The Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi has become the main focus point of your life? Congratulations. And don’t worry, the HSK exam can be beaten like any other test. Here are my best tips to pass the HSK test.
The early bird catches the worm. Best to know where you’re at well in advance: take a mock exam to estimate your level and don’t forget to measure your time. How good or bad is it?
The HSK test score doesn’t lie. Remember though: HSK evaluates your language proficiency, BUT writing the HSK exam is a practical skill on its own! The more familiar you are with all the HSK ins and outs, the better your position, the higher your score.
And that’s good news, because with some planning and strategy it all can be mastered. Climb the ladder and see things from above instead.
Many HSK-participants don’t prepare for the test! (Or at least, that’s what they say.)
Everybody is different. In my experience things get more challenging, once you hit the higher levels (from HSK 4 upward). But, in the end, that’s all relative. HSK 1 can be just as challenging if you’ve just started your journey.
Preparing for the HSK exam is no rocket science though. The requirements for each level are clear. The vocabulary doesn’t change. The exam structure does neither. Some basic planning will do:
What is there to know about a test? It’s a test, right? Why should I know everything about the test? That’s not what a test is all about.
But common experience shows: Getting an epic HSK score is as much about knowing your stuff as it is about knowing the ins and outs of the test and pleasing the (Hanban) testers.
Join a HSK preparation course if you can. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it’ll help you a great deal. If you put in the effort, nothing can go wrong. Your HSK teacher will guide you through the process and provide you with everything you need:
By the way, this Youtube channel was the closest thing I could find to HSK prep class.
Yes, yes, flashcards again. Not very original, yet an effective method. You can do it the old-fashioned way or use one of the various apps like Anki, Pleco, Memrise etc. Just focus on those characters that tend to slip your memory. The pile of “easy” cards should grow to be the largest over time.
These three basic categories can help you organize things a little .
Since HSK is still a traditional test that focuses on reading and includes such exercises as putting words in the right order (to compose sentences), you’d best take a look at the relevant grammar points for your HSK level. Thanks to John Pasden’s grammar wiki, everything you need is online. If you prefer watching instead of reading this Youtube playlist can be of use.
Thanks to the results from your mock exam you know in which area to boost your score. The method is simple: invest more time in that domain and turn your weakness into one of your strengths.
That sure sounds nice, but how do I do that? Here are some tips for improving your HSK score on listening, reading and writing:
When you’re finally writing the test, keep in mind to read the multiple choice answers first. That is to say, you sort of scan through them. Doesn’t matter whether it’s the listening or reading part.
Why? It’s simple: The answers usually provide more context than the questions do and they take less time to read! Once you run through the a, b, c, d options, you know what to focus on. Otherwise, you’ll loose a lot of brain capacity taking in ALL information. The truth is that you don’t need to. Skim through the answers, get the context and concentrate your attention on the relevant stuff.
Those are my tips! What helped you beat the HSK exam? How hard was it really? Feel free to leave a comment below…
能不能让我 陪着妳走 既然妳说 留不住妳
回去的路 有些黑暗 担心让妳 一个人走
我想是因为 我不够温柔 不能分担 妳的忧愁
如果这样 说不出口 就把遗憾 放在心中
把我的悲伤 留给自己 妳的美丽 让妳带走
从此以后 我再没有 快乐起来的理由
把我的悲伤 留给自己 妳的美丽 让妳带走
我想我可以忍住悲伤 可不可以 妳也会想起我
是不是可以 牵妳的手呢 从来没有 这样要求
怕妳难过 转身就走 那就这样吧 我会了解
把我的悲伤 留给自己 妳的美丽 让妳带走
从此以后 我再没有 快乐起来的理由
从此以后 我在这里 日夜等待 妳的消息
能不能让我 陪着妳走 即然妳说 留不住妳
无论妳在 天涯海角 是不是妳 偶尔会想起我
可不可以 妳也会想起我 可不可以 可不可以
What’s the one thing that always gets Chinese people excited? It’s food!!! Yes, my friends. Chinese can talk endlessly about it. You like to pour some panda sauce into the wok too? If you enjoy Chinese cooking, then you’ve come to the right place.
下厨房 (xià chúfáng) is a Chinese platform where users can share their recipes with an online community. Xia Chufang is the platform in China where Chinese cook out of passion AND – welcome to the new world – for likes, followers and views.
What I am showing you here, is the desktop version, but it also runs on mobile (and I have no idea which personal data they process or where they store it, so be warned).
