Thursday, January 17, 2008

Japanese language for work visa holders

I can't figure out exact who the recently proposed language requirements would cover, work visa holders or long-term residents. I checked a short Nikkei article which I got from Shisaku and I understand it as long-term visa holders (residents?). However, my translating ability is not up-to-par, so maybe I will have to take special grammar, kanji, vocab, listening, and reading classes to prepare for nonsensical government tests. (English articles that I have seen on this subject are even less clear and are often contradictory.)

Anyone who has studied much for the JLPT tests sooner or later figures out that like most of these tests which do not test speaking, they are of limited value and can give distorted impression of language skills. Anyone ever talked to someone with 800 level scores on TOEIC who can't actually speak a half dozen words of comprehensible English? I have. More than one. I am sure most have also spoken to people with relatively low scores who can speak fairly well.

A few years ago there was an article in one of the papers written by a guy who had taken the Level 2 test and noted that some of the folks taking it could not even ask directions to the test room in proper Japanese.

Now imagine a government-designed test which like many tests here will check memorization skills, the ability to torture ones' self for long periods for no practical reason other than to pass a test---a test which tests for some trivial nonsense which may have nothing to do with what is supposedly being tested for. And think of the profits that schools and publishers of test prep books may get.* Of course they could shock the hell out of the planet and come up with a realistic test for the ability to actually use the language. This would be a first in Japan, though perhaps the BJT is close for business Japanese.

I have always liked the listening parts where you are tested in your ability to eavesdrop on two or more people talking about such things as the color of the dog over there either on or under the table by the tree (lower level, 3 and maybe 4) or a bird that has become tangled up in fishing line and is hanging from an electric line (level 2).

I find that kind of stuff very useful in real life. The main benefit of the tests for me was for motivation to study. To actually improve required a lot more, including classes focused on communication, and reading. Since there is little decent reading material for Japanese learners, I gave up and just pick an area that interests me and buy magazines on the subject and read them. It is a much better way to learn kanji and improve grammar and vocabulary than memorizing it out of context. I no longer spend time studying for JLPT because it just ain't as effective and I have no further interest in it. Besides, the last time they tried to send me 1 1/2 hours away to take the test when there were locations within 30 minutes of my home.

*If it is for work visa holders, I suspect that the profits would be pretty poor. Who in their right mind would spend the time and money necessary to learn Japanese at some practical level before coming to work here for a year? IT professionals? Why? Plenty of work elsewhere. Eikaiwa teachers? Hardly (This fact may make a few teachers happy as they think it will reduce competition.) Laborers? Where would they get the money? I'll bet that if it serves to reduce the number of people coming to Japan, it would make a significant number of folks in the government and elsewhere very happy.

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