MOFA Feb 12, 2008 Press Conference on language requirement for NJ Visas


Hi Blog. FYI. The GOJ has plans for everyone. Linguistically… According to the MOFA in a press conference last week, conclusions on what kinds of Japanese language tests will be required for visas are due March 2008. But you look to be exempt if you bring enough money and political clout. And note the Japan Foundation’s pole position to profiteer. Anyway, check out the embryonic policy directions… Arudou Debito in Tokyo


Ministry of Foreign Affairs Feb 12, 2008 Press Conference by Deputy Press Secretary Tomohiko Taniguchi (EXCERPT):

IV. Questions concerning the possible Japanese-language proficiency requirements for foreigners

Q: Good afternoon. I have questions regarding the immigration laws. In France, our government, as well as Japan, is at the moment thinking about granting visas to people who get language skills first. I heard there is the same kind of project in Japan. For France the aim is really to lower immigration entries. What are the motivations for Japan, and what kind of visas will it be? Is it for long-term residents or is it for short-term residents?

Mr. Taniguchi: Speaking of people from France, many people in Japan are being reminded of two outstanding individuals: Carlos Ghosn and Philippe Troussier. Those people are not going to be required to undergo any linguistic test or examination. They can come to Japan and start working instantaneously. The same applies to other professionals like bankers, dealers and traders who would find job opportunities in Tokyo’s central district, in the financial center.

The idea is to open the entry door a little bit wider to other categories. By “other” I mean other than professionals like bankers or coaches of professional football, and so on. That said, the idea is still hotly debated at the intra-government level, especially between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But we are not spending that much time. We are going to come to a tentative conclusion sometime by the end of March. But how soon we can implement that is going to be a matter of the pace and tempo with which we can solve minute details about what sort of arrangement can be provided to what sort of people. So I am not sure how soon we can implement this program, but that is basically the situation.

Q: When you say it would not concern bankers or automotive company CEOs, then what kind of jobs or what kind of population are you talking about?

Mr. Taniguchi: Well, even in terms of professionals or people with some kind of expertise – suppose, under the current framework, you have got to prove you have in the past 10 years’ worth of work experience as a consultant, let’s imagine. Then, the idea is not to de-incentivize those people from coming to Japan, but incentivize those people to come to Japan. Therefore, probably, the entry barrier is going to be lowered from 10 years to five years depending on the linguistic skill you have. So that applies to the professionals, people with expertise. For those in other categories, people engaged in rather more simplistic kinds of work, it will affect the easiness for them to enter Japan if the applicant can prove that he or she is capable in the Japanese language.

Q: Some people say this measure is also part of the wish of Japan to take care or protect itself against some terrorist actions or things like that. Is this kind of motivation behind it, like knowing better who is coming into your country?

Mr. Taniguchi: That is not necessarily the case. The Japanese Ministry of Justice already started to require bio ID when non-Japanese visitors enter Japan – you probably have gone through the same procedure, like fingerprinting or face photo. The idea of that initiative, of course, was to check the inflow of people so that any dubious potentially terrorist sort of people could not come into Japan. So that is more to do with preventing those people from entering Japan.

But the linguistic part, the language initiative, is rather to incentivize people not only to come to Japan, but also to feel more relaxed in their working conditions and environment. The two initiatives are totally different from one another.

Q: I just have a last question, and then my colleagues could ask you questions as well. Japanese is not an easy language, like I would say French is not an easy one as well. Don’t you fear that asking people to have linguistic skills in Japan is going to have people say, “OK, I will go someplace else,” and not try to come to Japan.

Mr. Taniguchi: That is the last kind of scenario that the Japanese Government wants. Therefore, we have to stress once again, and again and again, that the new initiative is not to dis-incentivize people from coming to Japan, but to incentivize, encourage people from abroad to come to Japan. So the idea is, if you speak Japanese it will be made easier for you to find job opportunities in Japan. So that is the basic outline.

Q: In terms of language skills, what kind of level are you thinking about?

