Jump to content
  • Sign Up

My Taiwanese (Hokkien) adventure. From zero to fluency.


Recommended Posts


You raised some very valid points to be aware of.


I am personally keen on Amoy Hokkien but dismayed by a lack of proper learning resources even in Chinese. Me thinks it’s easier to approach from a pure, albeit heavily Mandarinised Hokkien to Creole Hokkien. And I’m just talking about listening and speaking only.


I am aware of Malay language infiltration in MSM Hokkien. Would learning some Indonesian help (here I am really thinking from a practical perspective: Indonesian speakers outnumber Malay speakers)? From my own research, it seems that southern Hokkien (south Malaysia and Singapore) is mixed with Teochew. Both dialects are mutually intelligible. It sounds like (a) Teochew is another useful pre-requisite for learning Hokkien in addition to Malay; (b) Learners can hinge on Teochew learning material to learn Hokkien.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Would learning some Indonesian help (here I am really thinking from a practical perspective: Indonesian speakers outnumber Malay speakers)?


Short answer: yeah.


Longer answer: I'm just using one of — but the narrowest — old-school definition of "Malay". Malay is "a cluster of dialects and closely related languages spoken around Indonesia, Malaysia, and neighboring countries". The idea that "it's only 'Malay' if it's spoken in Malaysia" is widespread but wrongheaded, and unworkable at the "margins" — for example, Malay is spoken natively and traditionally in eastern Sumatra. Their dialects are called "Malay" in every context. Meanwhile Standard "Indonesian" and Standard "Malay" are both based on High Malay as spoken at the sultan's court in Malacca in the 15th or 16th century. The distance between them is something like the distance between the official Mandarins of the PRC and the ROC. "Jakarta Indonesian" (academic term) is the "top" dialect of Malay in the world today, numbers-wise. It ate Jakarta. Now it's eating all of Indonesia. It's a cross between a creole called "Jakarta Malay" (a.k.a. Betawi — see Wiki) and Standard Indonesian. Most of the Low Malay languages and dialects around ASEAN are fading, but (I hear) the Kelantan-Pattani type is strong, at least on the Kelantan side. If You learn either one of the official High Malays, You'll probably find Sumatran, Singaporean, or S/C M'sian Low Malay an easy hack; Bazaar Malay (what working-class West Coast M'sian Chinese speak to non-Chinese) an easy but less straightforward hack; Jakarta Indonesian a tougher hack; and Kelantan Malay another language. This is to give You an idea of the big picture.


For better or worse, gateway teaching materials only teach High Malay, even if they say "conversational" or even "colloquial" on the box. I'd pick the Indonesian side for the reason You mention, and also b/c of the connection to Jakarta Indonesian and Jakarta Baba Malay — a just-dead type of Low Malay spoken by the Hokkien diaspora in Jakarta, inc. a lot of the publishing community in the early days of "bahasa Indonesia". Jakarta Indonesian is so converged to Hokkien that anybody that takes it on for real is in fact learning Hokkien patterns and idiom through it. So, by all means get started on Indonesian High Malay, but if You want a quicker shot of Malay just for Hokkien purposes, an old primer on Bazaar Malay or any type of Baba Malay might be the fastest way in.


a pure, albeit heavily Mandarinised Hokkien


Fun Freudian slip.  :mrgreen:   That said, most Hokkien speakers really think in this paradigm.


I am personally keen on Amoy Hokkien but dismayed by a lack of proper learning resources even in Chinese.


Look around on hokkienese.com. Some of the audio links are broken and have to hunted down on tudou.com, etc.


If You're after "a Hokkien dialect spoken in China", You might want to consider some other Hokkien dialect spoken in China. Problem with Amoy is the "spoken" part, unfortunately. It's like Mandarin City there now.


it seems that southern Hokkien (south Malaysia and Singapore) is mixed with Teochew


Reports on this are probably overblown. There are acoustic Teochewisms like nasalization of voiced stop initials in syllables ending with a nasal stop. No big deal, but just the kind of thing Sinologists fuss over. There are Teochew loanwords/-phrases like «bôpiàn», but my guess is the Teochew impact on Hokkien vocabulary was mainly by subtraction — i.e. overlapping vocab was favored, non-overlapping vocab tended to drop out, in turn making both languages easier to learn. Also there might've been some kind of Teochew effect on MSM Hokkien «tone sandhi» rules. One more thing, almost forgot — MSM Hokkien uses the so-called "colloquial readings" a lot more. This was probably also a Teochew effect — again, a subtraction. I wouldn't recommend learning Teochew as prep for learning Hokkien — great way to confuse yourself. The main effects were subtractive. But, no reason not to consider learning Teochew first instead of Hokkien. Don't let the numbers stop You. W/i China, Teochew is fading slower than Hokkien.


