From 1989 to 1994 I studied Chinese at universities in the UK and
Taipei. The variety of spoken Chinese I learnt was
Mandarin and I learnt to read and write
Modern Standard Chinese in both traditional and simplified characters.
In addition, I'm familiar with a number of phonetic transcriptions
systems: Hanyu Pinyin, Wades-Giles, Yale and Bopomofo, and have studied
some Classical Chinese.
While I was in Taipei I had a go at learning some Cantonese. With a copy
of Teach Yourself Cantonese and some help from my Cantonese-speaking
friends I managed to acquire a basic knowledge of the language.
In 1999 I tried to learn some more Cantonese to improve my chances
of securing a job as a Chinese Student Advisor at the University of Luton.
The textbook I used was Colloquial Cantonese,
which is quite good, though I found the lack of Chinese characters in it
I was invited for an interview for the Luton job, though by that time I
had already been offered a job in Brighton. Having visited both Brighton
and Luton the decision which to choose was not hard - the job in Luton
might have been more interesting, but Brighton is a much more pleasant
place to live, so I chose Brighton.
I still know enough Cantonese to understand it a bit and to have a
basic conversation, but rarely have opportunities to use the language
so haven't made any further progress.
In Taiwan about 80% of the people speak Taiwanese. Most people also
speak or at least understand Mandarin, though some don't. While
studying and working in Taiwan (1993-1998) I sometimes had to communicate
with people in Taiwanese and found the little Taiwanese I managed to learn
very useful. I also have a number of Taiwanese-speaking friends.
I learnt Taiwanese through the medium of Mandarin using a textbook
called Sing-wa Dai-ngi ("Living Taiwanese") which
I think is only available in Taiwan, and with some help from Taiwanese-speaking
friends. I also heard people speaking Taiwanese every day, as well
as on the radio and TV, so became accoustomed to the sounds and rhythms
of the language and can understand it to some extent, though can't speak
it very well yet.
Occasionally I chat to Taiwanese people on Skype in a mixture of Taiwanese,
Mandarin and English.