Mr. Taniguchi: It is another matter of concern. It is one area that we have to spend a lot of time on, because at the moment the Japan Foundation is conducting the language examination only once a year or so. The frequency is much less than would be required. But we have to work together with the Japan Foundation, which is the body implementing the linguistic examination. So, ranging from that to many other minute details, we have to work out many things in order for it to be implemented.

Q: While we are on the topic, a related question. You mentioned intra-governmental discussions: how frequently are these held?

Mr. Taniguchi: Rather more frequently than you could imagine, because we are thinking of coming up with a tentative proposal by the end of March. Overall direction will be set sooner rather than later, within this fiscal year – that is, obviously, by the end of March.

Q: Is this a regular meeting?

Mr. Taniguchi: Well, it is an ad hoc meeting, so it is not the regular kind of meeting between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Q: Do you know anything about the pace, and how many meetings have been held?

Mr. Taniguchi: Well, I do not know. I will have to check it out.

Q: Can you confirm that?

Mr. Taniguchi: Yes, I can.


VI. Follow-up questions on the possible Japanese-language proficiency requirements for foreigners

Q: You mentioned the Japan Foundation’s role in this immigration measure. Very concretely, how would it work? Is that like your embassies or consulates would check the level of people before granting a visa?

Mr. Taniguchi: The honest answer is: I don’t know yet. The Japan Foundation is not a government body: it is an independent administrative agency, partially supported by taxpayers’ money. The Japan Foundation’s prime role is to enhance Japanese-language education as much as possible, just like Academie Francaise. The frequency of the Japanese-language test normally is once a year, which is far less than sufficient. In order for the Japanese Government to implement this program to require newly entering people to go through the language test it will of course take much, much more effort to be done by the Japan Foundation. So we have to work it out. No concrete picture has emerged yet.

Q: Because when you talk about the yearly test: this is conducted in any country where the Japan Foundation has some kind of representation? Is there one in Paris, for example?

Mr. Taniguchi: In Paris, I understand, it is a regular event.

Q: Okay, thank you.

38 comments on “MOFA Feb 12, 2008 Press Conference on language requirement for NJ Visas

  • Debito,

    I was looking for a Japanese version of the article, but that link does not work (at the moment).

    Is the Japan Foundation the English name of 国際交流基金? More specifically, are they referring to the 日本語能力試験 test? I assume so since they mention that it is only offered once a year.

    I support this plan. English clearly does not work in Japan, and Japanese ability only makes sense for long-term residence. The 日本語能力試験 level 1 is easy enough to pass after living here for three months, and even then I doubt that they will require anything beyond level 2.

    It would be great if they would give better visas for linguistic skills. I’m tired of getting the same old one-year visa for almost a decade now…

  • The 日本語能力試験 level 1 is easy enough to pass after living here for three months

    Do you mean level 4, the lowest level of the test? I think it would be pretty impossible to pass level 1 if you arrive knowing no Japanese and have lived here for only 3 months. From the JLPT homepage (

    Level 1 — The examinee has mastered grammar to a high level, knows around 2,000 kanji and 10,000 words, and has an integrated command of the language sufficient for life in Japanese society. This level is normally reached after studying Japanese for around 900 hours.

    Level 4 — The examinee has mastered the basic elements of grammar, knows around 100 kanji and 800 words, has the ability to engage in simple conversation and read and write short, simple sentences. This level is normally reached after studying Japanese for around 150 hours and after completion of the first half of an elementary course.

    (Although anyone can tell you that even JLPT Level 1 is, in and of itself, not proof of ability to speak competent Japanese in a business environment.)

  • It is one area that we have to spend a lot of time on, because at the moment the Japan Foundation is conducting the language examination only once a year or so. The frequency is much less than would be required. But we have to work together with the Japan Foundation, which is the body implementing the linguistic examination.

    I totally support the idea of language requirements, but it’s good to know that at least the government is considering the utter lack of test taking opportunities. This would become a tremendous roadblock to getting a visa if they were to require a certain level of Japanese proficiency. If they want to use language as a requirement to promote work in Japan they really need to make the testing process as painless as possible. Otherwise, people will just head to other countries.

