The JLPT N4 is the second easiest test of the 5 tests. It is equivalent to the old level 3 or ３級. It requires about 300 hours of classroom to pass this test, which is roughly equivalent to 2 years of college study. In other words, you should be able to pass this test if you took Japanese in college.
JLPT N4 – Basic Info
The N4 test covers basic Japanese. You should be able to understand basic passages written with basic vocabulary and kanji. You should also be able to understand conversations about daily topics and activities spoken slowly.
The main aim of N4 in my opinion is to test your ability to survive with Japanese. At this level, you should be able to travel around the country fairly easily. This includes things like asking for directions, booking hotels, and being able to introduce yourself to others in Japanese. You’ll also be able to have basic small talk and be able to do some shopping as well.
JLPT N4 – Grammar
The grammar for N4 is roughly equivalent to the old level 3 grammar. This includes all basic conjugations of Japanese verbs including passive voice. 私はたろに電話される。-> I got a call from Taro. (lit. I was called by Taro)
N4 also goes over a lot of grammar to talk about plans for the future as well as basic conjunctions like even though, because of, for the purpose of, and so on. There are also a lot of verb ‘endings’. For example, ～やすい/～にくい, easy to/difficult to as in わかりやすい-> easy to understand.
JLPT N4 – Kanji
The N4 covers approximately 300 of the most used kanji in Japanese. You can find a list of these on Anki and there are flashcard decks made up by White Rabbit Press that cover these basic kanji (the Series II volume I deck). The White Rabbit Press cards also include common compounds using that particular kanji.
In general, N4 Kanji covers all kanji for the extended family, more animals, and more verbs. These kanji can be written by most Japanese. In other words, they will be able to write them easily in handwritten letters and other documents without needing to look them up. After studying and getting to know these kanji, you will probably be able to understand most basic signs and some advertisements on the train. You will not be able to read the newspaper or formal letters.
JLPT N4 – Vocabulary
There are approximately 900 new words you need to learn for N4. If you combine both N5 and N4, you need to know around 1500 words to pass the test. That doesn’t seem too daunting yet, does it? You can find most of these words in word lists, or a safe bet is the
2000 most used words in Japanese on Smart.fm, (no longer available, try memrise.com for the latest N4 list). It might seem like a bit of an overkill, but this will pretty much cover all your vocabulary needs for the test.
One of the big tricks they test you over in this section is the difference between passive and active verbs. I got caught off guard by 開く（ひらく）which basically means ‘to open’, but is only used in certain circumstances. For example, you can talk about a flower opening this way, but not a door. Make sure you understand the shades of meaning of all the vocabulary words and not JUST the meaning.
So, what is this thing good for anyway?
You might be thinking, OK now, this is a serious test right? I mean I can parade around in the streets with this baby! But, you are at least partially wrong. The N4 is definitely a step up from the N5, and is quite an achievement to pass, but it still doesn’t get you into the big leagues. The N4 qualifies you to easily make your way around the country while traveling as well as make simple small talk with strangers, but it isn’t enough to do business with (unless you are really brave and like doing hand gestures a lot).
This is probably the first of the tests you can put on your resume and not get laughed at. It shows that you have an interest in Japan and you are looking to become more fluent. It will come in handy if you are going to be working with a Japanese company that conducts business in English, because they know they can speak a little bit of Japanese here and there and you’ll understand. It also separates you from the pack of wannabe Japanese speakers.
I would also say that this is the first test that you really need to study for and put forth extra effort if you want to pass. Just taking Japanese in college and then heading off to take the test isn’t going to cut it. You will have to review some of the grammar points definitely before you head to the test and do some extra practice to learn the nuances of the vocabulary.
JLPT N4 is the next rung on the ladder, it might not get you a job using Japanese quite yet, but you are definitely on your way. After passing the N4, you WILL be able to travel around Japan with relative ease, and not get hopelessly lost which is a good thing.
Now it’s your turn to take action. In the comments below, let me know any resources you are using to study for the JLPT N4. Did they help? What would you recommend to someone that is studying for the N4? Don’t be afraid, help your fellow man (and woman) pass the test!
Image by Nicolas Vigier, available under the Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License