It has been a long while since doing a solid blog post on this space. While my readership probably isn’t the largest out there, considering the might of bavatuesdays and confessions of a community college dean, I still feel this very bizarre obligation to continue to write to an audience I can’t quite see. Over the next few weeks I’d like to share a little bit of my own ICLP experience, perhaps also write a post-ICLP talk. Many of us have not done an intensive language program and so don’t have a very firm grasp on the benefits and pro’s that a language program can bring to the table, not too mention how one goes about selecting the appropriate program. At another time, it would be awesome to write up a broader piece dealing with the whys and how to’s of language study, but for now I will settle with a look at my time at ICLP.

I have three classes at ICLP that stretch from 10AM until 2PM with a break at noon for lunch. My classes, I think I have mentioned this before, contain no more than three people, including myself. My first two classes work out of different books and are the group classes with two other students and me. In the group classes we work our way through grammar points by setting up scenarios and looking at the dialogs of a given lesson. I’ve noticed that of the two classes one really focuses hard core on the grammar, very nitty gritty, while the other one takes a much lighter approach by teaching you how to work with certain scenarios. From there you get a basic understanding of the grammar tools that will allow you to handle transactions, ask questions etc. Now, I have to admit I am coming to ICLP with way less language experience than most people normally come to ICLP with. The best way to put it, ICLP trains scholars in the field of China studies on how to use language towards their field. So The normal langauge student doesn’t necessarily come to ICLP as his first training area. However, ICLP has recently made a point in creating classes and hiring teachers to work with students that are at or near my level. I noticed some students that are using level one books, normally these students have some experience with say reading or have massive vocabularies but require some correcting in basic grammars and pronunciation. It’s actually funny how most students tend to come here with great reading comprehension but less than quality speaking skills. Although, admittedly, most of those students are by now very proficient at speaking since we are in week…five or perhaps four I have now lost track unfortunately! My days at ICLP have felt a bit strange, I have the same classes everyday so it is a bit like being back in high school and a weird twilight zone. Everyday, I walk into the same bakery and got some delicious bread and juice, quickly jog (慢跑)to the school. I hear the bells (not actual bells but speakers under the clocks) that go off with the traditional da da dada da da dada, however you decide to represent sound via text, but you are familiar with the tune that goes off to announce classes. Classes happen, I catch my break for lunch. I’ve been using my lunch breaks for drum practice using a small practice pad, metronome, and my sheet music. The ICLP teachers (laoshi=老師)will sometimes come out and watch me play on their way to pick up lunch. It’s kind of weird being a little attraction, especially since let’s be honest my drum skills are less than quality, but it makes for good conversation! Afterwards, I jaunt over to the computer lab and check email as well as take a quick refresher glance at my new vocabulary.

This refresher glance is usually very helpful. Lately I have been getting a hold of so many words that it is hard to keep a hold of the words. The issue, which should be more fully addressed in a separate post, comes from the fact that different words can have the same sound. But this isn’t like the homonyms like bee and be, two too and to. It’s usually like “shi” with a fourth tone (a sharp drop) can be a whole host of sounds. This is really why having the characters is super important. Without the symbols you would have all these different sounds that would be awfully hard to figure out their meaning. Although I imagine context would clarify things, but we’ll find out in the future. My last class of the day is the real challenge. It’s a single person class called a 單班課 (dan ban ke). The instructor never ceases to amaze me on how he manages to work with me, especially when my brain just won’t work at all. If you can imagine you are in this class alone so you have no one else to rely on. If you don’t know the information you have to ask and then work your way around the definition of the word using words you already know. Maybe, it isn’t that complicated for other people, but my class tends to leave me really exhausted. The vocabulary isn’t usually what bothers me, it’s the correction of tones. I almost always need my tones corrected. Tones have become the bane of my learning experience. What’s sad is, you often don’t hear yourself properly. When you think you are making third tone, you are actually doing fourth. So 老師 corrects you and you still won’t get it right away.

So my constant rinse and repeat at ICLP leaves me pretty tuckered out by the weekend, making traveling around Taiwan tough, since your brain is just worn down. However the classes are really well thought out. I’ve been impressed with how the school puts together the courses to work with each student’s needs. One individual has nothing but one on one classes and each class dove tails into the next. I guess it’s easier to do that with all language classes. My week surprisingly moves very quickly. The days blend into each other almost seamlessly, making it difficult to recall what day it is, unless it is Friday. Friday, all filled with tasty tea and delicious snacks and wandering around, is my fun day, period. : D

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