  • What an awesome politician that guy is! The only clear and concrete response he gave was “I can confirm that I don’t know”…!
    Delving into the double talk, it sounds like the plan is to attract more people to come to Japan by making it harder for them to get into the country … uh?
    And reading between the lines – if you’re not well educated, go away. We don’t want your unskilled third world selves trying to improve the standard of living for you and your family by coming to our country and getting paid \700 an hour to pick strawberries. We will, however, quite happily move our factories to your countries and pay you 1/10th or less of what we would if you were in Japan and so ensure that you are forced into supplying us with cheap labour for as long as we keep our heads in the sand about the state of our own country.

    Oops I’m ranting again aren’t I? 😀

    So no more immigrants for the 3K jobs? Who are they going to get to do them then?

  • I can honestly say that I don’t know any native Japanese who “feel more relaxed in their working conditions and environment.” These 20-40 native speakers of Japanese regularly tell me how stressed they are, how despairing they are for the future of Japan, and how they hate their overbearing bosses.

    I wonder will NF feel any different when they assume the, apparently easy-to-be-had jobs in the financial center of Tokyo?

  • Neil,

    > Do you mean level 4, the lowest level of the test?

    No, I mean level 1, the “hardest” one.
    I actually don’t have level 4 yet. I’ve been taking the tests in reverse order with level 4 coming up this December. It would help if they were available more frequently… Not that I need it; I just want it.

    > This level is normally reached after studying Japanese for around 900 hours.

    “Studying” can be done in many ways. As a linguist, I think that natural language acquisition from your environment is the best. That is how we all learn our mother languages; it just gets harder as we get older.

    In any case, consider the 900 hours mentioned and my reference to 3 months. That is equivalent to 300 hours per month or 10 hours per day. If you’re already living in Japan and interacting in Japanese daily, then 10 hours per day is quite reasonable. Go to work. Talk with your friends. Watch TV. If you’re in Japan, it is highly likely that it will all be in Japanese.

  • Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the clarification. However, I think it is very wrong to assume that anyone, regardless of their natural affinity for languages, could pass the highest level of the JLPT which requires knowledge of 10,000 words, 2,000 kanji, and semi-archaic grammar patterns that do not even pop up in newspapers, let alone everyday conversations with colleagues or trashy telenovelas, after living here for only three months and not having studied any Japanese beforehand.

    Level 4 is probably doable with vague study after only 1-2 months. Level 1 after even one year of living here with no prior background requires intense study at a cram school, and even then passing is not a sure thing. Strong conversational skills mean very little for the JLPT — most of us live here know people who have failed level 1 multiple times despite having strong Japanese communication skills.

    I think either you are confused about which test is which, or you are greatly overestimating the study skills/dedication of your average human being who is holding down a full time job.

  • Brian,

    I’m sorry, if you think an average person can pass the JLPT 1 in three months, then you have no idea what you are talking about.

    Natural immersion is not actually very useful for the JLPT, as much of the content requires people to know kanji/grammar patterns that pretty much have to be studied (they do not come up in normal situations/on TV/etc.)

    I think three or four years of fairly solid study, if done part-time while working, is a more realistic time frame. For a full-time student, maybe a year, although they would have to have good language study skills.

    Three months? No way.

  • The guy said “hte last scenario is to scare people away from japan because of language test” Well…Hong Kong lowered their requirements and there is no need to have 10years job experience anymore, only 5 years, no more necessary to speak both English and Chinese, now is either, and H.K. is real financial center with better service. try to open bank account here and in HK. Man!! This is like 1st world (HK) comparing to 4th one (Japan)

  • I’d like to see signs of any incentives to learn Japanese, but it seems like sticks are far more likely to appear than carrots.

    It would be nice to be proved wrong, but I can’t see it.

  • Just about any nation with a point system for immigration targets those workers it wants and awards extra points for language proficiency and investment by immigrants. Language skills mean better integration.

    Nevertheless, one problem with the policy is that it is based on the JLPT, a test which is really a measure of how good you are at studying for the JLPT and not much else.

    Another problem is that most people who are fluent in Japanese attain that fluency in Japan, where they are already working.

