ICLP worth it?

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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby Feiren » 11 Apr 2012, 13:25

Formosa Fitness wrote:
ChineseQuest wrote:Formosa Fitness,

Thanks for the input! However, that doesn't really answer my question very well.


I'm not here to hold your hand. Which school is ultimately right for you is simply impossible to answer. The fact of the matter is that 95% of the people at ICLP are there specifically for academic Chinese at the grad level. That's why it's relevant to the discussion. The MTC is not specialized in that but if you like it there, then stay.


True, 95% of the people are there for academic Chinese and I would guess that the other 5% are serious students of Chinese.

But it does not follow from that that ICLP does a better job of teaching anyone despite the air of exclusivity they project and some buy into. Like Austin says, it is ultimately up to you to learn Chinese. There is no significant difference except cost.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby Feiren » 11 Apr 2012, 13:58

ChineseQuest wrote:
As for the difference between the two, I can say ICLP students are more uniformly serious than those at Shi-Da. But this is a self-selection. The students were serious and therefore chose ICLP, not the other way around.


This doesn't make much sense to me. Why did they choose ICLP if it wasn't a serious place to begin with? A serious student chooses the school based on its merits as a school.



Not necessarily. ICLP is leftover from the old Stanford Center, which enjoyed a lot of prestige because it was run by a consortium of top US grad schools. Taiwan foolishly allowed the Stanford Center to decamp to Beijing (which would have probably happened anyway in hindsight) for a number of reasons, most important of which is the Taiwanese intolerance for foreign control of (or even a say in) institutions here.

Your other opinions are duly noted, but aside from getting a local girlfriend (I'm already married) and having a tutor (I'm in the market), I'm doing all of these things. I study a ton of material on the side of my class. I'm still frustrated with my ability to produce good Chinese. I can understand nearly all of what I hear in daily life (eavesdropping is good practice!), and I can read Chinese fairly well (I'm reading the first Harry Potter book in Chinese right now...not especially difficult material, but I'm able to read it easily for pleasure). I'm starting to think that ICLP, with their focus on actually being able to use what they teach (as opposed to many teachers at MTC who seem to think understanding is enough), seems like a good remedy for this.

Yes, I believe that with a good tutor and a strong work ethic, you can approach the effectiveness of ICLP. I don't think you can match it though. Remember, you're being drilled for 3 hours per day, plus an hour of one-on-one. That's drilled. You're getting practice using the phrases you're learning instead of wasting time in class with explanations because your classmates couldn't be bothered to do the work themselves at home. Then you go home and do your preparation for the next day, go around town and try to use what you've learned in context, etc.



I think you are going to be disappointed. ICLP by all accounts simply redoubles the effort to make students learn characters faster. Like all programs here, they confuse the study of Chinese with learning how to become literate in Chinese. Masochistic, desperate pre-grad students try to hurry up the process of really learning Chinese by going to ICLP where they assign gobs of characters. The students spend all of their time mastering characters. They usually speak quite poorly in stilted, bookish Chinese. This is a product of (1) not enough time in Taiwan and (2) spending too much time in class and memorizing characters in their rooms rather than going out and using their Chinese.

How long have you been studying Chinese in Taiwan. It takes most people about 2-3 years of more or less full time study here plus another 18 months or so of 'graduate' study in a job where one actually uses Chinese.

If you haven't put in that kind of time, of course you feel frustrated about your ability to produce good Chinese.


So yeah, maybe if you had 2-3 hours per day of one-on-one with an experienced, qualified tutor, you could achieve the same thing as at ICLP. But then the cost isn't going to be all that much less than ICLP. If that's the case, I'd rather spend a little extra to have the name recognition and the recommendation letters. A recommendation from a senior teacher at ICLP carries a lot of weight in academia, because many of the professors in the West also studied under these same teachers when they were cutting their teeth.


I think you are speculating about this.

The more people I've talked to, the more I think I would be better off at ICLP. I've not talked to one person who said it wasn't well worth the money. Every single person has said that it was worth every penny they spent; that try though they might, they couldn't replicate the learning experience any other way; that their Chinese improved more at ICLP than at any other program (including places like IUP or Princeton in Beijing, Middlebury, CET in Harbin, etc.); that before spending a year at ICLP they felt like they had no business being in a PhD program, but that afterwards they felt confident with their research material and with a clear sense of belonging in academia; that it was the best decision they could have made. One person complained about the cost, but said she would still have done it over again.


