If there is one thing you should get right from the beginning, it's the pronunciation of the language.
I prefer Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) as the script. It does a good enough job representing sounds and it is the most widespread system, even though this doesn't mean much in a language that doesn't have a solid written tradition. Not to mention that every textbook author feels entitled to create his or her own systems.
Much of this section is based on ニューエクスプレス台湾語 by 村上嘉英.
Taiwanese has 6 vowels and 17 consonants.
All of these sounds are allowed to appear at the beginning of a Taiwanese syllable. Vowels on their own are valid syllables too.
|Vowels (and nasals)|
There are 8 diphthongs and 2 triphthongs.
These sounds can appear at the end of syllables, sometimes followed by a final consonant or a nasal sound. They are valid syllables on their own, too.
There are 7 consonant endings: 3 nasals and 4 plosives.
This is one of the most difficult parts of Taiwanese.
There are 7 tones (historically 8, but now the 6th tone is the same as the 2nd tone). Every syllable has a tone of its own, but due to a phenomenon called tone sandhi, you must pronounce a syllable with an altered tone if it is not the final syllable of your uttering, which is most of the time.
|4||ak||8 for -p, -t, -k|
|2 for -h|
|6||(see tone 2)|
|8||a̍k||4 for -p, -t, -k|
|3 for -h|
Tones 4 and 8 only occur in syllables with stop endings -p, -t, -k, -h.
Learning tones is hard enough. How does one even start learning tone sandhi? It is hard to get used to the fact that the original tone of a syllable simply isn't pronounced most of the time. All I can say is that, with enough practice, every tone comes to have a little personality of its own. Tone sandhi is about how tones behave when they are squeezed between other syllables. So tones 1, 5, 7 seem to get “depressed” with sandhi, while tone 2 “disappears” and tone 3 “becomes forceful”.
Tones 4 and 8 have the strangest behaviour. 4 is a “depressed” tone that gets “all high”, and tone 8 is just the opposite: it's “all worked up” but in the middle of a sentence it gets “depressed”.
Unless the syllable ends with h. I just got used to pronounce unmarked syllables ending in -h with a “forceful” tone, and marked ones with a “depressed” tone.
These are all idiotic stories I tell myself to make sense of tones. Natives just do it without even being aware of the complications of their own language, as usual.
Pe̍h-ōe-jī, the Taiwanese script preferred in this wiki, was created by Western missionaries in the 19th century. It is, by far, the most widely used Taiwanese script.
Pe̍h-ōe-jī was designed so that each symbol corresponds, with few exceptions, to one sound. In Pe̍h-ōe-jī, a symbol can be comprised by one up to three letters (chh).
|Ta̍k-ke hó||逐家好||(To a group of people) Hello||Despite the resemblance, ta̍k-ke is not related to the Mandarin 大家. The final k in ta̍k gives it out – 大 doesn't end in a consonant in any dialect.|
|Chia̍h-pá--bōe||吃飽未？||A common greeting||Literally “have you eaten?”, but actually a greeting, so don't think you are being invited to eat!|
|Bē||It's nothing. You're welcome.|
|Sit-le̍||失禮||I'm very sorry|
|Che Tâi-oân-ōe beh án-chóaⁿ kóng?||這台灣話beh án-chóaⁿ講?||How do you say this in Taiwanese?|
|Góa thiaⁿ bô||我聽無||I don't understand|
|Chhiáⁿ kóng khah bān leh||請講較慢leh||Please speak more slowly|
|Chhiáⁿ koh kóng chi̍t-pái||請koh講一pái||Please say that again|
|Chhiáⁿ siá--lo̍h-lâi||請寫落來||Please write it down|
Demonstratives are words that “point” to things, such as “this”, “that”, “those”, etc.
The following table sums up demonstratives in Taiwanese:
|Close to the speaker||che（這）||chiah–ê （此的）|
|Far from the speaker||he （彼）||hiah–ê （彼的）|
It is worth mentioning that the adverbs of place in Taiwanese are chia (此, here) and hia (彼, there), so there is an interesting regularity among these words that should make them fairly easy to remember.
When che and he are the subjects of a sentence, they are read in their original first tone, unaffected by tone sandhi.
These are the personal pronouns in Taiwanese:
|First person||Second person||Third person|
|Singular||góa (我)||lí (你)||i (伊)|
|Plural||gún (阮), lán (咱)||lín (恁)||in|
Both gún and lán mean “we”, but gún excludes the person being spoken to and thus it's called “exclusive we”, while lán includes the person being spoken to and thus it's called “inclusive we”.
There are no gender distinctions for any of these pronouns. All of them can be used to refer to males or females.
I'll mention these regularities since they might help memorization:
sī (是) translates to the English verb to be.
Che sī toh-á.
This is a table.
He sī bîn-chhn̂g.
That is a bed.
The negation of sī is m̄-sī.
I m̄-sī Tân sian-siⁿ.
He isn't Mr. Tân(陳).
Góa m̄-sī Ji̍t-pún-lâng.
I'm not Japanese.
ah m̄-sī sī–bô
(p. 48 台湾語会話)
Both ē-sái and ē-tàng mean being able to.
ē-sái expresses that circumstances allow for something, while ē-tàng expresses that authorization exists to do something. Not all speakers do this distinction, though.
The negation of these expressions are bē-sái and bē-tàng.
When politely requesting authorization, use kám ē-sái.
Chia kám ē-sái chia̍h-hun?
Can I smoke in here?
Yes, you can.
No, you can't.
|Sin-seⁿ/Sian-siⁿ||先生||Sir||Used to call the attention of a man|
|Sió-chiá||小姐||Lady||Used to call the attention of a woman|
|O-jí-sáng||Sir||Used to address a middle-aged man. From Japanese おじさん.|
|O-bá-sáng/A-sáng||Lady||Used to address a middle-aged woman. From Japanese おばさん.|
|A-kong||阿公||Sir, grandpa||Used to address an elderly man or your grandfather.|
|A-má||阿媽||Lady, grandma||Used to address an elderly woman or your grandmother.|
|Thâu-ke||頭家||Boss, manager, owner of a business|
|Thâu-ke-niû||頭家娘||(Female) boss, manager, owner of a business|
Notes: notice 11 is cha̍p-it even though 1 is chi̍t, and 12 is cha̍p-jī even though 2 is nn̄g. Notice, too, that that 20 is jī-cha̍p even though 2 is nn̄g.
Notes: notice that 20 is jī-cha̍p even though 2 is nn̄g. Otherwise, all multiples of ten are regular.
Taiwanese textbooks published in Taiwan aren't very good - that has been my unfortunate experience, at least. Textbooks intended for teaching Taiwanese at school seem to be the less suited for foreign learners of the language, since they use characters only and no indication of pronunciation - teachers are expected to fill them in, after all. Taiwanese books published in Japan are much better, so it's a shame that using them requires a knowledge of Japanese and, if you live outside Japan, paying high shipping costs.
Most material on this page is based on the following books:
It turns out I don't have any books in English. However, there is a nice list you can refer to at tailingua.com.