WHAT IS BITE-SIZE TAIWANESE?
Bite-size Taiwanese is a podcast giving you a taste of real, everyday Taiwanese. Co-hosts Phil & Alan will guide you through the ins and outs of the Taiwanese language with light-hearted, fun (and occasionally funny) bite-sized conversations about how to use it in today’s Taiwan.
Put your headphones on, and come along with us!
We're excited to launch 3 podcasts that will help you whether you’re starting from zero, or wanting to brush up and level-up what you already have:
The Newbie Level podcast, geared towards newcomers to this language, works great for those just looking to get their feet wet, and will handily equip visitors with basic survival Taiwanese skills.
The Elementary Level podcast, geared towards those who already have a little background in the language, expands on useful, commonly heard phrases, and digs a bit deeper into the grammar and culture, so that you’re not always stuck saying the same sentences over and over again.
No matter which level fits your needs better, be sure to subscribe to that podcast feed, so you’ll always have the latest episodes.
WHAT IS TAIWANESE?
TOP 3 FAQs
1) What is Taiwanese? Is it like the Taiwanese accent for Mandarin?
No, Taiwanese is a separate language that’s different from Mandarin. The two don’t belong to the same language group and are not mutually intelligible.
2) Is it like Cantonese?
No, Cantonese and Taiwanese are not mutually intelligible either, although Cantonese might sound closer to Taiwanese than Mandarin.
3) Is it the same as Fukienese in China or Hokkien in Singapore?
While they share common origins from the Fujian region, over 300 years of history, society, and environment have shaped these languages to be distinct in their vocabulary, grammar, and phonology.
THE LONG ANSWER
Taiwanese (Tâi-gí 台語) refers to the language that is spoken by a large majority (roughly 70%) of the population on the island nation of Taiwan. While Mandarin Chinese is the official language of Taiwan, Taiwanese has recently gained national language status along with Hakka, and 16 aboriginal languages, which allows access for public services in these languages, gives funding for radio broadcasting, television shows, films, and media publications, and provides additional resources for elective courses in the primary and secondary education system.
In the English-language media, Taiwanese often gets referred to as Hokkien or Southern Min. While these terms are often used interchangeably, they technically refer to different levels within a linguistic family tree.
Specifically, Taiwanese refers to a group of Hokkien variants that together with the history, society and environment of the island have mixed and evolved over centuries including influences from Japanese. Other variants of Hokkien found in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia have also developed independently according to their histories and have absorbed vocabulary from neighboring languages.
Southern Min is a broader category that besides Hokkien includes Teochew and Hainanese. Southern Min, in turn, belongs to the broader grouping of Min, which is one of the big seven language groups of the Sinitic languages (the others being Mandarin, Yue, Hakka, Wu, Gan, Xiang). As a rough comparison, differences among these seven groupings are greater than those for the Romance languages. In fact, even just within the Min language group, speakers from languages of different branches may have a hard time understanding each other.
WHY LEARN TAIWANESE?
There are many great reasons to learn Taiwanese. Maybe it’s the primary language spoken by your family, extended family, or in-laws, and you want to have a closer relationship. Or, maybe you’ve spent some time living in or visiting Taiwan and want to connect more deeply with the local culture. Or, maybe you’re just a hardcore language nerd, and you’re fascinated by the many unique qualities of Taiwanese (of which they are many!).
There’s another great reason you may not know about. For generations, Taiwanese was a forbidden language to use in education, government, and the media. Yet, during this oppression, it continued to be shared amongst friends and family, and handed down from generation to generation, and artists never ceased to write and sing in Taiwanese. All the intimate moments of pain, joy, rage, and laughter from generations of Taiwanese, empowered the language with a potency to connect directly to the Taiwanese soul.
It’s this reason that many Taiwanese still find it to be the language that’s most natural for joking around, cursing, warming up to a stranger, or winning over a crowd (even political candidates with a different linguistic heritage will use Taiwanese to win over people’s hearts). And, it’s because of this legacy to so powerfully connect with the people that many young Taiwanese musicians still choose to express themselves in this language, despite the potential market size for other languages.
So, regardless of your background, come join us and get to know more about the language, culture, and people of Taiwan.
Creator & Co-Host
Phil grew up in a small Midwestern American city where there were just
two three other Taiwanese families. To him, Taiwanese was a mystical language known only to a handful of people in his life, and he dreamed someday of being able to unlock more of its secrets.
