proficiency certificates

[update]

Since starting this project, I’ve passed the DELF B2 French exam, the new ‘N1’ level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, level 5 of the HSK Mandarin test, as well as the Advanced HSK spoken Mandarin test.

[original motivation for certificates]

A few years ago, I made a personal goal of improving my standardized test scores for the languages in which I have some experience, and sometimes include on my CV: Mandarin, Japanese and French. In order to take stock of where I was at, I sat the HSK (汉语水平考试), JLPT (日本語能力試験) and DELF (Diplôme d’études en langue Française) as a sort of “before picture”.  I initially passed DELF A2, JLPT level 2 (old system) and intermediate HSK.

Here in my hometown of Edmonton (in western Canada), the HSK (Chinese) is administered by the local Confucius Institute; the JLPT (Japanese) by the Prince Takamado Japan Centre at the University of Alberta; and the DELF (French) by the Edmonton Public School Board International Credentials for Languages Services.

As much as I enjoy language learning, standardized testing used to be something I avoided whenever possible. Part of this is because language tests typically focus on, and subsequently exposed, my weak points (reading and writing) and did’t give me an opportunity to demonstrate my speaking/listening skills; more to the point, I had never really been put in a position where I *had* to pass a language test– why put myself through the trouble?

Having said that, I started thinking about how newcomers to Canada must obtain satisfactory IELTS, TOEFL or similar English testing scores in order to get jobs, immigrate, or even simply go to school in Canada. The more I thought about it, the more hypocritical I started to feel— I wondered if I would be able to make the grade if the shoe was on the other foot?

Through this project, I’ve changed my point of view on language tests and I now see these tests as a useful benchmark for guiding my practice— I think if I were to start a new language, I would definitely look into setting a beginner-level proficiency test as a kind of ‘initial milestone’.  If you put [the name of the language you’re studying], “proficiency test” and [the name of your city or country] into a google search string, you should be able to find a list of testing centres near you.

I don’t think think that passing an advanced certificate necessarily signifies that I am ‘finished’ with studying a language.

I think a useful comparison might be getting your driving license: whether old or young, even after you “pass the test”, you still have to build up experience behind the wheel.  How long does it take before your friends and family are comfortable with you driving?  How long until you’re comfortable with passing another vehicle on a hilly/curvy stretch of single-track highway?  No matter how you look at it, language learning is a lifelong learning endeavour and, at least for the initial stages of the journey, standardized language tests offer a decent set of milestones to get you headed in the right direction….