Thursday, June 09, 2011

Japanese Language Proficiency Test

In America, most of us speak English -- albeit, some of us speak bad English -- but for the most part, we are considered "native speakers." Immigrants and foreign nationals who live in America, however, do not always speak our language and unless we are having some kind of communication issue with these non-English speaking individuals, I think many of us don't care that they can't speak the language.

I think this includes employers, as well. They don't care if an employee can speak English if the job doesn't really require English-based interaction with clients or customers. And in some cases, even when the job does require one to speak the language, it is often amazing how often you go through some fast food drive through and realize that you can't understand your order-taker and they have no idea what you're ordering! It's even more amusing when you, yourself, don't speak English all that well and are trying to place your order. (Case in point: Us kids used to make my mother, originally from Thailand, order our McFlurrys at McDonald's. Our mother can't say McFlurry at all. And in Ewa Beach, the Filipino employees never understood us, even when those of in the car who CAN say McFlurry tried to order. Funniest stuff in the world.)

In work places that have higher standards when hiring -- it's usually okay if you're not a native English speaker, as long as you can speak well enough and understand most of what's written. Many employers do not require documentation proving that you speak English -- they simply interview you and know that you do, based on the way you handle your interview. If you can communicate and are qualified for the job, "Congratulations, you're hired!"

Unfortunately, this is not how it works in Japan. For Japanese citizens to be hired for a job that requires the English language, they have to take a test called TOEIC and your score tells employers whether or not you have the English skills needed for the job.

And if you're a foreigner trying to find decent work in Japan, forget going into your interview and trying to razzle-dazzle your potential employer with your best keigo (honorific language) and pimp kanji skills. You can sound like a Japanese national and maybe even read better than one, but that's not enough to qualify you for the job of your dreams. No, no. You need to have pass the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test)

This spiffy test comes in five great levels (as of 2010) and if you want to be considered awesome, Levels 1 and 2 certifications are what you need to get your hands on. Twice a year (in Japan) and once a year (elsewhere), you get your chance to prove to the world -- or at least to Japanese companies -- that you have a handle on their language. And with these certifications, the seas part, and the world of decent paying positions become available to you and employers actually will take the time to listen to your plea of "Please hire me."

However, this is a Japanese-made test, which means that while this tests for reading and listening comprehension, the makers of this exam could give a flying monkey butt about whether or not you can speak the language. Here enter the Chinese nationals who can use their awesome reading abilities to pass the test, but can't say hello in Japanese. And here enter people like me who can talk and talk and talk and talk, but who suffers when it comes to kanji.

I had been to quite a number of job interviews and had gotten tired of hearing the same things over and over: You have the experience we are looking for. Your Japanese is very good. You don't have JLPT certification. Sorry, please contact again if you get this.

I studied my booty off and took the stupid JLPT in December 2010. And I.... FAILED by 2 points which is 1 question! Your actual percentage of correct answers does not determine whether or not you passed. If it did, I would have passed. Instead, they weight the questions -- awarding the most points to questions that most test-takers missed. And this, my friends, was my downfall.

So, my next chance at greatness is on July 3, 2011. I have enrolled in a weekly 2-hour prep course at Temple University Japan and am trying to study daily. Trying, of course, is the operative word. I really hope that I do well this time and ideally, pass. What this will mean for me? I don't yet know. But certainly, it'll give me some kind of personal validation -- and maybe some professional validation, too. That is, after all, why I began studying in the first place.

Count down to JLPT: 23 days. Wish me luck.



Blue Shoe said...

Good luck! Currently studying for the JLPT N2, myself. Took it in the summer and failed by about 15 points, but think I can pass this time.

Monchalee said...

Thanks Mr. Blue Shoe. I check out the JLPT Boot Camp blog every once in a while. Hopefully, we'll both make it out of there in one piece and pass! Are you taking the practice exam this weekend?

nancy john said...

English is one of the most important languages in the world. It can even be said to be the single most important language.Other languages are important too

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