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Why take the HSK?


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I'm currently studying Chinese at Zhejiang University. I've already started doing part-time translation work, and once I've finished my studies I plan to work as a full-time translator. I want to translate historical and Buddhist related texts. After reading the posts by people who have taken the HSK, I'm really beginning to wonder what good it would do me to take it. Since I'm already working as a translator, I obviously don't need it to find that kind of work. I think that in most cases a degree from a Western university in Chinese would be sufficient, if someone wanted to see some paperwork for a position in a company. I don't yet have a Bachelors degree, but will mostly likely go back to the States after studying here and get one.

From what I've seen in the posts, the HSK seems to follow the Chinese tradition of placing difficulty over practicality when it comes to education. I believe someone who had been working as a translator for a year nearly failed the reading section (I think it was on the HSK Advanced). Less than a year into my Chinese studies at a University, I'm already getting sick of the Chinese approach to education (out-dated books with antiquated vocabulary, student-teachers with no experience, mind-numbingly boring books, etc.), and the HSK seems to be more of the same. It seems that most of the people on this forum taking the HSK are doing it simply out a desire to test themselves, and improve their Chinese. Is this right? Is anyone doing in hopes of improving their chances of getting a job?

A friend of a friend is studying law here in China, doing all of her study in Chinese, yet after taking the HSK (sorry, not sure which level) 4 times has always scored quite low. If someone's Chinese is good enough to study law in China, but not get a good score on the HSK, what is going on?

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Don't take this the wrong way, but if someone keeps getting low scores on the HSK after four times, I might doubt that the person's Chinese level is that high. But, it could be that the person is overly-specialized in one academic discipline, or that the person is a slow reader (the HSK emphasizes speed). I don't know.

Overall, I think the HSK is pretty good as a learning tool. It tests weak points. I learned a lot from studying for it. It also made me realize that my Chinese had a long way to go.

How useful is it, as far as getting a job? Not that useful, at least in the sense that most employers haven't heard of it. However, if you get a good score, I think that that is something that you can bring up in a interview as a starting point to talking about some of the other Chinese-related things you have done. But then again, maybe I'm wrong.

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Somebody asked me whether I had taken that test but I had ever heard of it until about three or four years ago. I see that the tests have actually been around since 1990.

My own opinion is that it depends on your direction of study. The HSK does not test Classical Chinese, and if you have learnt traditional characters and can read simplified characters with no trouble, you would have to re-learn how to write lots of characters to take the tests. Of course that also means that there are millions of native speakers of Mandarin from outside the PRC who can't even pass HSK tests. Most renowned western scholars of Chinese have never taken it either.

Roddy has a good point about it giving direction to one's study. If I was beginning now, I might well have a go at it for that reason. Some of the materials and vocabulary lists are very useful for modern life in the PRC....if you like modern life in the PRC!

In the future it may become well-known, and then if you have done it it would come in handy. I think it would be a pity if it became a required piece of paper like TOEFL though.

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