Well, Taiwan…obviously. ;]
Just kidding, sort of.
Personally, I’ve always thought that Mandarin from Taiwan had a more melodious tone to it. It always sounded softer than the Mandarin I heard from the mainland.
However, it really depends on where you want to travel and use Mandarin.
If you’re not sure yet where you want to go with the language, here are two audio clips to listen to so you can decide which one you like more.
On this site, we exclusively cater to people learning Mandarin from Taiwan, so everything is represented from a Taiwanese perspective.
2.) Audio clip from a Mainland speaker
Now, besides the overall sound, what are the other main differences between Taiwanese Mandarin and Mainland Mandarin?
1.) Writing characters
In China, they write simplified characters while in Taiwan they use traditional characters.
Turns out that simplified characters were introduced to make it easier for people to learn how to read and write in China. Plus, the simplification made writing faster and reading more legible.
All of this simplification started in the 1950s and is used in Mainland China, Malaysia, Singapore and the UN.
However, the Taiwanese were not drinking the simplification Kool-Aid. In fact, they banned simplified characters until 2003 and highly encouraged use of traditional characters. They’re used in Taiwan, the majority of Hong Kong, and Macau.
And here’s a cocktail party fact for you: The Taiwanese call traditional characters two things.
1.) The standard version – 繁體字 －ㄈㄢˊ ㄊㄧˇ ㄗˋ/ fán tǐ zì
2.) The snootier version－ 正體字, which means “proper characters” – ㄓㄥˋ ㄊㄧˇ ㄗˋ/ zhèng tǐ zì
Hello, China? Taiwan calling. That was a burn.
2.) Learning pronunciation
Nowadays, children in China learn pronunciation through pinyin, the Romanization system that nearly all learners of Chinese have to tackle. (Before the 1960s, they used Bopomofo, too)
In Taiwan, they grow up using Bopomofo, or in Chinese 注音符號 （ㄓㄨˋ ㄧㄣ ㄈㄨˊ ㄏㄠˋ/ Zhù yīn Fú hào)。
Which one is better? Check out this article: Should you learn Zhuyin (Bopomofo) or Pinyin for learning Chinese pronunciation?
3.) Tones of some words
While I don’t know many examples of this happening, there seems to be a shift in tone between China and Taiwan.
For example, the word for week, 星期, is pronounced in Taiwan with a high tone (1) and then a rising tone (2).
In China, however, it’s pronounced with two high tones (1) (ㄒㄧㄥ ㄑㄧ/ xīng qī).
Dangerous (險) – First tone （ㄨㄟ／wēi) in China, but second tone （ㄨㄟˊ／wéi) in Taiwan)
To film (拍片) － First tone （ㄆ ㄧㄢ／piān) in China, and fourth tone (ㄆ ㄧㄢˋ／piàn) in Taiwan) film (v.)
Main actress (女主角) － Third tone (ㄐㄧㄠˇ／jiǎo in Taiwan), but second tone (ㄐㄩㄝ ˊ／jué) in China)
Eel (鰻) – Fourth tone (ㄇㄢˋ/màn) in Taiwan and second tone (ㄇㄢˊ/mán) in China)
4.) Choice of vocabulary
If you’re American (or are just familiar with the nuances of the language) this is similar to how we say “soda” on the west coast and “pop” on the east coast.
Some examples are:
Taiwan: 塞車 －ㄙㄞㄔㄜ/ sāichē
China: 堵車 －ㄉㄨˇ ㄔㄜ/ dǔ chē
Taiwan: 計程車 －ㄐㄧˋ ㄔㄥˊ ㄔㄜ/ jì chéng chē
China: 出租車 －ㄔㄨ ㄗㄨ ㄔㄜ/ chū zū chē
Taiwan: 網路 －ㄨㄤˇ ㄌㄨˋ/ wǎng lù
China: 網絡 －ㄨㄤˇ ㄌㄨㄛˋ/ Wǎng luò
Mouse of a computer
Taiwan: 滑鼠－ㄏㄨㄚ ˊㄕㄨˇ / huá shǔ
China: 鼠標 －ㄕ ㄨˇㄅㄧㄠ ／shǔ biāo
Taiwan: 馬鈴薯 －ㄇㄚˇㄌㄧㄥˊㄕㄨˇ／mǎ líng shǔ
China: 土豆－ㄊㄨˇㄉㄡˋ／tǔ dòu
To reverse a car
Taiwan: 倒車 －ㄉㄠˋㄔㄜ／dào chē
China: 轉車 － ㄓㄨㄢˇㄔㄜ／zhuǎn chē
Taiwan: 公車 －ㄍㄨㄥ ㄔㄜ/ gōng chē
China: 公交車－ ㄍㄨㄥ ㄐㄧㄠ ㄔㄜ／gōng jiāo chē
Taiwan: 橘子 －ㄐㄩˊㄗ˙／jú zi
China: 橙－ ㄔㄥˊ／jú
5.) Pronunciation of some words
When I started learning Chinese online, I was used to hearing words pronounced with each letter in pinyin receiving attention.
So imagine my surprise when I take my first lessons with a native Taiwanese speaker and they’re dropping “h’s” from這（ㄓㄜˋ/zhè)and 是 （ㄕˋ/ shì) all over the place.
I wondered for a while if they were getting lost through the unreliability of Skype, but turns out that the “h” sound is often silent.
On the mainland, you can hear the “h” in its full force.
Take these for example:
Want to add something or just make conversation? Tell me what you’re thinking in the comments below.
Note of gratitude: This post wouldn’t be possible without the help of YuYuan, our native Taiwanese speaker. Read more about her here.