Does Taiwan offer a better Chinese language learning experience than China?

Lot's of my friends are recommending Taiwan to study Chinese language over China because the language teaching methods are more developed there. Can anyone who's studied Chinese language in China and Taiwan verify this?

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With my experience of having grown up in North America and then spent most of my adult life in Taiwan and then China, teaching in and later running an EFL school, I definitely have some opinions. But there are a lot of factors involved in making a decision about where to live for a year or more of your life and Taiwan and China both have their pluses. Also remember that the situation for foreign teachers has been changing fairly quickly, especially in mainland China.

What are your goals?

The best place for you depends on what you’re looking for…

Learning Chinese

If your main goal is learning Chinese, then I can unequivocally recommend China, preferably the northeast.

Why? Well there are several factors that make learning Chinese in Taiwan harder. First of all, people there speak more English and they expectto speak more English with you if you’re white, black or anyone who doesn’t look like a Chinese speaker. Secondly, it’s not even clear if Mandarin is the primary language of Taiwan yet. A lot of people speak Hokkien (also known as Taiwanese or Minnanhua) as a first language. Finally, a lot of the people who speak very little English are older and also more comfortable speaking Taiwanese instead of Mandarin. The issue or regional dialects also comes up in southern China, but in the northeast, pretty much everybody is a native Mandarin speaker.

A related issue is the accent. I know from personal experience that the accent and dialect considered “standard” in Taiwan is hard for a lot of mainland Chinese to understand. This is problem since the vast, vast majority of Mandarin speakers are from mainland China. On the other hand, if you speak in an accent similarly to what’s on TV in China, you’ll be understood on both sides of the strait. Finally, the Chinese characters used in Taiwan are traditional characters, or fántǐzì (繁體字), whereas China and Singapore use simplified characters, or jiāntǐzì (简体字). This means that even if your Chinese study in Taiwan is successful, you may find yourself unable to understand simple words like “car” or “from” when you go to China.

This said, you can learn Chinese in Taiwan (or even back home) if you’re willing to work hard. Another minor plus in Taiwan is that there’s more interesting media to learn from. China has been catching up in that regard, though.

Quality of Life

Here, once again it’s no contest. Taiwan is amongst the best places to live on the entire planet. Life in general is convenient. The island is covered with 7–11s, and you can not only pay your bills there but you can pick up stuff you buy on the internet, too! The government has done an excellent job in terms of public transportation. Taxes are low. There’s universal health care that’s both top-notch and affordable! People are nice. I don’t just say that. I actually lost my wallet on a bus once and the driver found my student ID, called my school, got my number and returned it to me! I can’t even imagine that happening in China. The air quality in Taiwan may not thrill some of us used to pristine Rocky Mountain air, but it’s not too bad.

In China, there are also a lot of people that will be nice to foreigners they befriend. Unfortunately there are a lot more who will see you as an opportunity. I was never scammed in 7 years in Taiwan, but I got ripped off several times in my first week living in China! A lot of restaurants have 2 sets of menus… regular ones, and bilingual ones with higher prices! Racism and nationalism are also significant issues.

While there’s a lot of ignorant stereotyping in Taiwan of the “Can you use chopsticks?” variety, I’ve seen more cases of outright hatred here in China… especially towards the Japanese. Sometimes it works out in the foreigner’s favor, and sometimes it doesn’t. Since the concepts of race and nationality are often conflated, it can also make for some unpleasant situations for foreigners of Chinese decent (i.e. “ABCs”, “CBCs”, etc..). I don’t want to make it sound all bad, though. I really do like living in China. It’s just that it requires a thick skin. I’d say that you also need to have a bit more social awareness. You can do just about anything and do okay in Taiwan. In China, it’s easier to piss people off.

One plus for China is prices. As long as you don’t get ripped off, a lot of things can be had for half the price they would cost in Taiwan. Things that usually get all kinds of sin taxes, such as beer or cigarettes are insanely cheap in China! Less than half a US dollar for a beer at a local restaurant is common. A pack of smokes can be bought for about $1.20.

Salaries

This is a factor that has changed a lot in the last few years. When I got to Taiwan, English teaching salaries were two or three times as high as in China. Now, though… you can probably earn more in first-tier Chinese cities. In Taiwan, the salary for new teachers seems to stay around 600NT/hour, which is about 20USD/hour. In Beijing or Shanghai, the average is about 150RBM/hour which is about 24USD. Private classes usually start around 200RMB or 32USD per hour. I have friends making over 300RMB/hour. Housing prices have risen to about the same levels as Taipei, but everything else is cheaper. Purely in terms of money, China is now a far, far better choice. That’s not how it was a few years ago.

If you’re planning on a long term stay, it’s possible Taiwan is still better, though. In Taiwan, foreigners can start businesses such as foreign restaurants, clubs or even software companies relatively easily. In China, the only way to avoid having a Chinese partner with 51% control is to set up an extremely expensive Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprise. That’s a reasonable solution if you’re IKEA, but not if you’re starting your own business.

The Internet

This really belongs above under “Quality of Life”, but the internet in China is so fucked up that it deserves its own section.Everythingcool since 2004 is blocked. Unless you pony up the money for a VPN, you can’t use Facebook. You can’t use Twitter. You can’t use Blogspot or WordPress. You can’t use YouTube. You can’t even access Google Docs or Dropbox. You can have Gmail, but it’s a bit unreliable (Update: nope, you don’t even get Gmail… hope your hotel reservation wasn’t sent there!) Basically, you’re back in 2003.

