The Best Way to Learn Japanese is the JLPT
One thing I’m passionate about is the Japanese language. Learning Japanese before coming to Japan has opened many doors for me during my time in the country, and enabled me to make relationships Japanese people that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. Remembering my own frustration getting good tools to story Japanese with back in the day, J-List has always carried great Japanese study supplies, including the Genki textbooks (which are much cheaper on our site than many university bookstores, we’re told from customers often) and those wonderful Moekana flashcards, that teach you hiragana and katakana through cute moe art. All of these are great for preparing for the JLPT, a standardized Japanese text held every December, which I believe is a great way to learn Japanese. (Note that the registration date for the upcoming JLPT is September 20.)
Since 1983, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) has been the main test for learners of Japanese to measure themselves against, similar to the Eiken/STEP test of English for Japanese learners, or TOEFL/TOEIC internationally. Like the STEP test, it has several levels, with level 1 (一級) being the highest (most difficult) level you can attain. The test is held every year in December inside Japan as well as in various cities around the world. (There is a test date in July inside Japan, too.) The test covers grammar and vocabulary, reading, and listening comprehension. Happily, writing of kanji is not part of the test, which I am in favor of as I believe no one should bother with focusing on learning to write Japanese in the age of cell phones and computers. (My article with general advice for students of Japanese is here.)
What I love about the JLPT is the way it’s held once a year (well, there is also a more recent July test if you’re in Japan), and each level is just harder than the last that you have a fighting chance to study and move up a level by next December. Are you at level N4 now? Then buckle down and challenge level N3 next year. It really motivated me to study all year long, to attain my dream of getting the highest level, N1.
There JLPT levels are
- N5, for basic Japanese, including hiragana, katakana and basic kanji. Minimal listening comprehension.
- N4, a higher level of vocabulary and kanji, though still basic.
- N3, even more kanji and vocabulary, with topics that you’d encounter if living in Japan.
- N2, the pre-advanced level, including the ability to comprehend news reports.
- N1, the highest level, required to attend a Japanese university (similar to a score of 500-600 on the TOEFL for learners of English).
To sign up for the JLPT, visit the site, register for a MyJLPT ID, and follow all the instructions. For information on where you can take the test outside of Japan, here’s a page to read. If you’re inside Japan, there’s a helpful guide from The Japan Guide here you can follow. Remember, the cutoff for 2019 is September 20, so you don’t have much time to register.
Preparing for and passing a JLPT level isn’t difficult. It’s a multiple-choice test with several sections, grammar/vocabulary, reading comprehension, and listening comprehension. As stated above, the really hard part of Japanese, mastering the writing of kanji in a world where cell phones and computers have taken over our lives, isn’t part of the test. The grammar can be a little hard (there are some academic phrases you might find on the test that you’d never encounter in the wild, outside of a university), but studying with a dedicated JLPT book for that level should get you through that. I’ve generally heard that the listening comprehension parts of the test are easy-ish for people who are in Japan now (and thus, get a lot of practice hearing the language), but harder for people trying to study for the test outside of Japan.
That’s all the advice I can think of to give you. Good luck taking the JLPT!