Posted in Japanese Langauge

Post-JLPT: Feels, Advice, and PANIC

Taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N2 meant a lot for me. Unlike previous years wherein I was just taking it for assessment of my language ability, this time it was a step I wanted to take in a different career direction. I’ve been a teacher in Japan for 6+ years and have really enjoyed it, but for all the enjoyment I know that I don’t want to be a teacher forever.

And so, in the video I talk about how I felt after the test (spoiler alert: not victorious) along with what I did in order to study for the test. Even though I’m certain I didn’t pass, I listed a few books here in the video that might help others pass the test (unlike me). Most of these books are easily found online, so I’m going to list them down below. It takes hours upon hours of studying, usually people who pass in one year on their first try have gone to a language school and studied 8 hours a day up until the test.

I’m not giving up, at all, I’ll re-take it again in July. Until then, I’m in a bind because without the N2 certification I can’t prove that I’m proficient enough in Japanese to do something else. If I could, I would turn back time and tell my JET self to quit fooling around and just study harder so I would’ve already passed the test by this point. For those of you in Japan and thinking about sticking around, GET ON IT! Or you’ll end up like me with t-minus four months to go with no certificate and no job prospects other than English teaching.

Use these to study:

Nihongo So-matome

Nihongo So-matome JLPT N2: Grammar - White Rabbit Japan Shop - 1

It describes itself as an 8 week study course to prep for the JLPT, but honestly you should study these way before 8 weeks so you can review all this information before the test again. They’ve got books for all the parts of the test: vocabulary, kanji, reading comprehension, listening, and for all levels N5-N1.

TRY! 日本語能力試験 N2 文法から伸ばす日本語 改訂版

Honestly, this is my new favorite Japanese study book. It puts all the vocabulary and kanji into understandable contexts and situations wherein you would find or use them. You can grasp the grammar lessons well since there is context as well as explanations for the grammar in English. This study book also has listening test in addition to the vocab and grammar you need.

Kanji Master

The Kanji Master is the one I studied the least and I regret it. It has the kanji practice for the kun (phonetics) but also does the all important hiragana to kanji and back again checks that will be so important on the tests. If you’re wanting to pass, get a hold of this book and go through all of it. I found it late, so I couldn’t take advantage of it like I wanted to, so don’t make my mistake.

Remember though, even if you study and study these books, it’s not enough. Read Japanese books, newspapers, watch dramas, make sure your Japanese immersion is coming to you through more interesting, and thus memorable, ways. Otherwise, you won’t retain this information, and you’re going to need it in your future job, not just for a test.

Anyways, I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I’ll figure something out I’m sure. I’m worried, but I’m confident that I’ll find something so that I can stay in Japan. I have built a life here, and I don’t want to give it up just yet. I’ll be fine, it’s just hard to think that way after a small setback in the plans. But I’ll just keep going, and hopefully something will come around.

 

Posted in Japanese Langauge

The Dreaded JLPT: A Necessary Evil

It’s the plight of many an English teacher here in Japan. We all want to do something else, but going home to our countries of origin doesn’t appeal to certain folks. Take for example, I dunno, me. I could theoretically go back to the good ol’ U.S.A…but I don’t wanna and you can’t make me.

However, I don’t particularly desire to keep teaching. Don’t get me wrong, my job is actually pretty great. I’ve got a sweet direct hire position that has bonuses, vacation days, a private healthcare package (yay, dental), but for all the perks I’m just really burnt out on this profession.

In order to get out of teaching English, generally most jobs require Japanese fluency to some degree. Most friends who knew better than me back in the JET Program hit the ground running on studying and taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), the number one test in Japan that employers trust.

The beginner levels are N5 and N4, which means you got the kanji basics down so good for you, but you’re not really employable yet. N3 means you’re probably conversational level, you’ve got a good sense on grammar and basic reading skills, but once again still not employable.