  • The excerpt from the press conference was funny, in my opinion the only thing that was accomplished was a wasting of time!

    I would like to ask a few questions. If you support the idea of language proficiency tests, what do you think you are supporting? What is long vs. short-term? What visa types will have requirements? How will those requirements be determined and by whom? Will those requirements be written or spoken or both? How can one set of requirements apply to all NJ visa seekers? The list of questions could go on, but you get my point.

    Here is a hypothetical question. If someone has a spouse visa (married to a Japanese national), which is unrestricted in regards to employment, will the Japanese government refuse to renew that visa and split up a family if the visa holder does not pass a language proficiency test? Or even more interesting, will the government not issue a visa to a spouse of a Japanese national before coming to Japan based on that individual’s lack of language proficiency? In order to be married to a Japanese national you have to speak Japanese if you want to live in Japan? Obviously, there is not much likelihood of either of these situations developing, but without knowing what the specifics are, there is nothing to support.

    Something that nobody seems to talk about or acknowledge is that different jobs require different levels of Japanese proficiency, from zero to native. Obviously, living in Japan the more Japanese you know the better, but an unemployed housewife and a fund manager require vastly different language skills. My point is this: the job market will manage perfectly in determining who it wants to hire based on required skills (language inclusive), without government intervention. NJ will not be offered positions unless they meet the necessary requirements, therefore the government is more or less just wasting our time and money as taxpayers by getting involved. I know that I am not considering issues like non-work required language skills, (and I will now trivialize that) but how hard is it to order a hamburger at McD’s(everyone knows foreigners only eat there)? There are other issues but the last time I checked language proficiency tests don’t cover topics involving things more difficult like medical terms, and often basic Japanese proficiency is not enough when you have to visit the hospital. Government intervention in this area will not solve any problems, but possibly create more.

    In the end, the idea of having proficiency exams for visa holders and applicants is just simply an incomplete idea. When a concrete proposal is made, then the real debate begins.

    BTW, after 2 years of college level Japanese, I failed JLPT 2 the first time. If it is possible to pass JLPT 1 after 3 months of study, wow!

  • I have level one Japanese and it certainly took me a lot longer than three months to get it. Now, as for Level 4 – someone who studied from scratch and worked damn hard maybe could pass it in the three month time frame mentioned above – but, then again, may be they couldn’t.

  • Nobody can go from zero Japanese knowledge to level 1 in three months. You really do have to know those 2000 kanji. One year of 6 hour a day study and immersion would be a stretch. Having said that, anyone should be able to get Lv 4 by studying for 60 minutes a day for a month (even if you are not in Japan).

  • I got level 1 in six months, but most of that time was spent just waiting for the test. The test contains much grammar and vocabulary that I would not consider very typical, but there are plenty of good books to review that cover it all. However, it certainly does not take 900 hours of study, at least if you are in Japan. Certainly it depends on your environment, but I think many of the people here are greatly exaggerating the difficulty of the test. Most of the NJ that I know have either level 1 or 2 and they seem to be getting it the first time around.

  • Jeff,

    > If you support the idea of language proficiency tests, what do you think you are supporting?

    I’ve been in Japan for more than a decade now. The longer that I live here, the less Japanese will speak Japanese to me and the more English (often incomprehensible) is forced upon me. I’ve been told numerous times that children are being taught that if you do not “look” Japanese, then it is impossible for you to speak and understand Japanese. And in those situations that English is the only option. As much as I love Japan, this is the most depressing aspect of life in Japan. When I go to a restaurant, exhibition etc, I am constantly given English pamphlets that I need to exchange for real Japanese one. I only want to be treated like any other Japanese in Japan.

    In the last few years the number of foreigners has been growing rapidly. And with that growth, it seems that English usage is growing proportionally while Japanese is inversely proportional. I think that language is the only “barrier”, even if article, separating us from them. If all residents were required to have sufficient Japanese ability, I think that life in Japan could be so much more frictionless for all.

    I also think that it makes sense for residents of Japan. When in Rome, er Japan, do as the Japanese. Thus, I support requiring language requirements.

