At the beginning of 2020, I signed up for Chinese classes at National Taiwan Normal University’s Mandarin Training Center (NTNU MTC).
What’s with the name?
National Taiwan Normal University (師範大學 or Shī fàn dà xué) is also affectionately known by the locals as Shida (師大, pronounced Shī dà). Fittingly, their official school mascot is a happy-go-lucky lion (獅子 or Shī zi).
NTNU is a top university in Taiwan with an emphasis on teacher education. It’s ironic that it has the word “Normal” in it, because it's such an extraordinary school.
Nestled inside NTNU is the Mandarin Training Center (MTC), which is one of the largest and most internationally renowned Chinese language centers in the world.
Quick Facts about the Mandarin Training Center (MTC)
- Approximately 1,700 students from more than 70 countries enroll here every academic semester (every three months).
- In Taiwan, schools teach traditional characters. Chinese classes at NTNU MTC focus on speaking, listening, reading and writing, and include homework and final exams.
- This school specifically uses pinyin spelling and phonetic characters to teach their classes.
- At MTC, there are people of all ages and backgrounds, but you must be at least 18 years old to apply for the seasonal program.
Referring to my time at NTNU MTC, I'll share 7 reasons why studying Chinese in Taiwan is a fantastic decision for you.
1. Knowing Chinese is a superpower
Learning Chinese is a great investment
Over 1 billion of the Earth’s 7.6 billion people speak Mandarin Chinese, which makes Mandarin Chinese the second most spoken language in the world.
As Taiwan and Mainland China’s economies are expanding rapidly, Chinese is definitely one of the best languages to learn right now. Many international companies are looking for job applicants who can speak more than one language, and you could be one of them!
Everyone is studying Chinese for their own unique reasons
Even though my schoolmates and I have different life goals, we understand the value of learning Chinese to benefit us later on. Many of us are either learning Chinese as a skill for our current workplace, or to land a job in the future.
One of my schoolmates makes Youtube videos about Taiwan and said that studying Chinese has helped him feel closer to his family roots. Other classmates have gone from knowing zero Chinese to now doing translation work, volunteering, and conversing comfortably with the locals.
Get an official language certification for your resume
The Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (TOCFL) is an internationally recognized set of standardized language proficiency tests for non-native Chinese speakers. Getting TOCFL certified is an excellent way to show official evidence of your Chinese proficiency. It’s similar to Mainland China’s HSK (漢語水平考試 or Hàn yǔ shuǐ píng kǎo shì).
MTC offers mock and actual TOCFL exams, along with a student discount.
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2. Regardless of your level or experience, there's a place for everyone
Did you know?
- Since student enrollment is so high here, the spectrum of students’ levels is also vast. The MTC creates their own textbooks and materials, and will match you to your perfect class. If you’re curious and want to see what level you might be at, check out MTC's free Chinese proficiency test.
- In addition to classes for beginners to advanced learners, a wide range of additional classes are available. This can include Chinese for daily use, classical Chinese poetry, business-level Chinese, learning Chinese with newspaper, and more.
- If you've already been exposed to the Chinese language at home, school, or in your daily life, MTC offers reading and writing courses to enhance your skills. In fact, NTNU MTC is currently the only school in Taiwan that has specialized courses for overseas Chinese students.
How the Chinese level placements work
You'll first do a placement test to determine your level. I like how the school doesn't group all students generally and start everyone at the beginning of a textbook. If you have prior knowledge you might be able to skip right ahead to the middle, or start two-thirds from a textbook so that the class is more appropriate for your proficiency level.
This method works out as a more precise way to pinpoint and match students with similar language abilities or experiences together in a suitable class.
It would be nearly impossible to find this style of customization in smaller language centers because student enrollment isn’t as high, making less options available. At NTNU MTC though, the more the merrier!
3. Learn Chinese at a time that works for you
Another reason why I joined NTNU MTC was because of the flexible times that they offer. The most popular choice for students living in Taiwan long-term is the seasonal program, which consists of 3 month semesters.
If you aren’t in a huge rush to learn Chinese
You can choose to do the 2 hour a day regular classes from Monday to Friday. They start as early as 8:10 to 10:00, with the last class going from 18:30 to 20:20.
If you're only in Taiwan for a limited time
You can consider the 3 hour a day intensive classes from Monday to Friday. These times are usually 10:20 to 13:10 or 14:20 to 17:10.
Intensive classes are ideal if you want to learn a lot of Chinese in a short amount of time. Studying and homework will take up a lot of your day, but if you make Chinese your main focus during this period, you'll progress quickly!
Need more options?
There are also short-term programs that include summer and winter camps, 3 week express courses, language and culture study tours, and more. You can also choose to study online and customize your schedule with 1-1 courses or group classes at times that suit you best.
4. Experience student life in the center of Taipei
Taipei has a lot of fun neighborhoods, but Shida is arguably one of the coolest (and English-friendly) areas. It's a bustling university area with bars, restaurants, and boutiques all around.
Why do people love the Shida neighborhood?
- The Shida night market is only a short walk from campus, and has a wide variety of cheap and delicious food. Besides street vendors, there are sit-down restaurants as well.
- There are a ton of cool stationery, gadgets, and household goods here. You can use your student card to get discounts at certain stores in the area.
- You can find many types of trendy clothing items made by local designers that are perfect for those on a student budget.
