The following is a guest post by James Steed of Mandarin Click by Click
If you are living in Taiwan, you may have noticed that the taxi drivers are very friendly and very talkative. I studied Chinese for a year before I came to Taiwan, but found studying here in class to be quite boring. I quit. Not because it was boring, however, but because I just became too busy with various jobs (workaholic). Coming from a rather sparsely populated part of the United States, being relatively shy, and physically rather lazy, I have an aversion to public transportation and traffic congestion. In other words, I have a taxi habit. Taking taxis are cheaper than owning a car, btw, and you don’t have to worry about parking and you can let the driver scream at the slow pokes ahead of you.
Creative Commons image courtesy of Flickr
The taxi drivers are, for the most part, very friendly and talkative. They are often very curious about their foreign passengers, so if you can speak a little Chinese, they will no doubt be very much into asking you questions. Most often they the same questions, so you get plenty of repetition (as well a real conversation). You learn how to introduce yourself, give directions, as for directions, and talk about places to visit in town. Sometimes you will find one who will use you for a sounding board and they will talk, talk, talk (usually about politics) and you will not understand what they are saying. Just say, “Dui, dui, dui. Shi, shi, shi. Zhende,” and they will be happy. However, if you can get a chance, grab control of the question asking role to bring the conversation back to your level and topics you are interested in.
Yes, sometimes their Mandarin is spoken with a Taiwanese accent or a Shandong accent, but that is okay. Living in Taiwan and living in China, you will hear “Guoyu, Mandarin, Putonghua” spoken with all kinds of accents, just like you hear all kinds of English accents. You will need good Chinese to understand them, I assure you. They won’t spoil your perfect Mandarin pronunciation. Instead, for the cost of a short ride (NT$200), you can have a perfectly good Chinese conversation lesson. My Chinese improved by leaps and bounds just by conversing with taxi drivers everyday in Taipei years ago. I found them to be more interesting than sitting in classes. And I knew I was “getting somewhere,” metaphorically and physically. For the busy person, going from one place to another several times a day, you can have an hour to an hour and a half of Chinese going (WITHOUT A TEACHER CORRECTING YOU TO DEATH).
To take this a little further, you could very well improve your Chinese by going on treasure hunts, looking for Tramadol, for instance. You would have to go to many drugstores to ask for it and describe it. Many drugstores like to suggest different medicines for specific illnesses. Go in and tell them you have an eye infection, describe it, and let them make a suggestion. Ask for another suggestion. Have them compare them and tell you how to use them. After 15 drugstores, you can talk about that problem. So on and so forth, shopping for bikes, motorcycles, rentals. Getting your hair done, of having a blouse made. A series of treasure hunts will do it.
Get a good basic introduction to Chinese in class or on the internet. Then, become proactive in your learning. Submerse yourself. Pursue your interests. You will have more access to the Chinese you need to express who you are than you will find in textbooks.
By: James Steed, Mandarin Click by Click