    However, I am not convinced that the JLPT is the best way to prove that. I got level 1 in less than a year by casually reading two books on my daily train commute. It proves absolutely nothing except that I prepared for the test. In my opinion, level 1 is quite distant from typical everyday Japanese as found in conversations, newspapers, and novels. Also, it does not test spoken Japanese, which is probably the most important for life in Japan.

    But what other alternatives are there? I think that offering frequent (weekly?) Japanese conversation school would be beneficial. However, I doubt that people would go if it costs money or took too much time. Also, how would you certify one’s level and how long should the courses continue for? There are numerous other issues to consider. At least with the JLPT, even with its problems, the criteria is fixed. And some may benefit (more than others) from preparing for it.

    It is a step in the right direction. I am just unsure if the manor of implementation is the right one.

  • “I got level 1 in six months, but most of that time was spent just waiting for the test.”

    Did 2,000 kanji just zip into your head somehow? If you knew the Chinese characters beforehand, you have to admit that your experience is not typical. Incidentally, Level 2 is a joke. Level 1 is fairly demanding.

  • Getting Level one on 6 months without any prior knowledge of the language is way out of the reach of most people. All credit to Alan for getting it, but there are going to be a lot of disappointed NJ around who think they can get it in six months after reading his comments. I mean how many Japanese knowing zero English could get TOEIC level One with only six months study, or score really high marks on the TOEFL starting from scratch? Don’t think they’ll be too many of them around, either. I think that Jean-Paul’s estimate is much more realistic for the average person and that estimate is probably more apt for a Chinese or Korean already familiar with the writing system.
    Level One is extremely difficult. The pass rate is also 70% unlike the other levels which are 60%.
    It would be interesting to know if there are a plentitude of foreigners getting Level One after 3 months. Anyone know of other such people who like Alan have achieved this commendable result?

  • Alan M.,

    Levels 1 and 2 are quite different, or at least they used to be. If you passed Level 1 in six months, you have a knack for languages, or just don’t need to sleep much.


    Be careful what you wish for. The US has largely brought back the good old plantation, indentured-servant economy, and a lot of the Americans I know want to emigrate if they get the chance.

  • “I got level 1 in less than a year by casually reading two books on my daily train commute.” Another linguistic genius?

  • I did not intend to start a controversy. I just think think that people are exaggerating the difficulty of the test. In any case, let me respond to the questions:


    > Did 2,000 kanji just zip into your head somehow?

    Back then I read newspapers and novels almost daily, initially with little success but increasingly over the months. I still do that today. Knowing how to read kanji is much easier than having to write it. (Currently I am going through the Kanji Kentei tests.)

    Scott Lucas,

    > I mean how many Japanese knowing zero English could get TOEIC level One with only six months study, or score really high marks on the TOEFL starting from scratch?

    I do not think that TOEIC has levels but scores going up to 990 or so. Just like the JLPT, TOEIC is about studying, not proficiency or ability. I know a near native English speakers who spoke English since being a child who got a rather poor score. I also know a few non-native Japanese speakers who scored in the 800s but who can not read an English newspaper very well, even less converse with me. I sometimes wonder how I would fair on the test myself.


    > What are the answers to the 2006 level 1 writing-vocabulary test?

    I was not expecting a pop test, but here goes…

    I. Q3.7: 3
    Q3.8: 2
    Q3.9: 1
    Q5.13: 3
    Q5.14: 2
    Q5.15: 4
    II. Q18: 4
    Q20: 4
    III. Q28: 3
    Q29: 1
    Q30: 1
    IV. Q38: 2
    Q39: 4
    V. Q41: 2
    Q45: 1
    Q51: 1
    Q53: 3
    VI. Q58: 4
    Q59: 1
    VII. Q63: 1
    Q64: 3

  • I took and passed the JLPT grade-1 a few years ago for the sole reason mountaineers climb mountains ie because it’s there. But as a test of everyday japanese ability it’s useless. Just full of obscure grammatical terms and expressions not seen in everyday life and there’s not even an oral test for spoken ability. There must be a much better way of testing the visa seeker’s japanese ability. At least, I hope so.