Basically, if you’re not Business Level (N2) or near Native Fluent (N1) then odds are no one is going to hire you outside of the English teacher or education sector. It sucks, but that’s just how it is here. For many people, N2 and N1 require years of studying and effort, which is something I sort of have…kind of not really though.

I attempted N4 about five years ago and didn’t pass by all of a few damn points. I didn’t let that stop me and continued studying, going to Japanese classes at my city hall, and just in general picking up conversation Japanese through my friends. Years passed, and I moved from here to there, switched jobs twice, and studying fell by the wayside.

Last December, I decided it was high time I got around to hitting the books again. I needed to memorize that kanji, get that grammar down pat, and just go take the N2 test to see if I could pass it at the level I currently am.

I failed so hard you guys, like face planting into asphalt hard. It hurt, it wasn’t pretty, and a few tears were shed.

Back when I was on JET, I figured that I’d always have time. There was always tomorrow, or the next week, or this vacation time, sure I can totally spend spring break catching up, and so on and so forth. I did study, but always with the attitude that I could get better later.

That attitude has come back to bite me right in the bum! Because the clock is ticking. I just got word today that my position is going to be officially declared part time next year. I mean, awesome incentive to study, right? Yet, there is more than a bit of internal screaming going on as I’m studying recently.

MUST PASS, MUST PASS, MUUUSSSSST PAAAAASSSSSS!

The JLPT is December 3rd this year, which gives me only a few months to get my shit together and study hard. In university it was somehow easier, I guess because my whole life was studying and learning. These days between work and everything else, forcing myself to sit the hell down for a few hours to go over kanji is tough, man, who has the energy for studying on top of working from 9-5 (or in my case today, 8:20 a.m. -7:30 p.m. which is gonna be the norm for a week or so).

I can already hear the people who’ve taken it and passed mumbling to themselves, “Psh! It’s not that difficult, you whiny peasant, just get the study guides and memorize them. It’s just that simple!”

And to them I say, “WHAT DO YOU THINK I’VE BEEN DOING?!” I’ve bought all the N2 prep books I could get my hands on and I’ll pick them up, cram for a good two weeks, but then stuff happens. You know the stuff, family vacations, sickness, event planning, work things, and on and on. I’ll go back to the books only to discover that I’ve forgotten most of those previous lessons and we’re back to square one.

Yeah, yeah, you don’t wanna hear my excuses. Would you be interested to hear how this test is only really useful in Japan? Oh good, because it is. The JLPT has Vocabulary/Kanji, Reading, and Listening as sections for the exam. What’s missing? Speaking, as in there is no interview process for this test. That’s also why the Imaginary JLPT Elitist™ from earlier could be able to read kanji well but can’t speak worth a darn, or could have just taken a JLPT intensive course at a language school to cram all that knowledge with no idea of how to apply it in a real life scenario.

In other words, the JLPT doesn’t really evaluate fluency, it just gets a general idea of what you could theoretically be able to do based on reading level. While it’s great for Japan employers and such, most universities outside of Japan will force you to write an essay in Japanese, and companies outside of Japan will have you do an interview in Japanese for certain positions.

In Japan, you’ll get an interview too, but you’ll never reach that stage without a JLPT certification. Hell, you won’t even have your application looked at if you’re lacking in that sweet N2 or N1 PASSED paper. All the networking in the world can’t stand up to the might that is the JLPT foothold on the employment line.

So, basically, if I want to have a job by this time next year, I’ve got to get at least N2.

For those of you wondering, “Well if you’re not going to teach, what’s the plan then? Translator, interpreter, exotic dancer?” The answer is: something in the tourism sector, and yes it’s that vague on purpose. I would love to work for a tourism agency or work as a part time travel writer with another part time job as something else.

Full honesty here, I would just love to get the change to write for a living, but that’s a high gamble dream, so I’m sticking with more down to earth things. Besides I can write whatever I want in my freetime, and I will, always and forever, amen.

Regardless of what I want to do, the fact is that hours upon hours of my life in the foreseeable future will be devoted to studying my butt off. It won’t be an easy road, but it’s a matter of survival, ya’ll. I got to get to it!

