I’d like to make my blog a handy resource for other people who might want to come to Taiwan to learn Mandarin, but who might not have the benefit of having family here or a Mandarin-speaking fiance. Speaking of which, Ron and I recently met up with some of my relatives on my mother’s side for lunch. My cousin David, who went to high school with me in the U.S., said it was weird to hear me speak in Mandarin. I think it’s weird, too. It’s like some incoherent Taiwanese five year old has possessed my body and is forcing me to relay all her demands for food, potty breaks and yet more food.

Anyway, that brings me to my Mandarin class at Shida’s Mandarin Training Center. I am taking the beginners intensive course, which is three hours per day as opposed to about two hours per day for the regular class. During registration, students typically take a reading/writing and verbal comprehension level placement test. I didn’t have to take the test, however.Ithink that as soon as my interviewer heard that my parents were born in Taiwan and that I could understand and speak Mandarin, she placed me in a class for people who grew up in Mandarin-speaking households. It does make sense, since my classmates are obviously at an advantage compared to students who haven’t been exposed to Mandarin for their entire lives. Our intensive class uses a different textbook from the other beginners courses. My understanding is that it focuses more on vocabulary and sentence structures in written Mandarin than on conversation. Here is what it looks like:


Yes, I know there is a typo on the cover. Anyway, the inside looks like this:


Our class goes by very quickly–we learn a chapter every four to five days. Each chapter has about 45 words, so we average about 10 new characters per day. We have daily dictation (tīng xiě, 聽寫) quizzes, however, at the beginning of each chapter we have to memorize the 45 vocabulary words in two days. I have tons of flashcards (and a Muji card case) as a result:


I played around with different organization methods for my flashcards. Initially I used four colors, one for each tone in spoken Mandarin. After about four lessons, I realized the color-coding defeated the whole purpose of using the cards to memorize the pinyin and tones, so now I use blue cards for individual characters and white cards for the vocabulary words that are formed by combining characters.

We are also supposed to go to Shida’s listening lab to hear each lesson’s sample text and vocabulary words:

Shida's fifth floor language lab

I usually see at least one or two students napping in the cubicles. Dude, that’s what the library is for, people! Also, despite a clear admonition not to write on the cubicle walls, past students have nonetheless left their mark and pleas for help–and in English, no less:

Futility Angry radish A flower named Magaya Saucy ghost

I usually have five to six hours of homework each night, which encompasses repeatedly copying out new characters to familiarize myself with the stroke order, doing exercises from our workbook, making flashcards, quizzing myself on characters, and maybe a little Facebook surfing to mix things up a bit.

We are currently in the middle of our mid-term exercise, which consists of four round-robin stories we are supposed to write as a class. Our teacher decided to use the exercise to help familiarize us with the Taiwan post office by making us mail each installment of the story to one another. After the four stories are completed, we will turn them into scripts and act them out at a command performance that our teacher will a) invite all interested members of the Shida MTC community to watch and b) film and copy onto DVDs for us to keep as souvenirs. I’m sure my mom and dad will be absolutely thrilled to have a DVD of me gallivanting about and yapping in Mandarin. What they (and our teacher) don’t know, however, is that at the moment most of our stories seem to focus primarily around women with loose morals, intergenerational domestic violence involving very big sticks and crotch beatings, and the accidental deployment of certain bodily functions. This is, surprisingly, not completely my doing. Who says Mandarin can’t be fun?

Anyway, in the seven weeks since class started, we have almost completed nine lessons and learned about 405 new vocabulary words (as well as supplementary vocabulary)–which means I am now semi-functionally illiterate in Mandarin! Woo-hoo! Seriously, though, our teacher told us that everyday usage only involves about 3,000 characters, so I am on my way.