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Lack of English announcements, signs make life difficult for foreigners: expats

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The lack of English announcements regarding important policies, as well as the lack of bilingual traffic signs, make life difficult for expatriates living in Taiwan, foreigners told the Central News Agency (CNA).

Paul Groff, an American who currently teaches English in Taiwan, told the CNA that he often finds it difficult finding out whether or not he needs to work whenever a typhoon hits the country, because virtually all TV news announcements are made in Mandarin.

There is no English-language government website that a foreigner can log on to, in order to find out whether he or she needs to work when typhoons land, he added.

Furthermore, all the traffic signs are in Mandarin, Groff said, adding that he has often found it difficult to determine whether he was observing traffic regulations properly given the lack of bilingual signs.

Groff went on to say that he has also often resorted to “illegally” dumping his trash by the roadside because he couldn't figure out where or when he was supposed to throw out his garbage.

Foreigners constantly face numerous challenges when it comes to learning the latest information, he added.

Liz Wiest, a 27-year-old from California, told the CNA that she found it difficult to see a doctor in Taiwan.

Wiest explained that she had wanted to see a female gynecologist, but that she found it hard to determine the gender of doctors by their Chinese names on hospitals' websites.

This is a very common problem that has inconvenienced many female expatriates, Wiest added.

Timothy Barnes, a 31-year-old American, said that he was also having difficulty finding a doctor who speaks fluent English.

Barnes added that the language barrier has made it hard for Taiwanese doctors to treat him properly; however, he also gave high marks to Taiwan's medical system.

Gov't Considers Plans to Make Life Easier for Expats

When asked to comment on the complaints, Taiwan's National Immigration Agency (NIA) told the CNA that it is planning to upgrade its bilingual website to accommodate the needs of English speakers in Taiwan.

In 2005, the NIA established the Information for Foreigners Hotline, 0800-024-111, which provides free around-the-clock consultation services in Mandarin, English and Japanese regarding questions about work visas, taxes, residency, education, transportation and health insurance.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet's Directorate-General of Personnel Administration, which is responsible for announcing work and school suspensions due to typhoons, told the CNA that it is planning to offer English services.

For updated weather, travel, and traffic information in Taiwan, foreigners can also log on to The China Post's website at www.chinapost.com.tw

February 14, 2013    anmading@
Dear American expats,
Can we Taiwanese find bilingual road signs, hurricane warnings in Chinese or Chinese speaking doctors in the USA?
Stay in your own country and don't travel or even work abroad if you can't cope with such "problems" because the situation is the same in most other countries of the world.
Or, much better: take a Chinese language course if you want to stay and live comfortably here in Taiwan!
February 15, 2013    boyo111@
As might be said by American's of those who are coming to live here - learn the language! If you go to a different country with a language you don't speak, maybe learn some?
February 15, 2013    hhlau@
Living difficulties due to language barriers have frequently been lamented among expatriates living in Taiwan. This problem has existed for years, but the authorities concerned have not, unfortunately, paid much heed to it, mostly evading the issue by some lip services. Except for a few resources like Foreigners Hotline (0800-024-111), established by National Immigration Agency, a majority of our foreign friends have resorted to relevant information partially obtainable from The China Post, Taipei Times, or ICRT. Our foreign friends, understandably, encounter numerous inconveniences and obstacles in their daily life, which may be solved by our sincere concerns and concrete policy implementations. Our disabilities to handle this problem should be regarded as shame and disgrace to the nation as a whole, for the reason that all expatriates living here are part of the society and they are human beings like Taiwanese citizens.

