Given that there has been discussion by the Japanese government to use the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) as one of the measures by which permanent residences or citizenship might be granted, how good of a measure of it of actual real world Japanese skill? Does passing the level N1 test mean that you are on par with a native speaker or does it just show that you have advanced knowledge of the language?
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True fluency is rare, and involves more than passing a standardized test. I will refer you to an answer I gave in EL&U.SE which I quoted from my treasured copy of Jack Seward's Japanese in Action. He is talking about Japanese, but I removed all the specific-language references because it's a good measure for fluency in any language. EDIT: I've just added them back, since I found my copy of the book after cleaning out my office for the New Year. (^_^) The passage is now given as written, with only slight adjustments.
He goes on to propose that a test for fluency in the language should require the test taker to:
BTW, much of the book is dated now, but is still a great source for understanding Japanese culture and language, and it's also very funny.
First and foremost the JLPT does not have a speaking component. This means you may be able to recognise and understand grammar when reading or listening, but you may be unable to actually speak the language with any proficiency. This is my case exactly, I can understand far more than what I can express.
Secondly, the entire test is multiple choice. Multiple choice makes things a bit easier for the student and if you can eliminate the two "obviously false answers" you're left with a 50/50 shot of getting it right - I've seen people fake their way through exams with minimal knowledge of the content, but great "test taking skills".
It's very hard to gauge proficiency in language. However, the JLPT is definitely a good way of guiding your study. I've mainly been using the JLPT tests not for the piece of paper I receive for doing it, but as a study guide on where I should be focusing my study. It's a good guide to get you from beginner to advanced in terms of which kanji/grammar points you should know.
However, I guess if you're able to pass the JLPT N1 test, you're more than on your way to being "fluent".
I can tell you that N1 is not meaning on par with a native speaker. Actually many japanese could not pass N1 with an high score without studying. That's because of many questions about grammar and kanji usage. Still the test doesn't measure your active skill (speak and write) but only your passive ones. I know people who passed N1 but are not really fluent in everyday japanese.
Well i don't know if you will find this info useful, but here goes:
Daniel Levitin claims:
So if it only takes around 900 hours to pass JLPT 1, then we have not even reached 10% of the 10,000 hours requirement to mastery....
My opinion: No. Speaking is not tested and the Japanese you're tested on is not stuff you'll encounter in business or in daily conversation.
I've passed JLPT 1級 and received J1 on the Business Japanese Test (http://www.kanken.or.jp/bjt/). Studying for the latter was much more useful to me professionally and felt like a better gauge of working Japanese.
Background: I've worked in Japan for five consecutive years now. Three years in Japanese companies in a management position. Two years as a host in clubs in both Kabukicho and Minami while attending college here.
There is some useful information on this on the official website http://www.jlpt.jp/:
Summary of linguistic competence required for N1
Can-Do self evaluation
The following is an excerpt of what candidates who barely pass N1 think they can do in Japanese:
I think this list makes it clear that passing N1 is far from being at native equivalent levels. The Japanese language school I attended considers N1 to be roughly comparable to B2 of the CEFR.