Learning Language Effectively: Choose Your Own Goal - JLPT as an example
The easiest way to measure how effective education is is test scores. When students score high on tests it not only makes teachers look good, but schools overall will be more likely to get government funding with higher test scores. Traditionally tests are the easiest way to measure the abilities of a student, but are they effective when learning a language?
Take the case of Japanese, and for simplicity’s sake we’ll refer to the main test administered by the Japanese government, the JLPT or Japanese Language Proficiency Test. It’s actually a great and simple goal to work towards, passing the JLPT. The benefits are numerous once someone has passed it: the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo has jobs that only consider candidates who have passed the highest level 1 of the exam, Japanese universities won’t admit non-native Japanese to their programs without a really high score on the JLPT, and well it just looks awesome on a resume to be paper fluent in Japanese.
But how effective is the JLPT as a means for learning Japanese? Notice I didn’t say “goal” this time because actually most students’ goal they have in their mind when they decide to take Japanese is to speak the language. If students’ main goal is speaking, then the JLPT is not the means to an end. In fact, the exam itself does not measure speaking ability whatsoever, and does not require any writing samples, either. You don’t have to speak a word to be considered “fluent” in the Japanese language, according to the JLPT!
If speaking is your goal, then perhaps choosing a path such as “fluency in speaking situations” is your answer. Instead of studying for and focusing on passing a test, students should study for and be ready to pass real life situations. For beginners, it’s all about meeting someone Japanese and being able to introduce yourself properly, talk about your home country, maybe even talk about likes and dislikes. It’s shocking but even candidates who have passed the most advanced level of the JLPT still stumble in these situations.
For the more intermediate or advanced speakers, it’s all about how and where you’d like to apply the language in your everyday life. When learning language application is key; without it grammar patterns and vocabulary are easily lost, like those mathematical formulas and historical dates that were “learned” in high school. Having a job that uses Japanese does wonders, whether your goal is to effectively communicate with your boss, that Japanese client, or perhaps write an email without your colleagues snickering after you hit the send button. But hobbies are also effective and if not almost as equally important. Understanding the movies you watch, the music you listen to, or web pages you’re surfing on can all be interesting goals to work towards. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the most effective goal of all, speaking more deeply with your Japanese friends.
In short, tests are useful tools to study for and measure progress, but language study is only truly effective when it is applied to the student’s everyday life.