What can the government do? First, at the national level, legislators embracing this aspect of humanitarian interests may bring out the language issue, during the policy debate or questioning sessions in the Legislative Yuan. Alternatively, this important subject may directly be discussed thoroughly with National Immigration Agency or even a higher level in the Administrative Yuan. Then, the department responsible may start with some hearing sessions, mainly participated by expatriate representatives coming from different countries or regions. Such brainstorm interactions may then allow the authorities to grasp a genuine awareness of a wide range of urgent and factual hindrances caused by language barriers. Accordingly, an adequate amount of financial resources should be specifically allocated for the overall improvement of infrastructure, hardware or software alike. A periodical effectiveness evaluation of the implementation may further reinforce the advancement efforts.
Lau Hieng-Hiong, Hsinchu
February 15, 2013    CURTISAKBAR@
The information is available on third party websites but it's always better to get it from the source as then there is no miscommunication. The biggest problem I have not being able to adequately communicate is talking about not common things like mechanical problems but technology helps me there when I'm out and about. Taiwan should Romanize all signs to make the place more tourist / expatriate friendly and then add lights to these signs to improve the safety of everyone. Taiwan will throw lights on everything except on the one thing that actually needs it; ROAD SIGNS.
February 16, 2013    anmading@
hhlau@ wrote:
Living difficulties due to language barriers have frequently been lamented among expatriates living in Taiwan. This problem has existed for years, but the authorities concerned have not, unfortunately, paid much heed to it, mostly evading the issue by some lip services. Except for a few resources like Foreigners Hotline (0800-024-111), established by National Immigration Agency, a majority of our foreign friends have resorted to relevant information partially obtainable from The China Post, Taipei Times, or ICRT. Our foreign friends, understandably, encounter numerous inconveniences and obstacles in their daily life, which may be solved by our sincere concerns and concrete policy implementations. Our disabilities to handle this problem should be regarded as shame and disgrace to the nation as a whole, for the reason that all expatriates living here are part of the society and they are human beings like Taiwanese citizens.

What can the government do? First, at the national level, legislators embracing this aspect of humanitarian interests may bring out the language issue, during the policy debate or questioning sessions in the Legislative Yuan. Alternatively, this important subject may directly be discussed thoroughly with National Immigration Agency or even a higher level in the Administrative Yuan. Then, the department responsible may start with some hearing sessions, mainly participated by expatriate representatives coming from different countries or regions. Such brainstorm interactions may then allow the authorities to grasp a genuine awareness of a wide range of urgent and factual hindrances caused by language barriers. Accordingly, an adequate amount of financial resources should be specifically allocated for the overall improvement of infrastructure, hardware or software alike. A periodical effectiveness evaluation of the implementation may further reinforce the advancement efforts.
Lau Hieng-Hiong, Hsinchu
Dear Mr. Lau,
This is NOT a problem of our government!
It is only a problem for those Americans who come to work (=make money) and live here but don't learn the language of their host country. Besides that, why don't they have Taiwanese friends to explain things and help them? ANSWER: Because....???? You guess!
February 16, 2013    ludahai_twn@
I don't know what the problem is regarding road signs, but most I see are bilingual, at least on the highways. Frankly, you don't have to be fluent in Chinese to be able to get around. As an American, I am a bit embarrassed by the attitude of some of the other expat Americans I meet in Taiwan and as exhibited in this article. Learn some Chinese. It will make your life a lot easier her. I am far more concerned about bigger issues like fairness in the justice system for foreigners and an end to KMT government hypocrisy on naturalization issues.
February 17, 2013    larsek2@
anmading@ wrote:
Dear American expats,
Can we Taiwanese find bilingual road signs, hurricane warnings in Chinese or Chinese speaking doctors in the USA?
Stay in your own country and don't travel or even work abroad if you can't cope with such "problems" because the situation is the same in most other countries of the world.
Or, much better: take a Chinese language course if you want to stay and live comfortably here in Taiwan!
I agree with your comments hundred percent. If you live in Taiwan you ought to learn Mandarin Chinese as soon as possible. Besides there is ample information in English on Taiwan on the Internet.
February 19, 2013    emotion103@
I totally agree with the comments here about learning the language of the place you intend to live in. When traveling to other countries do you see the signs in every language? In the US are the signs in French/Spanish/Chinese? I should think that they should respect the rights of the people living there and there are very large communities of these ethnic groups in the US.
Learn, speak and stop just hanging out in the little expat groups, with expat communities. Integrate yourselves with the community.
Some of the questions:
Seriously you don't know when the trash comes, you have no neighbors, you don't hear the trash truck... nah basically it's just an excuse.
Weather and typhoon reports - what's this http://www.cwb.gov.tw/eng/index.htm
oh a government website in English with up to date weather, earthquake and typhoon news... how hard was that.