I want to add that for me, there's a lot of "romance" in the idea of a hybrid Hokkien-Teochew language, as mentioned by Lee Kuan Yew once in a "cautionary" tone. It just doesn't seem to exist as a reality, except in one or two places in China.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
  • 9 months later...
  • 1 year later...
On 8/9/2016 at 3:00 PM, AMHOANNA said:

Social attitudes


People in Taiwan and Hokkien (the province) are snobs when it comes to Hokkien, driven by an insecurity that makes it worse. You're expected to speak Hokkien like a native or not at all, unless You're White or Mediterranean, in which case they'll probably try to use You for English practice. Depending on where, there's also a lot of shifting away from Hokkien toward Mandarin. That makes it trickier to speak Hokkien there, if You were planning to. Whereas, Penang/Medan has the least shifting of any Hokkien-speaking urban areas in the world, and no snobbiness. And Singapore/Johor probably has worse shifting than most of Taiwan/Hokkien, but w/o the snobbiness.


I have heard a few times that Penang people are quite snobbish as a group. 


I used to hear hokkien a fair bit when I was young. Came across it again because of having a few lessons with a chinese teacher who I thought was in Fujian. Turned out she was in the Philippines where there is a sizeable hokkien population where the knowledge of mandarin is quite poor. Hence, hokkien must be pretty strong there. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know nothing about Hokkien, or its  Taiwanese counterparts, so I can't comment on the main topic of this post. However, where I live there may be some material on learning various other Chinese languages, both formal textbooks and the more popular "learn to speak Shanghainese like a native." If I come across any, and I'll make an effort next week, I'll try to take a look and report back with names or isbn numbers.


As to the learning of Indonesian or Malay, there's lots of stuff available, leaning more towards Indonesian though.  But it's very good and very accessible. However, it's only free up to certain levels. If anybody's interested, we might be able to start a new thread so as not to clutter this one.


For learning Indonesian, popular stuff is readily available, but is limited to standard informal Indonesian, leaving out the Jakarta dialect (what used to be called Betawi) and leaving out the current informal version of Indonesian now referred to as Bahasa Gaul. This informal stuff is covered by lots and lots of YouTube video blogs to help beginning learners. But be careful, from my point of view, many of these learners are under the impression that they speak Indonesian after learning street language, but then continue to wonder why they don't get invited back after an internship and get offered a job.


I learned Indonesian in the military many, many years ago. It was a formal course, and in my case, a course designed to allow me to work in the embassy and in military situations. But we had a month of Malay, and a couple of weeks of Betawi, too. By the end of the course, I could converse on business or diplomatic affairs, transcribe a news broadcast or read a newspaper. 


Alas, I never actually got assigned to Indonesia, and the work I did do allowed my Indonesian to deteriorate gradually over the years. But it was the gateway to meeting lots of people with incredible experiences in Southeast Asia, and I can't say I would want to change it in any way. I can still follow radio or TV on most formal subjects, and three months or so following Benny's advice should bring it all back, as good as new.


As to the ideas of snobbery or preference for a certain dialect or manner of speaking in that dialect, I have probably experienced that in the past. I dated an Indonesian girl for a while, and we used that language to communicate. But she claimed I spoke like a professor, and that she felt I was always talking down to her. Maybe I was  (I hope not), but that was the only kind of Indonesian I knew. But she took my abilities in formal language to mean I could handle informal language just as well. But I had never been to Indonesia, and we had often been warned about the dangers of misusing slang by our teachers, so I avoided using anything I was unsure of.


At another time, in a different situation, I dated a corporal in the Singaporean army who worked in the Singapore embassy for a while. She spoke Malay and I spoke Indonesian, but as we were both in the military, being formal was much less of a problem. We managed to overcome the dialect difference, too. But after missing each other for an appointment in a crowded train station, she did confess that to her, all foreigners looked alike, no matter what Asian language they spoke.


Any way, just a random jog down memory lane on a Sunday afternoon as I procrastinate on tax work I really should be doing. Hope I haven't offended anyone by hijacking the thread with an only marginally relevant rant on dialects and extant versions thereof.



  • Like 1
  • Thanks 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...