If you study Japanese, it's likely that you have heard of or perhaps even taken the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), but how important is this test in evaluating and representing your Japanese ability? What can a standardized test really do for you?
While the accuracy of the JLPT in judging Japanese language proficiency may be heavily debated among test takers, for employers, recruiters and many language schools it is still the golden standard. For individuals hoping to work or study in Japanese, weigh your goals and options carefully. You may not need to obtain any JLPT certification. However, the cost of test registration is minimal considering the opportunities that could be made available by pursuing and passing the highest level.
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is a standardized exam designed to gauge the Japanese language ability of non-native
speakers. It was first administered in 1984 and is now held twice annually.
There are five levels of the test to choose from, N1-N5, with N1 being the most difficult and N5 the easiest. Regardless of level, the test is
broken down into three sections, Kanji and vocabulary, listening comprehension, and reading comprehension and grammar. The vast majority of higher education institutions in Japan insist on some form of proof of Japanese language proficiency in order to enter
their programs. The JLPT was formerly the standard tool of choice used to fulfill this requirement. However, beginning in 2003 many
universities and graduate schools opt for the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU).
It is worth taking a moment to introduce the EJU and to consider how it has also become a standard in undergraduate and graduate
admissions in Japan. The EJU is not administered in different levels
like the JLPT but rather is offered in four different subjects:
Japanese as a Foreign Language, Science (Physics, Chemistry, and Biology), Japan and the World, and Mathematics. In addition, the
latter three subject tests may be taken in English. Each institute selects which subject and examination language they require. The EJU is currently only administered in Japan and certain other countries within Asia.
Because the EJU compromises evaluation of both Japanese language skill and other subjects important to higher education in Japan, the
test is a more efficient alternative to the former examination requirement which included both the JLPT and the General Examination for Foreign Students. For this reason, it is now the
preferred entrance examination for international students, although some schools still accept the JLPT N1 in lieu of the EJU.
Perhaps you've heard of a friend of a friend who had no problem getting a job using Japanese without any JLPT certification, but is
this common and should you expect to have the same fortune? Does it depend on whether you're looking for a job in Japan or elsewhere?
Firstly, it is fair to assume that most companies in Japan interested in hiring non-Japanese nationals who speak Japanese have a specific
reason to do so, as procuring a working visa can be costly. This reason often has to do with needing employees who speak other languages such as English, Chinese, Korean, etc., and it is common for such positions to be advertised on job sites and in newspapers geared toward individuals with a multilingual skill set.
Focusing on positions offered through these portals, it is a safe estimate that at least two-thirds call for native or fluent Japanese
ability, while over one-fourth call for business level. Among these positions, some specifically state that applicants should have the equivalent JLPT certification of N1 or N2. However, even when not specifically requested, short of having a Japanese name, a degree from a Japanese university, or previous Japanese work experience, merely stating on your resume that you have fluent or business level Japanese ability may not be convincing enough to secure an interview. Having JLPT certification to back up this assertion is a very clear and undeniable signal to employers that you have obtained some level of Japanese proficiency.
Assuming, therefore, that the N1 and N2 level certification can open doors to employment, what about the N3, N4, and N5 levels? The
general consensus is that these certifications offer little more in the job market than an assurance that you take your studies seriously
and may still be working on your Japanese ability.
For positions outside of Japan that use Japanese, lesser awareness
of the JLPT means that fewer companies may require such certification in the application screening process. Many may be satisfied with simply noting your Japanese ability on your resume. However, recruiters for such positions often use JLPT certification when considering which candidates to recommend for employment.