Long time no blog. I just wanted to address some questions that was asked about the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). I understand that a lot of my viewers are interested in learning a foreign language and are interested in cuisine. I, in fact, get the most comments whenever I write about these topics. So to not disappoint anyone, I will discuss these questions in as a detailed manner as possible.
What is on the JLPT and how will it help my Japanese?
First of all the JLPT is broken up into 4 levels this year; soon to be 5 levels in 2010. The best way probably to discuss this is to perhaps talk about each of the levels I have taken.
Level 4 (四級）- I have taken it. If you are starting out in Japanese and put some effort into at least 3 months, you can pass level 4. I did my Japanese starting out through the university system at UNR. I would say unless you want to study abroad, save your money and just study hiragana (ひらがな）and (カタカナ）which can easily be studied picking up a Teach Your Self basic Japanese script or a book that specializes in either Hiragana and Katakana. The Kanji (Japanese version of Chinese characters) should also be studied. It is perhaps best to know 50 by the time you take this test. Hearing would be a key point to focus on when doing the level 4. The hearing portion of the test has specific orders in which to bubble in stuff sometimes.
Level 3- (３級) This is a test that should be taken after about 2 years of classes in the states. While that is the case, it is not impossible to take this test after learning all the grammar points in the textbook Minna no Nihongo (みんなの日本語) books 1 and 2 of the elementary level. Also you will have to be good at basic conjugation and causative passive forms and know a little bit of honorific and polite Japanese. Again the trick part is listening where there is a certain amount trickiness to the questions. I cannot go into further detail other than say the best book to nail all the grammar points is the Kanzen Master (完全マスター) series. But I will say I will try to take either the N3 or the N2 next year. This will be level N4 the next year. You will need about 300 plus Kanji to get through this one. Also reading is important too.
Level 2- (２級）This test however, I can talk about. I received a total beat down from this test. I was taken out back, slapped around, and was forced to do things no man should do. And that would be the optimistic side of the story. Okay, the nuts and bolts of this thing is pretty gruesome. I counted at least 171 grammar points out of the Kanzen Master level 2 and yes you actually need to be on a 6th grade Kanji level. While I knew 1200 Kanji when I took this test, I did not know the mandatory government issued Kanji administered for this test. Honestly, do not even take this test unless you know all the required Kanji for this test. It would be a waste of time. Key points for this is probably bringing up your reading speed and level, nailing all the grammar points, and Kanji. Again listening does count for 25% of the points but it actually was one of my higher points so I would say that listening get easier if you actively seek out material to listen too like the news or variety shows or manga with a lot of complex Japanese being used. Also pay attention to time because it is precious towards the end. Especially with grammar.
Level 1-（一級）Let me talk about the nightmare that is formally known as Level 1. Kanji level has to be at the 2000s. Now I know the official site says only 1945 Kanji is needed. It is talking about just daily use Kanji (常用漢字), you will need to know some Name Kanji as well （人名用漢字）and I actually like studying Kanji. In fact is one the most favorite parts of the language. There is however a sense of urgency that should be expressed here. That is 1945 Kanji in different word combinations, compound Kanji combinations, and special readings. I think the amount of word usage is around 10,000. I could be wrong on that but that actually sounds about right. There is also the reading. If you can read complex university papers and manuscripts then you might be on the level to take this beast on.
This is a test that usually about 27% of the people overseas pass. And a lot of the Japanese here is not even used completely by natives. But, if you are up to it, level 2 and level 1 will open doors in certain employment firms. Sometimes, they will give you money for taking on such a challenge. Also the level 2 is good for getting into universities but you can also take the university student test (留学試験). The only thing is that a lot of this test does not cover practical Japanese. The level 3 and parts of 2 go over that.