 

Posted in Japanese Langauge

日本語 Conversation Tip: On a Date! (Part 1/ 2)

Although I’ve written about dating in Japan before, but that was more about how to get a date in Japan. This time I’m going to focus on what you can say if you’re actually on a date with a Japanese person. Now, it’s good to note that most Japanese people know at least a little bit of English because they learned it in school. However, it’s still appreciated if you talk in Japanese while on a date.


Let’s start with the simple stuff first. Odds are you already know how to introduce yourself, but just in case you’re going into the date with no Japanese at all, here’s a simple way to introduce yourself.

easy introductions.png

Be careful! You say “Hajimemashite” and “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu” only the first time you meet someone. At all other meetings, it’s weird. There are many other varieties to do an introduction, but this one will be painless to practice unlike the more formal ways.


Next, on a date there will always be this essential question:

What do you want to eat.png

Notice though, most Japanese people will drop the “あなたは今” part and just ask straight up, “何 (が or を) 食べたいですか?” I’ve even heard it said with the “が or を” article in there.

You can answer this in many ways. It’s easy enough to simply say:

i-like-blah-food

I often go Italian food since pasta and pizzas are a great staple for date nights. Besides, most of them are pretty reasonable.

I want to eat.png

If you know exactly what you want, this is the better phrase to use. You can put any food at the beginning and it’ll be fine.

If you’re not sure what you want, and you want to leave it up to the other person to decide, you can say:

anything is fine.png

Or you can shorten it to simply 何でもいいです, which is a slightly different meaning of “Anything is good!”


If you’re not hungry and just want to make it a coffee date, that goes like so:

not hungry.png


Chit chat can be difficult, but there are some standard questions that can help keep the flow going. Hopefully your date won’t leave it all to you to keep the conversation alive.

where do you live.png

Jobs and such are generally easy to navigate. Most men call themselves a “salaryman (サラリーマン), as in business men that work for a company. Most women will refer to themselves as “O.L.” (you pronounce this as the letters). It’s short for Office Lady, which is basically just the female version of salaryman and doesn’t mean secretary like it used to in the old days.

If someone is a student, a nice follow up question is, “Anata was donona kiariafuildo wo benkyo shiteimasu? あなたはどのようなキャリアフィールドを勉強していますか” As in, “What career field are you studying?” It’s nice to ask out of interest, but not necessary.

When you get asked and want to answer, here are some simple responses:

answers-to-where-do-you-live

 

Changing the subject over to interests, generally the phrase “____ ga suki desu ka?” works for most things like food, specific movies, etc. But if you ask it over and over again it can get dull. So here are different ways of kind of asking the same sort of question:

 

Interests.png

 

 

These usually lead to follow up questions as well, like “Who is your favorite singer? Dare ga sukina kashudesu ka? 誰が好きな歌手ですか?” or “What’s your favorite band? Anata no sukina bando wa nanidesu ka? あなたの好きなバンドは何ですか?”

You can basically listen to them talk about their favorite things for a while. When you get asked and want to answer, most of these questions get simple answers.

Answers to interests.png


If someone is on a roll, telling a story or talking about themselves, and you want to show you’re paying attention, there are some filler words that you can use.

Filler words.png

*BE CAREFUL, don’t say the word “bakka” by itself. It means idiot.


Compliments (about the conversation and such, not the people) are also considered a good idea if you want to express more interest. Here are a very common four:

Compliments for Conversation.png


And that’s where we’ll stop today. Next Tuesday, I’ll bring in compliments for people and how to get a second date. See you next week!

 

Posted in Japanese Langauge, Uncategorized

日本語 Conversation Tip: How to Use すみません and ごめんなさい!

When it comes to the differences between saying, “Excuse me!” and “I’m sorry!” I will be using English as my reference point. For me, as a United States English speaker, I often say “Excuse me!” to get someone’s attention while using “I’m sorry!” if I do something wrong.

