I’ve spent a decent amount of time looking at the programs at MTC and ICLP, the two best programs here in Taiwan. ICLP is the better by a good margin (and also three times more expensive), but MTC also has its strong points. One of those points, I’ve found, is that your entire day is not taken up by homework the way it is at ICLP, where, I’ve heard, you’re given 4-8 hours per day of homework. I can finish the homework for my class in 90 minutes most days, or two hours at the most. Since I also have an hour less of class than I would at ICLP, that leaves me with quite a bit of extra time than ICLP students, comparatively. This allows me to study other material on the side.

So, I’ve spent the last couple days looking at textbooks that I’d like to study on the side of my normal classes. I’ve found that my reading ability comes along a lot more easily than speaking, and since my class is mainly focused on speaking, I’m finding that it’s no problem to study reading-focused textbooks that are a bit higher level than my course. I’ve also found that it makes it easier for me in class, because I either know the “new” words already, know a similar word, or I at least usually know the characters in the words so it’s easy to learn the words themselves.

Anyway, it has come to my attention that there’s some sort of dark magic that happens at ICLP between Levels 3 and 5. Maybe if I list out the main books for each level, with the MTC level out to the side, it will be clear. Each level at both schools represents about one quarter (assuming you’re in the intensive course at MTC), with the exception of MTC Level 5, which takes 2 quarters.

Level 1 Practical Audio-Visual Chinese I (MTC 1)

Level 2 Practical Audio-Visual Chinese II (MTC 2)

Level 3 Modern Chinese Conversation (ICLP only)

Level 4 Talks on Chinese Culture (ICLP only)

Level 5 Thought and Society (MTC 7)

What? So let’s see, considering that Level 5 at MTC takes 2 terms for most people, that means if you start from scratch in the intensive program, you will study Thought and Society (a Level 7 book at MTC) in your 8th term, meaning it takes 21 months from beginning Chinese before you start Thought and Society. At ICLP, you take it in your 5th term, so 15 months. That would be easy to explain except that the books for the first three levels are the same. Level 3 at ICLP has a different core text (Modern Chinese Conversation) than MTC (PAVC III), but the supplementary texts are MTC Level 3 texts (PAVC III and Far East IIB), with the exception of Chinese Moral Tales, which is MTC 4.

The really dark, Horcrux-level stuff happens at Level 4 then. Up to this point the two programs are more or less neck-and-neck. But then Level 4 is the ??? before the profit. Remember, from finishing Level 3 at MTC it takes 4 terms before you can take Thought and Society at Level 7. That’s PAVC IV (MTC4), Far East III (MTC5), PAVC V (MTC5), and Newspaper Reading (MTC6). This is accomplished in one term at ICLP. You take Talks on Chinese Culture (TOCC) and two other books, in addition to an hour of private instruction which, from what I can tell, is usually focused on helping with the core text for that level. But essentially you cram four terms worth of MTC courses into one term at ICLP.

But there’s no way. It’s an intensive program, but it isn’t that crazy! There are two possibilities, as far as I can figure. The biggest two differences are the use of a different textbook, TOCC, and the use of multiple textbooks per term. I’ve heard that TOCC is excellent from many different people. There’s a chance that it’s just such a great book that it takes people from PAVC III to Thought and Society (that’s a really big jump, by the way) in one term. But I think more likely is that by virtue of the fact that the students at ICLP are studying multiple books each term, their ability will tend to be higher than MTC students nominally at the same level. Of course, there is the small (sarcasm) matter of motivation. ICLP students are motivated, no question about it. You don’t go there if you aren’t driven to learn Chinese. MTC students may be motivated, but many are not. The programs are structured accordingly. But I really believe a highly motivated student at MTC can achieve similar results as an ICLP student, and save a good bit of money in the process, by trying to emulate the ICLP program and studying more than one book at a time.

I’ve found that there is a great synergy to be found in studying multiple textbooks at the same time. And I think ICLP has found the right formula. The Far East Everyday Chinese series is an outstanding complement to the Practical Audio-Visual Chinese series. PAVC is mostly dialogue-focused, at least up to the point I’ve studied. Apparently Book V is more in the written style. The Far East books, on the other hand, alternate between dialogues and written materials each chapter. At least Books II (A and B) and III do; I haven’t looked at Book I. This helps you to understand the differences between the written and spoken languages (they are quite different, no matter what some people try to tell you!), and exposes you to some vocabulary that you otherwise wouldn’t encounter until a higher level in PAVC, because it’s more “difficult” (not really, just more 書面).

