Certification of Hakka language proficiency

Revival and perpetual growth of Hakka language, a little of ginger

Certification of proficiency of Hakka language:

Language is the key to understanding history and culture of a racial group. By understanding the language, ancestors’ culture and wisdom can be understood. According to linguists, Zhao-an accent Hakka language can be traced back to the Zhou dynasty. This is living language fossil. Loss of a language is loss of a culture. As a result, saving languages cannot wait. According to a survey conducted by CHA in 2004, one in every 3.7 Taiwanese has a Hakka origin. In the 6-million Hakka population, the younger their age, the less they understand Hakka language. According to a 2003 survey, only 11.7% of those aged 13 and younger spoke fluent Hakka. Though last year’s (2004) survey showed the percentage had risen to 13.8%, it was still not enough. Currently, Ministry of Education (National Languages Committee) and CHA are working on the building of infrastructure that includes commonly-used Chinese characters, textbooks, and dictionaries. In order for the work to be done, people of certain skills are needed and the need for certifying proficiency of Hakka language arises. In addition, organizations relating to Hakka language such as CHA, the Hakka affairs bureaus of various counties and cities, schools promoting Hakka language teaching, culture centers engaging in Hakka studies, and students of various universities’ Hakka schools engaging in Hakka language studies all require people able to speak, read, and write Hakka language. Therefore, certification of proficiency of Hakka language has become an indispensable part of promoting Hakka language. Only certified personnel are suitable to work at relevant organizations engaging in Hakka studies or services. In response to this trend, CHA this year for the first time offers certification of proficiency of Hakka language. The short-term goal is to encourage people to learn to speak Hakka language, letting people understand learning Hakka language can enrich your life. The long-term goal is to train more teachers to teach Hakka language, encourage more people to engage in Hakka studies. It is hoped that government employees in charge of Hakka affairs and students of various universities engaging in Hakka studies can speak Hakka language. In future, the government should have relevant incentive measures such as rules stipulating that government employees working in Hakka-speaking towns and villages who are able to communicate in Hakka are eligible for preferred recruitment and allowances for being able to speak the language. Therefore, since I became chairperson of CHA, I have endeavored to promote the certification of Hakka language proficiency.

  In fiscal year 2005, a total of 6,791 persons filed an application. In order to provide examinees a complete set of reference material, CHA has invited experts and academics of various accents to form a general editing committee, which has completed compiling Rudimentary Vocabulary for Hakka Language Certification – Basic Edition and Sample Questions for Hakka Language Certification (simulation tests and phonetic files included) with Si-xian, Hai-lu, Zhao-an, Rao-ping, Da-pu accents placed on the Web. Examinees are welcomed to visit CHA website and download them for practice. They are also welcomed to visit iHakka for interactive learning. Meantime, in order to give examinees ample opportunities to practice, prior to the exam all those having completed the application process are to receive free of charge practice materials that include Rudimentary Vocabulary for Hakka Language Certification – Basic Edition (CD included) and Sample Questions for Hakka Language Certification (CD included). Once familiar with the materials and every question in the sample questions, every examinee can easily pass basic-level certification. The basic-level exam held this year concentrates on testing examinees’ communication skill. Mid-, high-level certifications are planned in future exams. In addition to basic communication, mid-, high-level certifications also focus on cultural studies and academic research in an effort to allow Hakka language – the beautiful cultural living fossil – to decipher the secret code of historical cultural treasures. This year is the first year CHA holds Hakka language proficiency certification. Five accents of the language (Si-xian, Hai-lu, Zhao-an, Rao-ping, Da-pu) are tested at the same time. The exam comprises the written and oral parts with the oral part conducted in an audiovisual classroom equipped with recording equipment. In order for the exam to be held smoothly, exam rooms were set up only in Taipei for 2005. The exam was held on November 5-6 with 5,720 (84% of all applicants) showed up for the exam. 5,616 examinees (98.18% of the tested) passed the exam and determined by the certification committee as qualified. The results were published on November 28 as scheduled. Of all the qualified, the youngest was 9 years old and the eldest 77; 32 were primary school students and 26 junior high school students; 26 aged 70 and older.

The reason that as high as 98.18% of the examinees passed the exam was due to 93.4% of them was Hakka people, with 90% began studying Hakka language from childhood. In addition, the criterion used to determine whether one passes the exam is whether one can communicate in Hakka language. That’s why most of the examinees passed the exam. Meanwhile, supplementary materials such as Rudimentary Vocabulary for Hakka Language Certification – Basic Edition (CD included) and Sample Questions for Hakka Language Certification (CD included) have also contributed to the high percentage. As long as examines are familiar with the materials and every question in the sample questions, they can communicate with Hakka language and easily pass the exam.

