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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Mbithe is a software developer at Andela and loves all things tech! You can probably find her sitting barefoot somewhere writing beautiful code while singing along to really loud Japanese music. 🙂

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  • zawadi wangui

    Couldn’t wait for part 2…great thoughts there and congrats to Makamara-san. I hope now that Nairobi is a centre for JLPT, she will continue her journey and aim for the highest level..応援しています^^

    The problem I have with your analysis is when you say that you don’t think JLPT is absolutely necessary. This is the thing: the only system in the world that is acceptable in ensuring that people know what they think they know, is exams. So when you say that graduating with IT doesn’t make you the best developer, of course it doesn’t. Same applies to graduating with a medical degree, getting CPA, scoring a grade A in KCSE, ad infinitum. But, even if an individual thinks s/he is the best in something, unless one is tried and tested, that ‘best’ is only in one’s head. The sole purpose of exams, whether on that particular day one was not in the best form, is to separate the wheat from the chaff. That’s why institutions go to great lengths to ensure exams are authentic, and void of irregularities such as leakages.

    Now, once someone is qualified, having met the conditions for a particular exam (JLPT, CPA, Medical degree, etc.) it is then up to the individual to work on their skill, in order to ensure that they don’t become sloppy. The certificate is not given for one to fold one’s hands and rest, no. It is to show that you are capable of being like a native speaker of Japanese, but you need to work at it every day. The main problem with education in Kenya is that one is trained to think that if I get this degree, Masters, PhD, then I am good, which should not be the case. It should be, I’ve got the degree in A,B,C which now shows I am capable of doing A,B,C. So it should give the awardee the confidence to delve even further in the particular field. Luckily for me, I went to Japan for tertiary education. The only thing that equalizes the foreign students pursuing education in Japan, is the JLPT. That applies to whether one is from a country that uses Kanji every day, or one that doesn’t have a writing system. Once one gets the JLPT, no questions asked. You are all the same. Then of course it is up to the person with the JLPT certificate (N1) to decide whether they are satisfied with just being N1 holders, or whether the N1 certificate has given one the confidence to show their native ability of Japanese…I digress here by giving the example of a driving licence. If you don’t have one, whether you think you are the best to manoeuvre a car, doesn’t matter. One will still be arrested by the cops for a heinous crime. Yet right across the road, a licensed driver might have hit the road barrier, or even worse…who gets a higher penalty, the licensed or unlicensed driver?

    Sorry, this was a long comment. 🙂

    • Always a pleasure to hear from you. And don’t worry, long comments are our favourite. 😀

      You raise some interesting points. I think we are in agreement that certification shouldn’t be seen as the end or ultimate goal, rather as motivation to do better. I had no idea that “the only thing that equalizes the foreign students pursuing education in Japan, is the JLPT”. It’s good to hear from the point of view of someone who has experience living in Japan.

      To that end, we would really love to have you share with our readers your experiences as a student in Japan! And seeing how you are quite passionate about and have significant experience in the JLPT, perhaps you can also share a thing or two about it. I hope you don’t mind if we get in touch to talk about this further 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

      • zawadi wangui

        Certainly would love to share my experience, and also draw others currently in Japan to give their opinion in this matter. But yeah, we can talk about this further:)

    • Gillian

      Thank you! I will do my best 🙂

  • Gillian

    Haha…I shall definitely write about it soon 🙂

  • savvykenya

    If you want to work in Japan after graduation, most employers would demand some kind of proof to test your understanding of Japanese so a JPLT N2 or above certificate is usually mandatory.