The JLPT in the Real World: jDramas

studying with jDramas
Okay, so you are taking the JLPT, but it’s a test and one of the common reasons against taking the test is that it isn’t practical and a lot of the grammar and vocabulary on it isn’t actually used in the real world.  I thought I would start a series that takes a look at whether or not the stuff you are being tested on is actually, say, useful.

I’m starting the series off with a quick analysis of a crime jDrama called BOSS.  Here is a little excerpt from season 2 case 11:



Okay, did you catch all that?  You might be wondering what all the color coding is about.   Well, this is a handy system to help you tell what level each vocabulary word or grammar point comes from.  N5 is royal blue, N4 is turquoise, N3 is sea green, N2 is amber, and finally N1 is red.  This should give you a quick overview of what you can and can’t understand at the different levels.

Some Things to Note

First off, the above dialog is spoken Japanese.  You’ll notice that all of the grammar used is N4 or lower.  It has been my experience that if your soul aim is to only be able to speak Japanese, you really only need to know N4 grammar and a whole lot of words.  In N3 and above, the JLPT covers almost exclusively written grammar (there is still complicated spoken grammar at these levels, too, though.)

Also, if you pass N1, you still don’t know ‘all’ there is to know about Japanese.  In just this short passage there are two words, that aren’t covered at all – 解読 (kaidoku) deciphering  and 留置 (ryuuchi) detainment, but you can probably make a reasonable guess at these meanings if you knew the kanji.  There is also ディスク disk, but that’s a gimme.

The other two words that aren’t listed on any lists are 状況証拠 (jyoukyoushouko) circumstantial evidence and 奪い取る (ubaitoru) to plunder, but these are compounds of words that are on the list.  The two words that make up 状況証拠 are 状況 (jyoukyou) circumstance and 証拠 (shouko) evidence.  That’s pretty straightforward right?

What about 奪い取る?  It is made out of two verbs: 奪う (ubau) to snatch away and 取る (toru) to take.  From these two words, you could probably get a reasonable idea of the meaning of 奪い取る.  It is important to be able to guess the meanings of these compound words because they sometimes do pop up in the test.  Especially, if there is a ‘novel’ on the test, which are basically short 500~ character excerpts from full length novels.  I’m pretty sure they won’t show up in the listening though being that the listening is written just for the test, whereas the reading sections are often adapted native materials for N3 and above.

So, what does all this mean?

Well, this means that, yes, in fact listening to and studying jDramas that mimic real-life situations and aren’t about, let’s say, alien invaders, can be a fairly good source for vocabulary and basic grammar review for those studying for N2 and above.  It appears a lot of vocabulary falls into the N2 and below category with a few pieces of N1 vocab to round it out.  Needless to say though, you aren’t going to get any grammar practice out of this, as I mentioned, most of the grammar in these dramas is N4 or N5.

jDramas might also prove useful if you have trouble with the quick response section because it is filled with bits of conversation to help train your ear for natural responses.

I don’t think someone studying for the N5 or N4 tests would get much out of studying a jDrama because of the more difficult vocabulary being used in the conversation.  However, if you have a strong background of conversational Japanese and have learned a lot of Japanese through natural conversation, it might be worth a try.

What about you?

What do you think of studying with jDramas for the JLPT?  Is it a waste of time? Voice your opinions in the comments below!

P.S. Are you a jDrama watching machine?  Awesome!  Maybe you might want to hear about JLPT tips via my free weekly newsletter that also has exclusive offers and discounts not found on the site.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Isaura August 24, 2013, 4:58 am

    I have a lot of Japanese penpals. And in my letters I like using N2 and N1 grammar, vocabulary, kango, etc. I think if I use N2 and N1 grammar, my letters will be more beautiful. Because in Japan using more kango means that writter is intelligent and high qualified person:))

    • Clayton MacKnight August 27, 2013, 11:34 pm

      Exactly, high level grammar isn’t exactly necessary, but it makes you sound smarter and you can be more specific. Like having more colors to paint with, you can paint with just a few colors and get the idea across, but if you have several colors you can really create a work of art.

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