Differences in Mandarin between Mainland China and Taiwan.

Photo by Joel Fulgencio on Unsplash

Although Mainland China and Taiwan both have Mandarin as their official language, there are many differences between Mainland Mandarin and Taiwanese Mandarin.

While I was doing my exchange year in China, one of my best friends was Taiwanese. He had also just recently came to China and sometimes struggled to understand locals, especially taxi drivers.

While I was first learning Chinese, he taught me quite a lot as we hung out a lot. However when I tried to use some of the things he taught me, I would get weird looks when speaking to a Mainland Chinese person.

I think it’s fair to say the difference between Mainland Mandarin and Taiwanese Mandarin is comparable to the difference between British English and American English. Not only are there differences in accent/tones, but also variation in vocabulary.

After I finished my exchange year in China, I went to visit my best friend in Taiwan. When I met his friends and tried to speak as I normally would in Mainland China they could barely understand me. That’s when it hit home just how different Guoyu and Putonghua are.

I think it’s both interesting as well as useful to learn about the differences, especially if you are planning to go to visit both places.

So without further ado, here’s some of the big differences I found from being in both Taiwan and Mainland China.

Pronunciation

和 is essentially equal to “and” in English.

In Mainland China this is pronounced as “he2”.

In Taiwan it is pronounced as “han4”. However recently in Taiwan, both the Mainland and Taiwanese variants are considered interchangeable.

垃圾

垃圾 means trash or garbage.

In Mainland China this is pronounced as “la1ji1”.

However in Taiwan this is pronounced as “le4se4”.

laji

If you go to an internet cafe in China you will most definitely hear “la1ji1ren2” referring to trash gamers.

Where as when I tried to call my taiwanese friend “le4se4ren2” he said it was super awkward and weird to say that. :)

星期

In Guoyu (Taiwan Mandarin), you would use the tones “xing1qi2”.

But in Putonghua (Mainland Mandarin), you would use the tones “xing1qi1”.

Different vocabulary

Train Platform

Photo by Benjamin Sow on Unsplash

In Taiwan, a train platform is known as 月台.

Where as in Mainland China it is known as 站台.

Bicycle

The Taiwanese prefer the term 腳踏車 (脚踏车 - foot pedaling vehicle) to 自行车 (self moving vehicle) to describe a bicycle.

Having said that, if you were in Taiwan and said 自行车 people would understand you.

土豆: A peanut or a potato?

Oddly enough, 土豆 (tu3dou4) in Mainland Mandarin means potato, where as in Taiwanese Mandarin it means peanut!

Instead of using 土豆, you can instead use 馬鈴薯 (马铃薯 - ma3ling2shu3) when in Taiwan.

You can see other examples of differing vocabulary in food such as referring to tomato as 番茄 (Mainland Mandarin) or 西紅柿 (西红柿 - Guoyu).

Internet Cafes

Internet cafe

I’ve seen online that people say that internet cafe is called 网吧 in Mainland China and 網咖 (网咖) in Taiwan. I think this was most likely true in the past but in recent years from my experience I’ve seen differently.

It’s true that 網咖 (网咖) is almost exclusively used in Taiwan, as I’ve never seen 网吧 be used.

However in Mainland China, you can see both being used. 网吧 is usually considered a cheaper variant of an internet cafe, where you are just there to play games and don’t expect much service. Where as 网咖 would be considered more fancy, with food and drink options for example.

Bad words..

What’s the first thing most people learn in their target language?

Yep. bad words.. I was no different.

I immediately picked up on how when I was in Taiwan, my local friends weren’t using the same kind of swear words that were used on the mainland.

For example you will hear 干 (gan4) a lot more than 肏 (cao4).

Mainland swear words

The most common swear word you will heard in Mainland China is 他妈的 (tā mā de), which is a less offensive way of saying f*ck essentially. This isn’t exclusive to the mainland, but is less common in Taiwan.

The main phrase I heard at internet cafes is 我肏 (wo3cao4), where 肏 is the swear word here.

A less offensive version is 我靠 (wo3kao4).

There are others but these three are the main ones.

I recommend exercising caution and not saying them, unless you are with close friends.

Taiwanese swear words

An interesting phrase I heard a lot was 靠背 (kao4bei5) which seems to be used self deprecatingly when you screw up.

靠药 (kao4yao5) is a less offensive version of this. However it can also be used to call out people on them speaking nonsense.

Side note: Interestingly these kind of swear words are not limited to one character, as long as the pronunciation is the same, you can use any character.

Conclusion

So in this post we have seen a range of differences when comparing Mainland Mandarin with Taiwanese Mandarin.

However this is only a small section of the differences!

Please let me know if there are any other big differences that I’ve missed.

Want more tips and resources to learn Chinese?

Join the Newsletter

Subscribe to get my latest content by email.

    I won’t send you spam.

    Unsubscribe at any time.