About a month ago, I got an email from a very handsome man that went a little something like this. Very handsome man:
Hi Khatz, just wondering what you think of the JLPT. Is it worth taking to measure your Japanese fluency, even if by some chance it’s not required when applying for a job in Japan? If so, how do you know when you’re ready?
Let me answer that very handsome man’s question with a rhetorical question. Would you, native user of English reading this, take the TOEFL/TOEIC, to put on your resume in order to prove your English proficiency?
Think about it.
- You have a resume in Japanese.
- Your name is kanjified.
- Your cover letter is in Japanese.
- You talk to HR on the phone in Japanese, and they have to ask your nationality to make sure, because they thought a gaijin was supposed to be calling.
- You also write HR emails in Japanese.
- Your interview is in Japanese. Interview: a one hour Q/A session on academic/technical subjects.
- Not to mention the essay you submitted days before the interview, which you discuss and liberally quote from.
If this doesn’t prove Japanese proficiency, then what the billclinton does?
I hate the freaking JLPT. It’s nothing but a way for the test-givers to make money [nothing wrong with that] asking stupid 4-choice questions in which 50% of the time [fake statistic] 2 of the answers are correct Japanese in some reasonable context, but of course only one answer is “JLPT correct”. I know I’m being harsh; I understand and even share the desire for unbiased third-party evaluation of language skill. But this is not it, folks; it just friggin isn’t. This beast is a failure. The never-ending human desire to reduce everything to a number and a certificate falls flat again. And I like numbers. Dude, I love money, numbers and machines, and Progress and all that good stuff. Last week, I was wearing my sweatshop-made Nikes and washing down my McDonald’s burger with a Coca-Cola, when I accidentally ran over an entire family of hippies with my brand new Hummer; their screams were so loud I could barely hear my iPod. And this, people, is why I’ll be the first to tell you that these JLPT numbers is whack. Matt Damon and I both avidly dislike them apples.
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is just like every other standardized test in that it doesn’t measure actual ability or proficiency in the field in question; it merely measures proficiency in taking the test. Oh, don’t get me wrong — you need to know some English to understand SAT directions and some Japanese to understand JLPT instructions, but beyond that it’s all about splitting the stupidest, ugliest hairs imaginable.
For the sake of honesty, it should be renamed to something along the lines of the “Japanese Language Proficiency Test Proficiency Test” — much like how the SAT has at various times in the past respectively been called the “Scholastic Aptitude Test” and the “Scholastic Assessment Test” but ETS had to back off them lies because SATs neither measure nor assess scholastic anything. The SAT group of tests, now literally reduced to a meaningless acronym, measure SAT-taking ability. That’s why Adam Robinson had to go and write Cracking the SAT . Did you know that your score will go up each time you take an SAT or JLPT or even an IQ test? Did ya suddenly become more scholastically apt? Did ya get smarter? Do ya know more Japanese than 5 minutes ago?
And somehow the JLPT people have got the whole freaking world convinced that you need a JLPT to get a job and even be recognized as an adult in Japanese society. None of my Japanese friends, colleagues and associates have ever even heard of the JLPT. Just as most English native speakers have no idea what the TOEIC and TOEFL are. Tellingly, the author of this super-excellent book discusses the phenomenon of people with madd dope TOEIC test scores but crappy English.
Anyway, the JLPT matters far more to and among gaijin, than to and among actual Japanese people. Because guess what — Japanese is not about passing tests, it’s about listening to, reading, speaking and writing real, live, uncut, unedited, NON-MULTIPLE CHOICE Japanese. Are Japanese people going to come up to you and be like:
“私は東京に行きました” And then go,
Did I go (a) TO Tokyo (b) FROM Tokyo (c) IN Tokyo or (d) AT Tokyo?
No! For one thing, Japanese people don’t say lamo, borderline textbook-sounding things like “私は東京に行きました” any more often than English speakers say “how do you do?!” or “what is your good name?”. More importantly, there is no multiple freaking choice in real life. Real life is “harder” like that, in that you either understood fully and correctly or you didn’t. But it’s also easier in that you can actually have fun practicing and not have your Japanese “childhood” turn into a JL-motherlovin-PT preparation ritual.
Urrrggh. Did I mention I hate the JLPT?
BTW, if they buy me off, I’ll take it all back. This post? Gone! What joke? Whose town?
Focus on 日本語, not on stupid tests. Take it from someone who knows: your daily interactions in Japanese are the greatest preparation and proof of proficiency. Watching comedy shows, talking to friends, reading manga — this is the real deal; this is life; this is your test of Japanese language proficiency. You should aim to be so good at Japanese that some stupid deskmonkey circle-filling test of it would simply be an insult to your very being — a proposition as ludicrous as asking you to take the TOEIC or TOEFL.
Do. Not. Learn. Japanese. To. Take. Tests. In.
End of rant.
PS: I have reviewed resumes written by candidates who (wrote they?) had passed upper levels of this JLPT (at least level 2, and maybe some level 1)…the resumes sucked — poor usage, terrible formatting, kanji errors left and right. For all their precious test scores, do you think I recommended them? DO YOU? In cases like this, and indeed in most of the cases that I can think of that matter, language skill is — or at least freaking well should be — self-evident; it doesn’t need to be tested.
Save your time and money for that cosplay convention in a couple of months.
End of rant. Really. I’m done.
And another thing! The arrogance of those JLPT-makers. When did I die and give them the right to decide what constitutes “standard” Japanese? On what authority do they decide these levels? By what divine, Khatzumotoan power do they decide the contents of the test? No, wait, scratch that — if you don’t yet know enough Japanese, the JLPTers can always hide behind that — all you need do is go look at some ESL/EFL materials to see for yourself the kind of bullwinkle that passes for language “education” and skill evaluation. My friend, the emperor has no clothes. You do not need these tests; they’re just a bunch of junk some people who think they know what they’re doing put together. If you really want to test your Japanese ability, turn on the television.
For real. The End.
You thought I was done, eh? Well, rants don’t conclude: they merely pause! I’m back with another talking point! What’s all this shizzle about “well, Khatzumoto, I’m going to take the JLPT to motivate me”. ‘The fooooooork? Dude, if you need, to shell out actual dollars, to have someone ask you, to fill in crappy little circles, with a stupid little #2 pencil, in some massive room, filled with other nervous deskmonkeys…to get <airquotes>”motivation”</airquotes>…then maybe you shouldn’t be learning Japanese in the first place. Dude, come on! Make your own phrekkin’ goals, man!
If you really want to test your Japanese ability, turn on the television.