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Mastering a non-native language requires a lot of effort unless you are a genius. Your improvement is not always in proportion to the amount of effort you put into studying, and sometimes it's rather discouraging. Japanese is a language which employs different grammar from western languages and has complicated characters, and therefore it is especially difficult. One of the strategies that can encourage you to keep studying is to objectively check how much you have improved. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), available to be taken here in the States, provides a good opportunity for people who want to improve their Japanese language skills.

What's the JLPT?

Launched in 1984 by The Japan Foundation and the Association of International Education, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test provides a way to objectively measure students' language skills and their progress, as well as gives them motivation to improve. The test has five different levels from 1 to 5, and the lower the number the more  difficult the content. It used to be a four-level test, but starting this year Level 5 is being introduced. If you have been studying for a year or so, try Level 5. If you plan to enter college or get a permit to work in Japan, some educational institutions and companies require Level 1. In 2008, 560,000 people in 52 different countries took the test worldwide.

The test is devised to examine your language skills from several different angles: writing, vocabulary, listening, reading, and grammar. Therefore, the learning materials for this test not only help prepare you for the exam itself, but for how to study Japanese more systematically.  While studying for the test, you'll discover your strengths and weaknesses. If you want to take a look at past tests, go to the JLPT website []. JLPT is a well-balanced proficiency test, but if you are planning to use Japanese in more specified fields there might be more appropriate tests for those requirements. For example, the Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation offers the BJT (Business Japanese Proficiency Test) for those who want to be certified in business Japanese. It was originally designed and administered by JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) in order to measure one's ability to communicate in the Japanese necessary in a business setting []. If you are eager to enter a Japanese university as a regular full time student, you might have to take the EJU (Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students), which is used to evaluate whether international students possess the Japanese skills and basic academic abilities needed to study at higher educational institutions [].

How to take the JLPT in the U.S.

In the U.S., this year the JLPT wil be held on Sunday, December 5th. Official test sites and registration for the 2010 JLPT will be announced in late July. The registration period typically starts the first week of August and ends the first week of October. You can register online through the Japan Foundation website [] and pay with a credit card, or you can print out the registration form and mail it in with your credit card information or a check.

New in the 2010 Test

The JLPT is now being revised and the new version will be offered as of this year. The biggest change is the creation of an extra level N3 situated between the current Levels 2 and 3 (See the diagram on page 9 for descriptions of the new levels). Also, the test itself will focus more on communication skills to achieve particular goals, such as how to express yourself in job interviews, read newspapers and magazines, and write formal letters.  Since the new version hasn't been conducted yet there is not much that can be said about it at this point, but it seems to have become more practical. As the test will be held in December, you have plenty of time to study if you are interested. Have fun and improve your Japanese!

JLPT Level 4 (2004) & Level 3 (2006)
Lisa Birzen
Freelance Journalist

The JLPT is a familiar acronym among Japanese-language students.  In addition to providing a universally recognizable way to quantify your abilities – either for personal curiosity or to include on a resume - it's also a great motivational and organizational tool to help you achieve personal language goals as well.

The JLPT is a great base around which to structure your language study, especially if you are learning on your own.  Over the years, I did everything from group classes and private one-on-one lessons to conversation partners, self-study with online and audio resources and simply speaking the language informally with friends, and I can honestly say that I experienced most progress in those years when I was preparing for the JLPT because it provided a structure and a concrete goal around which to tailor the study-sessions.

In my opinion, the best way to study was to have regular, weekly scheduled lessons in the months leading up to the exam.  The JLPT website itself provides sample questions from past exams as well as study aids for purchase which I highly recommend.  Familiarizing yourself with the test format and question styles ahead of time will greatly help your performance and, from personal experience, you might see some past questions making a repeat appearance on the exam.
I have found that the winning combination was to use the JLPT-specific study materials supplemented with additional help from native Japanese-speakers who would be able to explain the reasons why, for instance, the correct subject marker was ‘ga' and not ‘wa' in a given sentence, as copies of previous exams only provide the correct answers, not a full explanation.

In the end, taking the JLPT is a fun experience that connects you with other people studying Japanese all over the world. Registration opens in late summer.  Gan batte!.

JLPT Level 2 (2001) & 1 (2002)
Stacy Smith
Japanese Translator/Interpreter/Writer

For those studying Japanese, the annual Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is a great way to test your skills.  With no speaking or writing sections, the JLPT's coverage is somewhat limited.  This enables test-takers to focus their studying on the kanji and grammar of which it is mainly comprised.

As for what types of questions will appear on the exam, you can consult sample tests and guidebooks to familiarize yourself with the material.  One helpful study method is to make flash cards, as they will aid you with memorization of the kanji and grammar patterns that repeat themselves.  Although some grammar and other concepts on the test are not necessarily ones that are commonly used in everyday life, mastering them will be to your advantage as a Japanese speaker.  You can impress your Japanese friends by knowing phrases of which they themselves are unaware!

Because there is also a listening comprehension section, it is important to immerse yourself in Japanese as much as possible before the test.  If you don't have a native speaker who you can chat with, other options are listening to Japanese podcasts or audio downloads from websites, as well as watching the daily Japanese tv news on Fujisankei.  It is essential to get used to hearing and understanding Japanese spoken at a normal pace. Whether you are thinking about job searching in Japan (where this certification is an absolute must) or just working for a Japanese company here in the States, being able to say you passed a certain level of JLPT is very important.  Also, as a personal challenge it can be rewarding to work your way up from level 5 to 1 over time. Ganbatte kudasdai!

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