Introduction to Taiwanese Hokkien

What's your first reaction when you hear about Taiwanese Hokkien? You might think it's a dialect of Chinese with the expectation that you are able to understand some of it if you speak Mandarin. However, with the historical events that happened over time since the language first got spread to Taiwan in the 17th century, Taiwanese Hokkien spoken in Taiwan today is different from and is not comprehensible with Mandarin or other Chinese dialects.

Though a lot of vocabulary and grammar in Hokkien came from Mandarin, Taiwanese Hokkien uses a combination of Traditional Mandarin characters and dialect characters, while the old Hokkien completely wrote with Traditional Mandarin characters. Thus, it can sometimes be difficult for a native Mandarin speaker to understand Taiwanese Hokkien characters.

Taiwanese Hokkien Mandarin English
佮意 (kah-ì) 喜歡 (xǐ huan) To like
歹勢 (pháinn-sè) 不好意思 (bù hǎo yì si) Excuse me
佗位 (tó-uī) 哪裡 (nǎ lǐ) Where
四序 (sù-sī) 舒適 (shū shì) Comfortable
定定 (tiānn-tiānn) 常常 (cháng cháng) A lot (frequency)

Hokkien originated in Quanzhou, the southern area of Fujian, once an important center for trade and migration, and has since become one of the most widely used Chinese dialects abroad. It once served as the ligua franca among overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. During the rule of Qing dynasty, thousands of emigrants from Fujian arrived annually, thus it made Taiwan the major place of Hokkien dialects outside of Fujian. Taiwanese Hokkien is a combination of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects and with some Amoy (Xiamen dialect) influences.

Taiwanese Hokkien, which is commonly known as Taiwanese or Tâi-gí, is one of the Southern Min dialects. It is spoken by the Taiwanese Hoklo, who immigrated to Taiwan from southern Fujian during the Qing dynasty. Today, 70% of Taiwanese population is made up of the Hoklo people. Taiwanese Hokkien in northern Taiwan tends to be based on Quanzhou dialect, while Zhangzhou dialect has more influences to Taiwanese Hokkien in southern Taiwan (As shown on the map below). Taiwanese Hokkien once was the dominant language of Taiwan. It even was the official language at the time of the Kingdom of Tungnin founded by Koxinga. Speakers of it far outnumbered those of Hakka and Formosan languages until China's defeat to Japan in 1895 after the First Sino-Japanese War. Because of this, Taiwanese Hokkien also carries many Japanese loanwords.
Taiwanese Hokkien Map

Japanese Loanwords in Taiwanese Hokkien

Japanese Taiwanese Hokkien English
便所 benjo 便所 piān-sóo bathroom
味の素 ajinomoto 味精 bī-sòo MSG
野球 yakyū 野球 iá-kiû baseball
出張 shutchō 出張 tshut-tiunn travel on business
電気屋 denkiya 電器行 tiān-khì-hâng appliance shop
注射 chūsha 注射 tsù-siā injection
利潤 rijun 利潤 lī-sûn profit, interest
弁当 bentō 便當 piān-tong bento
病院 byōin 病院 pēnn-īnn hospital
離緣 rien 離緣 lī-iân divorce

Other Southern Min Dialects

Minnan Proper (Quanzhang)

  • It is commonly known as Hokkien
  • Location: Xiamen, Southern Fujian, Taiwan and Southeast Asia
  • It is the most common form of Southern Min dialect
  • Two types of Standard Minnan:
    1. Traditional Standard Minnan: It's based on the dialect spoken in Quanzhou.
    2. Modern Standard Minnan: It's based on the Amoy dialect spoken in Xiamen and the Taiwanese dialect (These two dialects are a combination of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou dialects).
  • Today, the majority of the Minnan language books and dictionaries are based on the pronunciation of the Modern Standard Minnan.