Also, the students in the advanced classes at the MTC will be far more advanced than you or the students at ICLP because most will be Korean Chinese majors or Japanese grad students.They already know how to read Chinese and are very focused on literary Chinese.

Another suggestion: if you haven't already been through them, take a class or a tutor to help you through the Jr. high (the literary Chinese readings only) and high school Chinese text books.

The high school Chinese texts are almost exclusively in literary Chinese and are challenging. There are also a lot of good supplements available since students need to prepare to be tested. Believe me, they are thorough.

You should do this before you cut your teeth on Gudai Hanyu.

Final comments

I knew lots of people who rushed their Chinese at IUP etc. Most weren't really that well prepared. A few were.

Anyway, it sounds like you are sold on ICLP, so I'll wish you the best of luck and hope to see you at the classical Chinese reading group when we manage to get it together.

I think ICLP is fine and another advantage is that you will meet people in your field or in related ones which is always good.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby Formosa Fitness » 11 Apr 2012, 14:35

Feiren wrote:I think you are going to be disappointed. ICLP by all accounts simply redoubles the effort to make students learn characters faster. Like all programs here, they confuse the study of Chinese with learning how to become literate in Chinese. Masochistic, desperate pre-grad students try to hurry up the process of really learning Chinese by going to ICLP where they assign gobs of characters. The students spend all of their time mastering characters. They usually speak quite poorly in stilted, bookish Chinese. This is a product of (1) not enough time in Taiwan and (2) spending too much time in class and memorizing characters in their rooms rather than going out and using their Chinese.


But using Chinese outside the classroom isn't what ICLP is about in the first place. I was surprised when I was there to find out that ICLP was all about academic Chinese and studying a Chinese subject at the grad level. For that, you need exactly what you describe above, knowledge of a ton of characters, and then your ability to actually speak like a local is completely secondary. They produce bookish Chinese because that's what everyone there is preparing to talk about. So if someone wants to do grad school in a Chinese subject, they will be very pleased since the entire program is geared towards that.

If someone was looking to have a high level of spoken Chinese for business or for living in Taiwan as I was, then they would be disappointed in their experience there.

As for the difference in the methods, everyone there is expected to be wildly prepared. It's just expected. If you aren't prepared, you will be put on the spot in front of your classmates and no one will be happy with being slowed down. Being put on the spot taught me a lot, I have to give them that. You get it right or you don't. Other than that, it's 100% memorization 100% of the time. If you can stuff 100 words a day into your short term memory, you'll do great.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby ChineseQuest » 11 Apr 2012, 14:55

This is good stuff, guys. Thanks!

I don't really have any trouble learning new characters. I already know close to 3000 as it is (that is, I'm able to write them off the top of my head, and in good semi-cursive handwriting), so learning more isn't too difficult at this point.

I've been here studying for 8 months. Before that I self-studied in the US for a few years. For me, the most important thing is learning to read, both modern and classical Chinese, because that's what grad school is about. The ability to speak like a local would be awesome, but it's not as important to me as being able to do the research I want to do, and being able to discuss it clearly in Chinese. I have to prioritize things this way if I want to get into a top grad school. In that respect, ICLP sounds like a great place for me.

I will say though, the only foreigners I've ever met in person who sounded like locals (according to actual locals when they weren't around) have been former ICLP students, except one. And he's lived here for nearly 30 years. Plenty of former MTC students are fairly fluent, but I haven't known any with near-native fluency or accent (or tones!).

Thanks Feiren for the book suggestions. I'll pick up some of these soon.


EDIT: Also, I should mention that after another year of studying, whether at ICLP or MTC, I will be here another year working before I start grad school. This is because my wife will be on a two-year contract starting this fall, and it's a good job in her field (rather than teaching English like she's doing now), so we won't be wanting to break the contract. So I will have a lot of opportunity to get out and use Chinese once I'm "done" studying, and I'll have a lot of time to read in my field, work on more advanced 文言文 with a tutor, etc.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby Feiren » 11 Apr 2012, 15:30

ChineseQuest wrote:This is good stuff, guys. Thanks!

I've been here studying for 8 months. Before that I self-studied in the US for a few years.


That's why you are having trouble producing good Chinese. It's just not long enough. Not even close.

For me, the most important thing is learning to read, both modern and classical Chinese, because that's what grad school is about.


