Hi Mom! Looking to learn more about the Youth Chinese Test and whether your child should take it? Well, you’ve come to the right place. While the YCT isn’t as well known as it’s older brother, the HSK, it’s still a valuable test and worth considering. So let’s start with what the YCT is.
The YCT is China’s official language fluency test for children and adolescents and passing the YCT 1 indicates a beginner level of fluency. Upon passing the YCT 1, the graduate recieves a certificate from the Confucious Institute certifying their fluency.
Should your kid take the YCT 1?
Bottom line: the YCT 1 isn’t an important test but it can be important for your kid.
To start, the YCT doesn’t grant any special permission to study in Chinese universities like the upper levels of the HSK do. It only requires your child to memorize about 80 words and in practice this doesn’t amount to much more than “travel vocabulary” like “How are you?”, “What’s your age?”, and the infamous “Where’s the bathroom?”. No one will be impressed that your kid passed the YCT 1.
That doesn’t change the fact that passing the YCT 1 can be really important for your kid and you absolutely should make a big deal out of it. Especially if your kid is young, it’s exactly as important to them as you make it and your kid is going to need encouragement. Learning Chinese is really difficult and worse, it’s often really boring. Anything that will make your kid feel they accomplished something important should be utilized. Let the kid take the test and when he/she passes make an event out of it. Buy them an ice cream or a pizza. Let them feel good about it. You don’t want them bored and burned out before they start the heavy studying for the YCT 4 and the HSK 4.
One more option: just proctor the YCT for your kid at home. There’s a link the sample test for the YCT 1 below, which you can download to your home computer. There’s nothing saying you can’t just print it out and hold the test at home for your kid. After all, the only people this really matters to is you and your kid. Signing up for the YCT is kind of a hassle, so you might just want to print it out and run the test for your kid at home. If he/she passes, pizza party! If not, you don’t have to go through the whole signup process again.
YCT 2 Sample Test
What’s this HSK thing?
In case you don’t know, the HSK or Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, is the adult version of the YCT and it’s the one that confers real privileges. As a quick rule of thumb, passing the HSK 3 or the HSK 4 entitles you to study in a Chinese university and passing the HSK 5 will let you work at a Chinese corporation. Fortunately, the YCT and the HSK are pretty comparable, the YCT 2 is equivalent to the HSK 1 and the YCT 4 is a bit tougher than the HSK 3. As your child grows older, you should start transitioning them towards studying for the HSK and they should be able to start studying the HSK 4 directly after passing the YCT 4. I’ve read through the tests and the YCT has a few more pictures than the HSK but they’re basically the same thing.
How do I sign up my kid for the YCT?
You’ll need to go online to the Hanban website, make an account, and sign your kid up. You’ll need to do this about six weeks before you want him/her to take the test and on the test date you’ll need to drive your kid to the local college, where the local Chinese professor will administer the test with the help of a few TA’s. You’ll probably have to wait around for 30-40 minutes until the test is done. You can read a book or play with your phone but this is also a good opportunity to talk with the professor or some of the TA’s; they should be able to provide some advice on learning Chinese and give you an idea of how colleges look at Chinese fluency.
So, actually signing up for the test is easy once you get used to the website. It’s actually pretty good but obviously written by government bureaucrats who don’t speak English as a first language, so be ready to read a page 2-3 times before you get it. Once you get the hang of it, all you need to do is register at the website, find a nearby test center, pick the nearest date, and sign up for the test.
To register, just go to the Hanban registration page. They don’t need a whole lot of information, they basically just want an email, a password for your account, your nationality, and a little information about how much Chinese you’re child has studied so far.
Once you’ve registered an account, you need to find a testing center for your kid to take the YCT at. There’s a lot of testing locations all over the world, so you’ll need to look up some nearby facilities on Hanban’s official site. In all likelihood there’s a testing center at your nearest major university, although technically I think they can be anywhere.
Just a quick note, you might see references to an “online” test in your searches. Don’t get your hopes up. Online doesn’t mean you can take it at home, it just means you can use a computer to take the test at the testing center and the results are captured on the computer and sent electronically to be graded. The alternative, which I’ve never used or seen, is apparently a pen and paper test. I’d strongly recommend having your kid take the “online” test if possible.
Next you’ll need to choose a date for the test. Hanban writes the dates in Chinese but you can find a dates in English at the University of Minnesota. As a rule of thumb, there’s roughly one test every three months and you need to register roughly one month in advance.
Now just show up at the testing center with your kid at the right time. Typically this is held in a university classroom and run by the local professor of Chinese and a TA or two. I recommend showing up early because unfamiliar university campuses can be tough to navigate. Remember to bring ID, I don’t think you need it but some people are picky.
Unfortunately, it takes them about a month to score it. You’ll need to log back in to the Hanban site to look up your kid’s score and you have to do this; I’ve never heard of them sending an email or any kind of reminder. This is kind of a problem for your kid, because they probably won’t remember the test in a month and you’ll be signing them up for the YCT II at that point. My advice is to talk with the professor running the test, they might give a unofficial thumbs up/down.
How should my kid study?
Well, I see two big problems for kids, especially young kids, studying Chinese. First, it’s boring. Really boring. Speaking is fun and you should make sure your kid is doing as much of that as possible but learning Chinese requires you to memorize characters. This is boring, unavoidably and horrifically boring. Worse, there’s just not much content out there for children and what little there is doesn’t impress.
I’d suggest three different tools: flashcards, Youtube videos, and tutors.
Flashcards are the simplest. You hold up a paper flashcard with a Chinese character on one side and the English translation on the other. This is the basis of memorizing Chinese characters (seriously, it doesn’t get much better) but if you’re holding up the flashcards and testing your kid then you can make it more fun than if he/she’s just writing out definitions for 30 minutes a day. As your kid gets older they’ll want to transition to spaced repetition software, like Anki, but at this point 1 on 1 flashcards with Mom is the much better option. I wish I could give you a bunch of interesting options, but most of the flashcards are dull. No pictures, no color, nothing engaging for the child. My recommendation is to get Complete Chinese’s cards, they’re cheap and uncomplicated, and then market them up with crayons are something else just to make them more interesting.
While most of the Youtube channels are a bit adult/boring, there’s two worth checking out.
If you’ve got a young kid, Little Fox has a great little series filled with catchy songs. Be warned though, there’s no English translation, so make sure you watch it first and lookup all the words beforehand so you can explain them to you kid.
For slightly older kids, Chinese Buddy releases educational songs every week that are really solid, although younger kids could get lost.
Tutors is where the money comes in. Private tutors are by far the best learning resource your kid can have. They’ll be able to explain things in clear terms, help the child study, and most importantly get them speaking with a native Chinese speaker. Unfortunately, most tutors are used to teaching adults, not kids, so make sure you sit in on some of the lessons and make sure they’re teaching well. If the tutor is any good though, don’t be surprised if your kid starts speaking Chinese very quickly.
You should expect to pay $15-$30 for a private tutor, which at two lessons a week but the average cost at $250/month or more.
I know one tutor in Xi’an who worked with kids in the past and was really nice, so drop me a email at Will@rulinmandarin.com at I’ll see if she’s still available.
Otherwise, TutorMing specializes in tutoring kids but I don’t know them by anything more than reputation.