Li Na – Tibetan Plateau (1994)
You’re about to register for a HSK exam or thinking about it? Here’s all the essential information about the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi in one short FAQ article.
The HSK certificate is the Chinese certificate of language proficiency in Mandarin Chinese for higher educational and professional purposes in Mainland China. Are you going to study or work in China or are you applying for a Chinese scholarship? Then the HSK certificate might come in handy. Since it’s a standardized test – it also serves as a reference to assess Chinese language proficiency.
The HSK exam assesses non-native Chinese speakers’ abilities in using the Chinese language in their daily, academic and professional lives. The exam tests listening and reading comprehension as well as writing skills (starting from HSK level 3). The HSK exam doesn’t test your oral abilities in Chinese. There is a special HSK speaking test for that.
The HSK certificate is an internationally recognized certificate and the standard reference for Chinese language proficiency in Mainland China.
The HSK certificate is valid for life. Just be aware that most Chinese universities may want to see a certificate that’s not older than two years.
You can take the HSK test almost all over the world. The Hanban organization behind the HSK exam keeps track of all HSK test centers. Enter the exam you want to take and find the HSK test center nearest to you.
You can register for the HSK exam on the official Hanban HSK website. You need to create an user account first.
No, you have to go to a authorized test HSK center to take the exam.
No, you can’t bring your dictionary or laptop to the HSK exam or for that matter any of the following items: a recorder, camera, MP3, mobile phone, tablet, textbook or other articles “irrelevant to the test”.
According to Hanban the only difference between the two tests is that one is paper-based and the other internet-based. The internet-based test has one advantage though: you can write characters using Pinyin on your keyboard which for most HSK-participants is both easier and faster.
You can retake the test as many times if you want (though not for free of course).
The Hanban organization grades all HSK exams in their central headquarters in Beijing. Exam papers have to be sent from your local HSK test center to the Chinese capital to be graded.
One month after the end of the test, you can visit the HSK test service website. Input your ticket number of your Test Admit Card and your name to view your test score. Be sure that your input information matches that on Test Admit Card. For the certificate you should contact your local test center.
HSK consists of six levels. How do these HSK levels correspond to the European Framework of Reference for languages? Do they correspond directly to the European proficiency levels (A1-C2)? Hanban claims that they do, but I’d agree with the skeptics on this topic that this statement is too optimistic. HSK 5 for example might actually be closer to the skills described for language level B1, though that may vary from case to case:
And let’s not forget that the standard HSK exam does not test oral language proficiency, so not all language skills are examined. But anyway, let’s keep that to ourselves.
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. But remember: the 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 it’s just a matter of solid preparation.
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.
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. “Doing your homework” cannot hurt:
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 trough 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 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.
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…
Have you ever felt lost in the monkey jungle of apps for Chinese out there? It’s hard to tell from the outside if an app is a valuable asset for your learning tool kit or just another anticlimactic nuisance.
This is a minor selection from Google Play Store:
What’s more, some of the apps with a track record of quality content and high didactic standards demand monthly subscriptions which in time add up to quite substantial sums. Most of the time, I’m just not sure if I should invest that money in an app or rather use it to purchase books or even regular Chinese lessons.
But occasionally a new app pops up that’s worth the energy of running through the maze of all these marvelous, little applications.
Here’s what happened…
So when I stumbled across this LinkedIn-message about a new vocabulary trainer app for business Chinese, I wasn’t jumping in the air with excitement, but I clicked the link anyway. To my surprise, Daily Chinese looked promising and even has a very polished website.
How revolutionary is it? Well, everybody is familiar with flashcard apps like Anki and Memrise where you can build your own sets of flashcards, structure your learning and track your progress.
I know it sounds quite obvious, but until now I had a hard time finding such ready-made key vocabulary lists. They allow you to boost your vocabulary in a goal-oriented manner. If you want, you can preview the list to see if it’s worth learning.
And most important: It’s free! (That’s free for now)
I would! But no monthly subscriptions please. I hate those. As a vocabulary trainer, this app is especially useful for people studying or working in China, or planning to do so.
The Android version wanted to access my fitness data and list of installed apps. Why’s that?
