With Taiwan’s diverse history as an international crossroads in times of war and peace it has seen migrants from Europe, Japan, China and more, which have contributed to its cultural basis today.
After World War II when the Kuomintang became the ruling party in Taiwan, Mandarin Chinese was introduced as the official language and as such it was also made a part of the compulsory school education. Before 1945 Japanese was the official language and it was taught in school as well.
Mandarin Chinese is the dominant language in Taiwan. It is nearly universally spoken and understood. You’ll hear it on the radio, see it on TV etc. It also acts as a bridging language between all the different language group speakers on the island.
Some sources claim that up to 70% of the population speaks “Taiwanese” as their native tongue as the majority of Taiwanese people are of Fujianese descent. “Taiwanese” refers to the Hokkien dialect of Min Nan (also known as Southern Min or Holo). Hokkien is in fact spoken by many overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia and originates in southern Fujian.
The Hakka language (sometimes Hakka Han) is spoken by the Hakka Chinese subgroup. The Hakka people, who are Han Chinese with links to Guangdong, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Sichuan, Hunan and Fujian in China, are concentrated in a number of counties in Taiwan.
The various indigenous tribes of Taiwan estimated to constitute about 2% of the population each have their own language, but it is very common for the members of middle-aged and young generation members to speak better Mandarin and Taiwanese.
Many people born before 1940 speak fluently Japanese as a direct result of the Japanese rule (1895-1945).
The most popular foreign language today is English that is a part of the regular school curriculum. It is not uncommon for some Taiwanese to approach foreigners in the streets to practice their English.