Learning chinese in Taiwan after 1 year

Learning chinese in Taiwan
Greg Hung World explorer, film-maker & entrepreneur
Greg Hung World explorer, film-maker & entrepreneur originally from Vancouver, Canada

Next month will be my first year spent year living in Taipei, Taiwan.  I think it’s a good time to reflect and share some of my experiences for those that are interested. In this article I’ll share the experience of learning chinese in Taiwan after 1 year and some useful tips.

Learning chinese in Taiwan


I had a great experience in my second semester at Shida (aka Taiwan Normal University Mandarin Training Center MTC). The most important factor for me was I had a great teacher. Having spoken to numerous former Shida students this is a common explanation.  To cut to the chase what are my thoughts on studying at Shida for 6 months:
As much as I hated the beginning it gave me a strong foundation in chinese
It was a good chance to make international friends and meet new people
It was a chance to revisit the college atmosphere
The program is time intensive
The teaching style is traditional old school in contrast to the western style which is more facilitative

The program

The program at Shida provided provided a good foundation. A foundation that consisted of learning to read, write (pinyin, mps, chinese characters), and speak. Our classes were scheduled everyday for 2 hours with a chinese teacher with international students 8-10 students. The teacher spoke chinese about 70 percent of the time and English 30 percent of the time. The school in general attracted a diverse international student population. My first class had students from Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, England, and Italy.  My second class had students from the US, Tibet, Germany, Indonesia, and Vietnam. This offers an interesting learning environment in the classroom as some students like those from Japan don’t speak much English, but are good at Chinese writing. Like my American and English classmates I found the most difficulty writing the Chinese characters.
The school uses the Practical Audio-Visual Chinese Second edition book. We started learning the Mandarin Phonetic Symbols (MPS) system, which are used to learn how to pronounce a word. We also learned the 5 tones, our introduction to Chinese characters, and the pinyin. I hope I haven’t lost you yet. Every lesson would introduce about 20 to 30 new vocabulary words. To learn a new word you would have to have knowledge of Chinese characters, MPS or pinyin. The Chinese that was taught was called traditional, which are the more complex characters taught in Taiwan. Mainland China uses mostly simplified characters.
When I say knowledge you need to know how to speak it, write it, and understand listening to it. I consider these different skills. After we learned the vocabulary we would get into the syntax and grammar patterns. We would receive a dictation test every week, which would test our knowledge or the vocabulary, how to write, as well as the tones of each word. Following the dictation we would receive a test of the chapter, which would require understanding Chinese by listening or reading it and responding to it the appropriate patterns.

Learning chinese in Taiwan
I have to admit I was overwhelmed the first several weeks figuring out how to cope with the overwhelming information. The largest barrier for me was the Chinese writing, the syntax, and remembering the tones.
The style of teaching is more traditional and dependent on the teacher you received. My teacher in the first semester was a bit older and traditional. She encouraged a lecturing style that left little time for questions. The school in general heavily emphasized Chinese writing and grammar syntax.
In my first semester I met friends from my class and other friends that I met from friends. The age group tended to be mostly in the early to mid twenties. As someone in my mid thirties I was on the older side of the demographic, but there were a few that were my age group or older. Socially it wasn’t too difficult to make friends with English speakers.
Some students traveled to Taiwan alone to study and were interested to meet new people and local language exchange partners. Some students were interested from the Asian countries like Japan and Vietnam were studying together and tended to be very tight knitted. It was difficult to communicate with some students from Japan. I was fortunate that I met a good group form my first class and we get together occasionally to hang out.


I hated writing. I’m not to fond of handwriting in english to begin with. In the real world I do it to sign signatures, fill out the occasional forms, and make entries in my diary. In the real world we are mostly typing. Perhaps for some people you may learn to read characters by writing them out 10 times every day. I prefer to use flashcards on my iPhone Place to learn new characters. Anyhow I left Shida knowing the main characters, which I see in most words. For example: 大 (da) ,人 ,的 (de),小 (xiao),中 (zhong) , 個  (ge) 。In the real world if you remember the pinyin for these words you can type chinese on your phone.


Reading a paragraph or dialogue is intimidating when put on the spot. In my first class the Japanese students had an advantage and it showed. There were many times I felt helpless as I realized I was illiterate for some words. I wish the school wouldn’t do this to students. It’s cruel especially when students have different levels to begin of with. My preferred method of reading was to use flash cards and then see the words in different contexts like in the dialogue. Reading and pronouncing eventually helped the characters sink in.