Have you ever used Daily Chinese or do you prefer a different, life changing, planet saving app to remember all those characters? Please feel free to leave a comment below.
In his new show “Granny Knows Best” Jamie Bilbow takes the audience on a journey to rural China to learn from the true kitchen heroes – Chinese grandmothers. How did the British moderator become so fluent in Mandarin?! Three reasons why you should watch the show.
The 16 inspiring women I met on my journey were such a pleasure to film with and I can’t wait for you to meet each and every one of them! The show promotes the universal message that grannies are the cornerstones of families, they bring us together and their cooking provides an important reminder of how good simple traditional food can be.Jamie Bilbow on facebook about his show Granny Knows Best (09.10.2019)
Jamie Bilbow speaks Chinese amazingly fluent, knows his cooking vocabulary and has his way of communicating with the locals, making them feel at ease and disclose their culinary secrets. How did he become so fluent?
Jamie (1988) was born in England and moved to Hong Kong at the age of one, but but didn’t learn Mandarin or even Cantonese during the first 18 years of his life. Learning Mandarin became a crucial goal, once he realized that he wanted to become a chef de cuisine in China and learn everything about Chinese food.
His recipe for success: “I say yes to any opportunities that present new challenges, even if they aren’t related to the ‘final goal’. I say yes more often than no and put myself into as many new situations as possible.” (South China Morning Post, 14.06.2017)
These challenging situations include training chefs in North Korea, peddling a hummus cart business, publishing a Western cookbook in Chinese and running a cooking school in Beijing. Before he got famous in China, Jamie also participated in Chinese language competitions with other foreigners.
Not that his fame and Chinese skills don’t speak for themselves, but Jamie actually holds an undergraduate degree in Chinese from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) as well as a Chinese teaching degree from the Institute of Education, UCL, both based in London.
Watch all episodes of Granny Knows Best here.
Some people get fed up with coursebooks and graded readers, because the more they progress, the less challenging those texts become. But moving on to more daring stuff, they discover that reading turns into an uphill struggle again. Deciphering just one page of text takes ages. How much of a struggle should reading be? What’s the best strategy to improve your reading skills?
My advice would be to do both, but to concentrate your time and effort on “less demanding texts”.
Why so? Because – it sounds all too obvious – the best way to improve your reading skills is to read. A lot. You must cover some miles every day. But not just random characters or unreadable prose from the Ming dynasty. Preferably, something meaningful that your brain can process in an enjoyable way. In other words: extensive rather than intensive reading.
Which doesn’t mean you should abandon intensive reading altogether. 80 percent = extensive, 20 percent = intensive worked out really well for me.
To read intensively is to completely deconstruct a text, with the goal of absorbing as much meaning from it as possible. This is done by taking a text, and systematically looking up every word, phrase, or collocation that you do not understand.Luca Lampariello (01.12.2019)
Reading a lot above your level is “applaudable”, but doesn’t necessarily result in picking up all that new vocabulary. On the contrary, I would have forgotten most of it by the next day. And to counter that, I would spend more time reviewing than actually reading.
Reading on your level means that you are familiar with 95 to 98 % of the words in the text. For each 1000 words you should only have to check 20 up to 50 words on average. It should feel more like a relaxed Sunday morning walk.
One superlatively important effect of wide reading is the enlargement of vocabulary which always accompanies it.H.P. Lovecraft
Extensive reading of texts suitable for your level is the best way to accelerate. I tried both strategies and I’d say extensive reading is the most helpful means to absorb new words through context and read faster. It shouldn’t cost much effort, since you’re (speed) reading the text as opposed to studying it to extract every detail for eternity.
Extensive reading is also helpful when your preparing for HSK tests, especially the higher levels where reading speed becomes more crucial. Only reading textbooks and HSK tests may not be enough. What you need is all-round reading experience. Once your brain is trained to process Hanzi faster, you’ll extract the meaning from a random HSK question without much guessing.
Admittedly, I often do this myself, however it’s not a good habit to develop. For three main reasons:
Unfortunately, looking up 1000 characters every month doesn’t result in learning 1000 new characters every month. You have to be a very committed and skilled learner to pull that off. I’d suggest reading easier texts and looking up a limited amount of key characters only.
