My most popular post on this blog, by a significant margin, has been Breaking ICLP’s code at MTC. I wrote that all the way last year, when I was still fairly new to MTC, fairly new to studying Chinese intensively, and at a fairly low level in Chinese. I figured it’s time to update it, or at least write a followup, now that I’m older, hopefully wiser, and have a bit more experience studying in Taiwan (I’m coming up on one full year here next week). Note that my reason for studying Chinese is likely different than yours, and so the details (especially which books to study) may vary in your particular case, but the overall concept should remain the same.
I still absolutely believe that you can more or less keep pace with ICLP’s program if you’re studying at MTC. I also believe that you must be extremely motivated and have a well-thought out strategy in order to do so. In saying this, I don’t mean in any way to knock people who chose to go to ICLP. In fact, it is my belief that if you can afford it and are limited to one year of study in Taiwan, you should by all means go to ICLP. If for whatever reason, however, you can’t, then I want you to know there is still hope.
I mentioned in my previous article that there was a significant difference in the progression of courses at the two schools. I’m going to list here the standard progression at MTC, and something similar at ICLP, with the other school’s level in brackets for each, and marking ICLP-only courses where applicable. (Note: ICLP’s textbooks are findable, but only generally in secondhand bookstores, so it’s really up to the luck of the draw)
Level 1 — PAVC I (ICLP 1)
Level 2 — PAVC II (ICLP 2)
Level 3 — PAVC III (ICLP 3, supplemental)
Level 4 — PAVC IV (ICLP 4, supplemental)
Level 5a — Far East Everyday Chinese III (ICLP 4, supplemental)
Level 5b — PAVC V (not taught at ICLP) or Mini Radio Plays (not taught at ICLP)
Level 6 — Newspaper I (ICLP 4)
Level 7 — Thought and Society (ICLP 7) OR Newspaper II (ICLP 4)
Something should look fishy already.
ICLP (core class first, then 1-2 supplementary classes based on my own interests):
PAVC I (MTC 1)
Far East Everyday Chinese I (MTC 1, though not generally offered)
PAVC II (MTC 2)
Far East Everyday Chinese II-A (MTC 3, though not generally offered)
Modern Chinese Conversation (ICLP exclusive)
Chinese Moral Tales (MTC 4, though not generally offered)
PAVC III (MTC 3)
Talks On Chinese Culture (ICLP exclusive, though you can buy an American edition)
New Radio Plays (not offered at MTC, but Lucky Bookstore has it)
Taiwan Today (MTC 4, though not generally offered)
Thought and Society (MTC 7)
Collected Radio Plays (ICLP exclusive)
A First Course in Literary Chinese (MTC 7)
Aspects of Life in Taiwan (ICLP exclusive)
News and Views (MTC 7, though not generally offered)
Literary Chinese for Advanced Beginners (ICLP exclusive, but Lucky Bookstore has it)
Speech Series: Real World (ICLP exclusive, a collection of recorded university lectures)
The Independent Reader (MTC 7)
Collected Essays on Chinese Culture (ICLP exclusive)
Level 8 at ICLP consists of 文言文 readings, but if that’s not what you’re interested in, you can take other courses according to their Course Design page.
OK, so I take ICLP’s course progression to be the gold standard here. The program is arguably the best Chinese program in existence, so I feel justified in doing so. By that measure, MTC’s course progression is all kinds of screwed up. Between ICLP’s Level 2 and Level 5, there are 5 levels you have to pass at MTC (Levels 3-6, including 5a and 5b), versus only 2 at ICLP (3 and 4).
I speculated in my previous article that the reason ICLP students moved from PAVC II to Thought and Society so much more quickly than MTC students do is that they study so many books at once. I feel this is borne out in the list above. If you want to progress quickly at MTC, you have to study books other than your classroom text. I feel that ICLP’s Curriculum page is an excellent place to look for guidance, but of course you’re not guaranteed to be able to find the ICLP-only textbooks, no matter how many secondhand bookstores you go to.
So what to do? Well, here’s more or less what I’ve done at MTC. I started with PAVC II Chapter 4 in my first term, and my second term started with PAVC III Chapter 5 (ending with PAVC IV Chapter 4). In that time I also studied Far East Everyday Chinese II-B and Taiwan Today, along with Lessons 1-24 (through the end of the “Intermediate Texts”) of Fuller’s An Introduction to Literary Chinese. I recommend this book over Shadick’s if you’re self-studying, though I’m sure Shadick is fine if you take it at either MTC or ICLP.
After my second term, I skipped the rest of PAVC IV, along with all of Far East III. So in my third term I took Mini Radio Plays. I absolutely recommend doing this if you can. The first few weeks were tough because my Chinese was, quite frankly, the worst in the class by a good margin. But I caught up and I’m very glad I skipped. However, I can’t recommend taking Mini Radio Plays over PAVC V in every situation. You need to seriously assess your needs at that stage in order to make the best decision. PAVC V is reading-focused, while Mini Radio Plays is obviously focused on the spoken language. My speech and listening were much weaker than my reading at the time, so I took MRP. Your needs may very well be different, but even if you take PAVC V, I’d recommend using MRP on the side.