  • It is also known as Chaoshan speech.
  • Location: Chaoshan region of eastern Guangdong
  • Teochew shares some cognates, follows the same grammar patterns and has a highly similar phonology with Minnan Proper.
  • It has limited mutual intelligibility with Minnan Proper due to the significantly different pronunciation and vocabulary.
  • It keeps numerous Old Chinese pronunciations and vocabulary that have been lost in some of the other modern varieties of Chinese. Thus, many linguists see Teochew as one of the most conservative Chinese dialects.


  • Location: Leizhou peninsula in the west of Guangdong province and southern Chinese island province of Hainan
  • It shares linguistic roots with Minnan Proper.
  • It has lost much of its mutual intelligibility with Minnan Proper and Teochew.
  • It developed into a distinctive language of its own because Qiong-Lei is spoken relatively far away from the Southern Min region.

Chinese Southern Min Map

Hokkien Spoken in Southeast Asia

Singaporean Hokkien

  • Location: Singapore
  • It holds Amoy as its standard with the accent based on a combination of Quanzhou and Zhangzhou speeches.
  • Singaporean Hokkien is also influenced by many other languages and dialects spoken in Singapore. It carries many loanwords from Malay and English.
  • A Singaporean would most likely have no problem communicating with Taiwanese speakers in Singaporean Hokkien.

Penang Hokkien

  • Location: States of Penang, Kedah, Perlis and Perak in Malaysia
  • It is a subdialect of Zhangzhou speech with a wide range of borrowed words from Malay and English.
  • It is primarily a spoken dialect; thus, it is rarely written in Chinese characters. There is also no standard romanization.
  • It has limited mutual intelligibility with Riau Hokkien and Taiwanese Hokkien.

Riau Hokkien

  • It’s also known as Southern Malaysia Hokkien.
  • Location: Central & Southern Peninsular Malaysia, Sarawak, Singapore, and Riau in Indonesia
  • Riau Hokkien is based on the Quanzhou dialect, which means it’s different from Penang Hokkien
  • It is influenced by numerous languages and dialects spoken in Malaysia as well as influence from Teochew dialect. It also has many loanwords from Malay and English.

Reasons To Learn Taiwanese Hokkien

There were a few time periods when Taiwanese Hokkien was only allowed to be spoken in a familial setting, which gives people a more intimate and familiar feeling when they hear Taiwanese Hokkien. Because of this, Taiwanese people tend to let their guard down and open up a lot more when you speak the language. Thus, it will give you insights into a more localized and traditional Taiwan. It can even lead to more meaningful exchanges sometimes.

Taiwan's rich history has made the island a cultural melting pot. There are many layers of the island out there that many people might not even know existed. With the knowledge of Taiwanese Hokkien, you will discover another side of Taiwan that is conducted entirely in Taiwanese Hokkien. Moreover, it can help you understand more of what is going around you and be closer to the local community and culture.

Much of the local business is still conducted mainly in Taiwanese Hokkien, especially in the east coast and southern parts. A lot of the shop owners and taxi drivers are actually more proficient in Taiwanese Hokkien than Mandarin. If you speak Taiwanese Hokkien, not only is it more likely for you to bargain and score yourself a good deal but also easier for you to get around, sometimes you might even get some free goodies from the vendors.