We got to do some individual practice for patterns in class, and some individual practice with other students. There is not however a lot of rail conversation practice in the program and unfortunately not many students practice outside of class. You will find most of the english speaking students reverting back to english. I made an effort to speak even though I would make many mistakes and still do. I believe you have to make these mistakes to learn and practice speaking.

What Shida gave me

I left with some english speaking friends that live in Taipei
I got a foundation in chinese –  tones, numbers, dates, greetings, pronouns, and most importantly some food.
Learned about good learning tools like Pleco

Next time I'll talk about these topics           Could I build a life and friends in Taipei and what adventures did I have ?      How did I survive and figure out the basics such as how to eat and find a place to live ?      Was Taiwan what I thought it would be?
learning my ordering food as been fun

Learning Chinese since Shida

Continuing to study the Shida way

Since leaving Shida I have made an effort to learn Chinese experimenting with different methods. I continued to study Practical Audio-Visual Chinese Second edition book 2 (the orange one) from book 2 chapter 3 by myself. I would study the vocabulary with the pinyin and chinese characters and listen to the mp3 sometimes. I found after doing this from March – July I have picked up most of the vocabulary from book 2.

Watching Chinese Tv and Movies.

I tried watching American movies with chinese sub-titles. This didn’t work too well as the words appear to quickly. There is a lack of chinese movies with english sub-titles, which would be a better way to learn. I also took advantage of having access to local Taiwan cable tv and a satellite box that I won in a draw. I found that the disney channel on channel 23 in the mornings or the teenage shows at midnight to be the right level for me. I’m a big kid at heart so I still enjoy watching cartoons so and I found they talk slower and I’m able to pick up more. I managed to pick up some expressions by doing this.

Eavesdropping on conversations

I spend a lot of time at local cafe’s. This is a great environment to listen to natural social conversations from locals. You pick up some of the slang that they use. Eventually you begin to hear some of the same expressions being said that sticks. “對 啊“   (dui a = yeah!)  ”不 可能“  (bu keneng = impossible). The beauty about Taipei is during your commute on the mrt or wherever you spend time you will be exposed to local conversation. If you pay attention you will soak in some mandarin.

Ordering food, shopping, getting a service

For myself this is probably that most effective method of learning. Live in Taipei long enough and you’re going to need to interact with locals out of necessity. Whether it’s making a reservation, a hair appointment, ordering coffee, taxi, or a dentist appoint you’ll need to figure out a way to communicate. Many times I would ask if you speak english 你 可以 說 英文 嗎? ni keyi shuo yingwen ma? If they understand I would here (yi dian dian= a little). This would set myself up to speak chinese with some understanding from the speaker.

Lately I’ll just speak the chinese and see if they understand me. If they do I know they understand and give myself a pat on the back. If they don’t I’ll ask how to say this in chinese 中文怎么说?zhōngwén zěnme shuō.

If I don’t know a word I’ll use my handy app pleco to look up the words I need. I’ll listen to how to pronounce it and then try to say it with a local. I must admit it is frustrating when they don’t understand me, but I know this is part of the process.

Adding vocabulary through OCR

I add vocabulary whenever I see characters I’m curious about and see often where I hangout. If there is signage with english and chinese my pet peeve is that there is no pinyin, so I’lll use my app’s OCR to add the pinyin to my flashcard word bank.

Language partner

This is very effective for practicing. The key to finding someone to practice with is that you need to have similar goals and that usually means the other person wants to practice english. It also works if you are at similar levels. It is ok if someone speaks a bit better english than your mandarin, but you will have a middle ground where you can both communicate. You also should enjoy hanging out so it feels natural. you should meet on a regular basis and obviously you should both practice speaking.

learning chinese in taiwan

Hess pocket book

I recently started teaching engish at Hess. They give a pocketbook with provides english, pinyin, and chinese for teachers as a survival guide. They cover practical topics like bars, banking, hair salon, directions etc. It also comes with an MP3. I haven’t found a more practical educational resource to be honest. I’ve been listening to the mp3 on my commutes to work or look at the book when I eat by myself.

