Taiwan Mandarin Institute Review

Roddy over at Chinese Forums asked me to do a write up on my experience at Taiwan Mandarin Institute. I went there last summer for a 4 week period. I hope this write up will be useful. I am cross posting this on their forum.


I did a 4 week intensive course. The cost was $35,000NT(~$1,166.66USD). The PAVC 2 book and workbook came with the course.


The registration process was fairly simple. I used the online form to register ahead of time. We e-mailed back and forth with a couple of other questions to narrow down my level and schedule. While I could specify I wanted the 2pm afternoon classes, I was informed I wouldn't get an exact schedule until a week before classes started. The schedule came on time, and all but Monday classes started at 2pm. Monday started at 1:30pm. Once I had arrived in Taipei I showed up about 30 minutes before my first class and we handled some administrative stuff like emergency contact, introducing me to my teacher, giving me the books, and showing me the facility. This is a smaller language school and I wasn't over crowded by a bunch of other people also needing to register at the same time.

Courses info

They have a couple of different course types. They have your regular group course which consists of two hours of instruction per weekday. Then there is the intensive course which is 4 hours per weekday. They also offer Private one on one, and custom classes. Checking their website today it looks like they have added an online class as well.

The courses are further broken down by level. I was in a lower intermediate class. Unless you form a special class all the classes use the PAVC books. I had completed the first two Integrated Chinese books before that summer. Based on me telling them roughly how many words/characters I had learned up to that point, and a link to the IC table of contents they guessed I was around PAVC book 2 Chapter 6. This turned out to be a good starting point for me. While these two books don't directly match up, there was plenty of new vocabulary, and grammar.


Class sizes are small. While I was there doing afternoon classes in the summer I observed in passing one beginner class and an intermediate class. Both classes had about 5 – 7 students. My class was interesting, while it was originally scheduled to have 5 students, 3 students rescheduled for different dates leaving just an Irish student and I.

The classrooms themselves are big enough to hold 8 – 12 comfortably. They all have a white board, some conference type tables with chairs around them, and some decent side windows. Each room has it's own window AC unit. If a teacher was going to use a PPT to aid them they would bring in a laptop, and a plain old CRT monitor.

My intensive classes was broken down into about an hour of study, and then a 15 minute break, followed by another hour. Then we would have a 30 minute to one hour break before repeating.


All the teachers are native speakers with prior teaching experience. Teaching style varied from teacher to teacher, and you could tell administration if you didn't click with a specific teacher. While I was taking the intensive course they explained to me they wanted me to be exposed to different speaking styles, and teaching styles to help me learn better. While I think this was helpful to me, I also think they were having scheduling issues and needed three teachers to cover all my hours.

One of the cool things about two of my teachers was that during class time we almost completely spoke in Chinese. This was new to me. This was not how we had done it at university. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of work. They encouraged me to talk at length to make my point, and not to just pop out one or two word answers. They were also big on the homework thing. I had 1 – 2 hours of homework most days. The homework was comprised of the workbook, and also handouts the teachers provided.


They offer this service but I did not need to take advantage of it. I lived about 20 minutes away by bus. One of their dorms is in the same building as the school, and the other is nearby according to the website. Pricing on the website at $1000NT/day & $1500NT/day. It looks like you are paying extra for the convenience. If you have the money, I don't think that this is a bad thing, but I also believe if you plan ahead you can find cheaper living arrangements on your own.


The school is in a good location. I wasn't familiar with this area before I started school. It is in the Daan District, on Roosevelt Rd Section 3. There is a bus stop at the street corner next to the building, and subway access not to far away. While I was there I scouted around the area and found all kinds of things. For example, I found a Mexican place, a movie theater, some good coffee shops and pubs, plenty of good food places, and several used book stores.


This is the first language school I have attended.While I was at TMI there were a few holiday's and the administration had a bit of confusion on whether they were going to be off on those days or not, but it got sorted out without causing me any inconvenience, I just happen to hear them talking about it on a break.

I mentioned before we got in detail about what level I should start at via e-mail, and I don't know if there is a best way to evaluate one's Chinese level, but I found their website was a little bit vague in this regard. I think adding that they use the PAVC books could have helped me figure out my level quicker, but maybe not.

Also this is a small business, and like most small businesses ( including the one I work for ) in some respects they attempt to sound bigger than they are. On the flip side because they were so small I felt like I got a lot more personal attention than I would have otherwise.


