ICLP worth it?

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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby ChineseQuest » 11 Apr 2012, 23:00

I'm not sure where you got the idea that I'm currently stuffing characters into my head, or planning to.

Anyway, I'm specifically looking at ICLP because of their stated (see below) focus on speech in academic contexts, and their reputation for instruction in 文言文. Learning new characters will of course be a part of the process there, but that doesn't take much mental effort on my part anymore.

Here's a blurb from their site:

Classes are generally separated into two categories: spoken language classes 會話課 (hui4hua4 ke4) and reading and discussion classes 選讀討論課 (xuan3du2 tao3lun4 ke4) . As the latter term implies, even in reading classes, the principal classroom activity is speech. Similarly, while the emphasis in 會話課 (hui4hua4 ke4) is very much on oral/aural training, all texts from which students work are in Chinese characters. All spoken language materials, as well as most reading materials, are also available in digitally recorded format in the language laboratory, and students are expected to make extensive use of these taped materials in preparation for their classes.

I agree with you that speech skills are more relevant if they interview me in Chinese during the admissions process, though I'd be surprised if they did. My understanding is that what they will want to know for admissions is whether I can handle the material I'll be working with, and that means reading ability. A piece of paper can certainly tell them that I can read competently enough for research purposes, and so can a recommendation letter from a teacher, a research paper making extensive use of sources in Chinese, etc. My spoken Chinese skills will be more relevant when I'm competing for assistantships, and in the other situations I mentioned earlier.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby ironlady » 11 Apr 2012, 23:24

Well, then, you seem to already know the answers to your questions. :)
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby Feiren » 12 Apr 2012, 09:47

ChineseQuest wrote:I'm not sure where you got the idea that I'm currently stuffing characters into my head, or planning to.


That's because you said this:

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.


When I came to Taiwan back when dinosaurs walked the earth and every apartment had a red door and a herd of vespas parked out front, I had studied intensive modern Chinese for two years in college. I was supposed to know 1,000 characters. I maybe knew 400. Granted, I was a terrible student and the class dunce, but I worked reasonably hard at it with very little to show for my pain.

After 8 months in Taiwan, I may have mastered the 1,000 characters I was supposed to know when I arrived. Yet you managed to learn 3,000 through self-study and just eight months in Taiwan. I salute your self-discipline and hard work, but I find it difficult to believe that you did not memorize those characters by brute force.

Anyway, I'm specifically looking at ICLP because of their stated (see below) focus on speech in academic contexts, and their reputation for instruction in 文言文. Learning new characters will of course be a part of the process there, but that doesn't take much mental effort on my part anymore.


Believe me, no one in Taiwan has any idea how to teach a foreigner literary Chinese. They will use exactly the same methods that were used to teach them--pronunciation, glosses, a loose summary in modern Chinese, and a LOT of chit chat about topics completely unrelated to the task at hand.

The people who teach literary Chinese are COMPLETELY unreformed when it comes to language teaching. That's why they are teaching literary Chinese. They have students who will FINALLY appreciate what they have to offer.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby Feiren » 12 Apr 2012, 09:56

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.


A little more possibly unwanted input.

What is really important for getting into grad school is evidence of serious scholarly potential and depth in your chosen field.

They will also look for evidence of serious Chinese language study--you will have shown that by having studied at MTC or ICLP for two years. A note from your Chinese teacher won't add too much. First, they don't know how to write letters of recommendation. They just copy old ones. Second, the people reviewing these applications are sadly aware of the state of Chinese language pedagogy. Also, the number of young foreigners who have logged 7-8 years in China and have near-native fluency is pretty amazing.

If you are really serious about pre-modern studies, run don't walk to sign up for Japanese classes if you don't know Japanese already. A good reading knowledge of Japanese is essential for any field of Chinese studies, but especially so in anything pre-modern. This is a real plus. And if you don't have Japanese, you will have to study Japanese intensively for your first two years, which will eat up a lot of your time and slow you down.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby Jive Turkey » 12 Apr 2012, 14:05

Have to second what Feiren, Ironlady and others have posted above.

I don't want to bash ICLP. It is intensive, and a lot of people come out of the place claiming to have gotten what they needed for academic use of Chinese. However, this notion that they somehow know better than others how to teach literary or classical Chinese is pure bologna. They adhere to the same backward methods and philosophies of teaching as anywhere else on the island, and a lot of the people there are complete fossils. The approach is more or less one of piling on twice the work as other programs and leaving the motivated student to get on with it. Based on what what I've been told by people who've studied at ICPL, there seems to be no innovative use of methods or stimulating tasks.

