NTU'S ICLP - Language Program - Feedback and Thoughts

Hi,

I have read through all of the posts on ICLP on this forum and heard pretty much nothing but good things about the program. The only one criticism was about learning Classical Chinese. I’m not even close to being there yet, so i don’t have much to worry about for now. hehe

I applied and was accepted to the ICLP program for this upcoming year and I had some questions so I could better prepare myself for what to expect.

I wanted to ask everyone who has taken classes their thoughts on ICLP. Most people have mentioned that aside from the 4 hours of classes each day, there is about 4-8 hours of homework per day. I am curious, what is the homework which requires 4-8 hours? Part of it is listening to audio tapes? Reading consists of about how many hours would you all say? Is there writing homework? Do student practicing writing chinese characters?

From the website it sounds like most of the class time is spent on reading and speaking skills. And at such an intensive pace, do they have time to teach (and are we required) to learn how to write chinese? Does homework include writing essays or sentences in Chinese? Typing it on the computer?

Oh, one more thing. About how many new vocabulary words do we learn in a day? 4-8 hours of homework sounds extremely intensive, so I was curious as to the breakdown of how study time is allocated.

I greatly appreciate any feedback you guys can provide!

About ICLP…
I’m not sure what negative comment you heard about the Classical Chinese taught there. The wenyanwen class that I took was the best of the lot at ICLP. That really is there specialty. I was surprised on the first day when everyone introduced themselves that 80% of the students had come to work on their Classical Chinese. When I was there, I heard that they are the best program anywhere for that field.

Speaking of, you should be aware that they are VERY focused on academic Chinese. Perhaps a little too much IMO. They assume that every student needs and wants Chinese primarily for advanced graduate study and little else. If you’re going for business Chinese or some other field like that, then you may seriously want to reconsider. Don’t be fooled by all the classes offered on their website, they don’t offer half of those listed. Also, the less-academically focused classes that they do offer usually get assigned to the less capable teachers, again showing their focus.

The 4-8 hours of homework a day are primarily spent on preparing for the next class and reviewing the material already covered. It took me an hour minimum to prepare for each class and multiple hours could be spent reviewing for each one.

You’ll realize how difficult this is about 4-5 weeks in. By that point, you will have a mountain of stuff to review, plus prepare for class. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

I only managed to study 8 hours a day for one full week. But I was only able to do it by cutting EVERYTHING else out of my life. And I mean everything. By the end of the week, I was in the hospital. My hat is off to students that could sit in class for four hours and then study 8 hours straight everyday, but I couldn’t do it. If you can’t either, then seriously think about whether or not you want to do this program.

Some students spent a lot of time learning to write each character. I didn’t. Part of the homework is writing speeches and dialogues. I had a speech due every week. But you can just type those. For tingxie, you obviously have to write characters. I just wrote pinyin, even though it ticked off the teacher. But I was swamped for time already and not willing to put in any more.

The vocabulary comes out to about 30 words per class, per day. So expect about 100 or so words a day.

That brings me to my biggest complaint about ICLP. It’s just like every other Chinese program in Taiwan: if you’re a natural language learner that can memorize that many words every night, then you’ll do great there. If not, then you’ll likely have trouble. It got really bad for me when I studied Thought and Society, the main textbook at the 400 level. The vocab lists just got longer and longer. Trying to cover that book in 10 weeks was a nightmare.

We never, not once, had any discussion on HOW to study Chinese or learning strategies. It was just assumed that you could memorize 100 words a night plus a dozen grammar points. Some teachers did make an effort to point out that some words were more important than others, so we didn’t necessarily have to memorize everything. But far too many teachers acted as if everything had to be memorized. In the end, I was just frustrated.

I should also mention that you aren’t allowed to use the textbook in class. For some classes, students had to practically memorize the content of the kewen, as well.

If you are getting a scholarship, then I would say by all means go. But if you’re paying your own way, I would go for one quarter and try it out to see if it’s for you. Good luck.

Now I’m scared! lol 100 words a day is quite a lot. That is 500 words a week!

You took a full year? How much do you feel you learned? It sounds like you studied advanced classes there – Classical Chinese etc. Do you feel you can now read the newspaper, novels, watching movies, tv programs, etc. with no problems now? How about verbal communication level?