And so that’s my basic rule for the differences between “Sumimasen (すみません)!” and “Gomennasai (ごめんなさい)!”, respectively. If I need to get someone’s attention, interrupt their current task, or get by somebody in a crowded area, then I will use すみません. If I need to apologize for a mistake I’ve made, I’m late to a meeting, or I bump into somebody, then I use ごめんなさい.

However, for the Japanese usage you should use “Excuse me!” for other things too. It’s considered polite when entering a room to say, “すみません!” As in, knocking and saying the expression at the same time. Students at school in Japan are expected to say the higher form of すみません which is “Shitsureshimasu (しつれいします)!” If you’re a teacher though, it’s not expected for you to say the phrase to the same people on your level, but it is considered polite for those above you such as the principal.

Also, すみません and ごめんなさい are expected after taking away someone else’s time. For example, let’s say you needed to have someone help you with a project. After they’ve helped you, it’s often considered common courtesy to say, “すみません! Arigatougozaimasu (ありがとうございます)!” as in “Excuse me (for taking up your time)! Thank you!”  You’re expected to say this even after having already used すみません or ごめんなさい at the beginning of the conversation. For Westerners, it might feel a bit strange to use “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry” so much in a short span of time, but politeness is a big part of Japanese culture. In this sort of usage, すみません and ごめんなさい can be used interchangeably.

Many times you’ll find yourself either using the phrases together or interchangeably when walking about town. For example, when I mentioned my basic rule of bumping into someone, I said that I will often use “ごめんなさい!” because it comes more naturally to me. Please note though that in those sorts of small infractions, it doesn’t really matter whether you use either すみません or ごめんなさい. Small, little accidents aren’t a big deal, and so long as you get the message across that it was an accident, no one will mind which phrase you use.

But in general, you’ll find in Japan that people will use すみません and ごめんなさい way more than in Western cultures. It’s often noted that ex-pats who return home from living in Japan will still say “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry” to an excessive extent, despite being out of the country. Essentially, there is no such thing as using these phrases too much while in Japan. Being humble and having humility are great traits to have in Japan.

That all being said, you don’t need to use すみません and ごめんなさい as often with very close friends and family. If you want say I’m sorry, you can shorten it to just “ごめん!” with people you know really well. Friends will get a little put off if you’re constantly apologizing to them all the time. At first, it’s expected while getting to know each other, but once you’re seeing each other regularly then don’t worry so much about it.

I hope this clears up the vagueness between these two phrases! Next time I’ll talk about some useful phrases for dating in Japan.


Please like this article and share it with your friends! If you’ve got a Japanese topic you want some clarity on, write a comment below! 

Posted in Japanese Langauge

日本語 Conversation Tip: Saying the Right Goodbye

When it comes to parting ways, context is important in Japan. As I mentioned in my previous conversation tip, often the simple “Sayonara! (さようなら!) is good enough in most situations, and often expected to be the one standard farewell from foreigners. When your first starting out, no one will correct you from saying the standard phrase, because technically using it is never “wrong.”

However, depending on the context, you could be saying something that either a bit too formal or not formal enough. Whether you’re talking to friends or colleagues, specifically, is what this conversation tip will focus on. For the sake of brevity, we won’t be focusing on any high level politeness (a.k.a. keigo 敬語).

Friendly goodbyes are easy, and often short. A simple “Matta ne! (またね!)” is perfect for most friends, as you’re expecting to see each other again some time in the near future. When you’ve got plans to see each other again, say next Monday, then it might be nice to say something like, “Matta raishu (no) getsuyoobi! (また 来週 の 月曜日!)” Then, if you’re on really good terms with this person and don’t know when you’ll see each other again, a really simple “Ja ne! (じゃあね!)” is fine.

With colleagues and co-workers, usually they’re expecting more formal goodbyes. A nice way to say goodbye formally is “Otsukaresama-deshita! (おつかれさま でした!)” It can be a mouthful to try and say all at once, but it’s very useful nonetheless. Just try thinking about it like so: “Oats-car-eh-summa-deh-she-tah!” Practice saying that ten times fast and you’ll have the right idea. Usually, you can shout this over your shoulder to your office as you leave to go home.

