Last month in Taipei, more than 20,000 applicants took Taiwan’s Hokkien Language Proficiency Exam, the highest number of candidates since Taiwan’s Ministry of Education began offering the test.
The Ministry reported that it began expanding the Hokkien language testing system at the start of 2023, and the most recent test was the second of the year. The first exam in March saw 16,000 entrants, while 20,044 people took the test on August 5.
Hokkien, a variety of Southern Min Chinese, is one of the national languages of Taiwan. Commonly known as Taiwanese, Taiwanese Hokkien or Taiyu, it is spoken by approximately 70% of the population.
According to Ministry figures, the test’s age range has always been wide but the majority is made up by school and university students. This year however, the youngest applicant was 4 and the oldest was 82.
The Hokkien Language Proficiency Test is currently the only standardized Chinese language test other than Mandarin outside mainland China. It presents as a speaking test in four parts, including reading, sentence making, writing a passage and speaking on a selected topic. All dialects of Hokkien are welcome.
In addition to Taiwanese nationals, the ministry said entrants from Japan, the UK, Malaysia, and Singapore have sat the exam.
In 2022, the Taiwanese government launched a language development plan with hopes to address the falling number of Taiwanese Hokkien speakers, in addition to a decline in Taiwanese Hakka – a group of languages in the Sino-Tibetan group. Indigenous languages, and other Chinese dialects used in Taiwan are also included in the plan, with several measures to enhance education, increase public awareness around language loss and revitalization, and to boost participation in language certification programs.