No, I didn’t take the full three quarters. It’s an academic year, BTW, not a full year.But you probably know that.

How much I learned is a good question. No, I can’t read the newspaper, nor can I watch TV with no problems. I know that’s the impression of everyone that goes through the program, but it just isn’t reality. People enter at different levels. I saw people there who were in their second year at ICLP who I thought weren’t all that great, but they had started at a lower level. If someone went in with great Chinese, then they’d likely leave with fantastic Chinese. It all depends on your level.

I went in at the 300 level. A lot of people did. If you’ve studied at the book three level in Taiwan, then you’ll probably be at that level too. I left after studying at the 400 level.

I don’t believe for a second that people at the 400-500 level will be able to leave ICLP reading newspapers. But then what does “reading newspapers” mean? Reading without a dictionary? Reading every section of the newspaper equally well? I don’t think any of that is possible at the 500 level.

The problem is that advanced Chinese is incredibly vocab intense. It’s just not realistic to think that you’re going to read at that level in 9 months. Most people get burned out because there’s only so much you can stuff in your head in a short amount of time. Advanced Chinese, especially, seems to need lots of time to get used to the “vocab explosion” that happens at that level.

But I will say this for ICLP, they got me over the hump of middle level Chinese. I’m at the advanced level, meaning that there are no other classes in Taipei for me to take. I’m beyond what any other school offers. But I’ve become so hyper aware of how far I have to go to achieve fluency, that I’m a little burned out right now.

So basically, I recognise more characters than every before, I understand more TV than I ever did in the past, but I still have a long way to go to reach my goal. Thing is, after ICLP, it’s all on you. Haha.

BTW, I HIGHLY recommend the advanced level podcasts over at chinesepod.com

They have the high-level stuff that I find more relevant to living in Taiwan than you’ll find at ICLP. Would mastering all those advanced level podcasts get you further than ICLP if academic Chinese isn’t really your goal? Hmm…

Hi Greg-
Sorry I took so long to get back to you. I ended up not going to ICLP; I lack the serious academic background to be accepted, not to mention the cash and the dedication. I’m downstairs from ICLP at NTU’s Chinese Language Division Program, which is less intense (merely 2 hours a day with no one on one instruction) and I can barely handle that. I spend about three hours a day during the week studying. In contrast to netrealist’s experiences at ICLP, I get 45-60 characters a week.

After roughly a term and a half at CLD (plus a year and half of U.S. Community College Mandarin) I can read menus and brochures but not newspapers and have functional, but error ridden conversations with store clerks, school staff and non-English speaking relatives. Sorry I cannot be of further help unless you want to hear more about CLD.

Hi Everyone,

First off, I’d say that netrealist’s analysis is pretty much spot on. Put simply, if you love studying and come at an intermediate level ICLP can give you pretty amazing academic Chinese.

I am on my study abroad year from a college with an equally intense workload, where I took 2 years of Chinese to begin with. At ICLP, I started at the “3rd year” level, Talk on Chinese Culture, and am now in the middle of my third and final semester, studying 臺灣短文集, a glossed collection of critical essays on Taiwanese society written for consumption by real Taiwanese people. In addition, I am studying 棋王, a novel by Zhang Xiguo, Shadick’s intro to Wenyanwen and reviewing Thought and Society.

Everything from Thought and Society, the book after Talk on Chinese Culture, is all real material. Real, interesting, and difficult material written by actual Taiwanese academics for Taiwanese consumption. It’s leaps and bounds beyond the crap that you get at most schools. This is my favorite aspect of ICLP - from 3rd year on most everything is real stuff (my first semester I took TOCC, which isn’t but is styled like college lectures, a class of glossed radio plays, a newspaper class, and a one-on-one class reviewing TOCC). And yes, at this point, I can read newspapers. At least 90% of the text is understandable, and I can finally just sit down and read the paper while eating breakfast. But that still leaves the final 10%, mostly more obscure nouns, which would probably take 2 or 3 more years to nail down (that 10% is a lot). This semester, I’ve started Classical, and I find it very helpful with reading the newspapers.