You want to discover some new recipes, but the ingredients are all Chinese to you? If you haven’t installed it already, this is where a pop-up dictionary comes in handy. Now you won’t get lost.
If you are a cooking fanatic yourself, you can make your own profile, upload your creations and get in touch with other online cooks. The vast majority out there is from mainland China and most recipes come in Mandarin. A chance to put your language skills into practice!
Here are some nice dishes to start with:
But you can find recipes for all levels. Enjoy!
PS. I wrote “Chinese cooking”. A reader from China pointed out, it’s not that simple. Just imagine someone from Sichuan eating Shanghai cuisine where they add sugar to everything. Unthinkable. So I’ll add this map with China’s eight major cuisines (中国八大菜系地图) and we get a little closer to the truth:
Bored of reading the same Chinese textbooks, but Chinese newspapers and other texts are still too difficult? DuShu is a reader app that will take any Chinese text and turn it into a learning resource. Challenging texts become readable in an instant. I recommend DuShu especially to upper intermediate and advanced learners who want to improve their reading speed and comprehension. Here’s why.
When I started preparing for HSK 5 back in 2017, I discovered my main obstacle to passing the test was reading speed. I simply wasn’t reading fast enough. The only thing do about that was to read more! More extensively and more frequently. But where to begin?
DuShu is only one of many options. It’s somewhat similar to the Pleco dictionary’s clipboard reader which allows you to copy-paste a random text and translate characters by tapping on them. Except that DuShu is really a reading tool in its own right. The Chinese reader breaks down any text in readable parts. It adds Pinyin, underlines and tone colors if needed and generates super helpful vocabulary lists which you can export to other apps and devices (premium feature though).
The app (size: 56 MB) runs on Android devices only and has some other paid features. In this review, I’ll introduce DuShu’s main features and share my experiences with this Chinese reader.
Unlike other paid apps (take Skritter for example) DuShu’s basic functions actually offer much more than just a demo-version of the app. You practically can enjoy all features, but some – like sentence translation – can be used only a limited number of times. Not a big issue in my opinion.
I’ve been using DuShu for over a year now, reading with DuShu everyday for 20 to 30 minutes, mostly “checking” the news in Chinese. I simply picked any news article that sounded interesting to me, copied the content and saved it in DuShu. The reading list shows you the number of characters, your progress (36 % read) and difficulty level for each text, so you don’t get lost.
I found that reading with DuShu is a lot of fun. Even without the translations from Google that are limited to 10 per day. For more you must upgrade to the premium version. Vocabulary still gets translated individually though, so it’s not the end of the world.
Finished reading? Don’t forget to have a look at the automatically generated exercises. They are pretty helpful, although they may seem rather random and basic at first. Open settings and do some fine-tuning to make them fit your level, otherwise you’re likely to get random vocabulary thrown at you. For flashcards select Don’t show words at or below HSK 4 for example.
Note that you can remove the tone colors if they bother you (tone colors never worked for me). The same goes for the Pinyin and the underscores. Also note that the prices shown here aren’t up-to-date anymore. Tip: mark words while reading and 复习 (repeat) them the next day and/or make flashcards for them.
DuShu screens each text automatically on difficulty. With a solid HSK 4 basis you can have a go at intermediate up to upper intermediate texts, but the advanced texts – for me at least – were mostly overkill. It does make a difference if you’re familiar with the topic of course. I personally like reading texts that are a little bit out of my league, the gap shouldn’t be too wide though. In my opinion, it’s best to avoid texts where you have to look up every second word.
Doing some research on the app, I noticed some people having issues with the audio function: Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I sometimes have this problem too.
Integrated graded readers as premium feature – like the ones Pleco offers – would also be welcomed, because finding the right texts on the internet is not always as easy as one would expect. The same goes for a spaced repetition flashcard system, but maybe this is too much to ask for. You can export vocabulary lists (premium feature) to other apps like Anki by the way.
Fun would be to add an element of a competition. Like competing with friends or other learners on reading “distance” or speed and checking the leader board to see how you’re keeping up. This could be combined with some other parameters and testing options to track your progress.
To wrap up this review: DuShu is a reading app that focuses on the essentials and delivers what it set out to do: helping learners to improve their Chinese reading skills. The app technically supports you to read and understand the latest news from China or any other text in Mandarin. Equally important, DuShu makes reading Mandarin interesting enough to keep doing it on a daily basis – at least that’s been my experience. The daily DuShu routine allowed me – without exaggerating – to gradually speed up my reading and expand my vocabulary. The ultimate goal being not relying on any tool to read advanced Chinese texts.
