To JLPT Or Not to JLPT? Part 2

We’re back to talking about the JLPT, a topic which we left off on the first part of this series, which you can read here. The first part explored some of the shortcomings of the JLPT, and gave reasons why one may not see the JPLT as a relevant qualification. In Part 2, we’ll talk about why you may want to strongly consider taking the JLPT after all. Let’s get right to it! 🙂

It Makes Learning Easier

Studying for the JLPT may make your learning easier in the following ways:

kanji-image-21. There is a clear set of studying materials and objectives for each level. For example, when studying for the N5, there are certain kanji, verbs, adjectives, and phrases you must learn so as to pass the test. This can act as a guide for your language learning. As opposed to winging it, the JLPT can be a hack to language learning by giving you an order in which to learn the various aspects of the Japanese language.

2. It gives you a goal to work towards, and this can help you stay motivated. It can be pretty difficult to study Japanese with no incentive other than just learning a new language for its own sake. Knowing that you have a test at the end of the year can help you stay motivated to keep studying.

It Gives You Something To Show For Your Time, Effort and Skill

achievement-clipart-clip-art-graduation-6Learning a language without taking any certification tests is all well and good, but there is something to be said for having a document that says, “This person can certifiably communicate in Japanese to this degree.” As a Nihongo learner, you may want to secure a job or degree that requires good knowledge of the language. Just like any certification, the JLPT is often used as a bare-minimum filter when selecting candidates.

I like to give the analogy of a degree in the tech field, especially for software developers (techies unite! :D). Every developer knows that you don’t need to go to school to learn how to code. There are lots of self-taught developers without tech degrees doing amazing things, and lots of CS and IT graduates who can’t write a decent application. Still, most employers (especially here in Kenya where everyone has papers and the job market isn’t very friendly to non-graduates) want to see the papers as a bare-minimum indication of ability. The best bet is clearly to have the skills that make you a kick-ass developer, and have the papers just in case.

The same is true for the JLPT. Nobody disputes that you can achieve fluency without sitting a single test. Still, a certification would only improve your marketability (and boost your ego, if you need it! :D). Which brings us to the next point…

It Can Open Doors and Give You Oportunities

happiness-isWhich Nihongo learner doesn’t want to visit Japan? And who wouldn’t want to do it for free? Have I got your attention now? 😀

The Japanese embassy here in Kenya has lots of scholarships available, and not just long-term ones for degree courses. There are two-week and six-week study-tour programs offered by the embassy through the Japan Foundation, which you can read all about here. What do you get? Roundtrip airfare to Japan, accommodation, meals, tours… all fully funded by the Japan Foundation (which, incidentally, is one of the organizers of the JLPT). For both of these programs, one must have done the JLPT to be considered.

Know what else is great? One of our very own, Ms. Gillian Makamara, was selected for the two-week program back in 2013. 😀 So make sure you say a big congratulations to Gillian in the comment section below, and urge her to write a post telling us all about her experience in Japan! 🙂

Bottom Line: Striking A Balance


Do I think the JLPT is absolutely necessary when learning Japanese? Absolutely not. But I think there’s plenty to be gained by doing the test, and the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Still, even if you’ve decided to sit the JLPT, it’s important to strike a balance. What do I mean? Let’s go back to the tech analogy. 🙂

You can enroll in a CS or IT course, aiming to be the best developer ever. You can study really hard, and get A’s in all your units, and graduate with first class honours. Will this make you the best developer ever? Ha! No. So what makes a great developer? Real-life practice. Hours and hours of it, in an actual real-world software development environment. Hopefully your apps will end up changing lives, which will be the cherry on the cake.

Similarly, passing the N1 doesn’t guarantee fluency. What does? Try to get as much real-life experience with the language as possible. Listen to Japanese music and podcasts. Watch Japanese television shows. Read actual Japanese newspapers and blogs. Talk to Japanese people, in a variety of settings and contexts. Learn everything within the scope of the JLPT, and outside its scope also. Then, you’ll be well on your way to fluency.

What do you think? Did I leave anything out? Leave a comment below saying why you’d recommend Nihongo learners to do the JLPT… or why you wouldn’t. Every opinion is welcome here. Let’s have a discussion! 😀

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