Passing TOCFL 6 within 2 years, is it possible?

I passed the HSK4 test already when I lived in China. I need to improve my Chinese level by a lot if I want to be able to get a good job when I eventually return to America (I have few other skills). Would it be possible to pass TOCFL 6 within 2 years?

I don’t want to spread gloom, but what good job do you think you will get in the States relying only on your non-native (even if HSK6–I don’t know how many people in the US have even heard of TOCFL, btw) Chinese skills?

The interpreting and translation market is terrible. Has been for a few years now. There are thousands of truly bilingual young people with degrees in other things – they are your competition. I really believe that (sadly) the days you could make a living just because you spoke pretty good Chinese are over.

If I were you, I’d look into enrolling in some academic program in Taiwan – graduate if possible, but undergrad if not. Get a degree or degrees in something else, and just let your Chinese improve as the degree happens.

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I understand. I often feel like I’ve thrown the last five years of my life away.

Are these usually easy to get into and/or cheap? Will I be able to work on that and have a job at the same time?

There are two sides to the “can I work while in school?” question. First is “can you manage both school and work?” If you’re trying to improve your Chinese by means of a degree, you’ll want to invest a lot of time in hanging out with classmates, so that will cut into your work hours.

As far as (most) schools are concerned, you would “never be able” to work full-time while attending their program. If you do, don’t tell them. But unless you truly need to work, it would be better to get the most out of the experience. Looking back on it, I wish I had worked less while in grad school in Taiwan.

Universities are cheap in Taiwan compared to the West, but it all depends on your situation and how much student life you’re willing to tolerate/embrace.

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If you came here and did a language intensive program and only spoke Chinese to everyone, including foreigners, the whole time and did all of your homework and went to all classes, you probably could pass. The question is why would you want to? If you want to prove actual language proficiency, Chinese-specific exams do not do that. They show that you are able to pass a test that requires you to “hack” segments that even a native speaker would fail otherwise. I’ve taken a number of proficiency exams (Praxis for teaching Chinese, HSK, TOCFL, ACTFL’s OPI and WPT) and the only one that actually told me and others something concrete about my language skills was ACTFL. Otherwise you’re just showing that you know a lot of very specific vocabulary and pointlessly specific details about grammar that do nothing for communication. And if you’re looking into conference translation, you’re going to need the communication skills far more than the “I know which of these four words that means exactly the same thing is the best to use in this situation” answers of the TOCFL.


That’s good to know.

As far as student life goes, I’m all for it. I taught at a Chinese university when I was 24-25 (I’m still 25), and I made a lot of friends at the university. I do wonder if the other students will think it’s weird that a 27-year-old (which is how old I’d be if I started college next year) is in class with them.

I’ve never heard of the ACTFL.

I’m assuming you’re American, so there’s a good chance you’ll get free tuition. As an overseas student I think you’re allowed to work 20 hours a week. They usually teach English.

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That’s good to hear, I guess they really do like Americans.

It’s basically the US version of Europe’s CEFR.

You could buy their standards here: ACTFL | World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages

But you probably just want their “can-do” statements: ACTFL | NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements (free) to get an idea of where you’re actually at.

The point is that language learning is for communication, not an ability to know specific vocabulary and sentence structures. HSK (and TOCFL) is excellent for knowing what sorts of resources you need in the beginning, like when you’re HSK 1-3 and a little when you’re HSK 4, but after that, you really just need to expand your knowledge in all directions, not be restricted to specific words and phrases. Obviously, you can’t dive into native level texts until you’re well past HSK 6+, so knowing about where you are in HSK is good for continuing to find suitable texts to consume, but that’s not a good indicator of your communication skills beyond reading and maybe listening. In the US, I’ve looked into a lot of immersion and bilingual schools all over the country. All of them expect ACTFL scores of “Superior” or higher for their teachers. They might accept and HSK score of 6 or a TOCFL score of 6/Band C, but those don’t assess your spontaneous speaking ability, so you might end up forking over the cash for the ACTFL OPI (oral proficiency interview) anyway. I would imagine anyone looking for a translator is going to hope to have a direct piece of evidence that you are not “Chinese deaf” – you can read and write but can’t speak or listen – if you’re going to be translating for them.


If you are a foreigner that speaks great Chinese, the best place for you to use that skill to get a good job is Taiwan or China, not America. The reason is simple, people are impressed if a foreigner can speak Chinese here, and the fact that you are also a native speaker of English means there are jobs that will pay for that skill. For example, I work as a senior technical writer at the moment, the job requires a native English speaker, but not any native speaker could do it, because the company is all Chinese speaking, and the colleagues I need to interact with don’t speak English to a high enough level to get their message across. Look for a job that will value your skill as a native English speaker, but needs to be able to communicate with you in Chinese.

I’m on 75k a month, plus an average of 5-6 months in bonuses per year, which is a good salary for someone with only 2-3 years of professional experience in the tech industry. There are very few native English speakers in Taiwan that can speak Chinese to a workplace level so you can basically name your salary if you have the right experience. I can’t read or write in Chinese, but you only need to speak well and understand others to impress people.

If you REALLY want to go back to the US and get a good job with your Chinese skill, do HSK, but even then, most people aren’t gonna know what that is. My advice would be to just use your Chinese skills as a first step into the career you want here, then when you are ready, use the experience, rather than language skills to get a similar job back in the US.


Thank you.

That’s good to know. My reading and writing (typing) skills are actually beyond my speaking skills, though my speaking isn’t bad.

Thanks for the advice. I guess I’ll have to get another degree in Taiwan because I can’t imagine that a history degree and a TEFL certificate will get me very far.

When do you arrive? Or already here?

At the beginning of June.

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The weird feeling would probably be more on your end than theirs.


Yep, they are unlikely to even know you exist. Between family, study and societal commitments they won’t be able to focus on anything new or exciting.

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