I had a great experience while I was there. If I get the chance I will go back. I second what another posted said in his post. Make friends with your classmates. My other classmate had been living in Taiwan for several years and he was kind enough to show me me around our school's area, as well as share some interesting stories.  


Helping Google Pinyin, Windows 7, and Dvorak play nice together

In March I posted about getting Google's Pinyin IME to use the Dvorak keyboard layout as it's default instead of the standard Qwerty. I made that post in part because I had to figure that problem out on my own and didn't want others to have to go through it, and in part so I could find my hack again if I ever needed it. Funnily enough I ended up needing it again less than a month later for another install I did.

Anyhow, I decided to install Google's Pinyin IME onto my Windows 7 computer, and I had the same issue of it wanting to use the standard Qwerty layout. I did some googling and found how someone fixed the issue for the standard Simplified Chinese Pinyin layout, and from that I was able to apply my own fix.

Below are my steps for installing it. With anything you find off the internet, your trying this AT YOUR OWN RISK. Don't blame me if something goes wrong. These steps work for me, and they should work for you, but I am not responsible for you, or your things, your a grown up, don't pout.

  1. Go to the Google page and download the installer.
  2. Install the program. I mostly hit the next button. I did check the box for collecting anonymous stats, and signed in with my Google account, but you can choose not to do those things.
  3. After it was installed, I opened a notepad and verified it worked, and was using the Qwerty layout instead of Dvorak.
  4. Next I opened regedit 
    1. Click the Start button.
    2. Click in the search box to start a new search. 
    3. Type "regedit" without the quotes.
    4. Above it an icon of a blue Rubik cube and the word Regedit will appear.
    5. Click on that.to open the regedit program.
    6. Click, yes when it asks if your sure you want to continue. 
  5. Inside of the regedit program I navigated to the appropriate place by clicking the + symbols next to each of the following words.
    1. Computer
    3. SYSTEM
    4. CurrentControlSet
    5. Control
    6. Keyboard Layouts ( There is also a Keyboard Layout directory. This is the wrong directory.)
    7. E0200804 ( Your layout may be in a differently named folder. The best way to tell is by looking at the right side. "Layout text" should say "谷歌拼音输入法 2" or "Google Pinyin" or something similar.)
  6. Once you have found the right spot Double click the "Layout File" words.
  7. In the popup box change the value from "KBDUS.DLL" to "KBDDV.DLL" Upper or lower case should not matter.
  8. Click OK.
  9. Close regedit.
  10. Log Out of windows( not hibernate, or suspend, or lock ).
  11. Log back in and try it out.
  12. Profit. ^_^

I hope this helps. I'm sure it will help me on my next re-install or update. Now for my obligatory inflammatory statement, which is a reminder that Dvorak is a better keyboard layout than Qwerty, not only for English but also for Pinyin. Even if you don't like Dvorak, at least look at what is out there. There are quite a few different layouts available and tailored for different purposes. It is surprising how fast someone can pick a new one up, and start benefiting from it.


Unity, Dvorak, and Google Pinyin.... oh my!

Just a quick post today.

A month or two back I decided I should try out Unity instead of just using KDE all the time. I did this for a lot of reasons, but mostly cause I like to try new things. I went into this knowing that the newest Ubuntu has some issues with Chinese input. A few I had dealt with on the KDE side. So, I went ahead and just installed it alongside my Kubuntu packages. It 99% just worked, and that was great. One Issue that I ran into was my Google Chinese input seemed to be locked to the standard Qwerty keyboard.

This made me sad. I am a Dvorak guy, and I like typing my pinyin with Dvorak. So, I first tried to find "that setting", you know that one setting that will make everything right if you can just find it. I failed. Next, I went in search of how to fix my problem on the interwebs. I didn't see an answer that suited me. Man, I need to get better at interweb searching. So lastly I deded I would go at it terminal style.

Terminal style means you grep around for configuration files and modify them and see what happens. It's completely scientific. Did I mention I made up the term "terminal style?" Anywho I hit the jackpot, and fixed my problem. Hopefully this little tweak will fix your problem also. I assume your using ibus like me, if not you may need a similar file but in a different location.

  1. try to locate googlepinyin.xml
  2. sudo vi /usr/share/ibus/component/googlepinyin.xml
  3. modify the line that looks like this "<layout>us</layout>" to look like "<layout>us-dvorak</layout>“
  4. restart your ibus-daemon
Then all was right with the world. Now 6 - 9 months from now when I mess up this computer I'll have a record of what needs to be done. ^_^ Hopefully It will help someone else also.