You will rarely if ever speak modern Chinese in grad school, especially if your field is pre-modern.

The ability to speak like a local would be awesome, but it's not as important to me as being able to do the research I want to do, and being able to discuss it clearly in Chinese. I have to prioritize things this way if I want to get into a top grad school. In that respect, ICLP sounds like a great place for me.


You and Formosa Fitness are misunderstanding me slightly. I think your goal should be to speak Chinese like an educated (albeit foreign) person and to be very comfortable reading and understanding complex texts in both modern and literary Chinese. A big plus would be able to write academic prose in Chinese. This is very rare for non-native speakers and, in my view, foolishly ignored. It's really, really hard to find a decent teacher though.

The students who try to learn Chinese too fast at programs like ICLP rarely reach this mark in my experience.

I will say though, the only foreigners I've ever met in person who sounded like locals (according to actual locals when they weren't around) have been former ICLP students, except one. And he's lived here for nearly 30 years. Plenty of former MTC students are fairly fluent, but I haven't known any with near-native fluency or accent (or tones!).


Hmmm...well I guess you've only been here for eight months so you probably haven't met that many former MTC students. There are many long term residents of Taiwan with excellent Chinese who studied at MTC. And others who studied at ICLP.



I don't really have any trouble learning new characters. I already know close to 3000 as it is (that is, I'm able to write them off the top of my head, and in good semi-cursive handwriting), so learning more isn't too difficult at this point.


That's very impressive for someone who has only been in Taiwan for eight months. Perhaps you will benefit from ICLP more than most because you won't be struggling so much to keep up with the characters and you can focus on putting it all together.

I also suspect that this is the reason that you are having trouble producing good Chinese. Learning 3,000 characters takes a massive effort and and might be distracting you from more high level tasks like usage, fluency, accuracy, and reading.

Have you read a novel or a longer book in Chinese yet?

Do you read the newspaper every day?

These are important signs of acquiring a well-rounded level of literacy in Chinese. If you haven't mastered these level of literacy, I think you will have trouble functioning at the higher academic level you aspire to.

[/quote]
EDIT: Also, I should mention that after another year of studying, whether at ICLP or MTC, I will be here another year working before I start grad school. This is because my wife will be on a two-year contract starting this fall, and it's a good job in her field (rather than teaching English like she's doing now), so we won't be wanting to break the contract. So I will have a lot of opportunity to get out and use Chinese once I'm "done" studying, and I'll have a lot of time to read in my field, work on more advanced 文言文 with a tutor, etc.[/quote]

That will really help. I think you've got plenty of time to 'do it right'. Enough time is the biggest problem for most people.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby ChineseQuest » 11 Apr 2012, 18:10

Feiren wrote:That's why you are having trouble producing good Chinese. It's just not long enough. Not even close.


I know, but I feel like I should be further along than I am as far as speaking. There's a huge gap between my listening ability and my speaking ability. I'm working on that now, but it's slow going, of course.

You will rarely if ever speak modern Chinese in grad school, especially if your field is pre-modern.


I was talking about reading in that quote. Anyway, I will need to be able to speak Chinese in grad school, if only because I will be competing for TA/TFships. Since those assistantships and fellowships will require me to assist in teaching Chinese at the undergrad level, I will have to have a high level of competence if I want to be competitive.

Besides that, if I intend to participate in conferences here or in the mainland, I will have to speak Chinese with native-speaking professors. It helps to be able to present and/or publish papers in Chinese as well. Many of the top professors in the field do this on a regular basis. My dissertation research will likely be conducted either here or in China, so I will need to be able to communicate and collaborate with native-speaking scholars about my research. So I disagree that I won't need to be able to speak Chinese for grad school. Reading will be of primary importance, of course, but speaking is also important.

There's also the possibility that I might do my MA here in Taiwan before starting my Ph.D. in the States, in which case I will absolutely need to be able to speak Chinese. :)

You and Formosa Fitness are misunderstanding me slightly. I think your goal should be to speak Chinese like an educated (albeit foreign) person and to be very comfortable reading and understanding complex texts in both modern and literary Chinese. A big plus would be able to write academic prose in Chinese. This is very rare for non-native speakers and, in my view, foolishly ignored. It's really, really hard to find a decent teacher though.

The students who try to learn Chinese too fast at programs like ICLP rarely reach this mark in my experience.