Please I’ve lived here for over 18 years and you couldn't find a more accommodating country for expats. The locals are always willing to help. And as the old saying goes, if you don't like the heat, get out of the kitchen.
February 19, 2013    poeboy418@
I have to agree with most of the posters here, if you want to work and live in a foreign country, learn the language. I worked in TW for 9 years off and on and learned to speak Mandarin, some basic and some advanced and I didn't go to a learning academy either. Most traffic signs in TW are common sense, green to go, red to stop and they tell you when to turn and such. Also unless you are in some remote part of the country where either foreigners are none existent or there isn't anyone who speaks English (which is hard to believe), you can find medical facilities that specialize in whatever your needs are and speak English as well. This is coming from someone who has been hospitalized in TW more than once and never had a problem understanding who I needed to see, what needed to be done, and everything is that goes along with it. TW has got to be one of the friendliest and easiest countries for Expats I have ever been to. Learn Mandarin or move on, simple and plain.
February 20, 2013    williamlasl@
Why is this news? Is it shocking for people to find out they might need to learn the language of the country they are moving to, whatever that country might be?

How come nobody is talking about the difficulties for workers from Indonesia or the Philippines? Funny that...
February 20, 2013    taipeir2001@
Taiwan and Taipei always puts lip service towards becoming more 'international'. It's not a big deal to provide more standard Romanization on street signs and more bilingual signage, especially on places like bus stops, buses, trains etc.

English is useful for most visitors who come to Taiwan, including many non native English speakers.

Taiwanese, stop being so parochial and taking everything so defensively all the time. It's just a suggestion to make the living environment easier for foreign visitors and residents.

In Europe it’s common to have bilingual signage.
February 20, 2013    rvuobzsz@
I agree with most posters that these people should learn the local language... I learned the language and now life is much easier, however foreigners should learn that Taiwan is far from being an international country!!

@anmading - if you go to Vancouver, you will learn that most governmental agencies, banks, etc. will have pamphlets and information in multilingual format... English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, etc... You should try living outside of Taiwan, you might learn something!
February 20, 2013    rvuobzsz@
taipeir2001@ wrote:
Taiwan and Taipei always puts lip service towards becoming more 'international'. It's not a big deal to provide more standard Romanization on street signs and more bilingual signage, especially on places like bus stops, buses, trains etc.

English is useful for most visitors who come to Taiwan, including many non native English speakers.

Taiwanese, stop being so parochial and taking everything so defensively all the time. It's just a suggestion to make the living environment easier for foreign visitors and residents.

In Europe it’s common to have bilingual signage.
@Taipeir2001
I have to agree with you... Taiwan is Far from being an International Country!! They put lip service but fail to act, case in point is the constant change in the pinyin that they use for the MRT.
I also agree that Taiwanese are so defensive... they are insecure and could use this criticism to learn and improve themselves... but of course they won't...
February 21, 2013    freeman70@
ludahai_twn@ wrote:
I don't know what the problem is regarding road signs, but most I see are bilingual, at least on the highways. Frankly, you don't have to be fluent in Chinese to be able to get around. As an American, I am a bit embarrassed by the attitude of some of the other expat Americans I meet in Taiwan and as exhibited in this article. Learn some Chinese. It will make your life a lot easier her. I am far more concerned about bigger issues like fairness in the justice system for foreigners and an end to KMT government hypocrisy on naturalization issues.
I agree. I believe that if you plan to stay long term, you should learn enough Chinese to converse on a basic level. It will facilitate a much easier and comfortable life here in Taiwan. I am also embarrassed by the attitude of some foreigners, not just Americans, who get upset because the locals can't understand English. You also hit the nail on the head regarding the bigger issues.
February 21, 2013    curtisakbar@
All I heard from the Chinese here was, if you come to Taiwan you should learn Chinese. Why? I'm not in China, I would prefer to learn one of the Taiwanese languages like Amis, Paiwanese, Kavalanese etc. But I'll get off my high horse and say, Taiwan wants to encourage more tourists, businesses, high tech industries etc. and rightly or wrongly, English is the global language, so more people will be likely to understand English over Chinese. So throwing a few bits of English around makes Taiwan a more interesting and appealing place to go. Everyone wins if we can take away brains from Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea. You need to expand your mind and forget about what we should or shouldn't learn, just look at all the China Towns around the world where the Chinese people have turned their back on their host country, perhaps we English speakers should start an Anglophone Town in Taipei someone and when we see a yellow face in our neighbourhood we stare, point and shout stuff at them.
February 24, 2013    ges11555@
curtisakbar@