- Yongkang Street is a five minute walk away, and is full of hipster cafes, restaurants and boutiques.
- It's easy to find affordable housing here, with English-speaking tenants, as there's a large student and foreigner community around this area.
- Dongmen station, Guting station, and Taipower Building station are popular subway (MRT) stations that take less than 10 minutes to walk to and from school.
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5. Get a visa and scholarship when studying Chinese in Taiwan
For students who DO need a visa
You'll first arrive on a visitor visa, which has specific requirements depending on the country. Visitor visas can only be applied for while overseas.
After four months of consecutive study, you can apply for a resident visa. With a resident visa, you can later apply for an Alien Resident Certificate (ARC). You can also apply for a part-time work permit (working 16 hours maximum) after studying for a year.
You can receive a visa to live in Taiwan for up to 2 years. Check out MTC’s website for their most recent visa information.
To maintain your student visa status, you must complete 5 hours of supplementary classes a week. This only applies if you're in regular classes. These larger classes are usually held in the auditorium, and are a great way to meet other students and learn other facets of Chinese culture.
Chinese idioms, Chinese Pronunciation, Taiwanese Pop Songs, and Taiwanese TV Dramas are all examples of supplementary classes that you can join.
For students who DON’T need a visa
If your country is one of the 90 day visa-exempt countries, you don’t need to apply for a visa. For the most updated information, check out the Bureau of Consular Affairs in Taiwan website. You can do a visa run after your 90 days are up, and then come back to Taiwan.
If you have a work permit (as a foreigner), are on a marriage visa, a gold card visa, or a permanent resident visa (APRC), you also don’t need a visa to study Chinese.
There are currently 4 different scholarships that you can apply for at Shida. You can receive 25,000 NTD (approximately $880.00 to $900.00 USD), which is essentially free tuition. To keep the scholarship, you should maintain your grades and be mindful of your attendance.
6. Learn something new and different in every class
With each new semester, you'll meet and interact with people from all over the world. You're representing your country when you join a class! If you're looking for an international classroom experience, with stellar teachers and all kinds of diverse students, then NTNU MTC is the perfect place to be.
In my personal experience, the teachers that taught me have all been knowledgeable, professional, and passionate about helping students learn Chinese. Each teacher has their own teaching style and unique ways to assist students, and have a lot to share about Taiwan. Many teachers even plan fun cultural outings and go out to eat with their class!
Choose your class size
Smaller classes mean that your teacher can focus more on you and provide you with more chances to speak and participate. On the other hand, bigger classes are cheaper and an easy way to meet more new people.
For regular classes (not intensive), you can select Class A which consists of 6-10 students in a class, or Class B which consists of 13-20 students in a class. Here’s a look at the tuition fees and class options.
Learn about other cultures and perspectives
As you become more advanced in Chinese, you can share more insightful cultural tidbits about your way of life back home, and have fun debates about all kinds of topics. You can also bond with your classmates with your shared trauma of studying for tests and memorizing hundreds of Chinese characters!
7. Get involved and be a part of the school community
NTNU MTC organizes a wide variety of activities outside of the classroom that will help you to make friends, practice Chinese, and immerse yourself in Taiwanese culture.
There are free extracurricular activities and involvement opportunities every semester
You can easily sign up for:
- Language exchanges
- Language and singing competitions (with prizes)
- Making DIY pomelos, calligraphy paintings, and lanterns
- Board game events
- Cooking classes
- MTC’s dragon boat racing team
For example, an event held in January 2021 gave me and other students an opportunity to sign up for a free Chinese New Year lunch at a Taiwanese culinary school, and also taught us how to make the traditional food!
Volunteer with the school
There's an international student volunteer team to help out during busy orientation days and school events. One benefit is that you can use your volunteer hours to count as part of the supplementary hours to maintain your student visa status. The school will also send out emails letting you know about off-campus work and volunteer opportunities.
Try out the cultural classes
You can pay 5,000 NT ($180.00 USD) for cultural classes that include Chinese calligraphy, Chinese painting, Tai Chi, Chinese cuisine, learning Taiwanese, to name a few.
Take a free NTNU course
To help integrate you with the university itself, NTNU provides the opportunity to take 1 NTNU course free of charge. There are courses that are taught in both English and Chinese. Courses taught fully in Chinese are only open to you if your language level is advanced (Level 5).
Share your own experiences, cultures, and ideas
In December 2020, the school hosted a winter cultural festival where we promoted our own booths and represented our own countries by selling and sharing food, drinks, accessories and other cultural items that are important to us. It was a blast!
Start up your own event or club
In the past, students have created the Tea Appreciation club, Mahjong club, and large welcome picnics for other new students. If you have suggestions for new clubs or activities that you want to try out, you can definitely bring your ideas and creativity over to the MTC.
If you have questions about getting involved, there are always office staff on the 7th floor of the MTC building who are kind and able to attend to you right away.
To sum it up
Learning Chinese in Taiwan has been so much fun! It’s been a lot of hard work, but studying here was an awesome decision that I’ll never regret. I hope that you can also experience what it’s like to learn a notoriously difficult language like Chinese, and enjoy the process!
Feel free to talk to me if you want more information or have any questions. Cheers to the 2020s and discovering new possibilities and one of a kind learning experiences. Add oil! 加油 (Jiā yóu)!