Technology to the rescue

Google translate

I discovered some essential technology to help here. I downloaded the current version of google app. It still needs much improvement, but the technology is useful if you need some vocabulary on the go or if you receive a message in chinese characters and need some instance translation. Some usage scenario’s
Example 1: If I knew I going to rent a DVD or want to order a certain dish I didn’t have the vocabulary for I would look up the word in advance, the tones, pinyin, and listen to the pronunciation. I would then use the word with the storeowner to see if they understood.
Example 2: You receive a SMS message in chinese that you can’t read. Simply copy and paste into google translate to convert to English.
Another good app is called pleco, which has an chinese English dictionary and a really neat feature called OCR that lets you convert chinese characters to English with your smartphone’s camera.
These tools are useful as aids, but have not yet evolved to the point to eliminate the need to learn the language

learning chinese in taiwan.


At the one year mark I feel like I’m slowly making the climb from beginner-intermediate to intermediate. I can ask for things that I need independently most of the time.The most important being understanding a chinese menu, ordering, and understanding numbers. I can string together sentences and have basic conversations. Although I haven’t reached a level I’m happy with I’ve learned a lot more than I would being in Vancouver. Being immersed in the language in Taiwan has definately helped accelerate my chinese level.  It is an empowering feeling when you are able to make an hair appointment or reservation in another language. At the moment I have started working so I’m struggling to find time. I get frustrated when a fluent english speaking Taiwanese person tells me my “chinese sucks”, but I’ll speak to a local that doesn’t speak much english telling my chinese is not bad for 11 months. So I think it’s relative to the person you are speaking with. There are some limitations to your social and professional opportunities because of the language, but this keeps me motivated.

My goal for the next 3 months is to improve my speaking and reading ability in common situations: asking for directions, applying for jobs, and social conversations. I’ve recently purchased a new book series recently published by the MTC so will add that to my learning approach. I try to remind myself this is a journey and to enjoy the experience here in Taiwan. From here I only move forward and opportunities open up the better my chinese gets. 加油!

learning chinese in taiwan

Would you like to share your experience learning chinese in Taiwan?

Next time I’ll talk about these topics

  • Could I build a life and friends in Taipei and what adventures did I have ?
  • How did I survive and figure out the basics such as how to eat and find a place to live ?
  • Was Taiwan what I thought it would be?

Adelaide Australia – Wine Vacation Guide Itinerary

Adelaide Australia - Wine Vacation Guide Itinerary

Adelaide Australia Wine Vacation Guide Itinerary

I arrived in the city of Adelaide, also known as wine country. Before I booked my trip my research had revealed that many of the better-known Australian Wine brands are located in the Adelaide’s Barossa Valley. Jacob’s Creek, Penfolds, Peter Lehmann, Wolf Blass, Two Hands Wines, and Yalumba  are just some of the wineries available in the valley. What most people may not know is that Adelaide was ranked in the top 5 of the EIU’s most livable cities. When I have travel discussions that involve Australia it is very rare that Adelaide enters the discussion. It is the higher profile cities such as Sydney, Gold Coast, and Melbourne that often take the spotlight. I believe wine is something special that Australia has to offer the travel and Adelaide is the right Australian destination to explore that offering.

Adelaide is a smaller city than Sydney and Melbourne and requires that you rent a car especially if you are going to wine country. I also recommend getting a GPS or a sim card for your smart phone with Google maps.

I was in need of some sleep as I woke up at 3am in Melbourne to catch this flight. I would be staying at a modern apartment that I found through airbnb with a pair of local girls. I reached the apartment with no issues and I received a warm welcome from my hosts. I was quickly shown to my room and was happy to see that it was nice, clean and spacious. I took a nap right away.

Adelaide Sunrise
The sunrise at Adelaide airport. A good start

Mount Lofty & Cleland Conservation Park

When I woke up I didn’t have much time to plan as the day was half way gone, but my hosts helped me plan an efficient schedule with the time I had left. It was midday and I didn’t have enough time to make it out to the wine country so I planned to get some aerial shots at mount lofty and see some koala’s, kangaroo’s at Cleland Conservation Park. Both locations were located nearby each other so I was actually able to visit both. In fact, I was able to visit Mount Lofty during the day and after sunset.

I pulled into the Mount Lofty parking area. As I didn’t want to pay for parking I parked on the side road where I saw other cars parked. I walked to the viewpoint and took some shots. It’s a good viewpoint and attracted many people.

Mount Lofty
A view from Mount Lofty during Sunset

The highlight of this day was Cleland Conservation Park. I paid for my ticket and headed straight for the star of this park, which was the Koala.

