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Language Proficiency Testing for Chinese as a Foreign Language

An Argument-Based Approach for Validating the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK)

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Florian Meyer

How did the (old) Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) assess the Chinese proficiency of non-native speakers of Chinese? What inferences can be derived from HSK test taker scores, especially from Western test takers? How difficult is it to learn Chinese according to the HSK? Thirty years of research have been synthesized into an argument-based approach for validating the most widespread test for Chinese as a foreign language. In addition, the author has analyzed the scores of a sample of over 250 German test takers in order to investigate how many hours German natives needed on average to study for reaching a specific HSK level. This work also extensively discusses validation theory for psychological testing, and it demonstrates how to put an argument-based approach to validation into practice.
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1 Introduction

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Since the Reform and Opening policy of the People’s Republic of China in 1978, the economic and political importance of China has grown enormously, and more and more individuals want or need to learn Chinese. Although reliable data about the worldwide number of all learners of Chinese do not exist (Sūn Déjīn, 2009, p. 19), there is evidence of a strong increase. In South Korea, there are around 100,000 learners in schools and universities, and together with those who study via TV, radio or other media, they exceed 1,000,000 (Niè Hóngyīng, 2007, p. 87). In Japan, Chinese has become the second most popular foreign language behind English with 2,000,000 learners (Sū Jìng, 2009, p. 88). Europe still lags behind; however, in Germany more than 4,000 students learn Chinese in intensive language programs at universities and colleges (Bermann and Guder, 2010), while an unknown number studies in optional classes. Together with learners at secondary schools, all students of Chinese in Germany number 10,000, leaving only France with more Chinese learners in Europe (Fachverband Chinesisch, 2011). In the United States, nearly 2,000 high schools already offer Chinese, which has become the third most popular language behind English and Spanish (ibid.).

Figure 1: HSK test taker development (black: foreign group; gray: Chinese ethnic minorities). For 2006, bars estimated on a total number of 160,000 (Yáng Chéngqīng and Zhāng Jìnj...

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