  • Mike-san,

    I have lived in Japan about a decade and I have had many similar experiences and I agree with your assessment of the state of things here in Japan. I also would like to be treated like any other Japanese.

    I agree with promoting Japanese proficiency for NJ and there are a number of ways to do that, but when it comes to “requiring” certain levels of language proficiency, how could any solution be applicable to all visa seekers? Or for that matter, even a 10-20 different requirements for different situations out of the potential millions of individual special cases? There might be a more justified argument for required classes for visa renewal offered by the government or some other ideas that would promote proficiency. There are just too many potential problems with a requirement like this.

    This may be an exaggeration but, my point is that requiring proficiency of say JLPT 1 or some other arbitrary assessment for a full time housewife, just simply does not make sense.

    The government would be better off promoting proficiency through education initiatives rather than requiring it.

  • I’ve got a good friend who, when speaking on the phone, continually surprises non-gaijins when she gives her name – they assume from her spoken Japanese that she is, indeed, Japanese. She still can’t get level 1 though, as her kanji consistantly lets her down. She has, however, completed a Masters thesis on contemporary Japanese literature – which means she had to read the books involved 😉

    Assuming that Alan M isn’t pulling our legs and is actually a linguistic genius who can divine the meaning of kanji by merely reading them over & over and passed level 1 in 6 months with perhaps 2 months actual study. Or something to that effect 😉 It is, without a doubt, an extra-ordinary result.

    If I think merely about my circle of friends and acquaintances, the vast majority being JETs fresh off the boat and with less Japanese than I and such lofty goals for their time here as to order a pizza in Japanese by themselves, over the telephone. So that’s them all left behind at the immigration gate! The 2nd and 3rd generation emigrant returnees I know have no problems picking up Japanese – or even a third language, such as English !!! – and would probably get level 2 without much trouble. My friend from the first paragraph said that the majority of people at the level 1 test were Chinese. From my experiences at university Japanese, Chinese students have almost no trouble with kanji and vice versa, from what I’ve heard. Pro soccer players, CEOs and Korean drama stars are welcomed with open arms, we know that. Determined foreign nationals who’ll work their arses off to pass the tests will get through.

    So you have to ask – who is this proposal REALLY designed to screen? And why doesn’t the government just butch up and come out with what they really want – a list of undesirables they can hand out to immigration officers …!

    The GOJ is sounding more and more like a petulant child who sets up his own arbitrary rules to decide who gets to play in his sandpit 😉

  • Alan M.
    Great. You answered all correctly.
    Would you share with us what learning method you used?
    It is very impressive that one can build such a high level of command of Japanese language in a few months. You can make a huge amount of money by franchising Japanese language schools using that method.

  • HO,

    > Would you share with us what learning method you used?

    By “learning”, do you mean language acquisition, or preparing for the test? While there is some overlap, I think that they are two different things and that the test does not prove anything. So I will answer both.

    Language acquisition:

    Generally about the same as I did for learning English, my first language. I participate in society, hang out with friends, enjoy TV and movies. I had Japanese roommates and had no need to rely on English. I also enjoy to read. My first Japanese novel took me the most amount of time to complete, but it felt great when I finished it and I learned a lot. Now I read a novel every 1-2 weeks. I also recommend newspapers.

    Initially I would often* look up words that I did not know in an electronic dictionary. I also made a conscious effort to try to first look up words in a J-J dictionary before “cheating” with a J-E. However, now I hardly need to consult it anymore.

    *So often in fact that I eventually ruined the keys on my first one to the point that it could not be used anymore.

    Preparing for the test:

    The key to passing the test is not solely in Japanese ability, but in studying the right material. I highly recommend the 完全マスター series by スリーエーネットワーク.


    I skipped the last one because I was confident in my reading ability and focused on the first two, in particular grammar. There is a lot of obscure grammar that is not very common. Much of the vocabulary I was familiar with due to my reading, and a lot of it can be guessed just from the kanji. I hang out with a lot of Japanese friends and watch a lot of TV / movies, so I didn’t do any special preparation for listening.

