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If there is one thing you should get right from the beginning, it's the pronunciation of the language.

I prefer Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) as the script. It does a good enough job representing sounds and it is the most widespread system, even though this doesn't mean much in a language that doesn't have a solid written tradition. Not to mention that every textbook author feels entitled to create his or her own systems.

Much of this section is based on ニューエクスプレス台湾語 by 村上嘉英.


Taiwanese has 6 vowels and 17 consonants.

All of these sounds are allowed to appear at the beginning of a Taiwanese syllable. Vowels on their own are valid syllables too.

Vowels (and nasals)
Alveolar tth nl
Velar kkhgng
Alveolo-palatal chchhj s
Glottal h

Diphthongs and triphthongs

There are 8 diphthongs and 2 triphthongs.

These sounds can appear at the end of syllables, sometimes followed by a final consonant or a nasal sound. They are valid syllables on their own, too.

ai au
ia ioiu

Consonant endings

There are 7 consonant endings: 3 nasals and 4 plosives.

Nasals Plosives


This is one of the most difficult parts of Taiwanese.

There are 7 tones (historically 8, but now the 6th tone is the same as the 2nd tone). Every syllable has a tone of its own, but due to a phenomenon called tone sandhi, you must pronounce a syllable with an altered tone if it is not the final syllable of your uttering, which is most of the time.

Number Script Tone sandhi
1 a 7
2 á 1
3 à 2
4 ak 8 for -p, -t, -k
2 for -h
5 â 3
6 (see tone 2)
7 ā 3
8 a̍k 4 for -p, -t, -k
3 for -h

Tones 4 and 8 only occur in syllables with stop endings -p, -t, -k, -h.

Personal notes

Learning tones is hard enough. How does one even start learning tone sandhi? It is hard to get used to the fact that the original tone of a syllable simply isn't pronounced most of the time. All I can say is that, with enough practice, every tone comes to have a little personality of its own. Tone sandhi is about how tones behave when they are squeezed between other syllables. So tones 1, 5, 7 seem to get “depressed” with sandhi, while tone 2 “disappears” and tone 3 “becomes forceful”.

Tones 4 and 8 have the strangest behaviour. 4 is a “depressed” tone that gets “all high”, and tone 8 is just the opposite: it's “all worked up” but in the middle of a sentence it gets “depressed”.

Unless the syllable ends with h. I just got used to pronounce unmarked syllables ending in -h with a “forceful” tone, and marked ones with a “depressed” tone.

These are all idiotic stories I tell myself to make sense of tones. Natives just do it without even being aware of the complications of their own language, as usual.

The script

Pe̍h-ōe-jī, the Taiwanese script preferred in this wiki, was created by Western missionaries in the 19th century. It is, by far, the most widely used Taiwanese script.

Pe̍h-ōe-jī was designed so that each symbol corresponds, with few exceptions, to one sound. In Pe̍h-ōe-jī, a symbol can be comprised by one up to three letters (chh).


Basic phrases

Taiwanese Characters English Notes
Lí hó 你好 Hello
Ta̍k-ke hó 逐家好 (To a group of people) Hello Despite the resemblance, ta̍k-ke is not related to the Mandarin 大家. The final k in ta̍k gives it out – 大 doesn't end in a consonant in any dialect.
Chia̍h-pá--bōe 吃飽未? A common greeting Literally “have you eaten?”, but actually a greeting, so don't think you are being invited to eat!
Gâu-chá! Gâu-早! Good morning
To-siā 多謝 Thank you
It's nothing. You're welcome.
Pháiⁿ-sè 歹勢 I'm sorry
Sit-le̍ 失禮 I'm very sorry

Talking about language

Taiwanese Characters English Notes
Che Tâi-oân-ōe beh án-chóaⁿ kóng? 這台灣話beh án-chóaⁿ講? How do you say this in Taiwanese?
Góa thiaⁿ bô 我聽無 I don't understand
Chhiáⁿ kóng khah bān leh 請講較慢leh Please speak more slowly
Chhiáⁿ koh kóng chi̍t-pái 請koh講一pái Please say that again
Chhiáⁿ siá--lo̍h-lâi 請寫落來 Please write it down



Demonstratives are words that “point” to things, such as “this”, “that”, “those”, etc.

The following table sums up demonstratives in Taiwanese:

Singular Plural
Close to the speaker che(這) chiah–ê (此的)
Far from the speaker he (彼) hiah–ê (彼的)

It is worth mentioning that the adverbs of place in Taiwanese are chia (此, here) and hia (彼, there), so there is an interesting regularity among these words that should make them fairly easy to remember.

When che and he are the subjects of a sentence, they are read in their original first tone, unaffected by tone sandhi.