In my work and study over the years, I've met a couple of dozen foreigners who use Chinese for academic work, or for other sophisticated professional purposes that require strong command of different registers of Chinese and literary Chinese. Some of them went to ICLP or IUP, and some did it the informal Karate Kid blackbelt way of studying a bit here and a bit there, but mostly through self-directed study. I have been unable to distinguish between these two groups on the basis of language skills.

This idea of getting a reference letter from one of the geezers at ICLP is amusing. If you were to get such a letter, it might mean something to somebody, but you are a lot more likely to impress a future PhD advisor with good scores from a well-recognized Chinese assessment. In my opinion, very high marks on the HSK are a much better indicator that someone will be able to handle all aspects of academic communication (e.g., making arrangements for field/archival work, interacting with Chinese peers, understanding multi-disciplinary scholarly literature) than any letter from ICLP. Someone who scored band 10 or 11 on the old HSK would not have such a hard time patching up their knowledge of literary Chinese. Some people who leave ICLP with a good understanding of literary Chinese still have trouble engaging in intelligent conversation over dinner.

ICLP ain't cheap. Think carefully about whether it would be the best thing for you at this stage in your learning.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby Jive Turkey » 12 Apr 2012, 15:16

ChineseQuest, you might have a look at the discussions on chinese-forums.com about pricier, intensive programs such as IUP, ICLP, etc. There are a number of other advanced learners over there whose observations might help you make an informed decision.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby ChineseQuest » 12 Apr 2012, 22:27

Feiren wrote:
ChineseQuest wrote:I'm not sure where you got the idea that I'm currently stuffing characters into my head, or planning to.


That's because you said this:

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.


When I came to Taiwan back when dinosaurs walked the earth and every apartment had a red door and a herd of vespas parked out front, I had studied intensive modern Chinese for two years in college. I was supposed to know 1,000 characters. I maybe knew 400. Granted, I was a terrible student and the class dunce, but I worked reasonably hard at it with very little to show for my pain.

After 8 months in Taiwan, I may have mastered the 1,000 characters I was supposed to know when I arrived. Yet you managed to learn 3,000 through self-study and just eight months in Taiwan. I salute your self-discipline and hard work, but I find it difficult to believe that you did not memorize those characters by brute force.


Well there are a lot of assumptions there, and that was my point in saying that. A lot of my study time in the US was spent learning characters, learning about characters, and learning how to learn characters. The writing system is what got me interested in the language in the first place, so much of my study was focused on that. So I guess you could say I learned by "brute force", but it didn't seem that way to me. I haven't spent much time learning characters since moving to Taiwan, because I haven't had to. The new characters I've learned have been very easy for me to learn and retain.

Anyway, I'm specifically looking at ICLP because of their stated (see below) focus on speech in academic contexts, and their reputation for instruction in 文言文. Learning new characters will of course be a part of the process there, but that doesn't take much mental effort on my part anymore.


Believe me, no one in Taiwan has any idea how to teach a foreigner literary Chinese. They will use exactly the same methods that were used to teach them--pronunciation, glosses, a loose summary in modern Chinese, and a LOT of chit chat about topics completely unrelated to the task at hand.

The people who teach literary Chinese are COMPLETELY unreformed when it comes to language teaching. That's why they are teaching literary Chinese. They have students who will FINALLY appreciate what they have to offer.[/quote]

Everyone I've spoken with who took 文言文 at ICLP has told me that those classes were some of the best classes they took. One guy, who is doing his PhD research in pre-Han excavated texts, said the 文言文 instruction at ICLP was "awesome". I'm going to take their word for it, since, well, they took 文言文 at ICLP. Please don't take offense. I'm sure that in general you're correct about this, but I've heard nothing but positive things from the people who have been there.

In fact the only people who have said "yeah, you could probably emulate ICLP" have been people who haven't been to ICLP. Every person I've spoken to who has been has had nothing but good things to say about it, except occasionally the price.

A little more possibly unwanted input.


None of it is unwanted! It all sharpens my thought process about the whole thing.

What is really important for getting into grad school is evidence of serious scholarly potential and depth in your chosen field.

They will also look for evidence of serious Chinese language study--you will have shown that by having studied at MTC or ICLP for two years.


I agree with you here. What I'm talking about in this thread is the language side of things. As far as the other stuff, I've gotten some really excellent guidance from some of the professors I'm hoping to study under. For what it's worth, every single professor I've been in touch with has recommended ICLP. Not all of them have recommended MTC, and most of them have said something along the lines of "if you can't afford ICLP..."

A note from your Chinese teacher won't add too much. First, they don't know how to write letters of recommendation. They just copy old ones. Second, the people reviewing these applications are sadly aware of the state of Chinese language pedagogy. Also, the number of young foreigners who have logged 7-8 years in China and have near-native fluency is pretty amazing.


Again, everyone I've spoken to who has gone on to grad school after ICLP has told me they feel like their recommendation letters were part of why they were accepted. One person said "recommendation letters from ICLP are like gold". This of course is hyperbole, but combined with all of the professors who have recommended the program, I can't discount it.

