There are many Japanese people learning English in Toronto, but there are many Canadian learning Japanese. While many might know a few words here or there from manga and anime, a few will go on to learn just how difficult the language is.
However, there’s a scale out there to help measure how proficient they are in speaking the language.
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) measures Japanese skills and is organized by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchange and Services every December. The test can be taken at various locations around world, in 44 of Japan’s prefectures and 206 cities in 64 countries, in fact.
The number of examinees in 2013 was approximately 550,000 and it’s increasing every year. People who have gone through JLPT and can call themselves fluent in the language know just how difficult the test is.
“At the beginning, it is really difficult because it’s quite different from English and there are many Kanji we have to learn,” Jessica Carman, who studied Japanese at Kansai Gaidai University in Japan for a year, and has N2 of JLPT (the second highest level).
When she was in high school, her friend was taking a Japanese class and she also tried it, and then found interesting.
Although many people gave up learning Japanese, she kept trying to earn high school credits and found it attractive.
“As long as you can read it, you know how to say it,” she said. “On the other hand, in English, there are so many different ways to pronounce, so you can read the word and understand it, but people don’t understand if you are saying it wrong. That’s the point I like in Japanese.”
But the question remained, is the level system the language test provides helpful to non-native speakers?
“I can say, ‘I have this level of the JLPT’ and people from different countries immediately know how much I can understand Japanese,” Carman said. “So, it’s really nice and useful when you travel abroad because it’s world standard.”
“If you see Japanese as a really scary thing because it is so different from English, I can say everyone can learn it if you just stick with it. I don’t think it’s as hard as everyone thinks. Good luck!”
The test consists of both reading and listening sections. In the reading portion, you have to pay attention to the smallest details from the difference a single letter can make or how to properly format a question. You’ll also have to understand things such as writer’s intent through reading a passage and answering comprehension questions.
In the listening section, you have to listen to long passages, but they’re not simple and the pace is pretty quick.
The reading part is harder than the listening one, at least for me, because vocabulary knowledge is crucial. I had to read it repeatedly to understand its indirect expressions, which is a skill critical in understanding Japanese literature.
There are 5 levels on the test from N5 to N1. N5 is easiest and measure understanding of basic Japanese, and N1 is most difficult and measure understanding of Japanese used in various situations.
Unfortunately, the deadline of applying for this December is already expired. However, you have an opportunity next year and time to study until next test. The registration will be open around late September.