I agree with you here. But the fact is I don't have forever to spend learning Chinese. I need to get on with grad school at some point, so I've got to do as much as I can while I'm here.

Hmmm...well I guess you've only been here for eight months so you probably haven't met that many former MTC students. There are many long term residents of Taiwan with excellent Chinese who studied at MTC. And others who studied at ICLP.


I'm sure this is the case. I just haven't met them. :)

That's very impressive for someone who has only been in Taiwan for eight months. Perhaps you will benefit from ICLP more than most because you won't be struggling so much to keep up with the characters and you can focus on putting it all together.


I hope that's the case, and that's part of why I've put a big focus on character learning in the past, before getting to the more advanced stages of learning.

I also suspect that this is the reason that you are having trouble producing good Chinese. Learning 3,000 characters takes a massive effort and and might be distracting you from more high level tasks like usage, fluency, accuracy, and reading.


You may be right here. I've been switching focus recently to speech as a focus in my studies, rather than reading.

Have you read a novel or a longer book in Chinese yet?

Do you read the newspaper every day?

These are important signs of acquiring a well-rounded level of literacy in Chinese. If you haven't mastered these level of literacy, I think you will have trouble functioning at the higher academic level you aspire to.


I'm currently reading the first Harry Potter book in Chinese. That may not really count, I don't know. This summer I plan to read 雪山飛狐 as my first "real" Chinese book. Or maybe 棋王, since SMC publishes a glossary for it.

That will really help. I think you've got plenty of time to 'do it right'. Enough time is the biggest problem for most people.


I originally planned on coming here for a year, and then applying for grad school. It quickly became apparent that a year wouldn't be enough time, and I figured I'd just have to come right back once my professors discovered that my Chinese wasn't up to the task of doing good research. I've learned a ton of Chinese since I got here, but that just makes me very aware of how much further I have to go.

Thanks for all the advice.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby ChineseQuest » 11 Apr 2012, 18:59

I should say also that in the past 8 months I've been thinking about and experimenting heavily with study methods, and I've figured out pretty well what works for me, both for cramming in the short term and for long-term retention. I'm now experimenting with how best to activate what I've learned passively, that is, once I can hear and understand something, how do I get myself to the point I'm able to use it? I think that all of this will give me an edge on some of the other students at ICLP, many of whom, judging from some of the blogs I've read, basically just cram like they would for an exam in college and haven't put much time into experimenting and thinking about which methods work best for them.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby ironlady » 11 Apr 2012, 22:24

You have not acquired the language. You have memorized it. The very common, Chinese-requires-hard-work, brute force method.

Until you acquire it, it won't be fluid. It won't be natural. And it's rather discomfiting that anyone would seriously consider learning to read a living language without first learning, well, the language. Books are written forms of the spoken language. Chinese has rather a greater gap between true spoken language and formal written language, but in the end, the whole thing rests on language that first existed in the spoken channel. Unless you're doing only wenyan, I can't see a great advantage, and I can't anticipate anyone addressing this specific problem (how to get a fairly literate person fluent in the spoken language) since a) no one really seems to care, and b) it's not easy to do, since most people who are literate believe they really know Chinese and have little patience for the kind of work that is required to become fluent.

If I were doing grad school admissions, I'd be more impressed with a student who came in and demonstrated real fluency than with a piece of paper from any institution. You may be able to read the books in Chinese, but using Chinese to discuss the ideas sounds as though it would be painful at this point. And even if you know a lot of characters, it doesn't mean you are reading fluently.

Of course, regular readers of this forum will realize that my theoretical underpinning is somewhat different from the traditional Chinese instruction entrenched in the venerable old institutes in Taiwan. :D
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby ChineseQuest » 11 Apr 2012, 22:38

I'm fairly familiar with your thoughts on language learning, ironlady, having read quite a bit on these forums. Let's just say your opinions are noted, but I have to do what will be best for getting into a good school, which is not necessarily what is best given ideal situations and plenty of time. Thanks for your input.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby ironlady » 11 Apr 2012, 22:45

I understand that.

What I'm saying is that until you know for sure that the school wants a piece of paper rather than ability, it might be a good idea to think about your four skills, rather than stuffing characters into your head. I can tell you which skill is going to be more obvious to a panel of interviewers. They're not going to ask you to write random characters from memory, but they may well speak to you in Chinese.
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