If you’re interested in learning the Japanese language, or have already started studying it, you probably have heard about the JLPT. It’s the best way to measure one’s level of Japanese proficiency. Most languages have this type of standardized test. Japanese is no different.
While it may not be compulsory for one to take the JLPT test, it’s something most Japanese language learners should consider. Before you stress yourself out about it, you’ve come to the right place to know all you need to about this test. Everything from advantages and disadvantages to what the test contains is all just a scroll down away!
What is the JLPT?
Of course, the first question is: what is the JLPT? This stands for Japanese Language Proficiency Test. It’s organised by the Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (JEES), which is a semi governmental organisation.
In the test, your reading and listening skills are tested, focusing on grammar and vocabulary. There are MCQ questions as well as listening comprehension. Depending on your level, the test gets harder. In total, there are 5 levels: JLPT N1 to N5. N5 is the lowest proficiency level of them all, with N1 being the highest. Japanese language learners start off by taking the JLPT N5 test.
A lot of Japanese language learners use these tests to gauge their level of proficiency and figure out their weak points. In N5 and N4, the most common and conversational grammar and vocabulary are tested, but as you get to N2, almost all the grammar points are tested.
Levels of the JLPT
As we mentioned earlier, there are 5 levels of JLPT. Let’s take a look at what you need to know for each level.
In JLPT N5, which is the easiest level, this proficiency level is a good first step. There are 600 vocabulary words covered, 100 kanji (漢字) characters and 100 grammar points. At this level, you should also be able to read hiragana (ひらがな) and katakana (カタカナ). Grammar points include particles, which is the basics of any Japanese sentence.
This level of JLPT is a great level to show your achievement and interest in the language. While you can definitely put this on your resume, it probably won’t score you any big jobs. Lots of language learners study for the test but never actually take it. They do so just to know their level and also save a few bucks.
I personally skipped to the JLPT N4 and didn’t take the JLPT N5 test. This level covers most of the grammar that you need to speak conversational Japanese. Once you cover all of JLPT N4 and N5 material, you can get around Japan without many problems.
In JLPT N4, you’re looking at 2,000 vocabulary words and 300 kanji characters. While it won’t get you reading newspapers without issue, you can understand the gist of the text enough.
JLPT N4 is a good level to stop at if you don’t plan on working in Japan or your job doesn’t require Japanese for work. This is because this level gives you good enough comprehension skills and grammar to survive most conversations.
From this level onwards, you’re going to want to be more focused. There’s a slightly big jump from N4 to N3 as you need to speed up reading and comprehending. At JLPT N3, you’re required to learn 5,000 vocabulary words and 600 kanji characters.
Phrases and grammar points in this level are more advanced than N4 and N5. This level bridges the gap between N4 and N2 – N4 looks at common grammar, whereas N2 looks at less common ones.
At this level, you can use this for a job, maybe outside of Japan, to reply to non real-time comprehension like email.
If you’re planning to work in Japan, the JLPT N2 is what you should aim for. This gives you the most grammar and vocabulary you would need to understand most of written and spoken Japanese. You’re required to learn 10,000 vocabulary words and 1,000 kanji characters.
When you pass N2, you can land yourself a lot of jobs in Japan as it proves your comprehension of the language.
Last but not least, we have the JLPT N1. This is the highest level of all and proves your utmost fluency in the language. When you have this level, you’re qualified for any job in Japan. It’s pretty close to native fluency at this point.
During the test, you’re going to have to take down notes ast and can skim and read fast, too. These are skills that are important for working. With this proficiency level, you might even qualify for special visas that have more perks than the permanent residency.
Some say it takes the same amount of time to go from N2 to N1 as it does to go from 0 to N2.
Benefits of the JLPT
There are a lot of benefits to taking the JLPT tests, regardless of level. Even though it’s fairly easy to get an English teaching job in Japan, you can’t really do much without some sort of Japanese language comprehension.
So you’re definitely increasing your chances of getting other employment opportunities. Although, a lot of jobs require at least an N3 or N2 proficiency level, but you shouldn’t let that stop you from taking N5 and N4.
With a better understanding of the Japanese language, you might even be able to get a pay raise at your job. Especially if you can negotiate for it in Japanese.
Disadvantages of the JLPT
I think the biggest downside of the JLPT tests is that it doesn’t test speaking ability. The tests focus a lot on reading and listening, but there isn’t a section for speaking.
While this can easily be practiced when you immerse yourself in the country and its people, you can get away much more with grammar when talking to people casually. A lot of Japanese language learners are still constantly improving their grammar when speaking because the JLPT test doesn’t have a section to correct speech.
What level of the JLPT do I need?
Now, this depends on what you want to use Japanese for. If it’s to gauge your understanding of the language, N4 and N5 can do that.
N3 can get you a couple of job positions. I have tons of friends who are at N3 level and have landed jobs in Japan with it.
To be fully certain you can get more job opportunities, N2 is the way to go.
N1 is only needed for more advanced positions.
Which JLPT test are you going to take?
So, which level are you going to take? Remember that you should always take your time and go at your own pace when learning Japanese. You are on your own path and no one else’s! Good luck!