Language “Study” vs. Language “Learning”

Sometimes, you need more context to know where

Sometimes, you need a little more context to know where “here” actually is!

Is there a difference between language “study” and language “learning”?  That’s the question I’ve been asking myself more and more over the past few months.  Unfortunately, we have not had easy access to good objective measures of language learning, making it difficult to assess our learning progress (i.e., “where” are we on this journey of learning?).  As a result, I’ve become very interested in the standardized Chinese fluency exam called “HSK”.  This is the Chinese version of TOEFL and is the exam that many Chinese universities use as a prerequisite for entrance of foreign students into undergrad and graduate programs (as well as progression through medical school).

Here’s my take on HSK:  HSK tests for fluency at 6 levels of proficiency.  Levels 1 and 2 are essentially beginner level, with Levels 3 and 4 representing intermediate skills.  Levels 5 and 6 demonstrate advanced levels of fluency.  To illustrate how this test is used, foreign students are required to pass Level 3 before applying to many engineering graduate programs.  Passing Level 4 is required for some foreign medical school students before they are allowed to enter into their residency program.

My current goal is to demonstrate solid capability at Level 2 by the end of this summer, and work toward passing HSK 3 in January/February 2016.  There are plenty of critics who argue HSK is not a good indicator of fluency in Chinese, but it’s the most readily-available, widely-used objective measure I’ve been able to find.  HSK has been around for 30 years and has been used more than 100 million times (

Having just completed our first year of language classes, I must admit the results are less than I had hoped in terms of my ability to speak and hear the language.  On the other hand, I am pleased with my ability to read and write Chinese characters.

Handwriting Homework Sample - beginning of Year 1

Handwriting Homework Sample – beginning of Year 1

Handwriting Homework Sample - end of Year 1

Handwriting Homework Sample – end of Year 1

The good news is our language teacher assures me that we are building a strong foundation for future (life-long) learning.  That’s good, because I think that’s what it’s going to take to really become fluent in Chinese!

If you’ve wondered why my blog postings have declined over the past few months, the primary reason is that I’ve been increasingly pre-occupied with language study and learning.

Note:  This post was written from Shanghai en route to the US for a short summer visit between semesters.  We’re looking forward to this brief break from the classroom and hope to be able to reinforce all those new words we’ve been learning, as well as me preparing to assess at HSK Level 2.

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