At GoEast Mandarin, most of our Chinese classes are taught at the official system for Mandarin: HSK (汉语水平考试 Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì, translated as the Chinese Proficiency Test.
For offline we often use the HSK books, and our own online courses are loosely based on the HSK system, and equally prepare you for the HSK tests. The only non-HSK courses we have are Business Chinese (for which we use our own curriculum, based on real business cases) and Spoken Language Courses (based on the books from the Beijing Language and Culture University Press).
The HSK system consists of six levels. You can find examples of words & sentences by HSK level here. But a rundown per level does as following:
- HSK1: Total beginner
Here you can say the most basic sentences, for instance, to introduce your name and age, and from which country you’re from.
- HSK2: Beginner (A1 level)
Here you can say basic sentences about yourself, your family, and ordering things in a restaurant.
- HSK3: Elementary (A2 level)
Basic social and working conversations for day-to-day tasks. You can now hold conversations in Chinese.
- HSK4: Intermediate (B1 level)
The minimal for many universities. Here you can sort of speak about every daily life topic and hold real conversations.
- HSK5: Upper intermediate (B2 level)
When you reach HSK5, you can really work well in a Chinese business environment. You can understand nearly every sentence spoken and talk almost fluently.
- HSK6: Advanced (C1 level)
Here you can freely express yourself in any topic, whether written or oral, whether practical or philosophical.
Read here how long it takes to learn Chinese.
4 Pros of the HSK system for learning Mandarin Chinese:
1 — There isn’t much else
This sounds a bit hard to believe, because isn’t Mandarin one of the world’s biggest languages? With 1.1 billion speakers, it ranks only behind English (1.3 billion). But here’s the thing: In terms of second-language speakers, Mandarin Chinese isn’t that as big as English, Hindi, or French. And it has only grown a lot in the last few decades, which means that the materials are still catching up. There isn’t that much quality secondary-language education material out there. Which is fine, because there is the very mature HSK system.
2 — It’s clever and beginner-friendly for learning Chinese
Some students will describe Mandarin as hell, but at least with HSK it’s dry heat.
Starting from HSK1, the HSK system doesn’t really get any more difficult, it’s just a linear process from there. Each new level doubles the amount of vocabulary you know. This may sound a lot, but the reality is that new words and grammar are gradually being added into the rotation of sentences. If a word has multiple meanings, then sometimes those meanings are added only in higher levels, to keep the lower levels accessible.
To make it even friendlier to beginners, at GoEast we often let total beginners become conversational as soon as possible, focussing on Pinyin pronunciation only, and introduce Hanzi characters after HSK2, based on the HSK1 & HSK2 words. This also makes the start more enjoyable, and the Hanzi characters easier.
Here’s our course structure:
It’s also very clever in that HSK is full of compound words. In HSK1 you may learn 谢谢Xièxiè (Thank you)，in HSK3 觉得Juédé (Think), in HSK4 感谢Gǎnxiè (Thank) and 感觉(Gǎnjué).
3 — It’s extremely popular among Chinese learners
Sometimes things get worse when everybody loves it. Wearing the same H&M t-shirt as your friend, for instance (although this can sometimes be really fun). But HSK is so great because it is popular. Nearly every grammar point is handled on YouTube for absolutely free. Just go to YouTube and type in ‘haishi vs houzhe‘ and you’ll get different explanaition. Preparing for a review? Go for a run and listen to a ‘HSK3 vocabulary list‘.
And it’s not just YouTube. There are many resources available. Just search on Google (word lists or grammar), or Quizlet (flashcard sets dedicated per HSK level) or your webshop in your country (dedicated books to a specific HSK level). No other Chinese learning system has such extensive extensions to their learning materials.
4 — It’s the official exam for Chinese language
If you need to pass a HSK exam to earn visa points or to entrance to a university, then there’s no way around the HSK system. (The name (Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì) literally means Chinese Proficiency Test.)
There are hundreds of HSK test locations around the world and there are plenty of mock tests available. The HSK tests fit perfectly to the tests and the questions about vocabulary or sentence structure you’re going to get.
Con of the HSK system for learning Mandarin Chinese:
Yes. One of the few problems we have with HSK is that on the upper levels, it gets too formal and focussed on written language. In itself this is not a problem. But some students simply lose motivation at the HSK5 or HSK6 level and stop their studies, because what they learn isn’t very applicable during daily life.
This is why at GoEast’s we’ve developed side-courses such as Business Chinese (for if you finished HSK2 (Beginner Business Chinese) and HSK4 level (Intermediate Business Chinese) — and Spoken Chinese, for after HSK4 so you don’t have to plow through HSK5.
We do recommend continuing with HSK5 if you:
- want to focus on reading and writing skills
- if you look for formal language in official or business situations
- if you need to complete the official HSK5 or HSK6 exam for a visa or university entrance.
- if you study Chinese to become a linguistic or translator
But if you simply want to be more fluent in daily conversations, we recommend our Spoken Chinese language courses.