¿Habla taiwanés? No problem for this costaricana…

costa-rican.jpgMost Taiwanese are surprised when a non-local speaks in decent Mandarin, so the shock when a foreigner opens their mouth and Taiwanese comes out is palpable. The United Daily News yesterday featured an article about a Costa Rican woman who married a Taiwanese man from Lâm-tâu (Nantou) and learned to speak the language.


Ten years ago Melissa came from Costa Rica with her husband to Lo̍k-kok [a town in Lâm-tâu County]. Now she has not only integrated in to local life, but also sells tea in fluent Taiwanese, confounding visitors who often remark, “How come this foreigner speaks better Taiwanese than me?”

The article also mentions that she has “little opportunity” to practice Mandarin, but that her ability in that language is improving too. In many small towns and villages in the countryside Taiwanese remains the language of preference, with most inhabitants being able to speak Mandarin to some degree as a result of formal education, but preferring to speak their native tongue.

Actually Taiwanese-speaking foreigners are not all that unusual, but the majority are South-East Asian spouses (particularly from Vietnam) who live outside the major cities and are therefore less visible both by virtue of their ethnicity and their location. In general they are expected to integrate, whereas “Westerners” are not. Most of the Westerners I have met who have a command of the language are current or former missionaries – an occupation in which speaking to people in the “language of their heart” is very important.

Incidentally Costa Rica was until this year one of Taiwan’s few diplomatic allies, a fact which helped citizens of that country with regards to visas and immigration in to Taiwan.

One Response to “¿Habla taiwanés? No problem for this costaricana…”

  1. Eric says:

    Actually, it’d be “costarricense”. 😉

    ¡Qué bien que habla el fukienés!

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