On a related note while I was searching the interwebs I came across a post about Chinese pinyin frequency mapped to Dvorak. The poster shows some heatmaps and keypress frequencies. It's quite fascinating, and if I ever get fast at typing pinyin, Dvorak isn't a bad keymap to do it on.



HSK a.k.a. 汉语水平考试


Seeing as it is the Chinese New Year I figured I ought to talk about something Chinese related. I am gearing up for another test. February 16 is an official testing day for the HSK, and I will attempt the level IV test.

What is this HSK you ask? I am so glad you asked! It is a standardized test us non native Chinese speakers can take to test our Chinese language skillz. We have a similar thing here in America for foreigners called the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language ).

The question I often get next from family and friends is, "Why?" For me personally it is a way to measure myself. See how far I have grown and how much farther I can grow. But, there are other reasons a person may want to take this test. One being the certificate earned is recognized in China. Looks good on Job and School applications. It's your Chinese language street creds. Another reason is that if you get high marks you maybe be able to get short term language study scholarships in China.

At this point they want me to explain the levels. You pick one of six tests. They correspond to six levels. Each harder than the previous. Each with more vocabulary. Here's a simple breakdown in my own words of where you should be before taking each test. Read the detailed outline if your actually gonna take the test.
  1. A very basic test with only listening and reading. Don't worry their reading has Pinyin.
  2. Similar to level one, but double the vocabulary. You're able to speak and respond to simple direct questions and answers. You're considered an advanced beginner.
  3. This is the first level to add a writing component. You got enough to get stuff done, and have basic conversations, but no debating or essays.
  4. I would dub this advanced intermediate.You are passable at communicating with natives, but can't yet fluently read the news.
  5. Even more words. You ar. expected to be able to write and give lengthy speeches. No speeches for the test thankfully. ^_^ 
  6. You are a smooth operator. I think about as fluent as someone born there.
For a detailed explanation of the levels check out the wikipedia page. When I first signed up for the HSK; I thought I would have to pass the first level to take the second, and so on. I was wrong! Thankfully the awesome staff at my testing center helped me fix my mistake. If you are following the Integrated Chinese books, here is how I would tell you to pick your level.
  1. IC book 1, Chapter 6.
  2. IC book 2, Chapter 15. 
  3. IC book 3, Chapter 2. 
  4. Where I am attempting the test at. IC book 3, Chapter 6.
  5. No idea, just a guess. IC book 4, Chapter 20.
  6. No idea.
The HSK vocabulary for III had a 10% chunk of words not covered in the IC books (up to the point I was at). As far as I can remember I knew all of the grammar patterns. With that being said I destroyed the HSK III before finishing the third book. It's possible with a little preparation you could do it before even starting book 3. My two preparation tips would be know the vocabulary, and make sure you can consistently pass the mock test. Here's a link for I - IV for the Anki users.

If you are also wanting to study for the HSK, here is a great blog article with study tips from a guy who has passed level six. If you are not into Chinese, or don't wanna test on the HSK, here's a list of language proficiency tests ordered by language, plenty of options to choose from.

Wish me luck, and Happy Chinese New Year!


Romanizing Chinese Characters From the Command Line

Often, I am reading some tidbit of Chinese on G+ or Facebook, and I come across a character I don't know. Since I'm such a great student, I first look at the various radicals it is made up of and try to guess what it means and sounds like. Using the surrounding context I can guess the meaning about 50% of the time and the correct sound about 25% of the time.

Since I have such dismal guessing rates I use various programs to check myself, before I wreck myself. If I am on the go, I draw the character with my finger in Pleco. Otherwise, I may try my guessed sound via pinyin. Both methods are slow and error prone. So instead, I often copy and paste the character into Google Translate. There are times when I do not have Internet, or I don't want to fire up a web browser. When that happens I utilize a nifty Perl module by Yusuke Kawasaki called Lingua::ZH::Romanize::Pinyin. I put the following one liner into my bashrc as an alias.

alias romanize="perl -MLingua::ZH::Romanize::Pinyin -E 'say Lingua::ZH::Romanize::Pinyin->new->chars(\$ARGV[0]);'"

This allows me to use the command line like below.
user@system:~$ romanize 骆驼
luo tuo

It is as simple as that! Not only does he have a module for Chinese, but also modules for Korean and Japanese.