Andrew Boor (first from left on the photo) is a second year student pursuing a degree in East Asian Studies and a concentration in International Studies. He spent this past summer studying Mandarin Chinese in Taiwan.
For two months this last summer I was given the privilege to study Mandarin Chinese at National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, Taiwan with the Taiwan US Alliance Summer Scholarship program (TUSA).
Upon completing coursework in Chinese at Oberlin up to the intermediate level, the differences between the Chinese instructed at Oberlin and the Chinese used in Taiwan struck me immediately. The Mainland Chinese standard of Mandarin, which is what the Oberlin Chinese department uses as the basis of its Chinese language instruction, and the Mandarin spoken in Taiwan have some notable differences in vernacular language and in written script. The most obvious of these differences can be found in the sets of Chinese characters that are used in Taiwan and China. Today, Mainland China uses the simplified Chinese script, while Taiwan still continues to use traditional characters. The differences in language between Mainland China and Taiwan proved to be one of the most interesting parts of my study abroad program, and allowed me to be exposed to one of the most fascinating parts of learning any language: learning about the regional differences that exist in a language.
These regional differences, while very interesting, occasionally led to miscommunication. Countless times while I was conversing with friends I had made at the university or attempting to order food, the conversation would be interrupted by a chuckle and an explanation that some of the words I had used weren’t in standard use in Taiwan and then they would proceed to tell me the Taiwanese equivalent. While at first this was a frustrating process that seemed to create an even larger language barrier than I initially though existed, it later proved to be an invaluable educational opportunity to learn about the Chinese language and the countless ways in which the language has evolved and changed over the years.
My experiences in Taiwan this past summer have solidified my desire to continue learning as much as I can about the Chinese language and what the regional differences in the Chinese language can show us about the cultures and dialects of the people that speak them.