The Japanese Language Proficiency Test: JLPT
Are you currently studying Japanese? If so, then you might be interested in knowing more about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, in short, the JLPT! Launched in 1984 as a biannual testing service by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges & Services, the JLPT is a tool to evaluate and certify the Japanese proficiency of non-native speakers.
It’s reputation grew fast and wide, and currently more than 600,000 examinees around the globe pass the JLPT every year! In 2010, a revised version was introduced to better assess the Japanase language skills, taking advantage of 25 years of data from the previous JLPT along with research on Japanese language pedagogy.
The JLPT is divided into five levels, from N1 through N5, with the N5 being the easiest, testing the reading and listening skills of non native Japanese speakers. Let’s check a broad summary of the linguistic competence that are evaluated, resumed on the official website. Since 2008, the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges & Services does not provide official study hour recommendations anymore no more than precise list of contents such as kanji or vocabulary needed for each level.
- The Level 5 of the JLPT measures the ability to understand some basic Japanese. Typically, the test check if the examinee is able to read and understand typical expressions and sentences written in hiragana and katakana. Some basic kanji are also expected to be known. The examinee should be able to listen and comprehend conversations about topics of daily life and classroom situations. Since the conversations are spoken slowly and short, the test measure the ability to pick up information.
- The Level 4 introduces more vocabulary and kanji. Examinee has to read and understand passages on familiar daily topics and be able to follow the contents of daily life conversations. Spoken slowly, the conversations of the listening part are longer, and covers daily life’s topics.
N4 and N5 measure the level of understanding of basic Japanese mainly learned in class. The level 3 is a bridging level between N1/N2 and N4/N5 that has been launched in the revised version of 2010.
- The Level 3 measures the ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations to a certain degree. The examinee should not only be able to read and understand written materials about everyday topics, but also be able to understand summary information such as a newspaper headlines and slightly difficult writings. The listening part gets more difficult as conversations are spoken at a near-natural speed and the examinee should be able to follow their contents and understand the relationship among the people involved.
Those who desire to work or study in Japan are usually required to hold at least the JLPT N2, if not the N1, the most difficult level. They both measure the level of understanding of Japanese used in a broad range of scenes in actual everyday life. Very often, the level 2 is considered to be the “business level” of Japanese whereas the level 1 is considered a proof of “fluency” in Japanese.
- The level 2 measure the ability to understand Japanese language in daily life and a “variety of circumstances to a certain degree”. The corpus for the reading part is more dense, with long documents such as newspapers’ articles, commentaries, flyers… Not only should the examinee comprehend the content but he is asked to understand the intents of the writers. The listening part will have longer conversations a near natural speed and news reports about various topics. One should understand contents, ideas and main points of the conversation.
- The level 1 goes even deeper in the comprehension of Japanese writings, asking examinee to be able to follow abstract writings and to understand structures, contents and intents of the documents. The listening part presents lectures, news reports and conversations at a natural speed.
The summary of the linguistic competences expected from the test takers as helpful as it may be, seems to be quite abstract for who is not versed in linguistic. Like for all language proficiency test, we can debate on their accuracy and efficiency. Languages covers several types of skills – reading and writing, speaking and listening, and although one test examinee can be very good in reading, he might not be able to speak.
Nonetheless the JLPT measures skills for employment screening and as a form of qualification and is greatly valued by educational institutions and companies hiring foreigners. Recruitment companies in Japan will all tell you that holding the N1 or N2 level of the exam is extremely important for foreign nationals hoping to land a job in this country.
If you wish to know if you are ready for the level you are taking this year, check the official “self-evaluation” list provided by the official website. You can also find sample questions along with the official practice workbook to grasp a better understanding of the JLPT.
Our advice? Do not fear the JLPT! Learn practical Japanese and do not solely study grammar or kanji, but Japanese language as a whole. Practicing conversation – although your speaking ability is not measured, is a very good way to pass successfully the JLPT as you will know how to communicate and be better at understanding content!
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