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!