Alumni Spotlight: Jacob Johnson


Jacob's been living in China for about eight years and has spent the last three working as a Sourcing Agent. After studying Chinese off and on for about 10 years, he decided to put his abilities to the test with China's highest level Mandarin proficiency exam. He enrolled in Silk Mandarin's HSK crash course to learn testing strategies to help save time and score higher.

Why did you choose this program?

Silk Mandarin has a very good reputation among Shanghai's ex-pat community for having excellent higher level Mandarin teachers. I spoke with a couple of other tutoring agencies and while they knew what test I was taking, they didn't seem familiar with all the requirements. Silk Mandarin was very familiar with the test and their teachers knew all the strategies and tricks needed to score well.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

This might be a little different for me as I work full time, but I only needed to organize a time to attend class and prioritize what I wanted to learn. Once my schedule and goals were clear, my instructor Liwen sat through a practice exam with me and identified my weaknesses. She provided study material and organized subsequent classes that aimed to save time and score better on sections of the test I struggled with most.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Make sure you have ample time to study on your own. Even though my instruction in class was excellent and I didn't need to learn a lot of new vocabulary, I needed to take quite a few practice tests to really practice what I was learning.

Really this is true of any language class; if you don't prep on your own outside of class, it is very hard to be successful.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

A standard week included one 1:30 one on one class at Silk Mandarin's campus in the middle of Shanghai, Jingan District.

During class, we spent time reviewing test questions I was struggling with, correcting my writing and reviewing sentence patterns.

During the week, I would take two practice tests at home, my results from these tests helped predicate what we would work on in our next class.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

At the time, I didn't have a smartphone and remember worrying about getting lost. To be honest, I did get lost, very lost, very often. I first lived in Taipei's Yonghe district where none of the locals spoke English and few other foreigners lived. That coupled with my extremely limited Mandarin at the time was a perfect recipe for getting lost.

But getting lost was great. It forced me to interact in Mandarin and helped me find new places that I would go back and visit later. Today Shanghai I like walking from place to place in unfamiliar areas and sometimes finding myself a bit lost. There are so many unique places, things and people I never would have found if I hadn't been lost.

What would you have done differently over the course of learning Mandarin?

I would have taken my proficiency test earlier. Testing earlier would have helped me identify what I really needed to do to keep improving my Mandarin.

I have heard from many people that language proficiency tests aren't important, that what is tested isn't practical and isn't used in daily conversation. I believe those people to be very wrong. Proficiency tests serve as a good barometer to gauge your language level and show where you are stronger or maybe weaker than others.

Without knowing this charting, an improvement plan is much harder.