But, I would not recommend starting your Chinese at ICLP. At least not if you plan to do everything their way. Their beginning two years worth of material is not suited for most beginners, because they do not emphasize writing characters at all, and do not give you those little grammar questions and workbook exercises which I got day in and day out for the first two years of my education. It’s simply not worth the money to start your Chinese there; they only this year added a set of first year materials and their second year set is the same as what you’ll get at any school like Shida.

And on a final note, there are many students (MANY) at ICLP with great reading ability but absolutely terrible speaking ability. Most of the teachers here are unwilling or unable to pound good pronunciation or intonation into students without an expessed desire for extra attention, so many people leave her reading newspapers and discussing 古文觀止 (Guwen Guanzhi) but without a semblance of real Chinese conversational ability. Well, they can have a conversation, but it’s painful to have to listen to.

P.S. One thing you might not realize is that although the workload is high, it’s very much a personal choice how much of it you want to complete. There are no grades, only one essentially diagnostic exam at the end of each semester, and the teachers care very little about how much you do if you make it clear what you want out of the class. If you don’t want to have listening exams on new vocab, just say you won’t do them. If you don’t want to learn to write characters, you don’t have to. They’ll help if you want, but it’s all about you… Most people here are grad students and are beyond being forced to learn; if you come here then you want it already. My first two semesters I spent a lot more time out partying and making friends and hung out relatively little with Westerners. As a result, my classwork suffered a bit. But I got it done, and going out brought my conversational Chinese way beyond my classmates’ level. At others schools, I wouldn’t be able to make that choice. It’s not a pressure cooker, honestly. It’s very relaxed. It’s just that the students here want to learn 50 words a day.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask me. I can introduce you to some teachers or show the books, if you’d like. I really like the place!

Wow, lots of interesting feedback on this. It’s interesting how wiggin mentioned many students leave with great reading ability but lacking in speaking fluency. One would think that since students can’t open their textbooks in class (or in most of the classes? from what I have heard) and that in those classes it is primarly based on speaking that all of the students would leave being able to speak fluently?! On their website and in some other reviews they were saying enunciating correctly and developing student speaking fluency was a huge part of the program.

Strange…

Are they able to train students well in being able to watch the news and movies and such? I heard they have the radio plays, and television and film classes (at least listed on the website). I’m wondering how helpful those classes are in helping students in terms of gearing them for movies, news, etc. It would be quite an accomplishment to be able to go to any theater and watch an entire movie in mandarin without subtitles, or hearing the news in the background while doing something else and understand what’s going on. heh

Oh, I had an additional question about ICLP. How is the environment at the school? I mean, is it ultra competitive between the students or is it more close bonds between friends who help each other through studies, learning, etc.? Cliquish or is like one big happy family? heh

And the environment between the students and teachers? Is it a strenuous and rigorous teaching/learning environment, but laid back and casual in terms of interaction between student and teacher? Or is it more of a ‘you student’ ‘she professor’ type of environment where there is very little socialization?

I think the amount of time they spend in the classroom and on preparation is simply absurd. You need two hours of day in the classroom, and hour of study a day, and some free time to do stuff with your Mandarin outside of class. Save your money and go the cheapest Mandarin Center you can find-I’d try Huadong or Tzuchi down in Hualien. With the money you save and the low cost of living, I’d bet you wouldn’t need to work.

Most people leave ICLP with better reading ability because they CAME with decent reading ability to begin with. Again, many people were there to take Chinese lit. (Wiggin mentioned Shaddick’s Intro to Wenyanwen, a terrible book, but a great class). So many were Chinese lit. grad students (or hoping to be) that primarily wanted to get even better at reading plus pick up a little better speaking level. BTW, most everyone had studied on the mainland.

I was surprised at the tones people had. I expected them to be better, especially for the people who had been there two years. So I agree with Wiggin that the speaking ability wasn’t always there for some people. Part of the reason is the switch over to primarily reading materials in the second quarter. Another factor is the fact that ICLP now has FOUR students in every class, not three as I had thought. That means less talk time per student.

Wiggin and I went in at the same level and took the exact same courses, so it’s interesting to compare his experience to mine. I don’t yet feel confident with the newspaper at all. I’m more at the 80-85% level. That means an awful lot of meaning passes me by and I struggle to grasp the details. Reviewing the excellent Thought and Society (I agree with his assessment of that book) will do me a lot of good, I’m sure.

