Thursday, December 21, 2006

In Which My Japanese Proficiency Level Is Measured and Found Wanting

Students Making Their Way to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) on a Sunday Morning

When I returned to Japan in the summer of 2004 I came with the understanding that I would be in the JET Programme for three years. With that in mind, I developed a cunning plan to leisurely climb my way up the JLPT ladder. This ladder only has four rungs, and so by starting at the second rung--level 3--I planned to make my way up to the top--level 1--before retiring from my career as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). Level 3 of the JLPT is a pretty low level for someone who grew up in Japan and graduated from Japanese elementary school. So my first year back in Japan I took that little Level 3 test by the scruff of the neck and kicked its butt: 400/400 = 100% Take that, JLPT! Now, rumour has it, and I attest that it is true, that there is a huge gap between the second and third rungs (levels 3 and 2 respectively) of the JLPT ladder. Nevertheless, I somehow managed to grapple my way up without any special conditioning. Not with a 400 out of 400, mind you, but a Pass nonetheless. Which brings me to the last rung (Level 1) which I attempted to mount a couple of weeks ago. Passing this level would supposedly make me fit for matriculation in a Japanese university. I can honestly say that in the first section of the test--Writing/Vocabulary--I didn't know the answer to a single question. That doesn't mean I didn't have a good time. Like most standardized tests in the lazy half of the world, the JLPT is multiple choice, so anyone who has a taste for games of chance can enjoy them. In fact, not knowing the answers probably made it that much more exciting for me, although I was a little sad to come face to face with my own ignorance. For the second section--Listening--my main difficulty was paying attention. I may have missed a couple of the questions out of sheer carelessness. The final section--Reading--was made difficult by the fact that I can't read Japanese, but by applying my analytical powers to the "comprehension" component of "reading comprehension," I may have come off half decently. The real tragedy of this episode will be if I find out (in February) that I actually managed a 70% and passed. It will shake my confidence in "the system." However, that is unlikely, and so I consider it providential that the JET Programme has changed its policy on re-contracting, thus allowing me to extend my ALT career by two years and to have another two goes at JLPT Level 1. Maybe I'll even study for it next time.

The Exodus: At this testing site alone, there were literally thousands of students taking the JLPT. Two years ago I did my Level 3 in Sapporo, and last year I did my Level 2 in Sendai. There were far fewer people taking the test in those locations, and I would say that a large percentage of those who did were native English speakers. This time I took my Level 1 in the Osaka area, and not only were there many times more people taking the test with me, but almost none of them were from English speaking countries.

The sky is dazzling blue, but all below it lies in gloom: Students of Japanese Leaving the Testing Grounds