Best way to study Mandarin - 29 years old

Hello Guys,

I have read many posts of people outside high-school or young University students who are coming to Taiwan to study Chinese at one of those institutions who have 1-year programs to learn the language, such as Shida, ICLP, etc…

My background is a bit different, but the goal is similar.
I am 29 years old, I come from Europe, but I have been living in Asia for the last 5/6 years, between Singapore and Hong Kong.
Living here, I managed to learn some basic Mandarin, pretty much by myself.
From an HSK perspective I am probably between 2 and 3, but I know enough words to be on a 4.


  • Listening and speaking: around HSK2
  • Reading/Writing: HSK2/3
  • Character recognition: 4 (I know about 1,500 characters, I am not able to write them by hand).

I work in IT as a Technical Sales, and I would really want to improve and learn better Mandarin to be able to:

  • Write email in Chinese about my field;
  • Be able to do a presentation in Chinese about my field (Data Centre)
  • Have upper-intermediate conversation on day to day topic

I was thinking about coming to Taiwan from September, and spend 10-12 months in there.
I do not need to work, and I have enough funds to sustain myself without any issue fortunately, however I wanted to understand what is the best approach.

The department of admissions in ICLP has mentioned they are accepting students from the Fall quarter, starting in September. However ICLP seems more suited for who wants to continue their education in a Chinese speaking institution, and there is a strong focus on writing.

I read about TLI and Shida.

What would you recommend for me to be able to come out of this 1 year period with the highest level possible of Chinese?
I would say I can invest up to (around) 12,000-15,000USD for the school fees/lessons, but I am happy to know if there is anything cheaper.

It does not have to be Taipei, however ideally since I won’t be working for a year I would like to have a full life where I can at least do some sports with friends (once or twice a week) and maybe go out once a week to a bar or a club or anything like that.

Thanks guys!

Definitely ICLP. I attended their program years ago, and it took my Mandarin from low intermediate to functional fluency in two terms. If you have the time and motivation to devote to full-time study, they will kick your ass and make you learn more Chinese than you think is possible.


Thanks! Two terms means “two quarters” right?
Fall and Winter for example, right?

Yes. I just did fall and winter (couldn’t afford to stay on for spring).

Thanks a lot Mate.
My starting level is definitely lower than yours, but being not completely 0, hopefully I could be reaching functional fluency as well.

ICLP was definitely on top of my list, so I am considering it seriously.

Yes, I have no need to work.
Clearly work will become something to consider after 9-12 months, but still I should have enough resources to do not arrive without fundings at the end of the path.

My goal is to enjoy Taiwan after Singapore (amazing for work but boring) and Hong Kong (amazing for living but politically not stable), and come out of the experience with a solid knowledge.

My only concern would be if unis will close due to COVID, if there is that risk.
However I think this is something I should do either this year or the next, then I will be too old I think… haha

Never ever ever go to Shida. I went there and they are only happy when taking your money. If you complain, they brush you off or label you a problem and try to kick you out. Older teachers are stuck in the past and will try to teach Mandarin according to their political beliefs, many of which are 50s blue and not representative of how people speak today.

An extreme emphasis is placed on niche aspects of traditional chinese culture and other cultural aspects, of which is largely useless and almost never useful to one trying to build a career and make money. Basic everyday concepts are ignored (think colours or shapes) and you are expected to learn basic concepts outside, despite spending tens of thousands on classes.

Regular classes are a mere 10 hr a week with an extra 5 hours dedicated to ‘side classes’ that repeat every semester, ensuring you learn nothing as an advanced learner.

‘Intensive’ classes just do away with the side classes and have you learning for 15 hr a week and offer more tests. Barely different.

Exams cover very little of course content and are one hour. Exams are not representative of what you learned. Better hope you are lucky to know what is on the exam.

For example. If you are learning how to use 了, there may be one grammar question maximum with it for you to demonstrate your understanding of 了. If you struggle with the characters on that particular question, you get 0, even if you know how to use 了.

Also, you are a man, you will not get protection if a woman is harassing you. True story.
Do not recommend. 0/10.


Thank you Marco.

My first choice is ICLP, right now I started a bit too late to look at it, so I am not sure it will be doable.
However my first choice is ICLP, and then I was thinking either Tzu Chi (mainly because it is much cheaper, so I can have peace of mind and probably have an environment which is less international) or even Yilan.

My only concern would be to risk to do not have any social life outside school, as mentioned, I like to play football, eat outside and light partying/drinking (maybe once a week).

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Wow, @Marco, I had a completely different experience than you at Shida!
I found the classes were very helpful to improve my Chinese, especially reading and writing. I took the intensive course, had to dedicate lots of hours to homework (as expected) and I found the classes very practical.
However, it was clear that the teachers were only part of the equation. I had lazy classmates that didn’t do their homework, nor participate much in class, hence didn’t see much result. Others, however, were very dedicated and even ended up reaching the finals in a national speech contest.
I studied there for two terms (3 months each) with two different teachers. Each had their own style, but they were all very attentive and welcoming any questions, no matter how basic or advanced they were.
I would recommend Shida for sure, but I also heard good comments about ICLP.

I studied for 8 semesters.

You dont even wanna know how little care they give to those who work, and to those who fall severely ill.


Why you didn’t just switch to another program after a semester or two of that punishment? :thinking:

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I am a bit surprised that anyone could get such a singularly bad experience out of Shida. I thought it was perfectly fine for two semesters, although I wouldn’t remain past that point.

It’s true that the quality of the teacher you happen to be placed with and your level of commitment as a student make the biggest difference, but I think that’s true nearly everywhere, for any class, learning anything.


Chinese is hard to learn because it sounds like cats getting put through a cheese grater lol :rofl: couple of bros and I tried learn but couldn’t take it hahaha

Are you sure you’re not thinking of Vietnamese?

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Problems started after the 4th semester.
Was new to the country and was afraid of a financial hit by switching visas. Was afraid I was gonna have to leave the country.

Maybe this deserves its own thread. :grin:

Thanks a lot, I agree. Haha

When you said you were lower intermediate, what did it mean? Around HSK4 level?
ICLP seems where to go, just a bit more expensive than other options I found around, but I heard are money well spent.

And if they really can push that much Chinese in such a “short” timeframe, maybe I will be able to find a job earlier than I think?

Vietnamese is a beautiful language.

Perhaps this deserves its own thread as well but has anybody done any of the aforementioned programs while working? When I last looked into it, it would have been fairly difficult as a lot of classes were in the AM.

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Seems that since majority of the classes are in AM, unless you work following a different time-zone, it might be hard/complicated?

I also understand you are expected to do homework for around 3-4 hours as well (let’s say you cut it short to 1.5/2, still) it would make it hard to balance both I guess?

Yeah, that was my understanding as well.

Perhaps the market isn’t that large but it would appear that a program for such people would be successful.

No idea about the HSK, as I have zero interest in tests. I’d completed two years of college level Chinese, which allowed be to barely have basic conversations.