“Ni Hao Ma?”: The 543 Guide to Studying Chinese in Taipei

It all starts with an idea: “So I have this crazy idea: I kind of want to study Chinese in Taipei…” If you’re coming here to study Chinese, welcome. You’ll join a massive amount of people (more than you’d think) from around the world, and your options  in terms of programs are just as numerous. Learning Chinese is one of the main the reasons people come to Taiwan, other than teaching English. There are all kinds of programs at various schools, all different time periods, and all different price ranges. Since we understand that the process can be overwhelming, we’ve listed the three most popular schools in Taipei to learn Chinese, with insights gleaned from talking to friends and our own personal experiences.

Shida (National Taiwan Normal University): NTNU

Overview: “Shida” as it’s more commonly known, is undoubtedly the most famous Mandarin program in Taiwan. Their “Mandarin Training Center” (MTC) offers 2-3 hour programs for all levels, including classes specially tailored towards heritage speakers (ABC’s). We hear that the intensive classes and one-on-one classes are quite effective and rigorous, but from personal experience, we can’t extend the reputation to the entire language center. It’s been said that ABC’s  have given Shida a bit of a reputation as a “party school” that students don’t take all that seriously. However, it’s the largest Chinese language program in Taiwan and by far the most recognized in the Mandarin-learning circuit. Warning: The facilities are less than subpar (MTC apparently hasn’t done a remodel since probably the 1970s), but the teachers are typically of good quality; they’re usually Shida graduates themselves, and Shida is Taiwan’s foremost teacher training school.

Class Time: You and your classmates (ranging from 8-10) will work with one teacher, and therein lies the risk: your experience at Shida relies entirely on your teacher. There is no set method of teaching, so it all depends on how your teacher wants to structure class. Since most classes are 2 hours, you’ll need to take supplementary “big” classes (which can consist of watching a Chinese movie, or taking a Chinese cooking class) to make sure that you fulfill the requirements of your student visa sponsored by Shida. If you’re on a visitor visa (90 days), don’t sweat it.

I personally spent two semesters at Shida, here’s my take:

“The first semester, I had a strict teacher who made us go through rigorous exercises and glared if we so much sipped water during class, but I ended up learned a large amount of vocabulary, considering that I started from zero knowledge. In my second semester, I got a teacher so relaxed that she gave us the answers during tests. I think I learned 3 characters every day at most; but I sure learned a lot about Chinese-foreigner dating relationships; our daily topic of class gossip. I do appreciate the fact that they have heritage speak-oriented classes, but my experience seemed inconsistent and entirely teacher-dependent.”

Fees & Application Info: Regardless of teacher, Shida will cost you between 16,800 NT (for 2-month summer program) to 34, 200 NT for an intensive three month program. The application process is simple; fill out information online, send it in, and they’ll take it from there. As for all school processes, you’ll come into Taiwan on a visitor visa that can be altered to a different status upon your arrival. Exact pricing details and application info can be found on the MTC website.

Photo via Taiwanpedia

Taida (National Taiwan University)

Overview: As the most prestigious university in Taiwan, Taida is internationally ranked and the absolute pride of Taiwan. Tell anyone that you go to Taida and you’ll immediately get a resounding choruses of “Wow, you are so smart! Such a good student!” And essentially, this is deserved. Students who study at Taida are the products of a merciless K-12 schooling system and the top 10% of the hundreds of thousands of students that take the rigorous college admission test, every year. The decisions are based on pure numerical prowess (Captain of the lacrosse team, student council president and ballet prodigy? Sorry, this is Taiwan, we don’t care. So how are your math scores?)

Class Time: This also applies to the students at its language center, of which there are two branches: CLD (Chinese Language Division) and ICLP (International Chinese Language Program). Those who choose CLD, the cheaper option (but still much more expensive than Shida, in the 1000USD/semester range)—will find themselves in  3-hour classes of 5-8 that again, cater to a range of different levels. Fewer ABC’s opt to take courses here; instead, the student body is composed largely of Japanese and European students. On the other hand, those who choose ICLP are in for an entirely different ride. Classes are 5-6 hours per day, starting with a “large class” of 3-4 students and eventually dwindling to a personal one-on-one class with a teacher in the afternoon. No ni hao ma lessons here. If you walk the halls of ICLP, you’ll here people from all over the world chattering on about politics, economics and psychology in Mandarin. The bulk of ICLP students are serious about Chinese and want push their Chinese to an advanced level, and fast. This is not for the faint-hearted.