This blog-post was updated and rewritten in October 2020.
What helps you to improve your Chinese reading skills? Any experience with DuShu or other Chinese readers? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Instead of the usual bourgeois pictures of food, cats and traveling, an endless stream of Chinese national symbols and fervent “birthday wishes” dominated my WeChat moments: from kids dancing and waving the Chinese flag, to “Xi dada” inspecting the military parade and greeting the soldiers.
Not that it’s any of my business, but all of a sudden Xi Jinping and the party were allover the place! And people who normally don’t involve themselves in politics on any level, now wrote messages in the most patriotic tones, celebrating the 70th birthday of the PRC. I even saw people making selfies in front of their televisions, showing the world that they weren’t missing a single word of their benevolent leader’s speech.
Which reminded me of this Chinese app “xuexi qiangguo” that a Chinese friend showed to me not so long ago. It’s an app designed to study Xi Jinping’s thoughts and ideas by watching video’s and reading texts. Of course, you can earn points and are competing against other people. The higher your score, the higher your position in this online Xi JP study club.
Needless to say, all your activity on the app can be tracked and is (probably) linked to your ID, at least if you work for the Chinese government. It’s the updated version of Mao’s little red book which in the craziest days of the cultural revolution Chinese people had to carry around everywhere they went and cite from memory.
But here is the good news: resourceful people invented a cheat tool that does all this hard work for you. Simply install the app and the software will “read” and scroll through articles automatically which boosts your score and obviously saves a lot of time.
But anyway, my main concern here is to answer the question which level of proficiency you need to reach to understand Xi Jinping’s PRC anniversary speech, held on Chinese National Day (01.10.2019), before he drove past the military in an open car, greeting and thanking the soldiers.
Listening to it myself, I understood more than I expected, not least because the Chinese president spoke slowly and clearly in Standard Mandarin.
Although I recognized many familiar words and phrases and could grasp the meaning of most that was said, when I ran Xi’s speech through a Chinese text analyzer, the statistics told a different story, even revealing an “advanced” difficulty rating. “Advanced” meaning that the text is way beyond intermediate level and not an easy read.
Taking a closer look at the vocabulary and the idioms used, the speech indeed is rather difficult and contains many subtleties of CPC political language that – I guess – only insiders and experts can fully apprehend. The main message though is clear: “China is back, we’re strong and we’re here to stay”.
In the top 10 of most used words, we only find common characters. In his 8-minute speech Xi used the word 人民 (people) twenty times and 中国 (China) fourteen times. This is followed by the adjective 伟大 (great, magnificent) which Xi mainly combines with 祖国 (motherland), but also with the following words:
The Chinese president used the word 世界 (world) to point out China’s growing strength and global meaning and urged the Chinese people to stay on the path of steady and peaceful 发展 (development), telling them to 坚持 (persevere) and keep pursuing socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Here is the top 10 of his most used words:
There is still much to be said, but then again, this is not a political blog. This blog post just goes to show that sometimes politics in China is hard to ignore, even if you are “just trying to learn the language”. In particular on Chinese National Day.
Back in the days of Mao Zedong, one could hardly open a Chinese textbook that wasn’t full of revolutionary slogans and communist role models who sacrificed themselves for the socialist cause.
I think we all agree that political ideology should never be the main focus or even a major part of a language study, unless your interest in politics and state affairs is the reason you study Chinese (which is OK!). Please feel free to comment your thoughts about this topic down below.
We sent people to the moon. We created touchscreens and video streaming. We discovered water on Mars. We developed robotic body parts. We can clone humans and grow new organs.
We excel in innovation.
What strikes me as odd though, WHY – at the same time – it’s so hard to get OUT of our COMFORT ZONE and take things to the next level.
This post is dedicated to this underrated capability of ours to come up with reasons that justify staying in our comfort zone just a little longer…
Especially, when we learn new skills OR LANGUAGES like Mandarin that are considered hard beyond belief.
Many people worry about missing the mysterious language gene or think they generally lack the talent to learn a new language, especially a “hard language” like Mandarin. The idea that they could reach a certain level of proficiency in Chinese seems as likely to them as climbing Mount Everest without oxygen.
Language learning is a skill, however, that can be learned like so many things in life. If you weren’t particularly good at it at school, doesn’t mean you cannot do it. It probably just means at that time and place, in that particular setting, you couldn’t perform at the best of your ability. And is Chinese really that hard to learn?
