Stuff we like – language learning resources


Hokkien (閩南話, 台語)

For the iphone (US Apple store, under Taiwanese language)

  • Taiwan MOE: 萌典 dictionary application – uses proper 本字(!) as per TW MOE, Chinese only (繁體/POJ)
  • Taiwanese dictionary app (jī-tián = 字典)  handles English, 繁體,简体 and POJ, no characters for Hokkien, though – best combined with MoeDict
  • Taiwander’s Taiwanese (台灣達Tâi-gí) – a playful approach to learning Taiwanese vocabulary and some short sentences for everyday conversation


  • Philip T. Lin: Taiwanese Grammar, A Concise Reference (great work, in English)
  • Nicolas C. Bodman: Spoken Amoy Hokkien, 2 volumes + tapes (1950s, but good)
  • Maryknoll has a range of textbooks and dictionaries in English (of which I have bought some but have not gotten round to working with yet)
  • I have not used this one (yet), but it came highly recommended: Southern Hokkien: An Introduction (see Guy Emerson’s detailed description in the comments) –
  • A special mention: the Rev. Douglas’ 1873 monumental Dictionary of the Vernacular or Spoken Language of Amoy (not sure it still makes sense to buy this in the age of moedict and itaigi, but only 10 years ago this was the best there was) – if you do, get the pdf version with characters that comes as part of this book: All printed versions out there cost thousands of dollars or have no characters, but this Malay book ships with a pdf copy with characters!


  • Interesting websites


Other 方言


General Chinese Studies




Latin / Greek

Ancient Egyptian



8 thoughts on “Stuff we like – language learning resources

      1. It uses POJ but with superscript tone numbers instead of diacritics — citation tones and sandhi tones are both indicated, separated by a hyphen, e.g. ho2-1 (where the 2-1 is superscript) means citation tone 2, but sandhi tone 1 in the particular context. The indication of sandhi tones is fantastic, because Hokkien tone sandhi takes quite a while to get used to.

        When introducing vocabulary, it lists all commonly used characters for a particular expression — sometimes there are several! If there is enough evidence, they indicate the etymological character cognate with either Classical Chinese or Mandarin, which they use in later examples. If it’s not clear what the etymological character is (and it’s a simple fact that some expressions do not have cognates), they choose a loan character, and write the character in square brackets to indicate this. When introducing vocabulary, they also indicate the “Current Taiwan Standard” (characters suggested by the Taiwan Ministry of Education), but they don’t use these characters in later examples.

        It also comes with audio CDs, including both dialogues and vocabulary examples. Examples that have variant pronunciations are pronounced by multiple speakers, e.g. so-called Zhangzhou, Quanzhou, and Amoy variants (I say “so-called” because it means Taiwanese accents derived from these places, not mainland Chinese accents).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sounds great, will add it to the list! Including variant pronunciations is a good idea – “we don’t say it like this” has been my constant companion since trying to learn this language :-D.


      3. It sounds like you’re already aware there is a lot of variation in written Hokkien (both for romanisation and for characters). If you’re interested in reading more, I would recommend Henning Klöter’s book “Written Taiwanese”. But don’t expect easy answers! To quote the conclusion from the end of the book:

        “In sum, it seems highly unlikely that the common confusion regarding the written representation of Taiwanese expressions will surrender to an authoritative guideline in the near future. For the time being, the reader of Taiwanese texts will have to come to terms with chaos.”

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yes, it has been a bit of mess 😉 POJ (> Tailo/TLPA), kana, modified zhuyin, the GR-based systems (Phofsit Daibuun), + all the idiosyncratic spelling systems used by only one or two individuals, to not even start with the whole 本字 debate :-D. It reminds me of the saying that you cannot call yourself a sinologist before having created your own transcription system (I don’t call myself a sinologist, but I have made my own, as well, something of a modified POJ with Mandarin vowels and Cantonese final consonants to write three 方言 in one – a bit like what Yuen Ren Chao was trying to do with his General Chinese).

        It seems to me, though, that a consensus is emerging of using some variant of POJ (e.g. TLPA) and the modern Taiwanese characters – at least to judge from recent innovations like the iphone apps, itaigi, Lin’s grammar. It was a completely different story when I first heard about Hokkien / Southern Min 20 years ago … chaos was reigning supreme and you could not find 2 resources that used the same standard. I believe that languages can only survive in the long term if there is some written standardization – otherwise, they will fall prey to the influence of “proper” languages (that you can write in) and will die a slow death. So, the recent emerging TW approach gives me some hope … although I have not seen any influence yet in Fujian itself or the SEA Hokkien-sphere.


      5. Haha, a combined Hokkien-Mandarin-Cantonese transcription sounds exciting XD

        I completely agree that a standardised orthography would be a good idea — the problem comes when the choice of orthography takes on political and ideological dimensions! I’m not yet at the stage where I can read Taiwanese Hokkien literature, but I would be interested to see to what extent authors use the MoE standard or a different standard.

        In Penang, there is a Speak Hokkien Campaign which mostly follows the Taiwan MoE both for romanisation and characters (but with a few idiosyncrasies):

        Liked by 1 person

      6. What an awesome website!!! I was unaware of it. What is particularly impressive is that they lobby for the reintroduction of the language in schools – which is the only way to preserve it.

        Of course, some will say, this prevents children from learning a more “useful” language like English or Mandarin, but not so – in our family, tetra- or pentalinguism is the norm (!) and by no means the end of the scale ;-). Countries like the Netherlands or Spain show that this can work at a national level – not always without problems, sure, but then again: what is without problems in human endeavors? Thanks for sharing!


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