As I’ve written before, I was a bit lazy last term, so I didn’t study much on the side. I did several chapters of Talks on Chinese Culture, and not much else it seems. If you can get your hands on a copy (especially if you can find the audio), I’d recommend that book. New Radio Plays is also excellent, especially (again) if you can find the audio. Note that the audio for all of these tends to have a pretty heavy mainland accent. Don’t let that dissuade you (even if you’re like me and 疼愛台灣)
So that’s me up through Level 5 at MTC. This summer for my Level 6 course I took 臨時新聞：中高級口語訓練, which I believe is a new course. If your choice is between that and the other courses offered at Level 6 at MTC, take that. The teacher I had (who is the only one who teaches it as far as I know) is unfortunately a bit moody and not especially clear in her explanations of vocabulary, and she also over-praises our ability in Chinese (“You’re reading newspapers! Your Chinese is just as good as a Taiwanese person’s!”). She also likes to talk about herself a lot. However, you will go through a lot more material than in the normal Newspaper I class, and a lot more interesting, relevant material. The news articles you read are all recent (as in, within the past few days), so the discussion in class is very stimulating and can sometimes get heated.
As far as my “on the side” texts this summer, it’s mostly been Thought and Society and a lot of 文言文. I won’t be finishing Thought and Society by the end of the term (but I will before the next term starts). I moved across town a few weeks ago, got sick one week, and took a week off from Thought and Society due to sheer laziness, so there’s no reason you can’t finish it. My 文言文 reading has mostly been from 古文觀止 because the reading group I participate in is using that book, but I might have used Literary Chinese for Advanced Beginners otherwise.
I’m taking Thought and Society as a regular class next term. Why take it if I’ve already studied it myself? Well, for a few reasons. I’ve always seen it as a pivotal textbook in the transition into the “advanced” level, and as such I’d like to really be comfortable with the material (by which I mean I’ll nearly have it memorized) before I’m done with it. For another thing, the fact that I’ve already studied it on my own will make the class that much easier (I can focus on production of the material only, since I will have already learned to read and understand it), which in turn will give me time to work on the other things I need to study.
I’ve recently started studying The Independent Reader, and will continue with that book through next term at least, if not longer. I’m reviewing both Mini Radio Plays and the articles we’ve read in my class this summer, and after those I intend to study New Radio Plays and News & Views. Neither should be especially difficult, but they should be useful for passing the Level 5 TOCFL this November.
After that, who knows? I’ll probably start (or I should say continue) looking at syllabi for courses I’m likely to want to take for my MA and start reading that stuff. Maybe I’ll read some novels finally, before I don’t have time to. I’d like to finish reading 《死亡筆記本》(Death Note), and maybe I’ll read some of 《三國演義》. I picked that up in a bookstore last week and had no problem with the first few paragraphs, so that could be fun. I’ll be reading a lot of 文言文, and will probably use 古代漢語 by 王力 intensively. I’ll listen to Speech Series: Real World, that collection of university lectures from ICLP. But only as long as it interests me. That will be the key with everything I study after passing the TOCFL (which determines whether I do my MA where I want to or not), other than 文言文 and reading from course syllabi.
Which reminds me. I’ve also read a few things other than textbooks in the past year. I read the first volume of 亂馬1/2, the first 3 volumes of Death Note, and the first few chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I’ve read a bunch of websites, newspaper articles, chapters here and there of different non-fiction books I found interesting, etc. Not much of it was ever a strain, because I could never make myself read something that was supposed to be enjoyable if it was so hard that I couldn’t enjoy it. Maybe it would have been good for me, but I just can’t do it. So most of that was read only when I felt ready to read it. At this point I would love to do nothing but read interesting books and comics, watch interesting shows and movies, and generally just absorb and enjoy the language and culture, but unfortunately I don’t have that luxury. I have a proficiency test to pass, and an MA to prepare for. I will be able to do more of this in between passing the test and starting the degree, but once I start school (real school), I doubt I’ll have much time. That’s OK though, because I’ll finally be doing what I came here to do, and that will be satisfaction enough.
As I’ve always maintained, if you’re unable to attend ICLP for whatever reason, you can still make great progress at MTC. You just have to be strategic about it, and put in a lot of time studying extra things on the side. I’m sure you can do better than I have, because I’ve had quite a few lazy weeks and months. 加油！
Hopefully this article adequately updates the previous one. I’d love to hear questions and comments, and if there’s anything else I can clarify as far as my thoughts on this subject, please let me know! I was drinking beer this evening while I wrote this, so I can’t guarantee that it’s coherent or even spelled correctly. 😀