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Non-native Chinese speakers offered new exam
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China is to launch an oral Chinese proficiency test for non-native Putonghua speakers this year, which is expected to be more localized and useful in daily communication compared with the Chinese Proficiency Test, or HSK, known as the "Putonghua TOEFL."

A contestant prepares to answer cultural knowledge questions during the British leg of the ninth 'Chinese Bridge' world university students' Chinese lauguage competition at the London School of Economics in London, capital of Britain, March 13, 2010. [Xinhua]
A contestant prepares to answer cultural knowledge questions during the British leg of the ninth "Chinese Bridge" world university students' Chinese lauguage competition at the London School of Economics in London, capital of Britain, March 13, 2010. [Xinhua]

The computer-based test, known as the Hanyu Kouyu Shuiping Ceshi (HKC), or the Oral Chinese Proficiency Test, will be held in June and December this year in a first batch of nine cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing municipalities, Shandong, Fujian, Jiangsu and Hubei provinces, and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, the newly established Tianjin-based Oral Chinese Proficiency Test Commission (OCPTC) said in a statement Monday.

Participants in the test will be required to complete seven sections in 30 minutes on computers, including reading, asking questions, repeating and talking, while the oral proficiency of the examinees will be divided into nine degrees in three levels according to their scores, Zhao Hongtao, director of the OCPTC, told the Global Times Tuesday.

Wang Dengfeng, vice director of the National Chinese Language Commission, told the Global Times that the test is aimed at helping foreigners to get to know their speaking ability in Chinese, find their deficiencies, provide enjoyment and get to know more about Chinese culture when taking the test.

For Chinese learners, the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, or HSK, has a history of nearly 20 years. It consists of three levels: elementary, intermediate and advanced.

The number of HSK examinees has reached more than 1 million since it was launched in 1991, including foreigners, overseas Chinese and students from Chinese minority ethnic groups, and the number has been increasing by 30 percent in recent years, the China News Agency reported.

Du Jia, the spokeswoman of the Chinese Language Council International, said that 548,000 non-native Chinese speakers had taken the test in 59 countries outside China by 2009.

Compared with the HSK, which includes an optional independent oral test, the HKC focuses only on the participants' oral proficiency and demands less preparation, Wang said, adding that a non-native speaker can take the elementary test after learning Chinese for about three months.

"If you pass the advanced test, it shows you have the ability to express a relatively complicated feeling and elaborate your opinion clearly," Wang said, adding that it will be a complement to the HSK.

"The HKC test will help universities and companies assess students' and employees' oral communication skills, as the HSK test is hard for foreigners who do not read a large vocabulary of Chinese characters but could conduct daily communication with proficiency," Zhao Hongtao said.

Alisa, a 30-year-old Austrian who refused to give her full name, works for a media outlet in China. She sat the HSK intermediate exam last week, which includes listening, grammar, and comprehension.

"I found it very difficult, and I am not sure if I can pass it," she told the Global Times.

Alisa has been in China for three years, during which time she tried to study Chinese by reading newspapers, watching TV and speaking with her Chinese friends.

"I prepared for the test for more than one month with the help of a private teacher," she said. "I entered the exam just to push myself in the study of Chinese, but I don't think the HSK certificate, which is not widely recognized, is important when I am looking for a job."

Though she hasn't heard of the HKC, she said she is interested to know about the new exam.

Obtaining the HKC or HSK certificate is not a requirement of Chinese companies in hiring foreign employees in China, but is recognized as a prestigious qualification outside China and an asset for non-native Mandarin speakers when looking for work involving use of the language.

A human resources manager at a Beijing-based public relations company, who withheld his name, told the Global Times that the purpose of hiring foreign employees is to explore overseas markets, so there is no need for them to pass any Chinese language tests.

Wang Dengfeng, however, believes that with more and more foreigners and overseas Chinese studying or working in China, the demand for communication in Chinese is sure to increase.

"If the new test proves to be efficient, I expect it will be accepted as a reference by universities and companies when recruiting non-native speakers in the future," Wang said.

(Global Times April 28, 2010)

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