Tip: You will meet many kangaroo’s that are not shy of people, but there is only a limited time to see the koalas so see them first. I had heard that koala’s can sleep somewhere around 21-22 hours in a day so if you have a chance to see a koala awake its a precious moment.

I had a chance to take a picture with a koala and pet him and ask some questions of his caretaker.

Cleland national park
Picture time with a rare lighter coated kangeroo

There were even more koala’s nearby the viewing area that I took pictures of. You’ll get your koala fix at this park for sure.

After the koala’s I had some time so I planned to see the dingoes, wombats, and more kangaroos and some other animals long the way. The park provided me with a good visual map and it was easy enough to get around the park. It’s huge and I doubt you will be disappointed. I stayed right until sunset and then headed back to Mount Lofty for some sunset shots. I was satisfied with how I salvaged the day.

Up close with a koala. This could be you.

tip: expect to spend your first day settling into your destination and planning it out if you can. If you can squeeze a few things on the itinerary that’s great, but if you plan a compressed trip with everything crammed into 2-3 days you’re setting yourself up for a poor experience.

lanzou-beef-noodles in Adelaide!

[nggallery id=16]

It was a long day and I wanted to eat out tonight even though I had access to a kitchen. I went to Gouger Street, which is in downtown Adelaide, but the area had a town feel to it. Here you will find a cluster of mainly Asian restaurants offering good food at good prices. I went to a shop called the noodle kingdom and ordered a $10 Lanzhou Beef Noodle soup. I was pleasantly surprised to find this dish, as something like this in large asian city like Vancouver still requires some hunting. It was actually good quality

Day 2-3 – The Barossa Valley

This italian cafe is a perfect stop before hitting up wine country. $5 fresh panini’s

I picked up a couple of fresh $5 Panini’s and refreshments before embarking on my wine trip. I elected to drive myself for more flexibility and time to film. I had no problem finding my first winery called Yalumba. Yalumba enjoys good brand recognition in Vancouver and I was very pleased that they were willing to co-operate with my filming request of the wine tasting experience. I will leave it to the video to showcase it. Yalumba provided plenty of time, water, and even a fresh coffee.

I took some time to rest and eat my Panini’s before heading out to my next destination called Wolf Blass. You will find Wolf Blass on most of the shelves worldwide. They were just about closing, but I had a chance to do a rushed tasting before ending the day.

Wolf Blass Headquarters

I decided to return to Gouger St. to try a busy Sushi restaurant called Sushi train. It featured the conveyer belt, which is good way to preview the real life dishes, which I then order a la carte at the same price. The quality was good. I called it a night.

The next day I repeated the same routine and decided to visit Penfolds. I was treated to a very educational and enjoyable wine tasting experience here from a knowledgeable woman. My next stop was a recommendation from my host called Chateau Dorrien. From there I got a referral to visit a local popular restaurant/wine tasting spot called Maggie beer. My last stop was a unique winery called the Rockford. Check out the video for highlights of the experience.

Rockford Wineries
Rockford has a feel of a boutique winery that has an original decor and exceptional wines. Recommended by the local wineries in Barossa.

Overall, all the wineries were very friendly and offered free quality wine tastings. You are not pressured into buying anything, but if you do the prices you get here are a good deal with some wines they sell not available on the local bottle store shelves. I got a good wine education. Thanks to all the Barossa Valley’ wineries for their co-operation.

Day 4 – McLaren Vale – An education on Shiraz

McLaren Vale is a region south of Adelaide known for specializing in Shiraz variety of red wine. There wasn’t as much information available for me to plan my visit so I decided to head there and play it by ear. I came across a familiar winery in Stump Hill Shiraz and decided to pay a visit. I drove in the driveway for Stump Hill and heard a loud dog barking. This place did not look inviting and I could not see an entrance to any winery. It looked like a private house and I felt I was intruding and quickly left to get some information from the visitor center.

I managed to get a map and plenty of help from the visitor’s center. They were reluctant to recommend any particular wineries although I managed to persuade them to highlight some wineries that included a strong recommendation for Squid Ink Shiraz, which isn’t really on the map. I hope this map I’m posting helps you and I also want to point out that there is a Mclaren Vale app. I didn’t have a chance to use it, but if you do please share your feedback.

Mclaren Vale Wine Map


Mclaren Vale App

My first stop was squid ink. It was a small winery with a small office feel, but I was quickly greeted by a lady that introduced me to the manager that personally and patiently took me through their product lineup. I tasted one of the best Shiraz wines I’ve ever had. Check the video to see which one it was.