I also agree that you shouldn’t attend ICLP unless you have studied up to the 3rd book level. The lower levels use the same books as ShiDa. If you’re at a lower level, why not just study at ShiDa, take an hour private lesson a day at TLI and save yourself US$5000?

One last note, if you do go, be sure to apply for the Taiwan gov. scholarship in the second quarter. They seemed to be practically giving them away since no one applied for them.

Nobody posting here seems to be interested in the IUP at Qinghua, but I thought this comparison of ICLP and IUP written by a PhD candidate might be informative reading for anybody looking into studying at ICLP.

blakemorefoundation.org/Compare.pdf

I had long assumed that the ICLP has been in a slow, downward spiral ever since the original IUP pulled up stakes and moved to Beijing. That seems quite far from the truth if one goes by the above writer’s assessment. After reading his comparison, it seems to me that the main benefit of moving the program to Beijing is just location.

I already responded to the OP via PM, but figured it might be of use to post my experiences for future questions re: the ICLP.

I decided fairly late in my undergraduate career (ie, too late to transfer) that I wanted to go into Chinese history; my undergrad institution didn’t offer Chinese. My UG advisor gave me three options: go to a crappy PhD program, get an MA in the US first (and do my language there by default), or move to Taipei or Beijing to study at the ICLP or the IUP. I decided on the ICLP.

I moved here in February of '06, essentially having had NO Chinese, and started studying at the CLD down on the 2nd floor - the Tai-Da CLD, not the language center that closed. I started at the ICLP in Sept. of 06. I was in class with kids that had 2+ years of Chinese at the US UG level, and had no problems. So I started with Modern Chinese Conversation. I wish I could’ve come in at a higher level, but it simply wasn’t possible - I was applying to PhD programs in Chinese history for entrance this fall & simply didn’t have TIME. I am positive I would’ve gotten more out of my experience if I had come in at the Talks on Chinese Culture level - but again, I had to work with what I had.

I will fully admit I came here with one goal in mind: to bring my reading up to a fairly high level. I could honestly care less about speaking incredible, fluent Chinese beyond being able to get around. I can fluently discuss issues that matter to me (like, say, Chinese women’s poetry!), I can get around Taipei just fine, but I’m not one of those rockstar students that is just killer when it comes to discussion. However, Chinese is my 4th foreign language & I have never been particularly great at speaking - I am very shy and afraid of making mistakes, which does not lend itself to developing incredibly fluency.

But my Chinese has come SO FAR this past year. Even though I came in at the lower end of the intermediate level, I am reading ‘real’ Chinese novels right now outside of class, on second semester wenyan (ie, I can sit down with Li Bai and translate without any problem), I’m fairly comfortable with newspapers to some degree, etc. At this point, it’s refining work that I need to do - I just need to READ. A lot. I will say I think that’s one of the downsides of this program - honestly, but the time I have 4 hours of class a day + having to prepare for classes the next day, the LAST thing I want to do is read more Chinese above & beyond what’s required for homework and prep, which is exactly what I need to do. But I’m going back to the US this summer in lieu of staying for the ICLP’s summer session & I look forward to having lots of downtime to do further reading on my own.

I think there’s a fair degree of flexibility - I was pretty insistent when selecting courses for my 2nd semester that I wanted to start on my wenyan (even though most people start after they finish TOCC, not while they’re taking it) & they were more than happy to oblige, though I had to find other students at my level who also wanted to start (which wasn’t a problem at all - we had 2 classes of people at my level, actually). Once you hit Thought & Society, I think things really open up - my danbanke this semester is all about ME and what I want to talk about, not a matter of regurgitating the book as previous semesters were.

Is the program perfect? Of course not. Has anyone figured out the perfect system of teaching foreigners Chinese? No. Did I get exactly what I expected - language acquisition wise - from this program? YES. I credit the fact that I came here to getting me into a top PhD program in the field, and while I have a long ways to go before my Chinese level is truly where it ‘should’ be, I have a good base on me & I’m ready to start digging through the stuff that really matters to me, namely Qing & Republican era source material.