20 Basic Phrases in Taiwanese Hokkien

Taiwanese Hokkien TAILO English
你好。 Lí hó. Hi
你好無? Lí hó bô? How are you?
多謝 To-siā. Thank you.
今仔日 拜幾? Kin-á-ji̍t pài kuí? What day is it today?
你叫啥物名? Lí kiò siánn-mi̍h miâ? What’s your name?
我 叫 _____。 Guá kiò_____. My name is _____.
幾點 矣? Kuí-tiám ah? What time is it?
你 幾歲? Lí kuí-huè? How old are you?
歹勢 Pháinn-sè Excuse me
小心 Sió-sim Be careful!
請共我鬥相共。 Tshiánn kā guá tàu-sann-kāng. Please help me!
我感冒。 Guá kám-mōo I am sick.
今仔日天氣袂䆀。 Kin-á-ji̍t thinn-khì bē-bái. The weather's nice today.
你對佗位來? Lí tuì tó-uī lâi? Where are you from?
我對_____來。 Guá tuì _____ lâi. I am from _____.
你食啥物頭路? Lí tsia̍h siánn-mi̍h thâu-lōo? What's your job?
今仔日真熱。 Kin-á-ji̍t tsin-jua̍h. It's hot today.
你感覺猶好無? Lí kám-kak iáu-hó bô? Are you feeling okay?
我真悿。 Guá tsin-thiám. I'm tired.
敢是咧落雨? Kám-sī leh lo̍h-hōo? Is it raining?
再會 Tsài-huē Goodbye

20 Travel Phrases in Taiwanese Hokkien

Taiwanese Hokkien TAILO English
阮 來 遮 渡假。阮 蹛 佇 海邊 个 旅社 Guán lâi tsia tōo-ká. Guán tuà tī hái-pinn ê lú-siā We're here on vacation. We're staying at a hotel on the beach.
這間 旅社 無 貴, 蹛 遮 袂 開 真濟 錢。 Tsit-king lú-siā bô kuì, tuà tsia bē khai tsin-tsē tsînn. This hotel isn't expensive. It doesn't cost much to stay there.
旅社 很 四序 , 而且 無 貴。 Lú-siā tsin sù-sī, jî-tshiánn bô kuì. The hotel was comfortable, but it wasn't expensive.
你 敢 去過 法國?— 無。 Lí kám khì-kuè huat-kok?- Bô. Have you been to France? — No, I haven't.
公車 遲到 矣。 Kong-tshia tî-tò ah. The bus is late.
阮 已經 款好 旅行 个 行李 矣。 Guán í-king khuán-hó lú-hîng ê hîng-lí ah. We've already done our packing for our trip.
阮 舊年 無去 渡假。 Guán kū-nî bô khì tōo-ká. We didn't take a vacation last year.
遮 無 真濟 遊客。 Tsia bô tsin-tsē lú-kheh. There aren't many tourists here.
米莱娜 無 去 護照。 Bí-lâi-ná bô khì hōo-tsiàu. Milena lost her passport.
你 幾點 欲 走? Lí kuí-tiám beh tsáu? What time are you leaving?
優子 定定 旅行。 Iu-tsú tiānn-tiānn lú-hîng. Yuko travels a lot.
一 點鐘 後 我 會 佇 電影院。 Tsi̍t tiám-tsing āu guá ē tī tiān-iánn-inn. I'll be at the movies an hour from now.
改 坐 飛機 去 巴塞隆納,莫 開車。 Lán kái tsē hui-ki khì Pa-sài-liông-la̍p, mài khui-tshia. Let's fly to Barcelona instead of driving.
你 欲 去 佗位 渡假? Lí beh khì tó-uī tōo-ká? Where are you going for your vacation?
這班 火車 袂 到 市區。 Tsit-pan hué-tshia bē kàu tshī-khu. This train doesn't go all the way downtown.
市中心 有 公車 會使 到 機場 無? Tshī-tiong-sim ū kong-tshia ē-sái kàu ki-tiûnn bô? Tshī-tiong-sim ū kong-tshia ē-sái kàu ki-tiûnn bô?
每 點鐘 攏有 一班 火車。 Muí tiám-tsing lóng-ú tsi̍t-pan hué-tshia. There's a train every hour.
對 遮 到 火車站 有 偌遠? Tuì tsia kàu hué-tshia-tsām ū juā-hn̄g? How far is it from here to the train station?
我 佮意 旅行。 Guá kah-ì lú-hîng. I like traveling.
下暗 敢 閣有 空房?— 恐驚 是 無。 E-àm kám koh-ū khang-pâng? - Khióng-kiann sī bô. Do you have a room for tonight? — I'm afraid not.

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