You may already know that, while Mandarin is generally written in Simplified Chinese in Mainland China, it’s written in Traditional Chinese in Taiwan. But did you know that there are a few differences in vocabulary and phonetic writing systems, too?
If you’ve studied Standard Beijing Mandarin (普通话 ‘pǔtōnghuà’) first and want to travel to Taiwan, don’t panic – it’s largely the same as Taiwanese Mandarin (國語 ‘guóyǔ’ or 華語 ‘huáyǔ’). But as with any Mandarin-derived dialect, there are a few variations.
It’s useful to know a few of the differences between the two dialects so you’re not caught by surprise. Here are a few examples in case you come across them on your travels:
There are a few differences in measurements and names, too. For example, square metres (平方米 ‘píngfāng mǐ’ are used in China, while the unit 坪 píng is used instead in Taiwan – the equivalent of about 3.3 square metres. The Chinese surnames 张 and 许 are translated into ‘Zhang’ and ‘Xu’ in China when using the pinyin spelling, but in Taiwan they’re translated into ‘Chang’ and ‘Hsu’.
Pinyin vs Zhuyin Fuhao/Bopomofo
As a Romanization system, pinyin is used in both China and Taiwan as a phonetic notation of Chinese characters. But Taiwan has an additional system that’s not only used for Mandarin but also other dialects like Hokkien.
Bopomofo, also known as 注音符號 zhùyīn fúhào (literally ‘phonetic notation symbol’), is a system of 37 symbols based on radicals from Chinese characters, and five tone marks. The name ‘bopomofo’ itself comes from the first four letters of the system (‘ㄅㄆㄇㄈ’), similarly to how ‘alphabet’ is derived from the first two letters ‘a’ and ‘b’. It was created in the early 1900s, and to this day is the main phonetic system used in primary schools in Taiwan.
For example, let’s break down 你好 ‘hello’. In pinyin, it would be written as ‘nǐhǎo’. In bopomofo, ‘n’ is ‘ㄋ’, ‘i’ is ‘ㄧ’, ‘h’ is ‘ㄏ’, ‘ao’ is ‘ㄠ’, and the third tone is ˇ. So the bopomofo translation would be ㄋㄧˇ ㄏㄠˇ.
Here are some more examples of how bopomofo is used:
Notice how all of the above symbols have the ‘ㄠao ’ symbol? Once you memorise all the symbols, you’ll be able to sound out bopomofo as quickly as pinyin.
Want to learn more about Standard Beijing Mandarin and Taiwanese Mandarin? The best way to do so is in their country of origin! Check out the cities you can book a homestay course with Lingoinn under our ‘Locations’ tab at the top of the page. Don’t forget – you can stay in more than one city per trip.