Learning Kanji for the JLPT
The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test will be administered twice a year from 2009.
(Level 1 and 2 in July and all level in December) The test is a standard national test used to measure Japanese language ability.
Like many other countries in Asia, the Chinese writing system heavily influenced the development of the Japanese writing system. Chinese characters, or kanji in Japanese, are still used heavily today. Children in Japan learn the kanji from elementary school and by the time they reach junior high school they can read and write over 1,000 characters. Students of Japanese learn kanji in a similar way, starting with simple characters used frequently and gradually learning all the characters used in daily life.
Every kanji character is associated with a small number of readings, or different ways to pronounce the character. When kanji characters were first absorbed into Japanese, they often brought with them the Chinese pronunciation. If a character meant something for which there was already a word in Japanese, that word too became associated with the character. Learning the readings of each character, especially when a given reading is used, is the key to Japanese literacy.
We've provided a kanji study guide for students preparing for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test(JLPT). The levels in this study guide correspond to the levels of the JLPT. For example, if you are preparing for the level N5 test, then you'll need to know all the kanji listed in our level N5 study guide; for the level N4 test, you'll need to know all the kanji in level N5 plus level N4, and so on.
Note for level N1:
The kanji section for the level N1 test consists of three parts: JOUYOU-kanji, JINMEIYOU-kanji and HYOUGAI-kanji. JOUYOU-kanjis are characters that are taught in elementary and junior high school. JINMEIYOU-kanjis are used in koseki (family registers) and other official name registers. HYOUGAI-kanjis are the kanjis taught beyond junior high school. Both reading and writing abilities of JOUYOU-kanjis is required for the JLPT (level N1). But only reading ability is required for JOUYOU-kanjis(NEW), SHYOUGAI-kanjis and JINMEIYOU-kanjis.
Using Japanese on your computer
One way to develop your ability to read Japanese is to use your computer to access the wealth of information in Japanese available on the internet. For those using computers running recent versions of Windows or MacOS software it's possible to both view and input pages written in Japanese, even on machines using non-Japanese system software. Windows users can download the Global Input Method Editor from Microsoft, which includes both Japanese fonts and software. On a Macintosh computer, users running under Mac OS X will find that their system already includes all the software they need to input and display Japanese. For Mac OS 9.x users, simply install the Japanese Language Kit software that ships with the system.
Even with the proper software and fonts installed, users will sometimes come across pages that do not display correctly; instead they appear to be full of accented Roman characters and strange punctuation. This is caused by websites that don't properly declare the character encoding of a page, the way in which characters on the page are encoded as binary data. Since non-Japanese machines are typically set up to display Roman characters by default, the pages will be displayed as such. The solution is to manually change the encoding of the page to Japanese (Auto Select). There are actually several different encoding schemes for Japanese, so the Japanese (Auto Select) option will choose the right one for a given webpage.
Dictionaries and other online aids
Once you've installed the proper fonts and software on your computer, you can use a myriad of online resources to help you learn Japanese!
- Sanseido's goo - online Japanese-English dictionary by a popular dictionary publisher
- Jim Breen's WWWJDIC - online Japanese-English and kanji dictionaries. Clicking on Translate Words in Japanese Text allows you to cut and paste Japanese text and then look up the meanings of unknown words automatically, handy for reading the newspaper in Japanese.