Is Chinese harder than Arabic, Icelandic or Spanish?
It depends for whom of course!
For Vietnamese people for example, Chinese is not completely outside their frame of reference. Many elements look and sound familiar:
I think this really comes down to how close your language is to Chinese. I, for example, am from Vietnam, my only mother tongue is Vietnamese and I’ve been learning English for roughly 10 years now and Chinese for more than 1 year. To me, English is definitely the harder one since its grammar and vocabulary are completely foreign, it took me like 5-6 years to be able to hold a normal conversation and to be able to listen and understand what others are speaking.Nguyen Nguyen (YouTube nickname), commented the question if Chinese is the hardest language on earth.
Chinese generally has four main challenges as a foreign language:
Reading and writing Chinese is time consuming. No doubt about that. On the other hand: Chinese grammar is relatively easy. Compared to German for example, you don’t have to worry about different tenses, pluralization, cases, genus, articles and what have you.
Which means that basic communication can start from an early level, without the grammatical obstacles typical for German, English, Polish and other languages. Learning Chinese for daily survival is not as hard as many people think. Chinese people usually won’t hesitate to show you their admiration.
If you are a managing director with a family at home, you might well have too much on your plate already. You won’t be able to focus on yet another task, neither during the evening nor on weekends. You are either too tired or too occupied with work, family and the other 89 things on your to-do list.
What’s more, – I noticed this with management people I used to teach – if you cannot be good at it, you start to hate it. Therefore, without the proper time resources, any learning process is set up for failure.
On the other side of the spectrum, I used to know
people men who worked a normal office job, were single and spent most of their leisure time playing Xbox and drinking beer.
Either way, time is a limited resource. That’s why we MAKE time for things (or people) we value.
The crucial thing for learning any new language is daily practice. Even 10 minutes every day amounts to 70 minutes a week, 280 minutes a month.
You can even do it on your way to work. If you “waste” a lot of time commuting every week, this is “hidden potential” you can tap into.
The hours normally wasted in the Berlin S-Bahn turned into a completely different experience when I started listening to audiobooks and courses in history and philosophy. Average traveling time per week: 10 hours. Around 480 hours per year! Why not invest some of that time in something more useful?
If you ever took driving lessons: it’s the same idea. Regular practice does the trick.
Imagine what you can achieve in a year if you spend two hours every week on learning something new?
It’s a common belief that you have to be immersed in the language to make progress. Although not all immersion leads to proficiency, in general, language learners do boost their abilities significantly during their stay in the target language country. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way.
Whatever you do, you should always prepare yourself for the real thing. If you are not in China right now, maybe you are planning to go their at some point and you’ll prepare yourself for that as good as you can.
If you cannot go to China: consider digital immersion and meeting up with local Chinese. The internet offers so many possibilities to communicate that Marco Polo would wish he had had. Chat with Chinese people, find Chinese teachers online, watch Chinese TV-series. There’s a surplus of options.
This is what a friend said to me after somewhat unfortunate first experiences with Chinese culture, working for a Chinese company. She never felt very sympathetic towards Chinese culture, but after being part of a Chinese company she completely lost all interest and felt she’d never understand “Chinese mentality” and their “indirect way of communicating” anyway.
“Never again”, she said to me, which I could understand, from her point of view. I just felt she gave up too early and let one bad experience waste everything. The road to understanding was from now on was blocked. By herself.
The obvious point here: If you don’t have any positive feeling towards a culture or language, learning their language becomes a struggle, cause you cannot develop any interest towards it.
This is where I’ve seen many people fail, because they couldn’t identify with their target language on any level.
Needles to say, studying the “Chinese mentality” and “indirect way of communicating” does serve as a mirror that could have prevented some of her hard feelings or at least questioned the universality of her own communication principles.
And Chinese culture envelops much more than the corporate culture of some Chinese enterprise entering the global market. The challenge here is to find some area of interest you can positively identify with.
“我的渡口” or “My Ferry” struck me as a rather slow and silent movie, conversations between country people being of the minimalist kind with many things left unsaid. The main reason to watch – apart from the scenic beauty of the Hubei river landscape – is probably to get a taste of traditional, rural China which is so completely different from modern Chinese society.
The story about a father and son can be outlined in a few sentences. Laotian has been working as a ferryman on a small rowing boat for all his life. His wife has died and recently his health has been declining, but he doesn’t want to give up his trade. His only son, Xiaotian, who has been jobbing downtown, now has returned to spend his holidays with his father. Xiaotian, who has been struggling as a migrant worker to survive in the big city, loves his father, but doesn’t have a high opinion of his trade and his stubborn ways. His father never accepts any money, the villagers leave some cabbages or potatoes instead. Xiaotian’s feelings change however, when he starts rowing the ferry himself in order to support his old man.