Anyway, I really think that’s the key. I’ve been studying Far East IIB 遠東生活華語(二下) and Taiwan Today 今日台灣 in addition to PAVC III. It has allowed me to learn some of the same material from different angles, and to cover vocab at this level more thoroughly. Plus, I’ve recently been making really good progress with 文言文, which of course helps a little with reading modern Chinese. This has all translated to a really easy time in class, and it gets me bonus points from my teachers (“how did you know that?!”). Not to mention it will hopefully allow me to move through the levels a little faster than the usual pace.

So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, lets look a little more closely at ICLP’s Level 4. There are several books at Level 4 that are also taught at MTC. Not surprisingly, they are not all MTC Level 4 books. In fact, they range from MTC4 to MTC7. But, since the students have built a good foundation by studying multiple books, these more advanced books are not a problem. For instance, Learning Chinese with Newspaper I is an MTC6 course, but it really isn’t all that difficult if you’ve been studying multiple books. I looked through a copy earlier today, and the first couple of lessons only had a few words I hadn’t already learned. For someone nominally at Level 3 at MTC (there, I admit it), it should have been over my head, but because I’ve been learning the written language as well as the spoken, I was able to read it fairly comfortably. Other books that catch my interest at ICLP Level 4 include PAVC IV, Taiwan Today, Stories from Chinese History I and II (which incidentally are Levels 6 and 7 at MTC), and Far East III (MTC5). That’s a good spread of levels according to MTC, but if you’ve prepared well up to this point rather than studying from only one textbook at a time, it should be doable.

So here’s what I figure would be the best combinations of books at each level in order to progress as quickly as possible at MTC. This is assuming you are going straight through without skipping anything (which I’m told you can do if your final exam score is high enough, which may be a good goal). Since MTC Level 5 usually consists of two courses, you have the opportunity to get ahead a bit there. Anyway, here it is:

Level 1     PAVC I     Far East I

Level 2     PAVC II    Far East IIA

Level 3     PAVC III   Far East IIB and/or Taiwan Today

Level 4     PAVC IV   Talks on Chinese Culture

Level 5     FE III       Newspaper I (and maybe II)

Level 5     PAVC V    Newspaper II-III

Now, at Level 6, the usual text is Newspaper I, but you’ve already done that and more. If you’re unable to skip Level 6, you can take other courses at that level. Maybe due to all the focus on reading, you want to take a conversation-focused course. Or maybe you’re interested in business Chinese, in which case the fact that you’ve got some experience with newspapers will really help. Maybe you want a course more focused on traditional culture like Stories from Chinese History or Chinese Folk Tales. But really, if you can convince the administration to let you skip on to Level 7, that would probably be best. Or maybe you skipped part of Level 5. Whatever.

At Level 7, you can finally take Thought and Society. This is, from what I’ve heard, where the real magic happens. I’ve heard nothing but good about this book, so I bought a copy early and I have to say it looks pretty awesome. You’re expected to be able to converse on things like Mencius’ influence on Chinese society or cross-straight relations. I’ve read from a few former ICLP students that after taking Thought and Society, they were able to sit down and read the newspaper in the morning, or pick up a non-specialist book and read it fairly comfortably. With a dictionary of course, otherwise it really would be magic!

After that it’s wide open. I’ve heard that The Independent Reader is excellent (I plan on studying this before or during Thought and Society). It’s Level 7 at MTC, and also Level 7 at ICLP (some more weirdness for you), and the aim is to take you from reading textbooks to reading real, unaltered prose on serious topics (the Chinese title is 從精讀到泛讀, From Intensive Reading to Extensive Reading). You can also take surveys of post-Cultural Revolution Chinese literature, Taiwanese short stories, etc. Literary Chinese classes are now open to you at this level as well, though in my opinion you would benefit from starting to study it earlier if you’re interested in it. That all, of course, assumes that you can find other people to take the course with you, but each term there seems to be at least a few of these higher-level courses.

I know this has been a monster of a blog post, but it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to lately, and something I think everyone should give some thought to if they really want to get the most out of their time at MTC. 加油!