Taiwan Expat – 7 Reasons I Should Learn Chinese

A friend of mine is coming to Taiwan for an extended visit and, in preparation, he asked me an important question:

“Is English spoken at all in the streets…or am I already late for the “Mandarin Express”?”

My response –  no, English is not widely used in my neighborhood.  And yes, you are way too late for the Mandarin express.

Learning the Chinese language is incredibly difficult, it’s the whole tonal thing, which is why I’ve managed to rely primarily on English and gestures for the past 3 years. I greatly admire expats who are able to soak up the language of their new country. I’m sure it adds a lot to the experience and makes daily life less complicated. I just haven’t become one of them.

Not yet anyway, but I actually should. Here are seven reasons why:

1.) Spin Class

I recently joined a great new gym and was so excited to get back into spinning after 3 years away. Most of the instructors speak very little English but, fortunately, I’m not a beginner. Spinning in Chinese is very different though because I have no idea what bumps are ahead in the road – are there steep hills coming up? Sprinting? A long slow climb? Without a clue, I sometimes find it difficult to pace myself.

And then he says ” 我們上去長山,然後衝刺45分鐘。OK??”

Huh? I have no idea if that’s OK so I just smile, nod, and keep on peddling! The first class almost killed me because I pushed myself over the edge. But I survived and went back for more spin-torture…with this guy. He’s great!



2.) Yoga Class

Like spin, I’ve done a lot of yoga in my past life so I assumed the language barrier wouldn’t be an issue. I did survive a couple of classes by using visual cues, but then one time I chose a mat on the edge nearest the wall. Big mistake. When the poses faced that wall I had no one to follow. And then when they dim the lights toward the end of class, I’m totally in the dark. No visual or verbal cues.

And then she said “把你的左腿你的脖子後面,你的鼻子平衡! (Um…no way.)

The beauty of yoga is the combination of “body, mind, and spirit”, but something is lacking when there is a language barrier. It becomes purely physical. I missed my old yoga teachers (Liesa and Victoria) and their calm, soothing, English-speaking voices.

I think I’ll stick to doing yoga videos in my living room…until I learn Chinese.

3.) Boxing Class

Unlike yoga and spin, I’ve got absolutely no experience with boxing but thought I’d give it a try anyway. Luckily I’m at that age where I don’t care what people think of me and I enjoy a challenge…and it definitely was a challenge! The combination of moves is very specific, and by the time I caught on to one move he was on to the next. I move left, he moves right. I’m uppercutting while he’s punching. It was physically and mentally exhausting!

Then he says: 勾拳,左刺拳,側踢,跳回來,脈搏脈搏 (Ha! Yeah, right.)

I went back for another class last week and, unfortunately, was in a position to see my reflection in the mirror this time. Oh God! I didn’t want to look, but it was kind of like a car crash when you just can’t look away. My moves were kind of seizure-like, sort of like Elaine’s dancing on Seinfeld. I realize learning Chinese probably won’t improve my moves, but at least I’ll be in sync with the class while having my seizure.

(via GIPHY)

I plan to take another boxing class next week if they’ll let me in the door. I like the challenge.

4.) Mysterious Chinese Signs-  “Inverse Age Club”

SignThis sign is visible from the treadmill at the gym and I’ve spent hours over the past few weeks pondering it. I have so many questions. If I join the club does my age automatically invert? So, like, when I go to the club meetings I’ll be 35 instead of 53? Or maybe you’re paired with someone who’s the inversion of your age, kind of a mentoring program? I wish I knew…

5.) Restaurants

I’ve been a little unadventurous with my food choices because very few restaurants have English menus. Sadly, that means I’m missing out on one of the highlights of Taiwan – the delicious food. Each street food stall has a  specialty but I have no idea what it is or how to order it so sometimes I just point and grunt. Speaking even the most basic “food Chinese” would be so useful. I’m planning a “neighborhood food walk” with a Taiwanese friend soon to map out what’s good and how to order it. Hopefully, it’ll expand my food vocabulary beyond my primitive pointing and grunting.

6.) Incredible travel deals?

I recently attended the Taipei Travel and Tourism expo hoping for some amazing travel deals. I also hoped to connect with tourism-related people for the whole travel blogging business. Judging from the size of the crowds and the electricity in the air, there were a lot of amazing deals … but ONLY if you understand Chinese. Signs were in Chinese, brochures in Chinese…understandable since their target audience was Taiwanese. I was the only blonde in a sea of Taiwanese and I didn’t find any great deals but did bond with a few English-speaking tourism people from Thailand and Malaysia.Travel expo

7.) Random daily life stuff…

…like washing clothes or adjusting the air conditioner. Need the gentle wash cycle? Forget it, the washer speaks Chinese and I’m just happy when I can make it “go”. My air conditioner remote also speaks Chinese and I never change the settings so I don’t screw it up. As long as it turns on I’m happy.

My first few years in Taiwan, I didn’t feel guilty about my lack of language skills since I was new and I was still learning how to teach English. My brain was full and I was a little stressed with all the changes. Now, after almost 3 years I’m running out of excuses.

The real reason, I’m just too lazy. Sad but true. Being bilingual would likely improve my quality of life so eventually, I’ll jump aboard the “Mandarin Express”. Hope I’m not too late!

Any tips on learning Chinese, like is there a chip I can transplant into my brain?

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2 Replies to “Taiwan Expat – 7 Reasons I Should Learn Chinese”

  1. Haha, I’ve had the same experience as an expat at the gym. “Dfjkhadijfnaneijcnjsjfh sjndhd cuhasufheufnjj si. Okay!” “… soooo… we’re like, planking or something, right?”

    At least you’re thinking about learning the language, and at least you have an excuse — Mandarin is no easy task. I’ve been so disheartened by other expats where I lived (Netherlands) not bothering to learn the language at all since so many people spoke English. Come on, guys–you’re moving to someone else’s country, you could at least try to learn a BIT of the language…

    1. My feeling exactly! I feel guilty that I have lived here for almost 3 years and stumble along with only English. The gym is a whole new experience in stumbling along! Just follow along and hope you live through it! I’m planning to try the boxing class again tomorrow, hoping to improve my boxing moves a little.

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