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employment cross-roads: wither HSK study?


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Hello all. It has been a while since I was last here—around 2 years now.

I have a question to ask, one with significant ramifications.

Some background.

I am a foreign male, now in my early 50s, & have worked as a freelance journalist for over 10 years. I studied Chinese language at two of the lesser-known Shanghai universities, for a total of around 1.5 years, quite some time ago. I reached the end of the second school’s Chinese language program, and did not continue on to study for HSK. I gradually moved into the realm of freelance journalism, for expat and overseas publications, and in the process had done some interviewing in Chinese, but mainly had little need for it, as I spoke to many Chinese who spoke good to very good English; there were only some who did not. BUT there were times when it was necessary, that my Chinese level was insufficient, & I had to use the services of a local interpreter.

Also, I have found that in serious matters with my Chinese spouse, my Chinese has been clearly wanting. I have also had the indignity of having my wife's friends comment to her that my Chinese is found wanting.

I have reached a cross-road professionally, and not sure which way to proceed.

Presently, I seem to have two options:

i) Move into a full-time job, in the field here in China, but as competition is now stronger for editorial positions, with younger people seemingly possessing “good Chinese” or “Chinese” (some of the foreigners have purportedly studied Chinese at local universities for between 1-3 years), then one choice is to undertake the HSK to reach a standard that is known and “measurable” to potential employers in my applications. My competition is then younger foreigners and either returning Chinese or ABCs/BBCs who have studied the field directly or indirectly—I would likely have to study the HSK part-time, if possible;

ii) undertake the HSK in preparation for returning home & trying to find work there eg. teaching Chinese in schools to kids? Or some other field—theoretically, if my Chinese standard was good enough, I could work at overseas based Chinese-language papers/magazines (though I am quite dubious about this one).Again, I would likely have to study the HSK part-time, if possible;

I would really appreciate some solid guidance on this question: should I or should I not? Pros vs. cons? Opportunities vs. opportunity costs?

Thanks very much.


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Can you financially afford to take some time off and study Chinese full-time in an intensive program? That would be my advice, but it costs time and money... I'd say 6-10 months at least of nothing on the schedule but Chinese. Perhaps unrealistic, however.

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maybe you should first ascertain whether China employers 'recognise'/ value the HSK, and if foreign firms there indeed do use the HSK as a benchmark of chinese proficiency as well. How well-known/recognised is the HSK in China itself and overseas as proof of proficiency (native level or just mastering the language as a foreign language, etc), and maybe you can ask around about how locals perceive it, both for employment and university studies?

Not knocking language majors or people who spend time studying Mandarin in China, but proficiency has too many variables and levels like the persons background i.e. non-native speaker or heritage learner, etc. The acid test is speaking, listening, writing and how much of these skill sets are really needed or used in the jobs. Also, whether it's entry level job or at a more senior level.

Think you should consider specialisation and focusing your language studies in areas that will directly involve your job(s) of interest, e.g. if you cover financial news then maybe vocabulary/technical jargon in economics, business admin, etc.

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To the OP:

You've clearly been able to survive for 10 years in China and having a Chinese spouse to converse with. As yellowpower mentioned, you should find out if the HSK is what is limiting you from getting a full-time job or something else? I would think that at this point in your career, you would be selling yourself on your journalistic skills and not the fact that you can pass an HSK level.

My suggestion is to separate learning additional Chinese, which you have stated for other reasons as well such as improved communications with your spouse, with career and finances.

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