A questionnaire survey by CHA shows the following:

1. Language groups: 93.9% of examinees were Hakka people, 7.5% Hoklo, 1.2% new residents, 0.1% aborigines, and 0.4% foreign nationals.
2. Education level: 95% of examinees were high school-educated and above, with college-educated and above examinees accounting for 72.1%.
3. Motive: 54% of examinees took the exam to become certified, while 53.6% wanted to know their Hakka language proficiency.
4. Age: 51.6% of examinees were 40 and younger. According to the survey, those 40 and younger with both parents being Hakka speak much less Hakka as a result of the promotion of the national language than those older than 40. In addition, only 13.8% of those 13 and younger speak Hakka. Therefore, it is an encouraging sign that those whose parents were both Hakka could study Hakka and take part in the certification.
5. Channel of learning: The majority of examinees (91%) have studied Hakka from childhood at home. Examinees of non-Hakka origins have a more diverse learning channel (e.g. learning from friends or neighbors, learning at workplace, listening to Hakka radio programs or watching Hakka TV programs). 33.3% of examinees 10 and younger learn Hakka at the school’s Hakka courses. This is statistics worth commendation for the promotion of Hakka language.
6. Level of difficulty of questions: 70% of examinees indicate that questions for the written exam were fairly easy. 50% indicate that questions for the oral exam were fairly easy. 60% of examinees indicate that categories “Turning common spoken Chinese into Hakka language” and “Telling a story with the aid of pictures” are the ones most capable of judging examinees’ Hakka proficiency.

  A study of the makeup of the examinees, it is found that over 90% of examinees began speaking Hakka since childhood. Since Hakka is the language they are familiar with, most of them consider the questions moderate or simple. Though most of the examinees were Hakka, there were Hoklo, new residents, and foreign nationals participating. In particular, though fully engaged Premier Hsieh set aside a little time out of his tight schedule to participate in the certification, setting a good example for learning Hakka. 51.6% of the examinees were of the age bracket (40 and younger) considered to have lost most of its Hakka proficiency. The phenomenon was found to be the result of the examinees’ recognition of Hakka value and the willingness to carry on Hakka missions. This is the reason they studied Hakka and took part in the certification in an effort to help promoting a revival of the language. The reference books (Rudimentary Vocabulary and Sample Questions for Hakka Language Certification) introduced this time were recognized by examinees. Before the exam, every examinee studied them. They were sold out once made available on the market. It is encouraging to see for the first time so many people are interested in studying Hakka.

  This exam is a national-level certifying exam. Paper setters were sequestered. Answer sheets were graded in a rigorous manner, with answer sheets and oral exam recordings securely sealed in an effort to achieve the goal of being open, fair, and just so as to safeguard examinees’ rights. Written exam answer sheets were graded by one person, with oral exam (answers to listening comprehension questions were written on an answer sheet) were graded in parallel by two persons. In addition, if the averaged grade of the answer sheet graded in parallel by two persons falls below 50 with the difference between the grades given by two graders being or exceeding 10 and the grade given by either one of the graders exceeding 50, the answer sheet is to be graded by a reviewer designated by the convener of the accent. The grade given by the reviewer is final. Thirteen members participated in the grading of written exam of the certification, while 138 teachers participated in the grading of the oral exam (86 for Si-xian accent, 37 for Hai-lu accent, 8 for Da-pu accent, 2 for Zhao-an accent, and 5 for Rao-ping accent). The entire grading took 4,746 man-hours. The oral exam was conducted by recording with grading conducted in parallel. A total of 11,390 answer sheets were graded (5,695 examinees X 2). Every grader receives the answer sheets to be graded at the time they arrive. All answer sheets were securely sealed for absolute fairness.

  With this year’s experience, CHA has set out preparing for basic-level certification exams to be held on March 12, 2006 in Northern, Central, Southern, and Eastern Taiwan. Application forms will be available and applications accepted from December 8, 2005 through January 8, 2006. Application forms can be purchased at CHA service counter, National Central University’s front gate guards’ office, Central Region Office of Executive Yuan, Hakka Affairs Commission of Kaohsiung City Government, and 39 post offices nationwide. People interested are encouraged to participate in the certification.