Kyle Wagner

| 4 minutes

This is hard for me to admit, but I’ve failed at hitting the same goal every year for the last 10 years. I want to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). The test is broken into levels N5 -> N1. Each level tests your reading and listening skills. N5 is basic Japanese where N1 is hard enough to make fluent speakers second guess their education.

The test is a bureaucratic take on Japanese language and your mastery over it. I’m added the “bureaucratic” nature of the test for two reasons. First, Japanese love certifications and most jobs require you pass the JLPT at the N2 level before they would even give you a stern look. Second, the test does little to show you are able to communicate in the every day. Nothing about speaking or writing is on this test. I have seen firsthand some Japanese language scholars passing the N1 who couldn’t hold a conversation if their dignity depended on it. That being said, if one is able to pass the N2 or N1 tests, you probably are pretty good at Japanese.

The Road to the N4

I’ve studied Japanese off and on for close to 12 years. I can stumble through Japan and come out relatively unbruised. Sure, I’ve had a few mishaps in communication which led to some awkward moments that led to walking a few hours across Kyoto. What bothers me is that I’ve lost a lot of my skills in 12 years. My language proficiency chart looks like a stock ticker that peaked in 2010 but bad management and unfocused direction caused investors to lose confidence.

It’s time for me to take the reigns again and shoot for a concrete goal. A SMART goal. Since I need more management in my life, I’m making this goal in a way that I will be held accountable.


  • Specific - Pass the JLPT N4.
  • Measurable - Did I get a the certificate.
  • Assignable - Me, I’m doing this.
  • Realistic - Test is the first Sunday of December which gives 10 months of study.
  • Time Related - See above.

So that’s the goal. I will pass the JLPT N4. My motivation is less I want the certificate but this will be a flag on my journey. I love Japan and Japanese culture so becoming fluent is a huge motivator for me. I want to read texts I can’t find in English. I want to learn more. Fluency is such a long ways off that it’s demoralizing. Putting in rest stops like the N4 lets me have those wins that keep my caveman brain going.

The Study Tools

After researching online, as one does in this day and age, I put together the tools to accompany me on this long road. They all augment what I need to prepare for: grammar, vocab, and kanji. Luckily, I’m still proficient at kana and don’t need to start completely from scratch.

Main Tools

  • みんなの日本語 - 初級 1 & 2 - Japanese Grammar, vocab, and reading using all the books and workbooks.
  • Anki - To reenforce the みんなの日本語 vocab.
  • WaniKani - A kanji learning tool.
  • JapanesePod101 - A great way to practice listening.

Supplementary Tools

Why Not Genki?

The only contentious tool listed above is the textbook, みんなの日本語. In English speaking countries, the gold standard beginner’s Japanese textbook (especially for self study) is the wonderful Genki series. I’ve used it in that past, and I loved it. So why not use Genki?

I don’t own a copy of Genki. I own all the books for みんなの日本語.

They are both great textbooks and both will get you to N4 if you study their beginners series. The only real difference is the order of presented content.

A word for those who found this post looking for study tips. If you are unsure about which series to go with, I’d go with Genki. It’s cheaper and much easier to find outside of Japan. The only reason I own みんなの日本語 is I purchased my copy in Japan. It is easier to find now a days, though.

The Study Plan

The plan is all the following before the date of the next JLPT in December:

  • Finish 50 みんなの日本語 lessons.
  • Learn all Anki flash cards from the Minna No Nihongo deck.
  • Reach level 27 in Wanikani (Found this handy chart that roughly shows the JLPT kanji in relation to Wanikani levels.)
  • Take at least two JLPT N5 practice tests.

The weekly goals break down:

  • One lesson in みんなの日本語.
    • All grammar points.
    • All workbook practices.
    • All reading practices.
  • Master 20 vocab a week.
  • Master 5 kanji a week.

Overall, this seems doable even though I work full time and have a life outside of Japanese. Remember, SMART.


Will I accomplish it? I hope so. As I stared with, I’m 10 years over overdue for this goal. Let’s see if I post about triumph or failure in December. I’ll set a reminder.