The change in levels
It is coming up July of 2010. The levels will officially change for the JLPT. Levels 1-4 will be changed to N5 for level 4, N4 for level 3, N3 for a new bridge level to accommodate people struggling between level 3 and level 2. N2 will be the current level 2 and N1 is supposed to become slightly harder for level 1. Okay now you can break out your handkerchiefs and start weeping. Overall it is hard to gauge the new N3 but from what I am looking at so far I would probably be able to pass it. If I do not feel totally confident in my ability to pass the N2, then I will probably go for this one. This level covers 800 Kanji supposedly. I do not have any clue as to how many grammar points.
Whether or not I can nail the N2 will all depend on how much blood sweat and tears I put into studying. I am not totally certain going through mock test will completely help. I think it is best to focus on reading more complex magazines and articles and try to find unfamiliar grammar and study it in context. I would use the Unicom and Kanzen master series in conjunction with this method. With this I would use the Intermediate and Advance Japanese Grammar Dictionary for the sake of cracking the vagueness that is from learning in another language. This is by far one of the best dictionaries I have bought. Also I am going to try the Kanji in Context work books. I looked at the textbook and was disappointed by the fact that it is basically a Kanji dictionary which I got like 3. I will also be using various listening materials for the listening portion of the test. There is however a basic way to study for each exam:
1. Study the vocabulary and Kanji first. If you do a lot of reading you will naturally pick up words and if you can write the Kanji words can be formulated naturally from the Chinese pictographs. This honestly shaves down a lot of study time doing it this way.
2. Listening- I would get a book that goes over this part because at this point it honestly because one of the easiest parts of the test except for the lining events part of taking notes. You should practice taking notes prior to the test.
3. Reading- This is the next part that should be tackled. I think this part here is not so bad if you use materials that are actually meant for the next step up. You will pick up a lot of grammar points too because it will be naturally used in the sentences. I actually recommend Read Real Japanese for all levels. On the basic level you can pick up some basic phrases but on the higher levels you can absorb the more subtle nuances of Japanese culture and all the grammar points are discussed. All you would have to do is read a grammar dictionary uses the sentences and practice grammar with a native speaker of the language. Like I said before, chat rooms like MSN and Yahoo are cheap, affordable ways to meet native speakers of the target language of study.
4. Grammar- This is the perhaps even more difficult than learning all the government issued Kanji. I will say this: if you do not know the vocabulary and Kanji then I suggest you to go back and study those harder because the N2 and N1 will bombard you with vocabulary. It will also bombard you with Kanji and more Kanji and alternative Kanji for the written Kanji. N2 might have around 190 grammar points total and N1 has everything from the previous 4 levels so contrary to popular belief you cannot really take this test without knowing a lick of grammar. It probably has around 500-600 different points of grammar just to give you a compilation.
If you get these four things down for each test, you will have it made coming test time. There is no reason why someone (including me) cannot get down all the necessities in order to take the JLPT. It is just laziness on their end. I failed because I underestimated the gravity of the test prep books. You will need detailed resources for each one. That is the best way I can put it. It is what it is.
Is the Japanese on the JLPT practical?
I would say yes and no. There are key grammar points in 4 and 3 that you cannot even have a conversation without and a little can be said for 2 as well, but there are some grammar points that even the Native Japanese speakers have trouble with. The same goes for Kanji because in the computer age many native speakers of Japanese are starting to forget the rarely used Kanji for the ones that are common to their daily vocabulary. For example the Kanji (薔薇) or rose is a Kanji that many Japanese natives cannot write. I taught myself how to write this one for a calligraphy contest and it was tough because I had to basically figure out the stroke order myself.
The IT age is certainly simplifying language in general and that also goes as well for my English. I cannot read Old or Classical English because mainly it is not a standard any more and my grammar certainly has suffered a little from learning multiple languages. So in short, I would say the practicality of the JLPT is what you make of it. If you think the test will make you sound like a native speaker, you will be let down. There is just bubbling in the answers. No speaking, no writing. If you want to do a test like that, I suggest the JETRO. Wikipedia more than likely has an article on it.