Annual language test to turn twice-yearly

by Natsuko Fukue

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test has long been a recognized way to measure one’s Japanese ability.

But it is held only once a year, putting a great deal of pressure on the people taking the test — particularly those tackling the most difficult level — because failure means another full year of studying before they get another chance to prove their language ability.

“It was stressful,” Wang Shenming, a 33-year-old industry analyst in Taipei, said of taking the test’s top, or Level 1, version. “I was worried that if I couldn’t pass this time, I have to wait for one more year.”

But starting in July, people studying the language will have more opportunities to take the proficiency test.

The Japan Foundation, a nonprofit organization specializing in international cultural exchanges, has announced it will hold the test twice a year in Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

“It’ll be more convenient for the examinees,” said a spokeswoman at The Japan Foundation Center for Japanese Language Testing. “Even if examinees fail the test, they can try it again in half a year.”

Wang said being able to take the test twice a year will make a big difference. He took the Level 1 exam in Fukuoka in 2003 but failed, so he took it again a year later in Taiwan.

“It they can take the exam twice a year, they will have more chances to pass the exam and not have to waste time when they are ready for the test,” he said.

According to the spokeswoman, the Japan Foundation will next year expand the places where the test will be held every six months to some Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. The number of people taking the test is increasing in those countries, she said.

In East and Southeast Asia, most examinees are university students who want to measure their level of Japanese and who think the certificate that goes with a passing grade will be useful when applying for a job. Wang, who used to work at a Taipei branch of Murata Manufacturing Ltd., said having a test certificate is useful when looking for Japan-related employment.

He said he was asked to submit the certificate when he applied at the company.

“If I didn’t have the certificate, I probably wouldn’t have been interviewed,” he said.

The proficiency test’s growing popularity around the world has created a problem for the foundation.

People in China have started uploading answers soon after they finish taking the test there.

The examinees apparently jointly recollect written questions on the test and guess the right answers for their reference, but their answers can be viewed by other people who will be taking the test later the same day in different time zones around the world.

“We recognize that there are such Web sites,” the spokeswoman said. “We’re considering taking measures about it.”

Chen Quan, 24, a graduate student who holds the Level 1 certificate, said it is common in China to put answers of public language tests on the Web.

“For example, right after the TOEFL exam, examinees start discussing the answers online,” he said.

Chen said he used to worry that some people in different time zones could make use of such Web sites. However, he said he no longer cares about it that much because improving Japanese is more important than scoring higher marks.

“I think we should study for ourselves, not for a grade,” he said.