February 08, 2013

Is JLPT worth it?

Over the past few months some things have happened. I graduated from university with honours in Japanese. I got accepted into journalism school. I also landed a journalism internship with a New Zealand media company for the next three years. Oh, and I turned 22 and got a Hello Kitty onesie for my birthday (irrelevant, but still important).

Life is pretty exciting at the moment, except for one niggling problem that has been weighing on my mind: what will happen to my Japanese? I don't want the end of university to mean the end of my Japanese language study, but any dreams of moving to Japan and speaking Japanese have been put on hold. For the next few years, AP style English and shorthand will be my lingua francas.

So I've been trying to come up with ways of maintaining some sort of formal Japanese study. One option is to study for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, the Japanese Ministry of Education's official certification of 'proficiency' for foreigners. The test is held two times a year, and there are 5 levels, with N1 being the most advanced.

At Kansai University, the Japanese language courses for exchange students were designed with JLPT  in mind. Each course corresponded to a JLPT level - my class was 'advanced', which meant by the end of it I was expected to be able to successfully sit at least N2.

Except I've forgotten everything. Kanji, idioms, grammar, the lot. The classes consisted of weekly vocab tests and reading exercises that really just tested how much Japanese you could memorize and regurgitate in a short time. I would spend the weekends gallivanting around Osaka, and the Sunday nights before each test cramming frantically. It served me well then, but seems pointless now.

Sailor Moon understands how I feel.
I'm really against this kind of learning, which is why I've always said I'll never sit JLPT. I don't see how one language exam (one that doesn't even test communication) can be the authority on someone's level of Japanese. To me, it's an overrated piece of paper that really doesn't take into account anything other than how well-prepared for the material you were on the day. Or how good you are at guessing multi-choice questions.

That's not to say I don't respect people who have passed the tests. The people I know who have taken N2 and N1 are all genuinely hard working, motivated, and exceptionally skilled in Japanese. And sure, the test has its benefits. If you want to work for a traditional Japanese company it's probably a good thing to have on your CV. It forces you to learn kanji, which I usually avoid as much as possible (naughty). For me, it would also be something to chip away at with a deadline in mind - if I studied a little bit each day, hopefully I could retain the Japanese I already know, and improve on the things that I don't.

Then again, is it worth all that time, money and effort, especially when it's a qualification I don't even need? Would I be better just continuing my current streak of watching Japanese TV shows on YouTube and reading my Sailor Moon manga?! The first JLPT test is held in July... I have five months to decide.

Who has taken the JLPT, and what was your experience?


  1. I haven't taken the JLPT myself (for similar reasons as you ^_^), but I would like to maybe add something to your reasoning.

    After you'd have passed the test, you'd be exactly where you are now, no? Sure, for the next X months, you'd be studying Japanese very diligently, but won't you forget all you've learned after passing? You'd have a short term goal, but nothing that will make sure you keep on learning Japanese.

    I'd say it's probably better to find something you can (and will) maintain over a very long period of time (TV and manga, for example), since that'll keep you invested in Japanese more and longer than cramming for some test.
    Watching Japanese TV and reading manga might not be as effective as studying for a difficult test, but I think that'll work out better in the long run.

    At least, that's how I hope to solve my own quickly-forgetting-all-but-the-most-basic-Japanese-problem ^_^

    1. BART!! Hello you! How's life?

      You are quite right about the short term nature of my potential JLPT plan. Besides, I would probably get bored and frustrated and give up after a couple of weeks without even sitting the test. =D JLPT doesn't seem to help so much with useful things like keigo and slang either, so there must be a better way!

      Good luck with the studies, are you still at uni? Still naginata-ing?

    2. Life is quite good (but not anywhere near Kandai epicness -_-'), I'm still at uni, now studying for Master in Communication Sciences.

      Unfortunately it has proven to be quite imposhiburu for me to continue nagg-ing in Belgium, so naginata has been limited to hitting air in my back yard (or the unfortunate shrubberry ^_^)

      You could maybe try to look for a ペンパル to practice Japanese with? Would be great to learn some slang ^_^
      And send out fake resumés to Japanese corporations to practice keigo :P

  2. I have a similar opinion of the JLPT. This past December I took N4 just to gauge the test. For all the time that I put into studying all the extra kanji, I feel like the test wasn't enough. I can still recognize quite a bit of the kanji I studied, but since I was cramming it in with a test in mind it honestly hasn't cemented itself in my brain. If I take the JLPT again it will only be for a job requirement, otherwise I think I am learning more just by watching Japanese TV shows and reading.
    All the best~

  3. I stumbled across your blog randomly, but thought I could share! I actually had very similiar thoughts regarding JPLT when I was in university. Altho, I graduated back in 2004, so perhaps i can offer some advice from someone further down the road.

    I thought I didn't need to sit any exam, since I had my BA in Japanese and I'd studied in Japan. I could speak and felt confident... but then life and work happened and even tho I actually use Japanese in my job, it's in such a different way than before (I work on dictionaries, so it's lots of vocab that would never pass my lips IRL or indeed most Japanese ppl use!) and I've found that my Japanese has really suffered. I wish now that I had conquered the JPLT when I felt more confident as it is something to add to your CV and it is a recognized exam, unlike getting a BA in Japanese (or otherwise) which can vary not only by uni, but also by which courses you took (i.e. Did you do Classical Japanese as well as Business, or focus on literary translation... etc). So I've been meaning to get my head back into study mode and take N1 or N2 so that I can boost my CV and consider future career options. Of coures, the exam has its flaws and all that, but it is internationally recognised.

    Additionally, since I hardly get a chance to go to Japan now that I'm in the UK, I have found that I can try keep up my Japanese by reading manga, watching TV as before... but my ability to speak has seriously suffered. I have been trying with friends to get back into it, but I often find I can understand when they speak Japanese but I reply in English. It's just such a struggle that I don't remember having almost 10 *gulp* years ago.

    Good luck, whatever you decide!