The number of non-native Mandarin speakers taking the Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (TOCFL), dubbed the Chinese Test of English as a Foreign Language, has exceeded 100,000 since it was implemented in 2003, according to the lastest statistics released by the government-funded Steering Committee for the Test of Proficiency-Huayu (SC-TOP), which develops and administers the test.
Formerly known as the Test of Proficiency-Huayu (TOP), the standardized test is used to assess applicants’ Chinese-language proficiency. Participants who pass the test are given a certificate indicating their level of proficiency in Mandarin, that is used when applying for Taiwanese scholarships and university enrollment.
The test has been available in 49 cities in 25 countries including Japan, Thailand, Argentina, Ecuador, Russia, Sweden and the US.
According to statistics from the committee, between January and last month, the number of test-takers has risen to 23,414, from 12,080 in the same period last year. Among this year’s examinees, 2,248 were Vietnamese, suggesting that TOCFL has increasingly gained acceptance in Vietnam, Du Wan-ting (杜宛庭) of the committee said.
Chen Yu-ren (陳郁仁), a secretary of the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in Ho Chi Minh City, added that as there are more than 40,000 Taiwanese operating businesses in Vietnam, taking the TOCFL as proof of Mandarin ability can give Vietnamese an advantage when applying for jobs at Taiwanese companies. Moreover, many Taiwanese employers give raises to workers who pass the test.
Nguyen Thi Thuy Hang from Ho Chi Minh City shared Chen Yu-ren’s view.
“Good Chinese ability affords me better job opportunities and with a TOCFL certificate, I can get a higher salary,” said the 23-year-old student, who passed the TOCFL and is currently studying Chinese in Taipei.
The committee’s CEO, Chen Po-his (陳柏熹), said one of the main goals is to make overseas tests computer-based. Another important task is to develop the computerized adaptive testing, which can significantly enhance test efficiency by automatically adapting to examinees’ ability levels.
Currently only tests held in Taiwan are computer-based.
The director of the Ministry of Education’s Bureau of International Cultural and Educational Relations, Lin Wen-tong (林文通), said that compared with China’s national standardized test — the Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK) — the strength of TOCFL lies in its availability in both simplified and traditional Chinese scripts.
“Though the number of participants taking HSK is much larger, our advantage is that the test has both simplified and traditional versions and everybody can take it,” Lin said. “Traditional characters are an essential part of Chinese culture. There is no way we will give it up.”
To Chinese learners like Nguyen Thi and Karolina Skwara from Poland, it takes some time to make the transition from Chinese Mandarin to Taiwanese Mandarin, not only because the characters are different, but pronunciation and usage also vary.
“In Poland, we learn simplified Chinese from teachers from China. I came to Taiwan to learn the traditional Mandarin so that I can master both,” Skwara said. “In Europe, let alone in Poland, there are not that many people proficient in Mandarin, so it definitely gives me an advantage.”
In Taiwan, the TOCFL is held twice a year, in May and November. More information can be found at the multilingual Web site of the SC-TOP at www.sc-top.org.tw.