As you know already, I have been studying Chinese seriously for just over four weeks now.
While I did have lessons, they were two years ago, very basic, I didn’t care about them, and I had forgotten nearly everything. But it did give me a head start.
When I was doing these lessons I passed a test at the end, which was the HSK 1, the most basic and easy official Chinese Proficiency tests.
I have not studied for this test again, however as a mark to test my progress I thought I’d try a practice HSK 1 test to compare my improvements from last time.
If you want to see my thoughts after attempting the test for the first time you can find that here!
What I’ve learned about the HSK 1 test, is that not only is it very basic, but it’s very easy to cheat the system. The way I passed the test the first time, was by knowing vocabulary, and being able understand nothing, except the key word that I needed. For example if you know the specific word that the question is testing you on, then you will be able to get the question right, even if you don’t know the rest!
So I knew about fifty words, and using that I was able to pass. As well as that there are many hints and clues in the questions to make it much easier. At the time I was trying to learn Japanese, and they have the same characters, so simply by knowing the meaning I could guess it right in places!
This time it was not like that, it was the opposite. When I went through the test I felt like I knew everything except for the 5%, which is in complete opposite to the previous time! It was actually amazing being able to read it, and fully understand what it meant, instead of guessing the question!
So I was really happy with that! And I’m very proud of my progress!
But of course, what you know already doesn’t matter at all, and what you don’t know should be the focus!
For example I made some really stupid mistakes. On the listening I blatantly did not hear 钱 （Qián）which should have been simple for me, even though I knew that bicycle was 自行车， I assumed that 开车 （Kāichē）was a synonym even though I knew it was “driving” – I just didn’t recognise the two to be the same!
This was also useful to notice key gaps in my knowledge. What I found is that I did not know prepositions such as “above”,”on top”,”behind”,”inside”,”in front of” which was tested on, much to my surprise as I had always thought it was quite complicated for some reason. In hindsight perhaps that was misguided.
What I have learned about learning a language is that some things you have to learn because you never know what might be useful or not. When I first started learning hanzi I was like “why do I have to remember 水 (which means water)” I was approaching it with the attitude of it being one of the elements like fire, wind, earth, forgetting dramatically that it’s a very popular drink, and it’s everywhere!
Though that makes me sound stupid, it highlights that you never know when something might be useful. You just don’t realise how regularly words that you think you don’t need to know show up in conversation!
The listening is maybe slightly harder than the reading test in my opinion. But what I found as I read back through the transcript, was that I did actually know, and understand, nearly all of it. Which means I just need to improve my listening comprehension – which is of course – easier said than done.
You can’t train it in the same way as you can train reading or speaking, you need to have input, but the kind of input you can learn from. And finding that balance is quite difficult!
Anyway, I’ve had a quick glance at a HSK2 paper, and I don’t think I’m ready. So perhaps I will attempt that in another 4 weeks to assess my progress there.
What’s interesting about doing it like this is that I don’t want to actually train to pass a test. I want to learn the language. However if I can use the test as a benchmark to assess my progress then that can be quite useful.
The sad thing about that is that I will likely miss key aspects that they would like me to learn, but highlighting knowledge you’re missing isn’t too much of a bad thing!
So should you take the HSK? If you want an easy language qualification then yes. If you learn essential vocabulary then you have a good chance of scraping a pass. If you want to learn the language? Then I’d say no, not really.
Learning to pass a test is not a good way to learn the language. I’ve listened to podcasts where people who have passed the most advanced JLPT are still not fluent.
This is because passing a test does not translate to fluency, tests are not so perfect that a only a fluent person can pass them. In the case of JLPT in later levels it becomes about learning characters that are very rarely used, sounding unnatural to native speakers and actually makes you harder to understand.
So I think that you should learn the language to improve, to gradually get better and build up from solid foundations, instead of reach for things that are really complicated, even for natives.
But what do I know? I can’t talk because I’m not fluent yet! This is just advice that I’ve heard.
If you want to see what doing the test was like you can see it here! It’s poor video quality, however might be interesting for you to see!
If your learning a language then tell me how it’s going sometime 🙂