The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)
So let's say you've been studying hard, attended many levels of Japanese language courses, and have poured your heart and soul into the effort to achieve that "bilingual" mark. But through your studying experience, you frequently doubt yourself or find trouble seeing how your hard work will pay off. Sure, no longer needing subtitles to play your imported Japanese video games, or to watch your internet pirated anime is cool, but what does it all mean? When and how can you officially say you are "fluent" or "proficient" to a specific degree in the language?
I'm sure you are all aware of English as a second language tests that exist, such as TOEFL or TOEIC. Well, on the flipside, Japan has the same thing. Awhile back a system was put together to be able to gauge a foreigner's ability in the Japanese language, supplying them, or potential employers, with a defined benchmark of proficiency. This test goes by the name of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT for short. After passing a specific level of the JLPT, you then acquire a certified "degree" of sorts, that is recognized country-wide as assuring and stating your level of proficiency in the Japanese language.
Here's how the test breaks down. The JLPT has four levels of proficiency, 1 being the highest level, and 4 being the lowest. The JLPT tests on three sections, reading comprehension, listening, and grammar (over-simplified explanation of the sections but you get the general idea). Inside the first section, grammar, you are tested on various grammatical structures, kanji recognition, etc. For this section you are given 45 minutes, with 65 questions, valued at a total of 100pts. The second section, listening, tests you on listening comprehension, takes 45 minutes, has something like 13 bigger questions, and counts for another 100pts. The final, and most difficult section, reading comprehension, takes 90 minutes, has you read compositions and answer tricky questions about the content, and is worth 200pts total. Reading comprehension is especially difficult due to the amount of kanji combonations you are required to know (words made of kanji, the frilly chinese characters people usually tattoo on themselves in America).
So what does each level mean? Level 4 is the easiest and is said to require 150 total hours of study, requiring knowledge of 103 kanji, and a relatively beginner level of grammar. Level 3 jumps to about 300 hours of total study, 285 total kanji, and a beginner to intermediate level of grammar. Level 2, a huuuuge jump, required 600+ hours of total study, requires knowledge of roughly 1050 kanji, 6000 words, and an intermediate to lower advanced level of grammar. The level 1, which is rarely reached by western foreigners from my understanding, places you at about the same fleuncy level in the language as a Japanese high school graduate. You are at 900+ hours of total study, over 2000kanji, and closer to 12,000 word vocabulary with a highly advanced level of grammar. With a level 2 or level 1 (refered to as Ni-Kyuu and Ii-kyuu), you begin having the ability to work in real Japanese society and be able to read write and speak closer to a native Japanese person. Don't be confused though, even with 1kyuu, you are ways away from translator status. To pass these tests, 4-2kyuu require a 60% and the 1kyuu requires a 70% score.
Ok great, sounds not too bad right? Wrong, the test is only given once a year on December 2nd in only a few select locations. You also have to go through a long process of application almost 6 months in advance. This year I decided to brave it and go for 2kyuu. Here is how I went about applying and getting set up to take the test.
First thigns first, got to get all sexied up for a nice professional photo to put on your official application form.
Next things to do it go to your nearest large chain bookstore, such as Kinokuniya in Shinjuku and pick up the JLPT application packet for 500 yen (about $4). You need a place to open it up and read through it so next stop is...
McDonalds. One thing I really want to point out here. I am so effing tired of people asking me this super old misconception of Japan, so I'll set it straight now. "Durrr so like uh, in Japan everything is hella expensive right? My cousin's friend's mom's cowoker's pet groomer said he went to Japan and a Bic Mac meal was like $20 and he never lies. Super reliable source. How do you afford it?" NO, for fudge's sake, McDonalds is either the same price or cheaper then the states. A big mac meal is like 550yen-ish right now which is $4.78. Things that're expensive in Tokyo are just what is expensive in big cities, same as how certain things are expensive in Manhattan or downtown San Francisco(i.e. apartments).
With that cleared up, I realized I needed to get a special sized picture of myself for my application. At practically every station in tokyo there are these little picture booths that serve just this purpose. For many applications (work, visa, etc.), people require these uniformed sized pictures of about 3mmX4mm. At these booths for about 500 yen you can get a sheet of these proof pictures.
On the back of the packet, the JLPT people utilize descriptive cartoons to explain what happens when you fail to turn in your application on time.
Here are the 3 things you need. The instruction booklet, the payment form, and the application form.
And here I am with my jovial expression.
On one side of the application form, you pick and circle from which location you will take the test (I picked Kanto Region since that's where Tokyo is). You then fill out basic information like name, birthdate, nationality, and these codes that represent your reason for taking the test, how many hours you've studied, and your native language. Oh, also you have to circle which level you are attempting at the top of the paper (notice the bold cirlce around the "2"...yeaaa).
On the opposite side you paste your picture, fill in your address, and the institution you belong to, etc. After that process, you've finished the main piece of paperwork.
Next is to move onto the payment for the test. The test fee is (if I remember correctly), 5,000yen ($45). Most of the time with bills in Japan, you pay either at the post office or at the Combini. For the JLPT, you are required to do a certified payment at the post office. So with this blue inked piece of paper, fill out all the same info and take everything with you to the next stop.
The post office! Right across from the street from Temple University there is a small post office location stuck in a hole in the wall.
This is the last stop for today. Here you pay the lady and send off your application. After 2 months after you turn in your application, you receive a piece of paper telling you the address of the testing location and when to exactly be there. Also included is your testing number and various administrative pieces of information.
From there you study everyday...alot...a whole lot. This last month or two before the test I'll put every waking free moment into studying (close to 5 hours a day if possible) in hopes of being able to pass that 60% mark.
Once you are finished studying for months on end and take the test. In mid Februrary you receive either your failure notice or your certification paper of passing. With that, you then get lots of money and buy Ferraris, such as the one above frequently found in Shibuya and Harajuku.
Don't forget to celebrate hard studying with your friends!
Mason on 10.17.07 @ 11:05 AM PST [link]