Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Using the JLPT to test Japanese ability?

As the government has been playing with introducing some Japanese requirements for various visas, I have wondered if they would be so poorly informed and so braindead as to use something like the Japanese Language Proficiency Test to "measure" Japanese ability.

Apparently, they will be so poorly informed and braindead, but what do you expect given the backwards state of English language education in Japan? Why would these old men do anything different for the Japanese language?

JLPT does not measure communicative ability. It measures selected kanji, vocabulary, grammar knowledge (Folks familiar with SLA will note the use of the word "knowledge" as related to "learning"), reading comprehension skills, as well as the ability to eavesdrop on native speakers having somewhat bizarre conversations using perfect textbook language, but provide no direct evaluation of the ability to use the language. It also tests reading comprehension skills in the traditional way. The basic rule for any test is "Test what is being tested." JLPT fails if the point is to test communicative ability.

Imagine the opportunity for "schools" with all sorts of gimmicky, nonsensical "methods" (for example) to open and teach the "tricks" for passing the JLPT. Perhaps then non-Japanese will become as obsessed with near meaningless test scores. We can compare our numbers and feel superior to those with fewer points. It's much more comfortable that way, because we won't have to show we can't speak at the level the numbers suggest.

I have my visa and needn't worry about these tests. If I did, I would prefer to continue to study Japanese in an effective way, not waste time memorizing irrelevant vocabulary lists and arcane grammar rules. One results in actual improvement, the other hours of mind-numbing toil for limited improvement. But if this proposal becomes law, others will have to study what the government tells them to study.

Japan Times has an article about introducing this requirement to reduce the amount of work experience in specialties such as engineering needed before obtaining a resident (?) visa. Article here.

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