You are an arrogant, racist troll.
February 24, 2013    nw@
taipeir2001@ wrote:
Taiwan and Taipei always puts lip service towards becoming more 'international'. It's not a big deal to provide more standard Romanization on street signs and more bilingual signage, especially on places like bus stops, buses, trains etc.

English is useful for most visitors who come to Taiwan, including many non native English speakers.

Taiwanese, stop being so parochial and taking everything so defensively all the time. It's just a suggestion to make the living environment easier for foreign visitors and residents.

In Europe it’s common to have bilingual signage.
@taipeir2001,

Perhaps it is you who should stop being so patronizing and offensive.

If you like Europe so much, why are you still here?

As the saying goes, 'when in Rome do as the Romans do'. It's funny you don't see the irony,
February 24, 2013    mariannaschutte@
I am a South African living in Taiwan for 12 years now and honestly I do not have any of the problems mentioned in this article. I agree if you find it that hard to live here what are you doing here, be grateful for a job and learn the language if it is a problem for you. There is a website that provides English information about typhoons and if or if not it is a working day. [http://www.cpa.gov.tw/] There are English speaking doctors, plenty if needed.
February 25, 2013    johnny.brian@
williamlasl@ wrote:
Why is this news? Is it shocking for people to find out they might need to learn the language of the country they are moving to, whatever that country might be?

How come nobody is talking about the difficulties for workers from Indonesia or the Philippines? Funny that...
I agree with you, many of the blue collars workers from Indonesia or the Philippines can practically speak few Mandarin, or perhaps understand some Chinese characters...They strive to survive, instead of complaining of language barrier.
February 25, 2013    Seblepetit611@
anmading@ wrote:
Dear American expats,
Can we Taiwanese find bilingual road signs, hurricane warnings in Chinese or Chinese speaking doctors in the USA?
Stay in your own country and don't travel or even work abroad if you can't cope with such "problems" because the situation is the same in most other countries of the world.
Or, much better: take a Chinese language course if you want to stay and live comfortably here in Taiwan!
I have been for a while and I have to admit that I am little lazy to learn Chinese, however I don't find it difficult to understand the basics, like when and where to dump my garbage, just follow the blue plastic carrying people and sound of the truck. But it is true that u can not expect people to have the skill to maintain a full conversation in Chinese with the cable operator or other administrative body, so a little bit of English would help. As for the post that say if you don't speak Chinese, go home, I don't really think that it is smart. Many high position expats change countries often, u can not expect them to speak all the languages of the countries they worked in.
February 25, 2013    sillytaiwan@
williamlasl@ wrote:
Why is this news? Is it shocking for people to find out they might need to learn the language of the country they are moving to, whatever that country might be?

How come nobody is talking about the difficulties for workers from Indonesia or the Philippines? Funny that...
those people also know how to speak English...funny indeed
February 26, 2013    curtisakbar@
ges11555@

You are an idiot, blinded by some sort of self belief that you come from a magical country and have a great society. Not once in my post did I say anything racist, except if you think saying Chinese people come from China is racist and the true Taiwanese are the Amis, Paiwan, Puyuma, Bunun, Kavalan, Tao, Seedqi et el.

