Introduction to the New HSK Standard Courses book set

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Since 2009 when Hanban introduced the New Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK), there has been a rapid increase in the number of HSK candidates as the number of Chinese learners keeps growing. The global number of HSK candidates reached 310,000 in 2012, and the number in the first quarter of 2013 alone was around 70,000. With International Chinese Education gaining more strength as an academic discipline and more Confuciu Institutes being established in the world, the number of HSK candidates will be even larger in the future. How to guide such a huge group to learn Chinese effectively and how to help them improve their Chinese language skills in all aspects and achieve good results in the HSK test are the questions we’ve always been thinking about and studying on. We believe that compiling a series of course books based on the Chinese Proficiency Test Syllabus which “combines testing and teaching” and “promotes teaching and learning by testing” could be a solution. Under the guidance of the Chinese Tests Center of Hanban and Beijing Language and Culture University Press, we developed HSK Standard Course (hereinafter referred to as Course), a series of new type of course books combining testing and teaching, based on years’ experience of Chinese teaching and research on HSK.

I. Concepts of Compilation

In the 21st century, the idea of second language teaching has entered a post-methodological age, in which it is people-oriented, emphasizing group study and cooperation, embracing the communicative, task-based and theme-based approaches and aiming at developing learners’ integrated language skills. Under the guidance of these concepts, the compilation of the Course has displayed the following features:

1. Students-Centered, and Stressing the Development of Students’ Integrated Language Skills

The premise of the concept “combination of testing and teaching” is to serve students’ needs for taking the test, but it is not merely about test-taking. Our concern is how to improve students’ language skills under the premise of serving their needs for taking the test, which is also one of the distinctive features of this series. Take HSK Level 1 and Level 2 tests for instance. Though tests at Levels 1-2 have only listening and reading parts, not involving speaking and writing, we’ve still provided pertinent materials and exercise for Chinese pronunciation and characters in the course books at these levels. Besides, absorbing the strengths of the aural-oral and cognitive approaches, the texts are mainly made up of “situations + dialogues + pictures" which cultivate students’ listening and speaking skills, and the workbooks focus on training students’ listening, reading and writing skills so as to improve their integrated language ability.

2. Integrating the Essential Ideas of the Communicative Approach and Task-Based Language Teaching

The communicative approach stresses the appropriateness in language use and the role of context, while task-based language teaching emphasizes the authenticity of language and the acquisition of language through tasks. Both approaches attach much importance to the authenticity of language, the design of situations as well as the development of language skills in communication. HSK is not an achievement test based on any textbook; it is a proficiency test assesing learners’ language abilities, designed on the basis of the Chinese 

Proficiency Test Syllabus. Bearing this in mind, we are aware that the Course cannot be written in the same way as the existing textbooks which require students to do repeated practice and drills on language points rather than covering every aspect that may be tested. Therefore, while ensuring the words and grammar points used are within the Syllabus, we employ different situations to give students a direct sense of how language is used in real life and help them learn and acquire the language through and personal experiences.

3. Reflecting the Concept of Theme-Based Teaching
Theme-based teaching is a language teaching activity focusing on the content and the connotation of the text. It emphasizes the diversity and richness of content. Generally, after a theme is chosen, students will be exposed to materials related to various aspects of the theme, in which way their internalization and understanding of the new content is accelerated; by further probing into the theme, students’ creativity may be developed. To relate to students’ reality and broaden their horizon, starting in Book 4, the Course uses themes as leads, each theme divided into smaller themes. The themes are interrelated with each other, forming an organic network of knowledge that will stay firmly in students’ memory.


II. Features of the Course

1. Written Level by Level with the Syllabus as Its Basis
The HSK test is made up of six levels. The authors of the Course have done a thorough study of the Syllabu and the question deigning guideka and made a statistical analysis of plenty of past tests as well. Based on the result of our study and analysis, we’ve summed up the focuses, difficulties, language points, topics, functions and situations etc. for each book, while sticking to the vocabulary required in the Syllabus, systematically defined the scope and class hours for each level. The specifics are as follows:

Volume Objective Vocabulary Class Hours
Book 1 HSK (level 1) 150 30-34
Book 2 HSK (level 2) 300 30-36
Book 3 HSK (level 3) 600 35-40
Book 4 (Volumes 1 & 2) HSK (level 4) 1,200 75-80
Book 5 (Volumes 1 & 2) HSK (level 5) 2.500 170-180
Book 6 (Volumes 1 & 2) HSK (level 6) 5,000 and above 170-180
Total: 9 Volumes   Above 5,000  510-550

The design observes the idea of International Chinese Education, with attention paid to the general applicability and practical use of the course books. Educational institutions in China and outside can decide the time span for each book referring to the number of class hours suggested above. For example, it is suggested Book 1 be finished in 34 class hours, so it will take one month with eight class hours devoted to it per week or two months with four class hours per week, etc. Generally speaking, students can pass Level 1 test after finishing Book 1 and Level 2 test after finishing Book 2, so on and so forth.

2. Each Textbook Supported by a Workbook of Exercises Matching the HSK Test
In order to familiarize learners with the question types of HSK, the workbooks at all levels provide the exact same types of exercises, arranged in the same order and structure also, with the content focused on the pecific lesson. In this way, learners will get familiar with HSK by uing the course books alone rather than spending extra time in trying to get used to the form of the test.

3. Independent Communicative Exercises Serving the Need for Taking the HSK Oral Test
The HSK oral test is independent from the written test. To develop students’ ability of oral expression, every lesson in the Course provides communicative exercises including pair work and group work to prepare learners for the oral test.

During its planning and development, this series has received much upport and guidance from Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban), Beijing Language and Culture University Press and Chinese Testing International (CTI). It is a product of the authors, the chief editor and editors from the publishing house and the test-designing team in the Chinese Test Office of Hanban and CH working together. I hereby extend sincere gratitude to the above-mentioned organizations and participants on behalf of the authors’ team. Any opinions or suggestions from the teachers and students using the book will be heartily appreciated. 

With your feedback, we’ll improve the series, making it better serve the users.

Hans Lipins
November, 2013

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