If you are really serious about pre-modern studies, run don't walk to sign up for Japanese classes if you don't know Japanese already. A good reading knowledge of Japanese is essential for any field of Chinese studies, but especially so in anything pre-modern. This is a real plus. And if you don't have Japanese, you will have to study Japanese intensively for your first two years, which will eat up a lot of your time and slow you down.


Absolutely. I've learned some Japanese, and I've acquired a lot of material to continue learning it. Another thing I intend to do during my year of working here before grad school is to get a Japanese tutor.

Thanks again for the input.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby ChineseQuest » 12 Apr 2012, 22:35

you are a lot more likely to impress a future PhD advisor with good scores from a well-recognized Chinese assessment. In my opinion, very high marks on the HSK are a much better indicator that someone will be able to handle all aspects of academic communication (e.g., making arrangements for field/archival work, interacting with Chinese peers, understanding multi-disciplinary scholarly literature) than any letter from ICLP.Someone who scored band 10 or 11 on the old HSK would not have such a hard time patching up their knowledge of literary Chinese. Some people who leave ICLP with a good understanding of literary Chinese still have trouble engaging in intelligent conversation over dinner.


OK, so tell me where I can take one of these well-recognized tests. The TOCFL (formerly TOP) is a joke. The old HSK no longer exists, and the new one, from what I've heard, is also a joke. This advice is not helpful, because it's not possible to follow.

As far as Chinese-forums goes, I'm a regular poster there (albeit under a different name), and I have read through the discussions there. I've also gotten in touch with some of the posters there who have been to ICLP through PM.

Thanks for your input.
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby pzkpfwmmiv » 12 Apr 2012, 23:44

Hello,
I am a soon-to-be graduate who is also planning on spending a year in study at ICLP. My future plans are similar to the OP's - I want to eventually apply to graduate school in Chinese Studies (history, literature, political science...), tentatively considering MA program in Taiwan and then PhD back in the States. My Chinese experience includes four years classwork, with a semester at Tsinghua (Beijing) and summer programs at NTNU and NCKU. I would just like to ask of those who have studied at ICLP in the past, which are some of the higher level courses, particularly in literature, wenyanwen, and legal texts, which you particularly recommend?
Also, I am game for the wenyanwen reading group, will be on site in the fall....
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Re: ICLP worth it?

Postby Jive Turkey » 13 Apr 2012, 00:03

ChineseQuest wrote:
OK, so tell me where I can take one of these well-recognized tests. The TOCFL (formerly TOP) is a joke. The old HSK no longer exists, and the new one, from what I've heard, is also a joke. This advice is not helpful, because it's not possible to follow.

Fair enough. While the old HSK Advanced had some assessment methodology problems, it was by far the most rigorous test around, and it hasn't really been replaced.

Thanks for your input.

Overly generous you are!

It seems to me that some of the people on this site (me included) who have questioned the worth of ICLP have a couple of things in common. We seem to have some kind of experience in language teaching, and have NOT gone to ICLP. I have never known anybody who regretted going to ICLP. However, I have known a couple of people who liked it less than others. Those two had backgrounds in linguistics/applied linguistics, and they made the kinds of criticisms of it that would ring loud in the ears of anybody with a language teaching background. Their criticism, combined with the fact that a number of the ex-ICLP students I've known were not strong speakers of Chinese, led me to think that the place doesn't necessarily give every student what he or she might really need.

Having said all of that, I would go to ICLP if I didn't have a child and mortgage to pay. In fact, ICLP would probably be the only place I would bother with if I were going to study full-time. I've either looked at or used a lot of their Modern Chinese materials, and I wouldn't really go there for that sort of thing. I would go there purely for literary Chinese. Literary/classical Chinese is the main area that I have never tackled with sustained effort, and I know with certainty that my reading and writing are at a level where better knowledge of literary Chinese would have an impact. I am beyond the stage of needing somebody to correct my pronunciation or spoken grammar, and reading modern prose is no problem unless it is heavily laced with literary language. From what ICLP students have told me, I still don't think the place does anything special in teaching literary Chinese. I would certainly moan to myself about backward teaching methods, but it does have an intense environment and that would be worth it to me if I had the time to go there.

From what you have said about your speaking skills, it seems like that is your area of weakness. Do you think going to ICLP might take you in a direction of doing more of what you are good at and not giving enough attention to your areas of relative weakness (e.g., speaking in a range of situations and registers)? If I understood your previous posts correctly, it sounds like you have already jumped into a lot of ICLP's materials. If you were to decide to go there, perhaps you might benefit from easing off their stuff and instead look for opportunities to improve your general speaking skills between now and the time you start at ICLP.
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