Personal pronouns

These are the personal pronouns in Taiwanese:

First person Second person Third person
Singular góa (我) lí (你) i (伊)
Plural gún (阮), lán (咱) lín (恁) in

Both gún and lán mean “we”, but gún excludes the person being spoken to and thus it's called “exclusive we”, while lán includes the person being spoken to and thus it's called “inclusive we”.

There are no gender distinctions for any of these pronouns. All of them can be used to refer to males or females.

I'll mention these regularities since they might help memorization:

  • All first and second person pronouns are tone 2, while all third person pronouns are tone 1.
  • Roughly, the plural is formed by adding a letter n to the singular.

sī - to be

(是) translates to the English verb to be.

Che sī toh-á.
This is a table.

He sī bîn-chhn̂g.
That is a bed.

The negation of is m̄-sī.

I m̄-sī Tân sian-siⁿ.
He isn't Mr. Tân(陳).

Góa m̄-sī Ji̍t-pún-lâng.
I'm not Japanese.

Tag questions

ah m̄-sī sī–bô

(p. 48 台湾語会話)

The particle e(兮)

Ability and permission

Both ē-sái and ē-tàng mean being able to.

ē-sái expresses that circumstances allow for something, while ē-tàng expresses that authorization exists to do something. Not all speakers do this distinction, though.

The negation of these expressions are bē-sái and bē-tàng.

When politely requesting authorization, use kám ē-sái.

Chia kám ē-sái chia̍h-hun?
Can I smoke in here?

Yes, you can.

No, you can't.


Terms of address

Taiwanese Characters English Notes
Sin-seⁿ/Sian-siⁿ 先生 Sir Used to call the attention of a man
Sió-chiá 小姐 Lady Used to call the attention of a woman
O-jí-sáng Sir Used to address a middle-aged man. From Japanese おじさん.
O-bá-sáng/A-sáng Lady Used to address a middle-aged woman. From Japanese おばさん.
A-kong 阿公 Sir, grandpa Used to address an elderly man or your grandfather.
A-má 阿媽 Lady, grandma Used to address an elderly woman or your grandmother.
Thâu-ke 頭家 Boss, manager, owner of a business
Thâu-ke-niû 頭家娘 (Female) boss, manager, owner of a business


Taiwanese Characters English
tōa big
tiong middle
sió small
small, tiny

Names of places

Taiwanese Characters English
Ke-lâng 基隆, 雞籠 Keelung
Tâi-pak 台北 Taipei
Thô-hn̂g 桃園 Taoyuan
Sin-tek 新竹 Hsinchu
Biâu-le̍k 苗栗 Miaoli
Tâi-tiong 台中 Taichung
Lâm-tâu 南投 Nantou
Chiong-hòa 彰化 Changhua
Hûn-lîm 雲林 Yunlin
Tâi-lâm 台南 Tainan
Ka-gī 嘉義 Chiayi
Ko-hiông 高雄 Kaohsiung
Phêⁿ-ô͘ 澎湖 Penghu
Pîn-tong 屏東 Pingtung
Tâi-tang 台東 Taitung
Hoa-lian 花蓮 Hualien
Gî-lân 宜蘭 Yilan



Number Taiwanese
1 chi̍t
2 nn̄g
3 saⁿ
5 gō͘
6 la̍k
7 chhit
8 poeh
9 káu
10 cha̍p


Number Taiwanese
11 cha̍p-it
12 cha̍p-jī
13 cha̍p-saⁿ
14 cha̍p-sì
15 cha̍p-gō͘
16 cha̍p-la̍k
17 cha̍p-chhit
18 cha̍p-poeh
19 cha̍p-káu
20 jī-cha̍p
21 jī-cha̍p-it
22 jī-cha̍p-jī
23 jī-cha̍p-saⁿ
24 jī-cha̍p-sì
25 jī-cha̍p-gō͘
26 jī-cha̍p-la̍k
27 jī-cha̍p-chhit
28 jī-cha̍p-poeh
29 jī-cha̍p-káu
30 saⁿ-cha̍p

Notes: notice 11 is cha̍p-it even though 1 is chi̍t, and 12 is cha̍p-jī even though 2 is nn̄g. Notice, too, that that 20 is jī-cha̍p even though 2 is nn̄g.

Multiples of ten

Number Taiwanese
20 jī-cha̍p
30 saⁿ-cha̍p
40 sì-cha̍p
50 gō͘-cha̍p
60 la̍k-cha̍p
70 chhit-cha̍p
80 poeh-cha̍p
90 káu-cha̍p

Notes: notice that 20 is jī-cha̍p even though 2 is nn̄g. Otherwise, all multiples of ten are regular.

