HSK a.k.a. 汉语水平考试


Seeing as it is the Chinese New Year I figured I ought to talk about something Chinese related. I am gearing up for another test. February 16 is an official testing day for the HSK, and I will attempt the level IV test.

What is this HSK you ask? I am so glad you asked! It is a standardized test us non native Chinese speakers can take to test our Chinese language skillz. We have a similar thing here in America for foreigners called the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language ).

The question I often get next from family and friends is, "Why?" For me personally it is a way to measure myself. See how far I have grown and how much farther I can grow. But, there are other reasons a person may want to take this test. One being the certificate earned is recognized in China. Looks good on Job and School applications. It's your Chinese language street creds. Another reason is that if you get high marks you maybe be able to get short term language study scholarships in China.

At this point they want me to explain the levels. You pick one of six tests. They correspond to six levels. Each harder than the previous. Each with more vocabulary. Here's a simple breakdown in my own words of where you should be before taking each test. Read the detailed outline if your actually gonna take the test.
  1. A very basic test with only listening and reading. Don't worry their reading has Pinyin.
  2. Similar to level one, but double the vocabulary. You're able to speak and respond to simple direct questions and answers. You're considered an advanced beginner.
  3. This is the first level to add a writing component. You got enough to get stuff done, and have basic conversations, but no debating or essays.
  4. I would dub this advanced intermediate.You are passable at communicating with natives, but can't yet fluently read the news.
  5. Even more words. You ar. expected to be able to write and give lengthy speeches. No speeches for the test thankfully. ^_^ 
  6. You are a smooth operator. I think about as fluent as someone born there.
For a detailed explanation of the levels check out the wikipedia page. When I first signed up for the HSK; I thought I would have to pass the first level to take the second, and so on. I was wrong! Thankfully the awesome staff at my testing center helped me fix my mistake. If you are following the Integrated Chinese books, here is how I would tell you to pick your level.
  1. IC book 1, Chapter 6.
  2. IC book 2, Chapter 15. 
  3. IC book 3, Chapter 2. 
  4. Where I am attempting the test at. IC book 3, Chapter 6.
  5. No idea, just a guess. IC book 4, Chapter 20.
  6. No idea.
The HSK vocabulary for III had a 10% chunk of words not covered in the IC books (up to the point I was at). As far as I can remember I knew all of the grammar patterns. With that being said I destroyed the HSK III before finishing the third book. It's possible with a little preparation you could do it before even starting book 3. My two preparation tips would be know the vocabulary, and make sure you can consistently pass the mock test. Here's a link for I - IV for the Anki users.

If you are also wanting to study for the HSK, here is a great blog article with study tips from a guy who has passed level six. If you are not into Chinese, or don't wanna test on the HSK, here's a list of language proficiency tests ordered by language, plenty of options to choose from.

Wish me luck, and Happy Chinese New Year!


Romanizing Chinese Characters From the Command Line

Often, I am reading some tidbit of Chinese on G+ or Facebook, and I come across a character I don't know. Since I'm such a great student, I first look at the various radicals it is made up of and try to guess what it means and sounds like. Using the surrounding context I can guess the meaning about 50% of the time and the correct sound about 25% of the time.

Since I have such dismal guessing rates I use various programs to check myself, before I wreck myself. If I am on the go, I draw the character with my finger in Pleco. Otherwise, I may try my guessed sound via pinyin. Both methods are slow and error prone. So instead, I often copy and paste the character into Google Translate. There are times when I do not have Internet, or I don't want to fire up a web browser. When that happens I utilize a nifty Perl module by Yusuke Kawasaki called Lingua::ZH::Romanize::Pinyin. I put the following one liner into my bashrc as an alias.

alias romanize="perl -MLingua::ZH::Romanize::Pinyin -E 'say Lingua::ZH::Romanize::Pinyin->new->chars(\$ARGV[0]);'"

This allows me to use the command line like below.
user@system:~$ romanize 骆驼
luo tuo

It is as simple as that! Not only does he have a module for Chinese, but also modules for Korean and Japanese.