If you want to say this to a single co-worker, you might simply say, “Ostukaresama-desu! ( おつかれさまです!)” or when you’re really close in age and experience a simple “Otsukare! (おつかれ!) is nice too.

You can sometimes use these phrases with friends. If you see someone after they’ve gotten off work, it’s nice to say these goodbyes as hellos instead.

What?! You say, confused. How does this work?

That’s because “Ostukaresama” means more along the lines of “Good job on all your work today!” It’s not a direct translation of goodbye. Often when you see an anime subtitled, you’ll see an “Otsukaresama-deshita” translated to something like “good work,” “good job,” or “goodbye.” However, that’s more of a cultural translation, as we don’t really have a word in English that’s used like “Ostukaresama-desu.”

I recommend that if you should meet up with a Japanese friend at a cafe on a workday in the evening, you may want to say, “Ostukaresama-desu! Genki desu ka?” as a greeting. You’re telling them you’re recognizing that they are making time to meet you after a long day, and you’re asking how they’re doing all at once. They’ll appreciate the kindness!

Now, there is another way to say goodbye to co-workers, but it’s a little high level and specific. At the same time, it’s usually appropriate for ALT’s and ELT’s, as usually the foreign teachers leave work earlier than all the others in the office.

When you’re the first to leave, or one of the first, then it’s very appropriate to say the following phrase: “Osaki-ni-shitsurei-shimasu! (お先に失礼します!)

The translations for this are also more cultural than direct for this type of goodbye. Basically, it means “Please forgive me for leaving!” or if you want to want to make it complicated “Forgive my rudeness for leaving before you!” Some of you more advanced learners might recognize “shitsurei-shimasu (失礼します)” as the more high level way of saying “excuse me” and you’re not wrong. You could also translate this goodbye phrase into “Excuse me for leaving you!”

Saying this before you leave is a really polite way to recognize that you’re going home while everyone else is working. As always, Japanese people won’t get upset if you don’t say it because they know you’re learning, and they don’t expect you to become fluent overnight. Still, saying this phrase is a nice way to say goodbye and show you’re a little more aware of their situation.

And so, those are the ways to say goodbye. Next week I’m going over how to do different versions of “Excuse me!” and “I’m sorry!”

See you next time! またね!


 

Posted in Japanese Langauge, Uncategorized

Conversation Tip: Be Careful with 気をつけて

Once upon a time, when I was back in Ibaraki-ken learning my way through Japanese the hard way, I discovered the common phrase お気をつけて (O-ki o tsukete). Usually, people drop the first part and just shout out, “気をつけて!” Often people said this to me as a general goodbye right after “さようなら(Sayonara)!”

So I started using it as another version of goodbye. For about two months I used it that way, but sometimes I’d get that face. If you’re an ex-pat, you know that face, the one where the Japanese person in front of you freezes to keep their facial features devoid of making themselves smile or giggle at your mistake because that would be extremely rude. I would try to ask what I did wrong, but I’d get waved away as if it wasn’t a big deal.

Finally, I said this one day after work, and my co-worker who was known for being a bit more direct than other teachers said outright in English, “Why are you saying 気をつけて? I’m not doing anything.”

“What?”

Turns out that 気をつけて isn’t exactly used as a goodbye. Instead, it’s a way of saying “Take care!” or the original meaning as “Be careful!” Mothers will often say this phrase to their children before they go off to school.

When people leave your house you should say something like, “気をつけて帰ってね。(Ki o tsukete kaette ne.) Be careful going home.” Often you’ll hear teachers shout out to students before a typhoon, “みんな,台風お気をつけて! (Mina(san), taifu o-ki o tsukete!) Everyone, be careful of the typhoon!