Fast forward a couple decades, and that opportunity came when Phil found himself back in the “Motherland”. Eager to level-up his Taiwanese skills and reclaim his mother tongue, he was, however, sadly thwarted by the lack of English-based resources available.
Undeterred, Phil instead treated his Taiwanese-speaking friends to coffee (or bubble tea) for as long as they would tolerate his endless questions about the Taiwanese language. Coupling this with countless more hours in the library going through dusty old textbooks and academic journals, Phil eventually wrote Taiwanese Grammar: A Concise Reference with the belief that there were many others, too, who wanted accessible, in-depth English-based materials to learn Taiwanese.
With Bite-size Taiwanese, Phil is now hoping to share his excitement for learning Taiwanese with new audiences around the world in a relaxed and fun audio format. Regardless of what stage you are in learning a language, Phil believes that along the entire journey you can have rewarding connections with people, and he wants to get more people around the world to give Taiwanese a try.
While most recently Phil has worked in the startup industry, helping Taiwanese startups break into international markets, his prior adventures have also led him to working on Wall Street, drafting in architectural studios, and teaching in classrooms.
In his desk drawer somewhere, Phil has an undergraduate degree from Stanford University as well as graduate degrees from The London School of Economics (LSE) and Columbia University. He fully acknowledges that he probably has one too many degrees and that his drawer could use the extra space.
His daily struggle is whether to start the day with a cup of black coffee or matcha green tea. Regardless of his choice, he gets FOMO for the other.
Co-Host & Audio Editor
Alan is a foodie whose favorite dish is “lóo-bah-pn̄g ka nn̄g 滷肉飯加卵“, braised pork on rice with an egg sunny-side up. On a regular day, you may see him running around Taipei to teach languages or do voice over work. He joined the Bite-size Taiwanese team as both a co-host and audio editor.
Teenage Alan found his passion for Taiwanese as an international student in Singapore. Once lost in a foreign food court, he was surprised how comforting it was to find a dish with a name reminding him so much of his home language. Since then, “char kway teow” (tshá-kué-tiâu 炒粿條), or stir-fried rice cake strips, has become his second favorite dish, but number one comfort food.
After discovering how powerful a tool Taiwanese was in relieving his homesickness and connecting with locals, he developed his interest in the Taiwanese language and culture after returning to Taiwan. He started paying more attention to his pronunciation, even asking his stern parents to correct him and teach him more–this was the first quality conversation they ever had. Since then they’ve had many, many more, and his stern parents have now become much less so especially when discussing Taiwanese.
Alan’s work on his pronunciation paid off as he later became a national champion for a Taiwanese Recitation competition. Now his next goal is to excel in reading and writing in Taiwanese. He’s also a graduate from National Taiwan Normal University.
When he’s not busy with the endless audio-editing at Bite-size Taiwanese, you can find him leather crafting, or struggling with his fluffy pet Pomeranian, Neo.
A linguist, translator, community interpreter, and language teacher, Phín-tsì often just describes himself as “someone who learns and works with languages.”
Born and raised in Taiwan, Phín-tsì is a Tainan-Taipei hybrid who speaks a mix of two dialects of Taiwanese as well as Mandarin. He’s always had a fascination with languages, although most of his university years were spent on biology, chemistry, and other fun things like grafting tomatoes onto eggplants, learning how to analyze soil samples, and singing while working in a greenhouse.
Eventually his passion for language grew on him. As he learned his second or third foreign language and started to take courses in linguistics and teacher training, he realized how little he knew about the languages of Taiwan and the rich culture of his own native land. At the same time, he developed an interest in the science of language, which led him to pursue a Master’s in Linguistics at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
Inspired by the scholars, educators, and advocates before him, and benefitting from their trailblazing work, he wanted to do more for the language communities of Taiwan. He has since read more extensively in and about Taiwanese, and taken part in study groups, language projects, and online communities.
On an extraordinarily hot (35°C/95°F!) spring afternoon in 2019, he biked under the scorching sun to meet Phil at a cafe in Taipei. The two clicked and that’s how he joined Bite-Size Taiwanese as the curriculum developer. He almost got heat stroke that day.
His most recent obsession is trying to figure out how to control which languages he uses when dreaming. If he ever achieves it, he’d try to include Italian, Dutch, Icelandic, Swedish, Japanese, and Tibetan, since he never seems to have enough time to practice them while he’s awake.