Basically, it’s a story about father and son and the conflict between the old and the new. Can a fourth generation take over the small ferry business? How to react to the changing circumstances? How to respect tradition and still survive without becoming a stick in the mud?
From a cultural perspective, “My Ferry” is a striking display of “filial piety”. Xiaotian may disagree with his father’s plain view of the world, but he would never openly disrespect him and make him loose face in front of others. It’s really compelling to watch these traditional Chinese family relations where feelings for each other are usually expressed in an indirect way. In other words, no hugging, no “I love you, dad”, no “goodbye, son, I’ll miss you” and so on.
When we look deeper, we also find the archetypal figure of the ferryman who appears in many cultures. He typically is a solitary and silent figure, not very well liked by the people and transcendent in the sense that he isn’t really part of this world, but forever in between. Laotian, still very concerned with the practical world and his local community, could be seen as a Chinese manifestation of this archetypal figure. There’s wisdom in his simplicity.
Human learning capability is tremendous, but can you really learn ANY LANGUAGE in 180 days?
The man who makes this bold claim is Chris Lonsdale. He is a New Zealand psychologist, linguist and educator who adopted the Chinese name 龙飞虎 or “flying dragon tiger” (or something like that).
The title of his TED talk sounds like some shady language school’s advertising pitch. Then again, he did manage to catch people’s attention (over 18 million views on YouTube).
Why immersion isn’t a necessary factor: “A drowning man cannot learn to swim.”
1. Focus on language content that is relevant to you.
We master tools by using tools; we learn tools fastest when they are relevant to us.
2. Use your New Language as a Tool to Communicate, right from Day 1.
3. When you first understand the message, you unconsciously acquire the language. “Comprehensible input”; comprehension works; comprehension is key. Language learning is not about accumulating lots of knowledge. In many ways it is about
4. Physiological Training. “If you can’t hear it, you won’t understand it, and if you don’t understand it, you are not going to learn it. You have to be able to hear the sounds… Speaking requires muscle; if your face is hurting you are doing it right.”
5. Psycho-physiological states matter, and you need to be tolerant of ambiguity.
Action 1: Listen a lot. “Brain Soaking”
Action 2: Focus on the meaning first. Get the meaning first before you get the words. Use body language. (Understanding through comprehensible input.)
Action 3: Start mixing. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to work.”
Action 4: Focus on the core (high frequency content). For English, 1000 words is 85% of anything you are going to say in daily communication; 3000 words gives you 98% of anything you are going to say in daily conversation.
Week 1 Tool Box (in the target language):
– What is this?
– How do you say?
– I don’t understand…
– What does that mean?
– Repeat that please.
Week 2-3 Pronouns, Common Verbs, Simple Nouns
Week 4 Glue Words: and, but, therefore, even though
Action 5: Get a Language Parent. Language parent creates a comprehensible input environment.
1. Works hard to understand what you are saying
2. Does not correct mistakes
3. Confirms understanding by using correct language (feedback)
4. Uses words the learner knows
Action 6: Copy the Face
Action 7: “Direct Connect” to Mental Images
First, Lonsdale delivers a great speech on what he thinks is the best strategy to learn ANY language and he deserves credit for motivating and inspiring people as well as for offering practicable advice.
A question I had straight from the start though, is what does he mean exactly by ”learning any language”? What level of proficiency is he speaking of? Which language skills is he talking about? Is he referring to the highest achievable level? According to the Common European Framework that would include the following:
Effective operational proficiency or advanced
|Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning. Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.|
Mastery or proficiency
|Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.|
And for that you would need to study at least 1000 hours or at least 8 hours a day in six months…
I also couldn’t help noticing the contradiction that he learnt Chinese (I don’t know up to which level) by immersion. Doesn’t he tell the story that he stayed in China, “soaked his brain” in Chinese and gradually started making sense of the language? Basically, he is telling us that this combination of immersion and “survival” from day one worked out pretty well for him.
This leads to the question if you can apply the same principle when you are not “immersed” and not in “survival mode”, say you are learning Chinese in Brazil or Canada. Can you really recreate that kind of experience?
I guess his message is that we should try.
Let me know what your thoughts are on this topic. Can you be fluent in Chinese in only six months? Please leave a comment below.