As many of you no doubt know, the JLPT – Japanese Language Proficiency Test – is pretty much the internationally recognized measure of Japanese language ability for nonnative speakers. Something like the TOEFL for students of English. It’s a four-level test, where level 4 is beginner and level 1 is “native.”*
What you may not yet know is that last year, Japan’s Ministry of Education announced that they’d be completely revising the the test in 2010.** Since its format has remained pretty much unchanged since 1984, this means that more than 20 years of accumulated textbooks, practice exams, and study materials are suddenly about to become obsolete. Or at least slightly less relevant.
Having been a student of Japanese for quite a few years now, and having passed the level 2 JLPT back in 2005 while still living in Kyoto, level 1 has always been sort of a long-term goal; something I intended to do at some point but never quite got around to. But since 2009 saw my return to the United States and to reasonable level of personal availability, and especially considering the upcoming test revision, it seemed clear that if I really wanted to go the distance, the time to do it had come.
So the first part of my answer to the question “What the hell have you been doing for the last 10 months?” Among many other things, I’ve been studying for the JLPT.
And wow, I have to say – I really had no idea how much I still had to learn! Even being able to hold a conversation or watch a TV show is apparently nothing compared to the huge scope of information that ludicrously complex language contains. But 2,000 characters, thousands of vocab words, and hundreds of grammar points later, the test is behind me…and I’m at long last a proud holder of the Level 1 JLPT. It only took five years to get there 😛
Some have asked why I’d bother going to all the trouble of studying for the test if I’m already functional as it is. Well, there are a few reasons.
First, for closure. Although one can always continue to improve, Level 1 is more or less the highest certification an average foreign linguist hopes to attain – and certainly the highest that any job would require. I’ve always felt like Level 2 was only halfway there, and if I could just get Level 1, I’d be done.
Second, for motivation. Although I may’ve been able to have a conversation with friends for years, the ability to pick up a novel or a newspaper and read casually has always been well out of reach. But a solid deadline with a concrete list of grammatical points and all-encompassing set of vocab words is the perfect motivator to close the gap – so while I still may need my trusty electronic dictionary to truly enjoy a good novel, there’s no question that studying for the test has brought me worlds closer to the full literacy I’ve wanted for ages.
In any case, it’s one more thing off my seemingly endless to-do list, and one more (self-imposed) hurdle that no longer stands between me and my next ticket to some random exotic location 😀
*I put “native” in quotes because although JLPT1 is supposed to certify ability equal to a native speaker, it’s not really true in practice: it includes no active conversation testing at all. I do think it does quite a good job of testing *written* Japanese – in fact, it’s so difficult that I’ve heard a randomly selected Japanese person may not pass it if they hadn’t prepared specifically (kindof like the English section of the SAT exam here).
**In addition to the test, the Ministry of Education has also revised the Joyo Kanji list – a list of officially sanctioned “daily use characters” – for the first time since 1981.