The International Chinese Language Program (ICLP)
Why You Shouldn’t Study Here
I am entering the finals week of my second quarter at the infamous ICLP intensive Mandarin program in Taipei, Taiwan. I’ve been going back and forth for a while whether or not to write a review of this program. The reason is I have a very, very, poor opinion of this program and I wanted to be sure this opinion was valid and justified before I wrote a review of a program that I once so highly regarded. After six months of 20 hours of class per week at this institution, I feel qualified now to write such a review.
My bottom line up front is this: ICLP is a language center which prioritizes profit over students and teachers, is not worth its outrageously expensive price tag, and has likely only survived as a popular institution because of its name brand recognition. Now, this is a bold statement but I am not the first GW student to write a blog post here with this same feeling (read here). This other blog post states, and I quote:
“ICLP advertises an immersive environment to study Mandarin Chinese. The program also offers students individualized study plans with small class sizes (2-4 students), with an additional one-on-one class tailored to your specific interests and difficulties you face in learning Chinese. Unfortunately, from my own experiences and those of other students, ICLP’s benefits seem to end there…I made great friends at ICLP and my Chinese improved over the summer, but overall, I felt the program did not live up to its reputation. All I can say is you do not always get what you pay for.”
To retain brevity in this review I am going to respond to a few misconceptions I had (as have many others) prior to attending ICLP.
“I can learn faster at ICLP because each week I have so many class hours and the class sizes are small”
ICLP is focused on cramming as much Chinese into your head in as little time as possible and does not adjust the speed of the class to meet students’ learning style even if all four of each classes’ students don’t understand anything. I think a fitting analogy to ICLP’s teaching philosophy is this: break open a fire hydrant and try to drink as much water as you can. In reality, not only are you wasting water (time) but also you’ll end up barely drinking any water (information). I tend to think less is more- I would rather master and truly understand what I am learning than just rush through three to four textbooks each week and learn 100+ new words and grammar structures each day. On top of this, ICLP’s demanding course schedule does not allow for review… like absolutely NO REVIEW! I am not sure how one can retain hundreds of new words a week if they have no time to review these. This is because ICLP teachers are required to finish teaching their assigned textbook by the end of each quarter, which often takes precedent over making sure students understand the content of the text.
“It is expensive, but it is worth it!”
Do the math, it isn’t. ICLP charges more per hour than any other Mandarin program I have researched in Asia, including IUP in Beijing. Why? It isn’t because teachers are paid well, a they aren’t. It is because ICLP pays roughly 30% of its revenue to the National Taiwan University (NTU) to pay its overhead as well as maintain its status at the school. See, ICLP isn’t actually a real NTU program; it is renting the right to use the NTU name and building. There is a tiered system at NTU for programs like ICLP. The more money you pay the more your students can have access to the things real NTU students have. For example, I have an NTU student ID because I go to ICLP, so I can check out books at the library, but because ICLP does not pay the full fee to be a tier one program I cannot use the NTU campus WiFi. More bang for your buck would be reached by attending the Mandarin Training Center (MTC) program at the National Taiwan Normal University. It has larger class sizes but it is roughly a third the price and you can pay for additional 1-1 tutoring hours, which are cheaper than ICLP’s tutoring.
“ICLP can teach me Chinese other programs won’t”
Well, not exactly, but there is some truth here. There are 6+ language ability levels at ICLP. For levels 1-3 (complete beginner to intermediate) the core textbooks are all from ICLP’s main competitor, the MTC program. Do you find this weird? So do I. Why not just go to MTC, the school that wrote the books and pay 1/3 the price? Now, if you are level 4+, ICLP actually does have some good textbooks it has written that will discuss interesting topics, such as AI or prisons in Taiwan. I think ICLP has some value at this point, IF you come in at a high intermediate level. Don’t waste your time coming here to start learning Chinese.
“But I heard ICLP can increase your Chinese level by one-academic level per quarter, right?”
This is BS. Sorry, it just is. Besides the rushing through textbooks as I mentioned before and then saying students are at the next level when they aren’t, ICLP has gained this reputation for this reasons: Most students who come to ICLP are young (in college or just graduated high school), for many this is their first time abroad. Many of these students say how great ICLP is and recommend it but have never had a Mandarin class beyond their home country before. From what I have seen, they are confusing attending ICLP with attending a language program in an immersed language environment. After talking with many of the older students at ICLP (26+ years old) who have lived in Asia for a while (as have I), nearly all say ICLP isn’t worth the money and isn’t a good school.
“I can choose my own classes and language level”
No, you can’t. ICLP assigns you to a language level and classes based upon making sure that each class has all four seats full. I’ve seen people be placed at levels lower/higher than they actually are as well as be put in courses a year or more below their level by the accounting department to ensure that all classes are full and there won’t be any partially filled classes, which would require taking a loss on a teacher’s salary. If you don’t believe me, ask the teachers who have quit working at ICLP. I’ve spoken to nearly half a dozen and they all, without me asking about this, brought this subject up. Lastly, ICLP is quite inflexible when asking to alter your schedule or classes. You find out on the Thursday or Friday before you begin classes the next Monday what courses you are in and might have a schedule like this: 8am-9am, 10am-11am, 3pm-5pm.
“ICLP has a long institutional knowledge of teaching Chinese”
That was the case until about three months ago when all the senior management staff quit to form their own separate school. Personally, I think they see the writing on the wall for ICLP and that’s why they left.
“ICLP offers student’s good dorm rooms”
The average price for a good bedroom in an apartment in Taipei including utilities is approximately $15,000 NTD per month. ICLP charges its students over $22,000 NTD per month to stay in the Taipei Paradise building. I do think this is a nice building with good staff and a convenient location. I think it is worth the money, especially if you are staying for just one quarter. However, ICLP makes a nice profit off of renting to students and this itches me in the wrong way. After talking with the building manager, I discovered that ICLP agrees to a contact with the building every two years, in which rent is locked in. Yet, the price ICLP charges for the dorms changes each quarter. For example, students in the summer term pay a bit more than they did the previous quarter yet they DOUBLE the amount of people in each dorm. Yes, a room with one person becomes a room with two people. Additionally, ICLP charges an unspecified amount for “administrative purposes” which is subtracted from each student’s apartment deposit. I’ve asked many time how much this is, as I didn’t want to give them my deposit before I knew and they refused to tell me and said that I needed to pay ASAP or else risk losing my spot. I am not making this up. Shady? Yes. Transparent? No.
Look, I could go on and on but I will cut myself short here. The take away here is that you should truly reconsider going to ICLP if you are dead-set on studying there. If you are a high-level Mandarin speaker, then I DO think that ICLP can benefit your language skills, otherwise- go somewhere else. Also, if you value transparency and flexibility in a program you are spending USD $4,500 – $4,700 every ten weeks to attend, then ICLP isn’t going to meet your expectations. I wish I knew this all before I decided to attend ICLP and I hope you find my opinion above valuable.
M.A. International Affairs, Specialized in Asia’s Emerging Circular Economy Ecosystem and Plastic Marine Debris
Sigur Center 2019 Asian Language Fellow
National Taiwan University, Taiwan