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Do people in Taiwan speak English well?

Are you planning a trip to Taiwan soon and wondering if language will be a barrier?

Visiting a foreign country for the first time can be intimidating, especially if you don't speak the language. But if you're planning a trip to Taiwan, you can relax knowing that many Taiwanese people know their way around in English. While you can find fluent English speakers mostly in big cities, you might be pleasantly surprised at how locals know their keywords outside of the metropolitan areas - and rest assured that they will be doing their best to help you out too!

A bilingual street sign in Taiwan
A bilingual street sign in Taiwan

English Education in Taiwan

In Taiwan, the everyday language use can be very dependent on where you are, while the lingua franca (common language) is Taiwanese Mandarin - Taiwanese Hokkien (70%; mostly southwestern region), Hakka (20%; mostly northwestern region), and Indigenous Languages (2~3%; mostly eastern region) are all frequently spoken in different communities. On the other hand, English is the first foreign language of most residents and is taught as a mandatory subject in schools and universities, starting from students in the third-grade elementary level (8 or 9 years old).

Many locals also attend English language cram schools “buxiban” or day camps as supplementary English education outside of regular school or work hours to improve their language skills. The Taiwanese Government has even written an “English Education Policy White Paper” that includes an ambitious plan to become a Mandarin-English bilingual nation by 2030, with a particular focus on English education for elementary school students and civil service workers!

Warning sign in both Mandarin and English for visitors in Taiwan
Warning sign in both Mandarin and English

So, How Easy Can an English Speaker Get Around in Taiwan?

According to the EF EPI, which ranks countries based on adult English proficiency, the latest EF EPI reports indicated that Taiwan often ranks around the 30th to 40th position globally.

With the trend of globalization, you will likely be able to communicate with local Taiwanese in basic English, especially in major cities and tourist areas. While getting around in Taiwan, you might be surprised that many local vendors will have an English menu for you to choose from. Most vendors and tourist areas have signs in English all over - even though the translation might not always be the best. If you are interested in our local religion, there is now even a website that lists all the “English-friendly” temples in Taiwan, where you can even draw lots of your fortune online!

A pink paper with different languages provided by temples
Multilingual draw provided by local temples

Tips During Your Stay

1. Try to speak slower

Overall, visitors to Taiwan should feel comfortable communicating in English with locals. Whether you're ordering food, asking for directions, or just having a friendly chat, you'll be able to enjoy your visit to Taiwan without worrying too much about language barriers. Keep in mind that some Taiwanese can be shy to speak to a foreigner in English at first, or they might worry that their accent or pronunciation is not perfect enough for you to understand - it is not our first language after all.

Fortunately, most Taiwanese do not let their language ability get in the way of helping out a stranger. Sometimes, they will even make it their life mission to help you find the closest tourist site or the restaurant you are looking for - don’t be frightened when you find the locals trying to be more helpful than they should!

2. Asking for help from a younger person

Of course, it's important to keep in mind during your trip that there may still be some language barriers or misunderstandings due to cultural differences or regional variations in language proficiency. Some find that the further you leave the Taipei metropolitan, the more difficult it will be to communicate!

Another help tip is to try asking for help from a younger person, usually a student or a city commuter, rather than an older resident, to get the information you need. Also, Taiwanese people will always appreciate your effort to greet or thank them in Taiwanese Mandarin or Hokkien - a little can go a long way!

A sign that says "No outside food and drinks allowed" displayed next to a stinky tofu dish in a restaurant"
English instructions in a resturant

Join a Free Walking Tour in English!

Finally, if you are still worried that you cannot get the full experience of exploring Taiwan without local language skills, why not join one of our Free Walking Tours?

Available every day in Taipei, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung, Like It Formosa tour guides are fully fluent in English and will walk you (literally) through the must-see gems of the city. In less than three hours, you will be able to know the local culture in depth while learning about our history and other urban myths. At the end of the tour, you are also more than welcome to ask the guides for tips, suggestions, or recommendations for food and drinks around the area!

Join us today and learn all about Taiwan during your visit!

A group of free walking tour guests in Taichung, Taiwan
Taichung Free Walking Tour provided by Like It Formosa


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