Sunday, September 7, 2008


I've sent off my application for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) level 1 in December. It's the highest level, and passing it supposedly indicates that you have "an integrated command of the language sufficient for life in Japanese society." You're supposed to have a vocabulary of about 10000 words, know the standard 2000 kanji studied up through high school and pretty much all the grammar you're ever likely to encounter in modern Japanese (as well as a fair amount of grammar that is rare or obsolete). Oh, and you need 70% for a passing grade rather than the 60% needed at the lower levels.

So, I know the above, right? Nope. Not a chance. This year I'm only taking the test for practice. I vaguely plan to try level 1 for real in another year, after taking the test for practice again next spring. Beginning in 2010 the JLPT will be revamped, with an extra level in between level 2 and 3, and some general reshuffling of content that will result in level 1 becoming slightly more difficult. It makes sense, I think, to at least make a reasonable effort to pass the current level 1 before that time.

And for some reason the JLPT is quite fun to take. It's always on a Sunday in early December, held someplace like a university campus. Early December typically means high, clear skies and cool temperatures. You get up indecently early in the morning, mill about with hundreds of other mostly young, mostly Asian test takers on an otherwise abandoned test site, eat a bento lunch while fretting over the results so far. In the end you go home, feeling completely drained, but magically you suddenly feel you know a lot more Japanese than you thought you did before the test. It's a fun outing.


  1. Good luck to you! I got my level 1 certificate in 1995 or so. It changed absolutely nothing in my life, but studying for the test was a good way to approach the language with a bit of structure in the months leading up to it.

  2. No, most people seem to agree that level 2 is the important level. True, there are job listings that list level 1 as a requirement, but far more common at that level is to simply require fluency and leave test results aside.

    And while things like kanji literacy is obviously important, level 1 tests some truly obscure things as well. When I ask my wife (who is a native speaker) about some grammar construction and her response is "Huh, never heard that; what does it mean?" then I know we've left daily language far behind.

    Like you, I mostly take this test as a motivator; something that gives me a concrete goal to aim for. As such, I'm in no hurry to pass it. After all, once I pass I'll need to find some other tangible goal.

  3. I don't think I every left that taste feeling like I knew more than I went in. Level 1 was a great motivator to learn the reading for all the kanji though. At least you can look up words more easily if you can at least guess the reading. Good luck.

  4. lycka till! mamma


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