By “breach” I mean Morioka, the city where Tohoku’s Japanese Language Proficiency test is usually situated. This winter I am going to resit the test after failing it by a measly 10 points last year. Ugh.
So let’s talk a bit about my terrible Japanese and the JLPT in general!
I got into manga and anime at around 14, in High School. One day I thought, hey, if I can import bunch of raw Japanese manga and use a HIRAGANA dictionary, surely I can understand the story no sweat, right?
NOPE. I had no fuckin’ idea what I was thinking.
That phase lasted, well, until I actually bought a load of original Fushigi Yuugi books from eBay, then quickly realized the one fatal flaw in my plan:
Hiragana and Katakana, no matter how much I remembered and practiced them, are not enough to “translate” a manga. I was also preoccupied by other things like drawing and the drama club, so I gave up.
At University, during years 1 & 2, we had the option to study Japanese Language and Culture. Heavy on the language, fuck all about the culture. I passed both years but don’t actually remember learning much. I do remember drawing lots of fan art about my teacher but whatever next sentence.
So I turned 22. All this time I had been watching anime and reading manga, so naturally my listening level had improved greatly, and hiragana/katakana were never really a problem, but the difficulty of learning kanji prevented me from progressing.
After graduating I decided to take Japanese seriously. Kanji and all. I got some self-study books (Japanese For Busy People I & II for those who are interested), and studied every night, 5 times a week for about 10 months. It was fun, but I couldn’t actually use my knowledge at work, or practice my speech on anyone, or, well, do anything with what I had learned.
When I changed jobs, I joined a Japanese Proficiency course at a local University and took some night classes a couple of times a week. It was hard, but I finally got the chance to write essays in Japanese, talk to people in Japanese, and really built upon the foundation of simple sentence structures that are required in every day speech.
So then I came to Japan. At the time, my listening was good, reading and writing were okay, but my speech, oh boy.
let me tell you, once thing everyone needs when speaking another language is confidence. I have been in Japan over a year now and I still get nervous whenever someone talks to me, or if I have to ask a question that probably has a complex answer I won’t understand attached to it. I get past this by saying the word in English first, followed by the ever-so-helpful phrase “は何って言うの？/ wa nan tte iu no?”. This is effective, because contrary to popular belief, Japanese people hear, see and use a lot of English every day.
Even some services such as airlines, post offices, traffic signs and internet companies have English options available, so there is a good chance the person you are talking to might have heard the word before. heck, some words even have the same meaning in Japanese as they do in English, so throw caution to the wind and just blurt them out if you are having a great conversation and don’t want to lose that flow!
Another big thing Japanese people pick up on is intonation. If you speak very “foreign Japanese”, people will just laugh or tilt their head in confusion. But if you sound Japanese, whoa, all of a sudden you are a fluent genius. Now, I did drama in high school, so i am kinda good at doing voices and parroting others. After 11 years of watching Japanese TV there’s no surprise that my intonation has leveled up higher than expected. The bad part is, I am still not that smart. So while I can sound Japanese, I end up looking like an idiot when 99% of what others quickly say to me flies way over my head.
So, some small tips for studying:
- Speaking: Confidence, if you don’t understand, just ask. Say what you think is right, if it isn’t, don’t feel embarrassed and learn from it. Everyone starts somewhere.
- Speaking: Intonation, try to sound Japanese. Listen to the radio, TV and dramas. Anime is hit or miss, because most of the time it is very dumbed down and clearly spoken dialogue so even children can understand it. By watching TV and dramas, you really get to hear the nitty-gritty, fluent Japanese that you should aim for in everyday speech. Talking to Japanese friends if you have any also helps!
- Reading & Writing: Learn Kanji, practice makes perfect. Each of these Chinese characters has a story or “picture” attached to it. I recommend getting a book like Kanji Pict-o-Graphix to make remembering them easier, or just make up your own!
- sentence Structure, don’t follow textbook Japanese all the time. learn the formulas and write your own Japanese blog entries, write videogame reviews, write about what you like, not what some Mary Sue did at Suzuki-san’s party. Over time you can see yourself improve, and can also go back and implement much more complex words or sentences.
- JLPT, test yourself. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test is held all over the world in winter and summer. Apply, test yourself, see your level, and improve. If you have something to work towards, you will naturally study harder. Unless you are a lazy sod.
Lastly, let’s talk about the test itself. It is all multiple choice and consists of 3 sections; Reading, Listening, and Vocabulary.
Reading consists of giant stories with questions you have to answer. Most of the time they are trick questions.
Listening is, well, listening. Select the correct answer to the question that is asked after listening to some dialogue or short story about Hachiko.
Vocabulary is, like reading, nothing but troll questions designed to confuse and piss you off. For example, selecting which kanji letter is the correct one to be used in a sentence out of 4 lookalikes: 間 or 開 or 閉 or 問 as a quick example. Or even 愛 and 変, with one meaning “love” and the other meaning “weird”. But, while you have tons of time to think about which of these are correct while ready this blog, remember that each test has a very short time limit, so even the simplest mistakes are very common.
Finally, get through these 3 hurdles and you will be given a score in each section. Failing just one section fails the whole test. Tough luck.
On top of that, there are 5 levels. N5 being the easiest and N1 being so hard, that even some Japanese people can’t do it. N3 however, is a new level that was introduced last year to bridge the difficulty curve between the old N3 and N2. So, pick your poison!
There we have it. If you decide to take on Japanese seriously or sit JLPT yourself, all the best to you! let’s do our best together! お互いに頑張りましょう！