I also managed to visit the Woodstock estate and had an excellent experience with the lady being very generous taking me through the entire menu. I had to take a Panini break after this tasting. When I was ready to resume my tasting I decided to visit a unique winery called Chapel Hill, which was based in a former church. It was a beautiful setting and a rainbow had formed just before I arrived hopefully signaling that I had arrived at the pot of gold. A man greeted me and although it was almost closing time he took me through most of the menu and shared some good knowledge of the wines.

squid-ink-shiraz- mclaren vale

I missed Rosemount Wineries, which I was really looking forward to. I had no regrets as both Barossa and Mclaren Vale had treated me very well.

Tip: If you like a wine in any of these valley’s buy it while you are there.

Final day – visiting town and night out with my hosts

On my last day I decided to give myself a bit of a break and just visit the town of Adelaide. I took up a mini mission to get to Rundle Mall and took some shots in town. Some notable areas I visited were the Botanical Gardens and the National Wine Center, which are next door to each other. I didn’t really enjoy the Botanical gardens although some people might. The wine center didn’t offer any free tastings, but had some photo friendly educational exhibits upstairs. I would recommend your time would be better spent in town if it is limited. The town of Adelaide feels like a large town rather than a city, but check out the video to make your own judgement.

local Adelaide girls we met at Bath

At night I decided to cook dinner at home. After speaking with my hosts we agreed to head out for some drinks, as it was a Friday night. They took me to the area of Norwood to the Bath lounge which featured live music, a bar, and some seating in a modern atmosphere. One of the hosts bumped into her local friends and we ended up taking some photos. I had an early morning flight so we decided to head home after a couple of beers (after all that wine a beer was nice).

Final thoughts

I had a great time in Adelaide! The big draw is the wine country at Barossa Valley and Mclaren Vale. I consider myself a moderate wine enthusiast, which means I’m a bit more knowledgeable than the average person and enjoy all kinds of wine types from time to time. Any wine enthusiast or someone that enjoys wine and wants to learn more must definitely make the trip out here to experience the wine tasting and education you will get. So far I’ve found it incomparable to any wine country I’ve been to such as the Kelowna’s Okanagan valley, Nappa Valley, and Capetown’s Stellenbosch. In addition to the popular Australian brands I managed to find some smaller wineries in both valleys such as Rockford and Squid Ink that offered exceptional wines.

A key draw are the free tastings for some very high quality wines and friendly and welcoming staff. If you are planning to drink lots you might want to take a tour otherwise if you have a designated driver you can take advantage of a more personal experience.

A bonus for me was getting to see the koalas and kangaroo’s up close at Cleland national park. Out of all the destinations I visited in Australia this was the best spot for visiting them and getting the best photo opportunities. I made a good decision to stay with these friendly and knowledgeable locals on airbnb and renting a car. I’ve come to the conclusion that your experience is in great part shaped by your decisions on where you stay, spend your time, and who you spend it with. The destination will still offer what i can, but you have these things under your control so take the time to make some good decisions.

If you would really like to see an Adelaide video. Share how much you want it by commenting or sharing on social media. I have plenty of great content, but it takes a tone of time to produce a good video.  So show me some love.

Downtown Adelaide - rondle-st
Downtown Adelaide – rondle-st

Sample itinerary

Some spots I visited during my Adelaide trip

Day 1

Cleland National Park to see the animals
Photos at the Mount Loft Sunset
Asian Dinner at Gouger Street

Day 2 – 3
Barossa Valley for wine tasting and perhaps even dinner

The wine tasting at Maggie's
The wine tasting at Maggie’s Barossa Valley

Day 4
Maclaren Vale to sample the shiraz

Day 5
Botanical Gardens
Visit Penfolds in town
Check out Rundle Street for some lunch or shopping
Drinks at the Bath hotel in Norwood

Greg Hung World explorer, film-maker & entrepreneur
Greg Hung World explorer, film-maker & entrepreneur

Greg is a modern World Explorer, Film-maker, Mobile & Google friendly Website producer, & Entrepreneur at the intersection of travel and technology. He has directed, shot, edited, and produced over 30 high definition travel and lifestyle related videos on Youtube in addition to producing ChicVoyage in Asia – modern travel adventures on the Amazon.com store in 2012. He has been instructed by globally renown SLR Director and film-maker Phillip Bloom. His 4 month 2013 journey took him to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia.