How can you measure your level of speaking? The Japanese Language Proficiency Test will grill you on your reading and listening, but what about speaking? I’ve met a few people that passed N2 and N1, but don’t quite speak tat that level. I can easily include myself in that group as well. I have a hard time explaining complex situations.
So, having a Japanese speaking test would come in handy. Something that would allow for critical feedback to help you improve your speaking. A general rule of thumb is that you should be able to produce language at one level below what you can understand. In other words, if you just passed N4, you should be able to produce the language at an N5 level.
Now, the logistics of having such a test could be a bit of a hurdle. You would need to have short interviews with several applicants privately. There would also need to be different tests for different levels. For example, you wouldn’t ask an N1 test-taker about their hobbies, but instead tell them to discuss a particular hot topic like nuclear power.
You would also need to train a staff of test administrators and create some kind of framework, or rubric, to work off of. This rubric would help make everything fairly standard and keep a judge from, say, passing the cute guy for having a nice smile, but instead passing him for saying the correct responses.
It’s all quite a mess if you think about it, but is there a simpler way? Let’s look at some options.
The Eiken Model
The Eiken is a test put on in Japan that is aimed at a students mostly. Generally speaking, only elementary school and high school students take it. Although, adults will sometimes go for the higher levels 準一級 (pre-1st) and 一級 (1st). It is a tiered test like the JLPT, but has writing and speaking tests for the higher levels.
Different levels of the test have different focuses for the speaking test. For example, for the beginner levels, they are just looking for basic greetings and to talk about what someone is doing. Some of the lower levels involve picture cards that the test-taker has to describe. The higher levels involve answering questions like ‘Do the rich have a responsibility to help the poor in society?’.
Something very similar to this would be handy I think as long as it is focused on something rather practical like giving directions or making small talk. Any kind of speaking test will have to have levels. There is a huge difference between the kinds of conversations that lower level students can have those at the very top.
I’m not an expert test-maker, but I think the Eiken model could be tweaked a little to be more useful for someone looking to test their Japanese speaking skills. I think a test like that would be a little difficult to administer and the demand wouldn’t be enough to pay for all the mess you would need to go through to make it happen.
First and foremost, who wants to go somewhere to take a test? One of the biggest issues that plagues the JLPT is that people have to sometimes travel long distances to take it. If you live outside of Japan and are not in a major metropolitan area, chances are you will have to take a ride somewhere to take the test. I’ve heard of a few people having to travel 5 or more hours!
So, how about making the speaking test online? This would be extremely handy to have. The technology for this is available. There are some limitations, but I think it would be possible. For example, it would be hard to administer such a test over Skype, since it can sometimes stutter or even cut out completely in the middle. That could cause delays and just be a pain in the neck.
But, what about recording messages and sending them off that way? That technology is easily available, and of course you could always make proprietary software that handles all this for you if you have the money.
I think it would also be helpful to focus on a specific task like ‘giving directions’ or ‘ordering in a restaurant’. Each test would be a separate achievement of sorts. I think this could be really valuable as a measurable way to study a language.
What do you think of a Japanese speaking test?
Would you take one? What would it cover? Let me know in the comments.