No Mandarin? No problem! In the third part of our Guide to Muslim Travel in Taiwan, we look at the basics of getting around in Taiwan armed only with your knowledge of the English language. (Here is the first part: Halal Food in Taiwan, and the second part: Prayers, Mosques and Muslim-friendly accommodation)
English in Taiwan
Mandarin is the official language of Taiwan, though most locals also speak Taiwanese – a Hokkien dialect. While this may sound completely meaningless to you if English is your main language, English is a lot more common in Taiwan than you may think – it’s a compulsory subject in elementary school, features prominently in Taiwan’s national school examinations and has also been encouraged by a burgeoning private language school industry. This, along with a recent drive by the government to attract non-Chinese tourists, is making Taiwan a lot more accessible to English-speakers.
Getting around Taipei – and beyond.
As Taiwan’s biggest metropolis, Taipei is also where you’re most likely to find English-friendly signs, facilities and locals. That said, official road and public train signage is all in English as well as Mandarin, so getting around if you’ve rented a car or are planning to explore the great Taiwanese countryside via rail won’t be a problem. Most hotels in Taipei and hotel chains (Hyatt, Regent, Holiday Inn, Landis are among many worldwide chains with branches in Taiwan) across the country are also well-prepared to serve and assist tourists in English, as are Taiwan’s bigger tourist attractions. If you get lost, popping into the nearest hotel is the surest way of finding someone who knows the area and speaks English.
It gets a little trickier if you’re just roaming around free and easy outside the tourist hotspots, and without the assistance of a tour group. Again, vendors in major markets and tourist attractions usually know a smattering of English, but if not, pointing and smiling is your best friend. Most stores and markets also prefer to use western numbers over the more complicated Mandarin versions, so price labels will be easy to read. Choose restaurants that have pictures of their offerings just in case their staff don’t speak English – unless you like surprises! You can also see our article on Halal Food in Taiwan for more tips on finding and ordering halal food.
You’ll also want to keep a list of common phrases with you and their Mandarin character counterparts to read out or point at in emergencies. These should include:
“Hello/How are you?” (Ni hao/你好),
“Where is ____?” (____ zai nali?/___ 在哪里?),
“Do you speak English?” (Ni hui shuo yingyu ma?/你會說英語嗎?),
“Thank you” (Xie xie/謝謝),
“Sorry/Excuse me” (Dui bu qi/對不起),
“How much?” (Duo shao?/多少?),
“Goodbye” (Zai jian/再見)
and of course, “Where’s the toilet?” (Cesuo zai nali?/廁所在哪裡).
The Taiwanese are generally friendly and helpful to tourists – and always amused by a foreigner trying to speak their language!
If this article has been useful, you’ll probably want to check out the rest of our Guide to Muslim Travel in Taiwan: Part I on Halal Food and Part II on Prayers, Mosques and Muslim Accommodation.