Preparing for the JLPT N4 Test
The N4 is the second level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). To pass the N4, you will need to know about 300 kanji and about 1,500 vocabulary words.
The N5 and N4 tests can be useful as a way to describe one’s level of study to prospective classes or teachers. And, because beginning to learn a new language can feel intimidating, the N5 and N4 tests can be helpful as the first two benchmarks to aim for.
Differences Between JLPT N4 and N5
To pass the N4, you will need to know about 200 more kanji and about 700 more vocabulary words than you did for the N5.
Similarly to how the kanji and vocabulary one needs for the N5 are more or less contained in the introductory Japanese textbook “Genki I”. The kanji and vocabulary for the N4 are more or less contained in the next textbook “Genki II.”
The main difference between the N4 and the N5 is in their quantity of furigana. (It’s small hiragana written over kanji to show pronunciation).
In N5 the section where kanji have no furigana are the questions specifically about kanji pronunciations. In N4, certain fundamental kanji [such as the kanji in the word “to write” (書く)] will most likely not have furigana in any questions.
Resources for JLPT N4 Prep
1) “Genki II”
“Genki II” is a direct sequel to “Genki I,” the textbook we recommend in our N5 article. Together or separately, “Genki I” and “Genki II” are some of the best introductory Japanese textbooks that are currently in widespread use.
“Genki II” should cover all or most of the kanji and vocabulary you need for the N4, and the greater part of the grammar you need.
Sometimes, the overlap between the “Genki” vocab/kanji and the vocab/kanji that may appear on the N4 is likely not 100%. In this case we recommend using a website such as tanos.co.uk. It has lists of recommended kanji, vocabulary, and grammar points for each level of the JLPT. You can use it to check your vocab/kanji knowledge once you finish “Genki II.”
You will definitely want to check the lists on tanos.co.uk after completing “Genki II” in order to check for gaps in grammar knowledge. If you find any grammar points that were not taught in “Genki II” you will be able to find explained online, or in intermediate/advanced textbooks. (See our N3 article (coming soon) or our N2 article for recommendations on intermediate/advanced textbooks).
If possible, find more than one source to learn about each unfamiliar grammar point! (Also, bear in mind that websites such as tanos.co.uk are thorough but unofficial. It is possible that words may appear on the N4 test that was not on the recommended vocabulary or kanji lists you use).
Preparing for the Reading Sections
The types of questions that appear in the reading sections of all levels of the JLPT are relatively similar. Please see our N2 article for a general list of reading section question types.But note that the questions in the N4 reading sections are generally fairly straightforward. Abstract questions such as author intention will appear on the N3 and up, but not so much on the N4 or N5.
Pro Top Tip: Start learning the meanings of the composite pieces of kanji
Once you get past the 100 initial kanji in the N5, it will become increasingly helpful to start learning about kanji radicals and the meanings of individual parts of kanji. Doing so will make it much easier to memorize kanji, because each kanji will become a collection of meanings as opposed to simply a collection of shapes.
The radical of a kanji is often (but not always) the left-most piece of the kanji. And it’s also the piece that is used to look the kanji up in a traditional kanji dictionary.
Two common radicals you may recognize are 氵 (which means “water”) and扌 (which means “hand”). Kanji with the water radical often have to do with liquid, and kanji with the hand radical often have to do with human actions. The other pieces of kanji frequently have meaning as well as the radical.
寺 is the kanji for “temple.” Its top piece means “earth/soil/ground” and its bottom piece is an old unit of measurement. Once you know this, there are various mnemonic sentences you could create to remember this character. (such as “ancient people measured out the ground to build temples”).
Once we understand those sets of meanings, we can add radicals to the left-hand side of the kanji for temple and get the following kanji:
侍 is the kanji for “samurai.” Its radical means “person.” (You can remember this as “in ancient times, people such as samurai went to temples” or something similar).
時 is the kanji for “o’clock/time.” Its radical means “sun/day.”
特 is the kanji for “special.” Its radical means “cow” (this may not seem like it makes sense, but in Buddhism cows are sacred; so a cow at a temple would be thought of as special!).
…And so on. The more kanji you learn, the more important it will become to learn the meanings of the individual pieces of the kanji. This is in order to differentiate similar kanji from one another!
You can find online the lists of kanji radicals, their meanings, and where in a kanji they are usually found (on the left, underneath, etc). Don’t feel that you need to memorize long lists of radicals. We recommend using the online lists to look up kanji pieces as you come across them.
Preparing for the Listening Section
The types of questions that appear in the listening sections of all levels of the JLPT are relatively similar. Please see our N2 article for a general list of listening section question types.
Once you have gone through all or most of “Genki II,” you will be ready to begin! You will be able to use a lot of real-world materials to practice your listening skills!
We do not advise using movies and television as a primary means of listening practice before reading “Genki II”. It’s because “Genki II” contains many important grammar patterns and vocabulary words that will feature frequently in colloquial speech. If you watch Japanese movies before reading this, you will spend more time looking up words than watching the movie!
After “Genki II” you will still come across sentences you do not understand. But you will know enough to benefit from the film or tv show.
What to Listen to:
Certain materials are better practice than others. Animated films and films intended for children are often the best. It’s because the characters tend to speak more clearly than in live-action dramas.
Movies with a lot of technical vocabulary (such as historical dramas or action movies) are not very helpful. But light fantasy and slice-of-life stories are excellent.
If you have not already, try watching Studio Ghibli’s “Ponyo,” “The Cat Returns,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” and similar films.
Along with this, you will also want to do level-specific listening practice from other sources. We recommend our own Kawa Kawa Learning Studio’s Podcast section, or websites such as Japanesepod101.com. Natural listening practice from film and tv is very good. But materials made specifically for language acquisition are a must-do as well!
What methods do you find most effective for N4 prep? Was there any information not in this article that you would like to know? Leave us a comment!