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Overview of Languages in Taiwan 

The Official language in Taiwan is Mandarin Chinese. It uses Traditional Chinese characters which is different from mainland China although Chinese is spoken. There are several native languages in Taiwan. One of them is Taiwanese Hokkie, commonly known as "Taiwanese". ‘Taiwanese’ is officially seen as a Chinese dialect within a larger Chinese language, though there are issues of mutual intelligibility with other Chinese varieties. Another one is Hakka, mainly spoken in Taiwan by people who have Hakka ancestry. There are also some aboriginal languages. The Formosan languages are the languages of the aboriginal tribes of Taiwan. Most of them are now facing dangers. Of the approximately 26 languages of the Taiwanese aborigines, at least ten are extinct, another five are moribund, and several others are to some degree endangered (Zeitoun, Elizabeth & Ching-Hua Yu). The main foreign languages in Taiwan are Japanese and English. Japanese was compulsorily taught while Taiwan was under Japanese rule (1895 to 1945). As of 2005, few from the younger generations (under 65) could speak Japanese well, but many continue to (electively) study Japanese, as many high status families are active in business, law, and medicine and send their children to Japan (Tsao). English was begun in schooling in the early 1990s. Since 1949, the Taiwanese government has mandated English instruction in secondary schools. Initially, secondary schools (for students aged 12 – 18) focused on reading and writing skills, and colleges focused on reading and listening (Su, 2006). Later the government increasingly began focusing on the improvement of English language skills in the secondary education. In 1999, the Ministry of Education altered the instructional guidelines for English instruction in secondary schools, which had the focus more “Improve students’ basic communicative competence in reading, writing, speaking and listening. (Tsao). Compulsory instruction was expanded from elementary school to university and in 2002, as part of a six-year national development plan, English was given quasi-official status. English, as the main tool for enhancing the status of Taiwan on the global stage, has been widely taught and emphasized in the government and private English institutes.


There are a few reasons for the erosion of indigenous languages in Taiwan. One is the propagation of the national language. In school education, teachers focus on the national language and many indigenous language speakers are told by their teachers that their languages are base and vulgar and that they should feel ashamed for being speakers of such languages. As media, there are 6 TV stations in Taiwanese Hokkien and 1 in an aboriginal language. Most TV programs are in Mandarin. Furthermore, there are 4 English newspapers, Taipei Times, Taiwan News, Taiwan Economic New, and China post respectively. The indigenous languages and cultures face the relentless competition of world languages. Most people know only too well that if one wants to get ahead of others in the world, a good knowledge of a foreign language is a necessity, such as English. The situation is more serious in Taiwan, where often two foreign languages are required (Zhang& Gao)”. See also Taiwan Indigenous Languages.


The Lost Language of the Amis People


Su, Y. (2006, September). EFL teachers’ perceptions of English language policy at the elementary level in Taiwan. Educational Studies (03055698), 32(3), 265-283. Retrieved April 14, 2009


Tsao, Feng-fu. 1997.” Preserving Taiwan's Indigenous Languages and Cultures: A Discussion in Sociolinguistic Perspective”. The Institute for Japanese Culture and Classics.


Zeitoun, Elizabeth & Ching-Hua Yu. June 2005."The Formosan Language Archive: Linguistic Analysis and Language Processing". Computational Linguistics and Chinese Language Processing. Volume 10, No. 2, June 2005, pp. 167-200


Zhiyun,Zhang & Jiapu, Gao. Oct.24.2015.”「冷門語」大翻身 企業搶人才進軍新興市場”.


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Feng, Jingying. (2015). Overview of Languages in Taiwan. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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