  • Ke5in said;
    >Delving into the double talk, it sounds like the plan is to attract more people to come to Japan by making it harder for them to get into the country uh?
    >And reading between the lines – if
    you’re not well educated, go away.

    Let’s take another look at what’s ON the lines…

    >The idea is to open the entry door a little bit wider to other categories.

    >Then, the idea is not to de-incentivize those people from coming to Japan, but incentivize those people to come to Japan.
    Therefore, probably, the entry
    barrier is going to be lowered from 10 years to five years depending on the linguistic skill you have.

    >So the idea is, if you speak Japanese it will be made easier for you to find job opportunities in Japan.

    It looks to me like this is not a REQUIREMENT (while this word is used in news reports, I cannot find it on the MOFA press release website – see link on the Terrie LLoyd column entry) as such, but an additional “merit badge” to stick on your visa application. For
    example, someone applying for a
    work visa is currently required to show ten years relevant experience in a field? Let’s make that five years if they have Level two japanese, three years if they have Level one.
    As it says above,

    >So the idea is, if you speak >Japanese it will be made easier >for you to find job opportunities >in Japan

    In response to Jeff’s question,
    I do not see anyone splitting up families because the spouse does not speak japanese well enough.
    On the contrary, this measure seems to me to be targeting those who are planning to come to Japan,
    (i.e. to encourage them to study the language before they come,)
    but does nothing to help those who are already here. This aspect of it is problematic.

    I also have problems with the use of the JLPT, I showed that to Japanese co-workers years ago and they were gobsmacked. I doubt many of them could pass it.

    (Including) an oral interview in the visa application process would
    be a much better measure of people’s Japanese ability.


  • Alan – so Japanese was the second language you learned? And you started from absolutely nothing and went to level one in 6 months, mostly through immersion? How long did it take you to pick up English?

    Tony – I guess if the glass is half full, that works nicely. I, personally :D, doubt though that will be the case. Of course, I could be forecasting doom and gloom when this is merely just a scheme to make some money for the (national or local) government or to justify their budgets.

    And I don’t think that setting a requirement in any way obligates the government to provide a means for people to pass it ie. courses, textbooks etc. Especially if you’re living here – you got all the help you need 😉

  • Ke5in,

    > so Japanese was the second language you learned?

    Yes, following English, my first.

    > And you started from absolutely nothing and went to level one in 6 months,
    > mostly through immersion?

    Yes. However, as I said, level 1 is only a test and does not directly reflect actual ability.

    > How long did it take you to pick up English?

    A few years I guess. I was a baby, so I really do not remember.
    It depends on how you count. Most children can make short sentences by the age of two, and by the age of 4 have essentially mastered the core language. Of course technical vocabulary, spelling etc. come later.
    How long did it take you?

    Perhaps you are misinterpreting my response. English is my “first language”, native language, mother tongue, my 母語 and even 母国語. I spoke it for almost two decades before learning Japanese. I have a general interest in languages, but I am only sufficiently proficient in English and Japanese.

  • Backing up Alan here, I also pulled off some pretty tough linguistic feats.

    With 2 hours a day every day with electronic flash cards, I blitzed through 2,043 kanji (The first two Heisig books). I am now quite literate, and enjoy my Japanese practice. Granted, there’s some advanced stuff that I have rarely encountered, such as some vocabulary and rare kanji (I’ll be picking up the 3rd book this summer), but when you think about it, nobody knows all of the words of their own native language, so that’s not a problem.

    Also, it’s not uncommon at all to pick up a second language faster than your first language, since your cognitive ability clearly surpasses that of the first four years of your life.

    Those who are shocked at someone’s learning speed probably shouldn’t be. With consistent daily practice, it’s not unheard of. I’ve even heard of someone who’s fluent after a year and a half. The difference between those who think this is impossible and those who don’t is that few of us have the free time and the drive to spend every free waking hour studying language.

    Also, while I know the JLPT isn’t perfect, it’s the best there is. All tests of language, even and especially the TOEIC and the TOEFL, suffer from some validity and reliability setbacks, but this is because to include speaking and writing portions significantly increases the cost, time, and effort needed to design the test. Mostly because you then need to hire teams and teams of people to score the endless, long, line of them.