Multiples of one hundred

Number Taiwanese
100 chi̍t-pah
200 nn̄g-pah
300 saⁿ-pah
400 sì-pah
500 gō͘-pah
600 la̍k-pah
700 chhit-pah
800 poeh-pah
900 káu-pah

Multiples of one thousand

Number Taiwanese
1000 chi̍t-chheng
2000 nn̄g-chheng
3000 saⁿ-chheng
4000 sì-chheng
5000 gō͘-chheng
6000 la̍k-chheng
7000 chhit-chheng
8000 poeh-chheng
9000 káu-chheng


Taiwanese textbooks published in Taiwan aren't very good - that has been my unfortunate experience, at least. Textbooks intended for teaching Taiwanese at school seem to be the less suited for foreign learners of the language, since they use characters only and no indication of pronunciation - teachers are expected to fill them in, after all. Taiwanese books published in Japan are much better, so it's a shame that using them requires a knowledge of Japanese and, if you live outside Japan, paying high shipping costs.

Most material on this page is based on the following books:

In Japanese:

  • ニューエクスプレス台湾語 by 村上嘉英. 白水社, 2010. 144pp.
  • 台湾語会話 by 樋口 靖. 東方書店, 2004. 317pp.
  • トラベル台湾語 by 近藤 綾 and 溫浩邦. 日中出版, 2007. 185pp.
  • やさしい台湾語カタコト会話帳 by 趙怡華. すばる舎, 2008. 159pp.
  • 台湾語会話フレーズブック by 趙怡華. 明日香出版社, 2010. 421pp.
  • 絵でわかる台湾語会話 by 趙怡華. 明日香出版社, 2007. 237pp.
  • はじめての台湾語 by 趙怡華. 明日香出版社, 2008. 205pp.
  • 台湾語基本単語2000 by 鄭正浩. 株式会社語研, 2008. 220pp.

In Chinese:

  • Tâi-gí Pe̍h-ōe Sió Sû-tián, TJ's Dictionary of Non-literary Taiwanese, TJ台語白話小詞典 by 張裕宏 Tiuⁿ-Jūhông. 亞細亞國際傳播社, 2009. 588pp.
  • 台語入門新階 by 王華南. 臺原出版社, 1998. 271pp.
  • 即學即用臺語台語會話 by 吳宏逸. 萬人出版社, 2009. 103pp.
  • 大家來學台語 by 胡美津. 統一出版社, 2010. 223pp.
  • 生活台語會話 by 林仙台. 萬人出版社, 2009. 90pp.

In German:

  • Taiwanisch Wort für Wort by Katharina Sommer and Xie Shu-Kai. Reise Know-How Verlag, 2004. 160pp.

It turns out I don't have any books in English. However, there is a nice list you can refer to at

Difficulties of learning Taiwanese

  1. Spoken only. Few written materials. Unnatural to read. However, I learn better by reading and it’s hard to follow spoken materials.
  2. Written materials don’t cover conversation anyway.
  3. Scarcity of materials.
  4. Similar words in Mandarin fool me into thinking Taiwanese won’t be that difficult.
  5. Multiple transliteration schemes.
  6. Nobody to speak it with. Learning passive skills only is difficult.
  7. Many tones and massive tone changes.
  8. No gradual method of learning the language that I know of. It seems to be all or nothing.
  9. I’m not in Taiwan.
  10. I don’t really like the language.
  11. All materials simply show samples of the language out of which I’m supposed to make sense. No explanations.
  12. I can’t get used to the fact that there is much from Taiwanese that I have to learn from scratch.
  13. I’m not used to learning a analytical, monosyllabic, tonal language from scratch.
  14. No inexhaustible source from which to learn and practice the language pleasurably if I ever become proficient at it.
  15. Many people who speak it are bilingual anyway. No feeling of “conquer the language and you will conquer the culture/country”. Can’t attach the language to the country as much as, say, French can be attached to France. Seems important but not indispensable to understanding Taiwan.
  16. Having listened to my language all my life without learning much doesn’t make me feel better.
  17. Why do I want to learn the language anyway? There isn’t much to do in it, except for eavesdropping in my parents’ conversation, which I rarely get to hear nowadays.
  18. It’s hard to convince myself that the words I read are actual words that evoke the meaning they are supposed to evoke. Can’t get used to the sounds.
  19. No standardized character representation. Taiwanese written with characters looks like gibberish.

Any reasons to learn it?

  1. The challenge.
  2. What I’ll learn about learning languages through learning Taiwanese.
  3. Language as an act of faith: I won’t know what the language is good for until I actually learn it.
  4. Maybe I’m just disappointed because I still don’t know enough of the language.
taiwanese.txt · Last modified: 2012/11/03 00:44 by monkeypuzzle