As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I took the HSK 2 Chinese Proficiency Test yesterday.
What I didn’t mention in the previous blog post was the amount of effort I put into this things. I started learning Chinese on a casual basis by taking some VoIP classes a couple of times per week. I started in mid-November 2012 and the test was end of March 2013. Before last November, I had absolutely no exposure to Chinese whatsoever and I wasn’t even aware of the existence of the HSK test until early February of this year.
According to the HSK website, someone taking the HSK2 is supposed to have a full academic year of Chinese instruction at a university before taking it. This is two college semesters, which will probably average out to about 7 months worth of time. I had 4 months of exposure to Chinese.
The other thing I didn’t mention in the previous post is that I am deathly afraid of tests. Tests are quite possibly the only things on the planet that are capable of giving me anxiety attacks (that, and overdraft notices from the bank). When I got into the testing facility and put on the headphones for the audio portion of the test, I quickly felt a shortness of breath. My heart beat out of control, my mouth went dry, and I really felt like I was in some kind of mortal danger.
This isn’t specific to the material. I have been in tests where I knew the material better than the instructor did (computer science comes to mind) and the fear of the test itself caused me to mark “C” on all the multiple choice answers and run, terrified, from the exam room. I knew that choosing to take this test wasn’t just some test, it was the equivalent of someone plagued with the classic nightmare volunteering to stand in front of their classmates in their underwear … in other words, I was confronting one of my worst fears, worse even than heights or tax bills.
Yesterday was a personal victory because I managed to take this ridiculously hard test without passing out but also because I did it with less preparation than most people usually get and with the added problem of having to unlearn Japanese grammar during that same 3-month span as well as a handful of Kanji that don’t mean the same thing as their Chinese counterparts.
If you’re curious, the test is a mix of written and audio portions. The written portions consist of you reading sentences and matching appropriate pictures (“I’m so tired I think I might miss work today” -> picture of guy in bed), reading sentences and picking true or false, and then reading dialogs and answering comprehension questions.
The hardest part of the test was the last section of the audio test where they give you a four-line dialog between a man and a woman and then ask you some question about the content of the dialog and it’s rarely a straightforward thing. For example, you might hear people talking about fish and about lamb. The woman says something about fish, the guy says something about lamb. If you know only a little Chinese, then when you hear a question about the guy and food, you might answer lamb. But, the dialog is really about how the woman had fish last night and she wants to know if the guy is up for that, the guy says no, he wants lamb tonight. The comprehension question is what does the woman not want to eat … in which case you’d answer fish. These questions had me sweating bullets but I think comprehension practice like that is invaluable in getting closer to a goal of fluency.
Anyway, if the two of you still reading this blog post care, I will continue to post updates on the progress of my Chinese learning as well as updates on the fantasy novel, which is about 2/3rd of the way done with the last round of edits before I send off the opening chapters to agents.