NTU was the first and still is the largest university in Taiwan.  It has enjoyed a rich history as well as the reputation of being one of the country’s best universities.   But what I like most about it, is that the main campus is really quite beautiful. Palm trees, which according to the NTU website symbolise growth, nurture and willpower (wow!), line the road to its Main Gate, and there is a surprisingly decent number of museums and galleries throughout the campus for students to enjoy if they could spare the time.

The interestingly named Drunken Moon Lake (臺大醉月湖) is also a major attraction and a decent spot to relax or spend time wistfully thinking about life.  But it is in March that draws people here the most when the azaleas are in full bloom, and NTU puts on a show with the Azalea Festival. Indeed I have the fortune of starting school in the bright Spring. Tourists can be seen throughout the campus, taking walking tours and snapping away at the pink and white flowers.

IMAG1917And interestingly enough, I found out that I have a stronger affiliation with this uni than I first thought.  Turns out my name in Chinese is also the exact flower that is the symbol of this university (杜鵑 – du juan). And here I thought administrators were making fun of me upon registering for class whenever they commented at how interesting a name I have -since my Chinese-speaking partner has once so subtly and kindly put it…my name is so old-school that no one hip enough in our generation or the next would have it (thanks dear). Now though, every time I ride towards the Main Gate, I feel as though there are plenty more du juans fondly greeting me.

Back to my study life though, generally I can be seen striding through CLD in a manic manner, air-writing characters and mumbling pronunciations as I past my more-relaxed fellow students and teachers before I head to class.  It’s been three weeks since I’ve been attending and it’s been quite a surprise so far. I remember quite clearly how I thought what a break language learning would be after a couple of years on a desk job.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not underestimating how difficult learning a new language could be. Afterall, I have studied Mandarin for about five years in Australia and still couldn’t speak or write or read even a little fluently. Well some of it did stick, but that’s beside the point.

The seemingly easy breezy schedule is certainly misleading. It is only three hours a day on weekdays that I go to school. Oh, and I get to sleep in everyday because my contact time starts at noon!  Sounds like a little holiday compared to sluggin’ it out nine to five (or more) in an office, doesn’t it?  It is easy to let your guard down when you think you’ve got something this good going for you. And so I was not prepared to how absolutely intense and fast-paced studying here would be.

CLD teaches small classes with only around 6 students in each….and also rather multicultural! I have classmates from Japan, Korea and Brazil!

I started in the middle of the beginner’s level.  This means that I don’t go through the fundamentals again and there is the expectation that people in this level already know how to do basic reading and writing.  However I am learning brand new sentence structures and with it there are always more Chinese characters and pronunciation to know.  This seems simple enough, except the amount covered is hefty. Dictation tests are taken almost everyday and generally after completing two lessons, a bigger test involving both writing and oral conversation can be expected. Homework is of course mandatory, and is also checked everyday.  The fact that they keep me on my toes like this, means that those mere three hours of studying at school, is also required when I get home every night.

Studying Chinese in Taiwan, and certainly at CLD is no bludgey task. Let no one tell you otherwise. Even with the perks of sleeping in and having an easy morning, I average about six hours a day of studying to feel confident enough to take the usual dictation test, as well as understand any idiosyncrasies that an English-speaker like me would find in the Chinese language.  This may be just me and my inability to grasp things quickly, but if you are considering studying Chinese and are a beginner to the language, then be prepared to put in consistent hours of extra cafe or home study.

Night time studies at a cafe is a common pastime of mine here in Taipei. This cafe comes with a study lamp =)

There has been a few frustrated moments. Like why can I not understand simple  / de structures without battling it out on those square block writing sheets (if you’re a language learner of Chinese, you’d probably understand better). But three weeks ago I could barely remember to write ‘Sorry. I don’t understand’ (對 不 起. 我 聽 不 懂), but I am now able to ramble on for a page or so on my family or what I did on the weekend.  I am now able to implement what I’ve learnt in everyday conversation. At the markets, ordering food, telling my friends where I’m heading to, or explaining my surroundings to someone.

My proudest moment when I wrote an almost perfect character. Bian = side / margin

It’s definitely a lot to remember so early on and whilst still trying to find my place in this city. But I am here, learning and developing even in the simplest of ways, and it is so exhilarating when I can speak even the shortest of sentences.


For more information about studying Chinese at CLD NTU, feel free to contact me! Otherwise here are some useful links to get you started:

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9 thoughts on “Studying Chinese in Taipei

  1. Dictation!!!!! You’ve just reminded me what a pain learning Mandarin can be sometimes. Like my mum used to tell me when I was a child, just keep writing and memorizing the strokes of the characters, there’s no way around it!

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    1. Hey Megs! Yes I did dictation for Vietnamese nearly every night growing up but I have enjoyed a respite from it for more than 15 years so it’s hard to get back into it sometimes! Plus takes me forever to write a character with more than 8 strokes. But I will keep practising as you’ve said!

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  2. I’ve only been out of Taiwan for a few months, but reading your post makes me really want to go back!

    It sounds like you have the motivation it takes to really learn the language! Sometimes it will definitely be frustrating, but with enough practice something will eventually “just click” and you will find yourself using all those sentence structures quite naturally 🙂

    Good luck and keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the kind comment! I will definitely be keeping up my studies. As difficult as it can be sometimes, I really am enjoying myself and I can’t wait for that moment when it all comes together.

      Good luck to you too – enjoy your life outside Taiwan but I’m sure it wouldn’t be your final visit here!

      Liked by 1 person

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