You should understand, Taiwan has a lot of problems so by highlighting the problems isn't a bad thing, it is a way to improve Taiwan. Taiwan is polluted and dirty, solution, stop littering and fine businesses that pollute.
February 26, 2013    miller.henry641@
anmading@ wrote:
Dear American expats,
Can we Taiwanese find bilingual road signs, hurricane warnings in Chinese or Chinese speaking doctors in the USA?
Stay in your own country and don't travel or even work abroad if you can't cope with such "problems" because the situation is the same in most other countries of the world.
Or, much better: take a Chinese language course if you want to stay and live comfortably here in Taiwan!
To answer the question about language accommodation for 'foreigners' in the U.S.A., Yes - it is pretty much the law that for vital services they offered be provided in various languages. And Chinese - both Mandarin and Cantonese, are included in this package.
Sorry to bust your provincial bubble, but that’s just the facts.

As to "take a Chinese language course if you want to stay and live comfortably here in Taiwan" - Well, yes. That probably would help a little. But seeing the language variations here - Mando/Hakka.Taiyu/various native languages, that would take more time than its worth.

Been here almost a decade (10 years) and have not had any real problems with typhoon notification or any thing such as that. Garbage truck plays a lovely song to announce its arrival and neighbors let me know what the messages distributed out mean - water/electric shut-off, sewer work, etc.

As to traffic signs and signals - I have found that actually following these signals poses danger from the locals. They damn well ignore them.

Anmading - Not all "American expats" have problems such as this young person is expressing. And don't get too upset...they will scurry back to the U.S.A. before you can finish your Whisbee!
February 26, 2013    nw@
curtisakbar@,

You frequently make offensive remarks. Also remember, one does not need to make a direct, overt remark to show his racist tendency. Only an idiot thinks people can't understand.

Get a life. Better still, go home to wherever you are from.
February 28, 2013    curtisakbar@
nw@
Why should I leave, you are the ones that suck?
Have you ever thought that my pro-Aboriginal, Anti-Chinese may have something to do with where I am from or how said individuals interact? I agree, you don't need to make overt remarks to show you are racist, so we can agree that pointing and shouting at people just because they look different is a racist act. Don't get confused with common sense and making offensive remarks. You want to practice Chinese cultural beliefs, be my guest, just do it inside your property lines or at a temple not in a public space. Maybe you should have a look inside yourself before accusing people of having a racist tendency, perhaps you should reconsider your last sentence 'go home'. Is your home Fujian, Guangdong or somewhere else in China?
March 4, 2013    donnacoke@
Looking at previous comments, this curtisakbar person has done little to contribute to a rational discussion but repeated offensive, aggressive and vulgar remarks. It is tragic that the internet is full of trolls like this person.
March 6, 2013    okidoki@
Geez! And then you Americans complain about the Hispanics speaking Spanish back in the US while English isn't even the official language.
March 7, 2013    vince_tsay@
Dear Expats,

Please ignore the ignorant people that are commenting against having bilingual information for all English speaking nationalities and non-English speaking nationalities. Unfortunately, they have no idea the importance of English in this country who is striving to be recognized in the international community.
March 7, 2013    burglar@
Maybe those foreigners should just try and learn some Chinese. I don't see Chinese signs everywhere in America, either.
March 8, 2013    CURTISAKBAR@
HOW AM I BEING OFFENSIVE/RACIST? CANT YOU HANDLE THE TRUTH THAT YOUR FAMILY CAME FROM CHINA? CHIANG KAI SHEIK IS THE ONLY REASON WHY ROC EXISTS TODAY. DURING THE JAPANESE RULE, TAIWAN HAD PRO-CHINA RIOTS AND THERE WAS EVEN A SHORT WAR TO TRY TO STAY PART OF CHINA, REMEMBER THE REPUBLIC OF FORMOSA? SO WHAT IS OFFENSIVE? MY LIBERAL USE OF CAPS LOCK? THE FACT THAT I KNOW THAT 98% OF PEOPLE IN TAIWAN ARE FROM CHINA? THE FACT THAT POINTING AND SHOUTING STUFF AT NON-CHINESE LOOKING PEOPLE IS RUDE AND RACIST? OR THAT I DON'T SUGAR COAT MY VIEWS, AND WHY SHOULD I?
March 10, 2013    olichu@
Almost all the comments here are racist made by redneck Taiwanese and redneck Americans/Canadians, etc. All countries have ethnic enclaves where they can get the support they need or if not, your social circle for the support. Go there for your information. Be flexible.
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