It’s an unnecessary distraction. As helpful Pinyin is when you are just starting out reading Hanzi, after a while you should allow your brain to focus on characters only. It needs time to adapt.
The (non-Chinese?) brain cannot ignore Pinyin and prefers to process alphabetical letters first. Try it yourself:
That’s even more true for English translations added below the Chinese sentence:
So it’s better to get rid of the Pinyin in an early stage and allow your brain to absorb the characters. That doesn’t mean you cannot occasionally uncover the Pinyin if you’re unsure how to pronounce a character.
This question has been debated in depth in this episode of the Mandarin Companion podcast by the way.
This depends on your reading strategy. If it’s intensive reading, take 10 or 15 minutes per page if you have to, since you are really studying the text.
For extensive reading, you shouldn’t take much more than 4 minutes per page, only occasionally consulting a dictionary (or better, consult it after reading). Remember that you don’t have to understand every detail and analyze sentence patterns, grammar points and so on.
The free reading tool DuShu enables you to analyze Chinese texts on their difficulty level. It shows you detailed statistics like the percentage of vocabulary in different HSK levels and give a difficulty ranking. Like “lower intermediate”, “intermediate”, “upper intermediate”, “advanced” and “highly advanced”. The actual reading experience doesn’t always match this ranking, since the tool doesn’t know what you know, but it’s clarifying anyway.
This tool cannot tell the difficulty of a text, but it filters out the HSK vocabulary. Useful when your preparing for a HSK test and want to focus on HSK characters only.
Chinese Text Analyser can do all those things and more, but you need to purchase the software first.
I wouldn’t recommend children’s books for beginners. Books for children are much harder than you would assume and usually contain lots of irrelevant vocabulary, since they are meant for kids.
As for content, expect to be bored quickly, unless you are into little rabbit becoming friends with fat piggy in the green forest. More grown-up stories like Harry Potter, The Hobbit or The little Prince require plenty of skill to read and enjoy in Chinese. Try cartoons and graded readers instead.
Free online resources:
Non-free online resources:
What are your experiences with reading Chinese texts? Where do you find useful resources? Please feel free to leave a comment below.
Journey to the West is one of the four great novels of Chinese literature. Over the years, countless TV-adaptations have been produced. Everything from decent to mediocre to barely watchable.
One of the oldest, the 1986 version, was so strong and convincing that it achieved classical status. It seems almost all mainland Chinese people grew up watching this CCTV-production of Journey to the West and it still can be seen on Chinese television today. (It’s one of those series Chinese national television just keeps repeating.)
From today’s perspective, the special effects are obsolete and bizarre. And the story evolves much slower and more long-winded than Netflix addicts are used to nowadays. The striking thing though: China and its film industry have developed so much since then, but they never quite managed to top the 1986-series! In terms of story line, costumes, portrayal of characters, it still is considered the most original and authentic rendition of the story. As a matter of fact, some of the newer adaptations are hardly more than imitations that fail to bring new interpretations to the plot and characters.
Most people who are serious about learning Chinese, watch or read Journey to the West at some point. There is just no way around it. The legendary journey of the Buddhist monk and his apprentices somehow is fundamental to Chinese culture. The adventures of the Monkey King have left their traces in the Chinese language. Journey to the West is a key to understanding China, although it leaves you with many new questions. About Chinese mythology and religions for example.
The complete 1986-adaptation you can find on YouTube with English subtitles.
I wrote about Pleco’s e-book Journey to the West a while back. The online dictionary offers its own graded reader series for the Chinese Classics, suitable for non-native speakers. Pleco’s Journey to the West is an abridged version for intermediate learners which stays true to the original as far as I can tell. Watching the series and reading the story with its additional notes on places, monsters and demons together can be very helpful. If you have the time, that is! The story is meant for HSK 4 or 5 learners.
Countless other adaptations have been made. I can’t guarantee this list is complete. It doesn’t include cartoons for example. Unfortunately, most of them lack quality. I found only one exception.