HSK for Inmates

I hear a lot of foreigners in China saying things like, “I need to find the right method of learning Chinese,” or “I need to find the motivation,” or “I need to find the proper environment, free of distractions.”

It seems that a few enterprising foreigners have figured it out.

Via Hank.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. I need to get myself incarcerated, and quick! The next HSK is in April 07!

  2. I can just see a new wave of Western backpackers, making their way across the world committing minor crimes and mastering the language in various prisons all around the globe…

    That said, if I was stuck in a Chinese prison, I suppose learning the language would be a lot better than various alternative things I could be forced to do.

  3. “Invigilators including prison officers and staff from the Chinese Proficiency Test Center supervised the three-hour exams in elementary and intermediate Chinese. “

    What are these “invigilators”? Something like beadles?

  4. Clearly, this is what Chinesepod needs to be offering.

  5. “I will grasp this opportunity to achieve good results,”

    love it! btw, is that the Hank?

  6. “……convict, serving life for manslaughter, ….”

    It’s been said that language learning is life-long learning.

  7. Yeah, I guess so… for him.

  8. I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but the foreigners I’ve met in Taiwan who have done time don’t seem to have learned jack in terms of Chinese. I’ve heard that one dude made a fortune illustrating some children’s English books during his time, though.

  9. It’s like — a convict turning to God, the Holy Bible, born-again -or- best of all, becoming a bona fide scholar earning a degree, due to incarceration – “nigga, you aint going nowhere!”

    It’s like 2pac being bailed out on a million dollars cash via Suge Knight and Death Row Records, then releasing all the poems, poetry and verses 2pac wrote in jail, producing it via Dr. Dre into the multi-platinum double disc album selling millions and millions upon millions (best selling hip-hop record of all time) — ALL EYEZ ON ME (1996). Changed my world, no doubt.

    If you get jailed, learn a foreign language, write a book, do situps and pushups, get ripped, come out stronger than before 😉

  10. Sometimes, it may seem, in cases like this: freedom is incarceration from one’s full potential, and incarceration, limiting one’s freedom, sometimes sets ones full potential free. Ironic.

  11. Tim P.: invigilators are exam supervisors (check your dictionary). It’s one of several English words that I had never heard before I came to China. Does anyone know what country and/or time period this term comes from?

  12. I liked this lline: “I was grateful to Chinese officers for offering me the chance and I am sure of turning in a satisfactory academic performance.” mmm.. do you think he was really grateful?

    It just so happens that I have been an exam invigilator (most grad students in the UK do this as a part time gig during the spring). So for about a month last spring I had a tag stuck to my chest that said, ‘INVIGILATOR’. I kind of liked it, actually. Sort of like, ‘terminator’, or maybe ‘exterminator’. I don’t know if it is country specific, but before coming to the UK I did not know this word.

  13. A friend of mine is Vietnamese-Australian and she once met a white Aussie guy who had been locked up for a while (in Australia) and had come out speaking perfect Vietnamese. I guess it depends on who you hang out with while you’re inside – I doubt the Vietnamese guys’ English would have improved much without a formal language programme. You would get the hang of the slang stuff pretty quick though.

  14. Ok, I was curious so I checked the OED. Looks like it came from Oxford Uni. The word has meanings all the way back to the 16th c. — meaning, generally, ‘watchfulness’ — but around the late 19th c. it seems it was used for more specifically for exams:

    invigilating vbl. n. and ppl. a.; also invigilator, one who watches over students at examination.

    1882 Oxf. Univ. Gaz. XII. 239 The architect may see his way to fixing some of the Vicechancellor’s and Proctors’ seats at present in the Old Schools to serve as further invigilating stations in these three rooms. 1892 Oxf. Mag. 23 Mar. 273/1 In the Schools..Where’s my table? alphabet all out of order here, apparently. Must ask invigilator. 1894 [A. D. GODLEY] Aspects Mod. Oxf. 72 A caricature of the ‘invigilating’ examiner.

  15. I’m rather curious to know how/why Mark is meeting all these foreign jailbirds in Taiwan.

  16. Well, I guess if you stay here long enough you pretty much meet all types. I certainly didn’t go out looking.

  17. Ditto, Prince Roy. I’ve been in America for 28 years, only befriended one ex-convict. Ask John how many jailbirds he’s met in China in 6 years.

  18. I wasn’t talking about any personal friends, Wilson. Surely you’ve met more than one person who’s been in jail in your 28 years.

    Considering that over two million Americans are currently incarcerated, I’d say that you must of met plenty of people who were before, but maybe they just never mentioned it to you. Either that, or you’ve spent your whole life in exceptionally wealthy and protected neighborhoods. I remember in just one summer of working the homeless lunch line at a local parish, I met six or seven guys who admitted to having done time. One of my co-workers, back when I worked at a fast food bagel shop had, too.

    I’ll admit that foreigners who have been in jail in Taiwan aren’t that common, but it’s still not like there aren’t any. One English teacher here, with whom I have a passing acquaintance, was falsely accused of various things by his old employer in Gaoxiong. He was in jail for a while before he was cleared. He happens to be the one who told me about the illustrator, too. He wasn’t one of my best friends or anything, but it really doesn’t take that much time to realize that somebody’s Chinese isn’t very good.

  19. Definitely spend my time in wealthy and protected neighborhoods (thank God), wouldnt’ have it any other way. But let’s not forget where one of the Rosewood House galleries is located: Oakland, California. Best believe that I can flow with the best and worst of them. It’s the NorCal background, yezzur.

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