ICLP alumni and 543 contributing writer Jeremy shares his experience:

Of course people at ICLP generally study much harder, but that’s also because the course is much more expensive than anything else in Taiwan and much more equivalent to real graduate school. However, they have a summer program that’s more affordable and probably a good bet for heritage students who will only be in Taiwan for summer break. While I did have to study hard during my program, it was also worthwhile, especially since it got me able to read actual Chinese novels after only eight months of intensive work. Oh, and they have a language pledge there: only Mandarin can be spoken while at the school; another reason why people tend to improve so fast.”

Fees & Application Info: Fees are astronomical, (around 1,000-2,000/semester depending on whether you choose ICLP or CLD; limited housing also available), but some may find the price worth it. Exact pricing and application details can be found on the NTU Language Training Center CLD website and ICLP website.

Photos via ASU Study Abroad

Wenhua (National Chinese Culture University) 

Overview: Wenhua is like the Burger King of language schools, where you can study Chinese “your way”. While the regular university garners little recognition from local Taiwanese, the language center has experienced astronomical growth in the past few years, now averaging over 1,000 students per year. The Mandarin Learning Center (MLC) of Chinese Culture University offers new courses starting every month, allowing for flexibility in scheduling. Courses are constantly updated, ranging from beginner to advanced levels, from children to adult learners, to working professionals and those interested in seeking a career in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language (TCSL). The shiny facilities (which are the reason many have begun to choose Wenhua over Shida) and flexible class times are a big draw.

Class Time: The aforementioned “flexible” class times mean that you can start and end study whenever you want, unfettered by pesky semester dates. Though the flexiblity and price make it a feasible option for many, don’t expect rave review on teacher quality. When we asked Wenhua’s growing popularity, a veteran Chinese language teacher sniped: “Wenhua’s teachers were our classmates in education school who were told to teach Chinese to kindergarteners because that’s all they were able to teach.” Take that catty (but perhaps, true?) comment as you will. After asking a few friends, we got the sense that Wenhua is convenient and cheap (less than even Shida), but definitely not as finely tailored to level like the other language schools. One friend reported that it was hard for her to work on speaking, her weakness, because more than half of her class was fluent. A good option if you have something else going on in Taiwan, like an English teaching job or an internship. If you truly want to learn Chinese well, go elsewhere.

Fees & Application Info:  Prices and application info listed on the MLC website. 

Photos via Taipei Daily Photo

The Taiwanese government offers quite a few scholarships to foreign students that will help cover the cost of learning Mandarin (find out more details here).

When you’ve made up your mind to come to Taipei and found a school that suits your needs, make sure you check if Taiwan requires you to have a visa to even visit Taiwan (the USA and Canada, for example, does not).  Most schools will require you to show proof of enough income or proof of scholarship along with your application

All in all, coming to Taiwan for language school is an exciting and worthwhile experience, whether you’re doing it to “get in touch with your roots”, further your business prowess, or simply have something to do post-college instead of sitting at home and twiddling your thumbs.

When you get here, make sure to keep checking back with us here at Taipei543, as the English resource introducing what to do, eat, and see in Taipei. Have you studied Chinese at any of these schools before? Currently studying? Share your experience with us in the comments.

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Mandarin Rose commented

The ‘I’ stands for ‘International’ at ICLP. If the author had bothered to do a basic google search, she’d have seen that on their website.

stephanie commented

We’re sorry if the sentence was misleading! We meant it as a figure of speech: “I” for “intensive” and not literally, but we see how it could be confusing. We have edited the article to make it more clear that “I’ stands for International.

Thanks for your feedback!

stephanie commented

To further clear up the confusion, this was stated at the beginning of the description: …..” This also applies to the students at its language center, of which there are two branches: CLD (Chinese Language Division) and ICLP (International Chinese Language Program)…”

Mandarin Rose commented

Do you mean ICLP website? There is no ‘CLP’ website. Was this post so hastily written that no one edited and reviewed it for errors?

stephanie commented

Hi Mandarin Rose!

We apologize for the errors; we must not have caught that! We have since fixed the mistake, thank you for pointing it out! We do try our best to edit our posts but things sometimes just slip away!

Citra Shi commented

I really should learn Chinese… from my boyfriend. Haha.
Thanks Steph, I should pass this one to my friends who are interested in taking Chinese school!

Blummer102 commented

Good write up, Steph. I think ICLP was worth the money that I spent on it, mainly because it did take my Chinese (especially reading and writing) to a level that I wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise. It was tiring being a student there at times, tho.

JOE commented

Hello All,

I have been studying in NTU CLD for 3 semesters now.
I just would like to say that without all your flawless advice,
I maybe in a different school right now.
For more advice from your fellow NTU CLD students,
or if you want to check out what is going on on the in’s and out’s in Taiwan for
foreigners, we do have a Facebook group that could help make your decision or
stay in Taiwan awesome! Please join us if you ever decide to choose NTU CLD.
Thank you!

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