  • Sorry, I thought English was the first language you learned, rather than your first language.

    When you were reading novels and stuff, how did you know what the kanji were read as to be able to look them up? That’s the biggest thing that puts me off reading – hours spent looking up one kanji after the other 🙁

  • I’m one of the doubters here and I, like Ryan, also learned all 2000 or so “normal” kanji in about 3 months. Not hard. Just knowing them all and being able to read them at Level 1 fluency, however, is pretty far apart. It is never 3 months and done – I don’t think that anyone would claim to have picked up all the conceivable readings (or even “normal” ones) on the first go around.

    Alan’s claim to have sat down with a novel and no Japanese knowledge seems a bit far fetched. You can do it, of course, but how much luck will you have? As Ke5in suggests, it would likely take hours and hours a page. I am sure that there are more than a few Japanese learners reading this thread. By all means, take the challenge – pick up a novel and a kanji dictionary and see if you think that 6 months of “just waiting for the test” will prepare you. In the beginning, one would not even be able to look up some things as there is no indication of where words written in hiragana begin and end and you can only know this with experience.

    In any case, I spoke with a Japanese language professor at a top-20 university. She says that she has never heard of anyone getting to Lv1 in 6 months and doubts that it is possible. Japanese universities run intensives – one year, complete immersion, 6 hours of class a day, many students get Lv1 but many don’t – even Chinese students who study their asses off and start with all of the kanji. Alan could very well be telling the truth but mere mortals are not going to be able to do what he did. A 4 year honors degree at a US Ivy with a one year study in Japan thing realistically aims for Lv2 for students.

    To Alan = are you really saying that you went to Japan knowing no more than “sayonara” and “karaoke” – no hiragana and katakana, no knowledge of the standard desu form, … nothing? You didn’t have a semester of university Japanese? Nothing? And after a casual six months of mostly just talking to people and reading novels, you got Lv1?

  • I’m sure it’s possible, I’m not disputing Alan’s achievement or trying to undervalue his achievement, merely trying to understand his process 🙂 and what background he may have had in language study.

    … we live in an age now where despite increasingly widespread education, people really aren’t a whole smarter IMHO. YouTube is testament to that 😀 And I’m sure (I hope! for the sake of the species) that people with the abilities like Jean-Francois Champollion walk among us and will continue to 😉

    Also, I think that saying “nobody can do it is because we can’t” is just arrogance, and that mindset is due in part to the vast majority of people here believing that learning another language is impossible. They think that Japanese is so difficult and that if they, the superior culture, can’t learn English then we hairy savages have no chance at learning Japanese. That’s certainly the impression I get on a regular basis …

  • Response to Ke5in in post 36 (gee, this comment thread is long…)

    I posed the original question to Alan in post 2. In the interest of disclosure, I passed level 1 in 2002 from Chicago, and am currently employed as a semi-inhouse, semi-freelance translator in Tokyo.

    My original confusion stemmed not from the fact that Alan said that he passed level 1 in only 6 months (I agree that the JLPT is a fairly poor indicator of communicative competence — as a completely multiple choice test that doesn’t penalize for random guessing, any random person filling in “c” in every space on the bubble sheet should be able to get a score of 25%.) but simply that one of his original statements showed such a remarkable lack of understanding of what the average language learner’s skills and abilities are that I was sure he must have made a typo or been confused as to which level was which. Here is the quote again for reference:

    The 日本語能力試験 level 1 is easy enough to pass after living here for three months

    My opinion isn’t “Nobody can’t do it because we can’t” — it’s “Just because you can do it doesn’t mean that everyone else can.” Even assuming Alan is being 100% honest about his langauge learning experience, it’s not realistic to assume that
    a typical full-time language learner could pass level 1 “easily enough” after only “living here fron three months.” (and that’s a best-case scenario compared to the time that white-collar and blue-collar workers have to devote to intensive language study.

  • I think that’s what I have been agreeing with … but if there’s a shortcut 😉 I’m interested 😀
    Sounds like the test has changed since 2002 too – I could have sworn the last person I knew who did it talked about writing :O


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