Tuesday, June 20, 2017

ICLP's Approach to Learning Chinese

ICLP’s Approach to Learning Chinese:

Taipei’s National Taiwan University (NTU) is home to one of the most prestigious Mandarin language programs in the world. The International Chinese Language Program (ICLP) focuses on improving students’ scholarly speaking abilities. ICLP alumni praise the program for the dramatic results it produces. So, what is the secret to ICLP’s success?

The program prides itself on its unique approach to learning. ICLP bases its curriculum on “5 Principles” and “8 Actions.” Students that adopt the “5 Principles” and consistently utilize the “8 Actions” are guaranteed to drastically improve their Chinese speaking abilities in only a matter of eight weeks.

Let’s examine ICLP’s 5 Principles:

Focus on Content Relevant to You   At ICLP, the administrators and professors tailor the curriculum to their students’ needs. With many students hoping to use Chinese in their academic coursework and in their future professions, the program focuses on teaching Mandarin for scholarly use. They have found students are better able to retain information that is relevant to them. Ultimately, the program aims to prepare students to use Chinese in their everyday academic and professional lives after leaving the program.

Use the Language to Communicate   As students begin to learn the language, it is critical that students use what they learn to communicate. Students’ communications will reinforce what they learn in the classroom. To encourage this principle, ICLP is a language immersion program. Students must sign a pledge to speak only Chinese while at school and are encouraged to continue utilizing Chinese as they explore Taiwan. In such an environment, students learn from both their professors and their classmates.

Prioritize Understanding the Message   At ICLP, learning is believed to come through understanding. When learning Chinese, students are tempted to prioritize learning what characters look like before learning their meaning. Ultimately, the message is more important for communication. For this reason, the program is structured to emphasize listening comprehension and speaking.

Emphasize Physiological Training   To reinforce successful learning, it is critical that physiological training be a cornerstone of your language study. Because Chinese is a tonal language, students who pay attention to tones early on will have a more wholesome understanding of the language and find greater success in their communications.

Your Psycho-Physiological State Matters   The last, and what ICLP coordinators believe to be the most critical principle in the study of the Chinese language is approaching the learning process with passion and a positive mindset. We will all face our own difficulties throughout the course of our language study, but only those who embrace optimism and maintain their passion for Chinese language and culture will be able to persevere.

Now, let’s examine ICLP’s 8 Actions:

Listen A Lot   While beginners may not be able to communicate effectively, they can improve their communication skills more quickly through active listening. Listening can take place both in and outside of the classroom.  Also, because Chinese is a tonal language, it is critical that students listen to perfect their own speaking and pronunciation. ICLP creates a great environment for listening as students and teachers each agree to speak only Chinese on campus. While beginner students may be overwhelmed at first, they find themselves recognizing new words and phrases each day to use in their own communications.

Focus on Meaning before Words   Instead of simply memorizing what characters look like, ICLP encourages students to use what they learn to increase their overall understanding of the Chinese language and culture. When learning characters, it is critical that students learn the meaning and history behind the words. This meaning-based approach to language study reinforces the learning process and the student’s memory.

Start Mixing   At ICLP, language instructors believe in teaching roughly equal parts nouns, verbs, and adjectives. As you diversify what you learn, you will be able to communicate more effectively and on a broader range of subjects.

Focus on the Core   Instead of teaching Chinese as a progression from simple to challenging words and sentence structures, at ICLP the teaching staff focuses on “the core.” To get students communicating in Chinese more quickly, ICLP prioritizes teaching high frequency vocabulary that will form the core of a student’s every day and professional communications.

Get a Language “Parent”   To reinforce what students learn in the classroom, and to foster ongoing language use students are encouraged to get a language parent. A student’s language parent is anyone they can practice their Chinese with on a regular basis. Without a language parent, students are more likely to not use their Chinese outside of the classroom. A language parent is a critical part of the long-term learning process.

Copy the Face   For students focused on improving their speaking abilities, copying the face is important. Pronunciation can be perfected by both listening and mirroring. Students that pay attention to nuanced facial expressions and how words are enunciated will achieve quicker success.

Establish a Direct Connection to Mental Images   While ICLP emphasizes speaking, they do encourage students to attach mental images to words to help remember the various Chinese characters. Creating such connections will reinforce a student’s reading skills as well as speaking.

Focus on Syntax/Syntactic Rules   To effectively communicate using Chinese, focusing on syntax is crucial. Without a working knowledge of Chinese syntactic rules, one will not be able to master the language. So, at ICLP students focus on learning these rules and applying them to their daily communication. In the immersive environment, these syntactic rules are reinforced and students begin communicating more accurately. With the goal of producing academic speakers, ICLP instructors work to diversify students’ knowledge of syntactic rules.

As I begin my summer studies at NTU, I will embrace ICLP’s approach to language study. I can only hope that this method will improve my speaking abilities as it has all the students before me.

Katelyn DeNap
George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs
M.A. Security Policy Studies
Organization of Asian Studies – Vice President
Sigur Center 2017 Asian Language Fellow
National Taiwan University - International Chinese Language Program, Taiwan

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