The most famous grading system for Mandarin Chinese is undoubtedly HSK, because it’s been used for adults and consistently since 1992. But it’s good to know this is merely a grading system, it is not a language itself. And so there’s another grading system for the Chinese language, namely YCT (Youth Chinese Test), aimed for grading children and teenagers.
These grading systems (HSK or YCT) are very useful for learning the Chinese language, because they gradually introduce new vocabulary and grammar, and start with words that are easy and flexible to use, and become used in compound words later. Even if your child learns Chinese online, and she or he doesn’t want or need to have a YCT or HSK certificate, it is still very useful to follow the structure they have build for the Chinese language.
YCT was introduced in 2004, just like HSK by Hanban, part of China’s Ministry of Education. The Young Chinese Test was introduced especially to grade but especially promotes Chinese language education for young students. It is especially aimed at primary and middle school students, who learn Chinese as a secondary language. This is why the Chinese name for YCT is ‘中小学生汉语水平考试’: primary & middle school Chinese level exam.
YCT comes with six levels; four for writing and two for speaking. These are independent of each other, so your child’s writing level could be beginner, while her or his speaking level is high.
The writing levels are, unsurprisingly:
- YCT level I
- YCT level II
- YCT level III
- YCT level IV
The speaking levels are:
- YCT Speaking (Primary level)
- YCT Speaking (Intermediate level)
There is no advanced-level speaking exam for YCT, nor for writing (YCT level IV is not considered advanced Chinese). If your child reaches an advanced level of Chinese, she or he can also participate in an HSK exam.
Age restrictions YCT exam
Children or teenagers under the age of 15 can participate in a YCT exam. There are no age restrictions on HSK exams.
Should my child learn YCT or HSK?
We are not trying to avoid this question, but you probably don’t need to choose: Again, these are just systems for grading and learning the Chinese language. GoEast Mandarin’s online Chinese language courses for children are based on the YCT structure. We introduce the vocabulary and grammar gradually, corresponding to each YCT level. We also do mock exams at the end of each course to see if your child could pass a real YCT test. We don’t do this because we think your kid needs a YCT certificate, but rather to see if your child has successfully learned the curriculum (and also to see if our Chinese courses are the high quality we expect them to be.)
That said, maybe you want to choose between a YCT or HSK exam for your kid. Maybe you want to buy Mandarin learning books online and wonder between YCT and HSK (both from Beijing Language & Culture University Press). Maybe you’re looking for Chinese graded readers, or perhaps for a Chinese language course.
This is easy to answer: For 15 years and below, we recommend YCT or a children’s online course, and for 15 years and above, we recommend the adult or HSK versions. The stories and materials in the children’s versions are simply more suitable for kids, with topics and texts more closer to their life’s situation. Instead of example texts saying “我25岁”, the sample text will be 我6岁” (chapter 5 of the YCT level 1 book). Materials revolve around school, hobbies for kids, or what they like to eat or where they like to shop. They are more likely to be stimulated by the YCT materials. This is why GoEast’s children courses revolve around the story of Mika.
But worry not, there is overlap. YCT level II is described as HSK1‘s twin sister, so if your child learns YCT level I and level II, that roughly equals HSK1. YCT level III equals HSK2, and YCT level IV equals HSK3, which is already an elementary level. So really you do not need to choose.
Here is GoEast Mandarin’s layout for Chinese language courses for children, and as you see, learning YCT also helps learning HSK. In the end, your child will be learning and speaking the Chinese language.
Doing the YCT exam
We don’t recommend taking the YCT level I or level II exams. These levels are learned quickly and apart from a pat on the back, it’s better to wait until your child reaches YCT level III, or level IV! But nowadays, only HSK4 — but more likely HSK5 — and beyond will get you accolades from schools or employers.
If you want to register for the exams, see the website https://www.chinesetest.cn/, which is the official website of Hanban.