Learning a language is a commitment for life.
You will face trials and tribulations at every turn. But beyond that, it’s arguably the most rewarding investment you can make. And here’s the thing: it’s easier than what you might first think.
But it’s no walk in the park either.
I’ve been through the full spectrum of emotions that is learning Japanese. It took humility, discipline and time. And I have one more goal: the JLPT.
Most of the following goes for learning any language, but I’ll take you through some tips in getting through the JLPT.
About the JLPT
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is Japan’s official language test and certification for Japanese speakers. It’s not easy. But it is a great benchmark to test your progress. In Australia, you can take the JLPT in either June or December.
There are five levels: N5 (easiest) to N1 (hardest). After a year in Japan, I’m getting ready for N2. The test goes for about 3 hours overall, split into two parts. Unlike other languages tests, it only covers multiple choice and listening. You will be tested on kanji (漢字), grammar (文法 – bunpou), vocabulary (語彙 – goi) and listening (聴解 – choukai).
To learn more about the JLPT, click here.
You will get swamped by information the first time you go looking for materials. For now, let’s keep it simple. Pick two or three high quality resources. If you need the extra reading, it’s there. A quick trip to Google, Reddit or YouTube will steer you in the right direction. For Japanese, I have a few favourites.
But learning a language like Nihongo is like climbing a mountain. It looks magnificent. But how do you climb it? Where do you start, and where do you finish?
Time to Take a Class.
Classes are great because you can push yourself without getting lost. Classes guide you, helping you go that extra mile you couldn’t have done on your own. My first Japanese class was daunting. Taught purely in Japanese, it took me from JLPT N5 to N3. And that was exactly the point – the class was specifically designed to force students out of broken, beginner Japanese. I finished with the right grades, and my quest to JLPT glory took a steady upward turn from here.
I recommend starting in a class and in time you’ll be able to self-teach. Find an enthusiastic teacher and a social learning environment.
Some General Primers:
Skip straight to N3 or N2.
Because the test costs around $90, I would advise strongly against taking the JLPT for entry-level Japanese. Passing N2 has the most practical benefits.
Focus on kanji.
After persevering through all of the N2 grammar, I started the first page of test to see four straight pages of kanji. Only two grammar questions on the entire paper. Ouch.
Timing is crucial.
9 times out of 10, you should finish a multiple choice test. Use process of elimination if you have to, but don’t get stuck on individual questions. Strategise your time so it doesn’t become a rush. While I can’t post any here, seek practice tests to time yourself.
It’s easy to confuse mistakes with failure. But the two could not be more different. Don’t be afraid to get things wrong. If you’re paying attention, you will only make that mistake once. Particularly in conversation, swallow your pride and don’t be too hard on yourself. Your confidence will blossom for it.
Your fight to fluency will BE fraught with plateaus. This is normal. They give your goals value.
Preparing for JLPT can seem like a grind, so be sure to vary your study patterns. Remember that the test is just one part of your ultimate goal: to learn Japanese. Conversation classes are just as important for learning Japanese, and can help you retain what you’ve learned in your studies.
Some final words…
A friend once asked me my secrets to learning Japanese. The truth is, there is no secret. No shortcuts. The challenges you encounter in learning a language require great patience and will. Take some time to recognise your progress, too. You will be surprised just how far you have come. It’s incredibly motivating.
My final remarks: do not give up. Know that every frustration you may have had in learning up to this point, I have been there. And you will get there.
Take my word for it.
Learning a language? Read more tips for learning Japanese and the benefits of studying at 6am.
Latest posts by Seb Thomas (see all)
- Interview with Andrew Carter: Consulate-General of Japan, Brisbane - November 5, 2017
- Japanese Resources: How to study and prepare for the JLPT - August 28, 2016
- Roundup of Japanese Textbooks and Other Learning Resources - August 28, 2016
- Seb Thomas on studying in Osaka - March 2, 2016