The bottomline
  • If you want to learn Chinese, go to China
  • If you want to live the good life, go to Taiwan
  • If you want to make money, go to China
  • If you the best of both worlds, go to China, learn Chinese well and then go to Taiwan to settle down!
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    Taipei isn’t crazy big... it’s sprawling particularly if you include new Taipei all the way out tamsui, but in terms of population it’s small compared to other cities like shanghai or NYC.

    However, it’s a fantastic city with wonderful people. There are loads of things that will annoy you, like the weather or garbage pickup, but they can be overlooked.

    China is different in tons of ways. The cities are also clean. Old people have the same sweeping jobs in china that they do in Taiwan. But the great firewall is an enormous inconvenience. However, paying for everything on your phone vs cash (like Taiwan) and having anything you could possibly want delivered (wine, food, clothes) is convienent.

    IMHO, I’d rather be living in Taipei than shanghai, however when you consider the difference in pay the story changes. In Taipei I had money, but I lived in a studio in a 3 story walkup. In shanghai I have a lot more money and live in a 2 bedroom with a huge balcony on the 30floor of a high rise. I wouldn’t trade to go back, when I miss friendly people and actual culture I can go to Taipei for a weekend.

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    The most popular countries in which to teach in East Asia are easily China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. Each one has its pros and cons with regards to the jobs available, working standards, cultural rules, and a hundred other areas you should be aware of. Here’s our post on why teaching abroad is great. Having taught English in all three and having known many people who have done the same, we’ll provide you here with the definitive pros and cons list for China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. If you’re already TEFL certified and would like some options to make more money then having some kind of IELTS Training is particularly useful (especially in China where there’s high demand for this kind of training – you can even teach this privately on the side for good money) and Business English which is in high demand in Taiwan and China. Another option is online teaching which is a great way to make income from home.

    Image result for wallstreet english image

    If you’re looking to teach adults, Wall Street English is China’s largest English teaching school. It actually started in Italy and can be found on almost every continent, but its popularity in China is borderline ridiculous. You can’t walk ten feet in Shanghai or Beijing without tripping over someone handing out flyers to prospective students. If you’d prefer to teach children, EF is the Wall Street of kid learning, with comparable popularity in every big Chinese city. Both of these companies are typically held in high regard by their employees and students. Having worked for WSE myself, I almost can’t fault their business practise and work ethic. It is overall an excellent company to work for. The big cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen etc.) are all also home to prestigious international schools filled with students who hail from any and every Anglophonic country. These schools are competitive, however. But if you are a qualified teacher in your own country and have a specialist subject, they are certainly worth considering. The big pros about working in an international school are the holidays and job progression; the cons are the added stress and the early starts.

    China is a very cheap country to live in. If you’ve ever spent any time in its metropolises, this may surprise you given their cleanliness (apart from the pollution), lack of crime, and wide variety of shopping and entertainment options. But it’s true; you can easily afford to live in the centre of Shanghai for the amount that would get you a small apartment in the middle of nowhere in America. On top of this, bills cost pennies. My friend once left their heating on for three consecutive months in one winter and was appalled that the heating bill came to the equivalent of $20 instead of $8. When this kind of news appals you, that’s when you know you’ve gotten too used to cheap living.

    This one is a little more personal, because we are mostly speaking from experience (working for Wall Street English). Compared to Taiwan, work ethics, advancement opportunities, salary, hours, and work/life balance are all better in China.

    A lot of the companies you’ll find in Taiwan offer very little room for advancement and will leave you stagnant. This results in the job feeling more temporary and less like a career opportunity. Working in Taiwan, I never felt like this was a job for life; but working for WSE in China I saw people make a real career out of this job. It pays very well; the students are kind and pay to be there; there’s so much opportunity for advancement into management, recruitment, training, even moving into specialist teaching and consultancy positions. Working in China is less for the expat and more for s/he who wants to change their life and make a fresh start abroad with a real new career. You can make a very good life in China with these companies, and that’s probably the biggest pro you can ask for.

    Taiwan offer very little by way of culture shock. Taiwan feels very much like America of the East. China, on the other hand, will shock you over and again. Some things to watch out for: animals abused, caged, and sold on street corners; local men hawking up and spitting on the street at every moment of every day; queueing being totally non-existent in shops and on train platforms; pushing and shoving on the subway; the sheer size and hustle-bustle of the place – it’s so easy to get lost and stressed out by the overwhelming amount of people, cars, and bikes; every taxi you get into will make you scream and cry with fear.

    Image result for china website banned

    The Chinese government restricts all access to Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. You need a VPN to lead an ordinary life as a netizen in China. Sometimes your VPN will fail and your family back home may start to worry that the pollution has finally killed you. Which brings me to my next point…

    You’ll notice the pollution levels in China pretty much as soon as you land, regardless of where in the country that may be. You’ll find yourself asking questions like, ‘Where did the sun go?’ ‘This isn’t fog, is it?’ and ‘Why has my breathing stopped? Am I going to die?’ Beijing has by far the highest levels of pollution, but every major city has its issues. You can certainly curtail this by picking a smaller city like Shenzhen, Nanjing, or Hangzhou.

    Shanghai World Financial Center

    But regardless, masks become a necessity, coughing becomes commonplace, and you may even start empathising with China’s vehement spitting culture.

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