In other words, it’s more often used when people are leaving you to go somewhere or do something, such as driving, walking to/back home, etc. Often it’s implied that there might be danger or challenges ahead, so you’re wishing for someone to stay aware of their surroundings or what’s going on.

You shouldn’t use it when you are leaving someone, because you’re telling them “Be careful (here in this obviously safe place where you’re not doing anything, and that’s kind of weird).” If there are no dangers or challenges, then there’s no point in telling someone this phrase, because they’re going to be just fine sitting at a desk, staying at home, etc.

Now, to get a bit tricky, you can use it for certain other circumstances. For example, if you’re leaving someone’s house and you know they’re going to go on a trip, you can tell them, “フランス旅行, 気をつけて帰ってね! (Fransu ryoko, ki o tsukete ne!) Be careful on your trip to France!” Because here you know this person will encounter possible trouble on their journey in the near future, so you’re wanting them to have safe travels.

Basically, when someone is going away or leaving you, you should use this phrase. Otherwise, it’s fine to simply say “さようなら(Sayonara)! ” or the more informal
“じゃあね (jaa ne)!” as goodbyes.

Hopefully now you’ll know how to utilize this phrase effectively! If you want to learn more Japanese conversation tips, I’m going to start putting up some posts every Tuesday. Please follow to get more tips and tricks!


*It should be noted that misusing this phrase isn’t seen as a big deal for most Japanese people, they often appreciate the effort in trying to use it in the first place. First time learners are encouraged to use it often! 

Posted in Japanese Langauge

Studying for the JLPT: 5 Tips and Tricks

The JLPT is nearly a month away, and if you’re smart you’re already hitting those books and studying up a storm. Panic mode generally sets in about now for all of us, but there are some simple ways to study at least a little every day in order to facilitate a better learning experience, as in helping you remember all of the things you’ve read and tried to memorize.

Here are 5 ways to help you!

5: Watch Japanese TV/Dramas/Movies

Shitsuren Chocolatier.png
Shitsuren Chocolatier

Keeping yourself immersed in Japanese even at home is a great way to improve quickly.  Don’t let yourself rely on the crutch of your native language. The more Japanese you hear and see in action the better. Right now I’m watching Tokyo Ghoul with the subtitles in Japanese, and I’ll watch an NHK special or two on YouTube, the variety shows will generally put up some Japanese subtitles on there without any prompting.

4: Use Games to Help You Study

Memerise

Before I talked about websites and study books to help you prepare for the JLPT. However, there are quiz games out there that can help you increase your vocabulary fluency. Memrise is a great tool to help you get all of your vocab input, and you can also make your own games. It uses pictures and word association in order to connect the words in your mind to things you already know. You can also get the app for your phone!

Then, there are also standard Japanese games such as Final Fantasy or Ace Attorney. These games are fun to play and have some really interesting kanji to learn. Basically, you can play video games and learn something at the same time!

3: Watch YouTube Videos for Your Level

There are so many videos online available for Japanese learners. I’m a fan of Nihongomori, a YouTube channel specifically designed to help learners of Japanese. They have playlists that correspond to each level of the JLPT, and they’re tailor made to help you study in time for the test.

2: Reverse Testing

JLPT Tests.jpg

While taking all those practice tests can be useful, I recommend an old study tip I learned in high school, which at the time was called “reverse testing.” It’s when you take something you learned and design it into your own test style.

For example, the test on the JLPT is multiple choice. I know according to the practice tests that the kanji part of the exam will have four different options based on the hiragana writing, and only one of the options available is the right kanji. So I write out the question for myself and put an A, B, C, or D option. I make a whole test for myself. I go back and do the test just like I would for an exam, timer and all.

By making your own test, you’re getting your brain practice for the real things but also deconstructing how the test itself is designed for you to pass or fail. It helps, trust me.

1: Study Groups

Sudy groups.jpg
These people look way too happy to be studying.

Studying with people is always a great way to help remember what you’ve learned. Teaching and pushing each other to remember things helps form memories of people instead of just words and definitions. True, some people prefer to learn alone, but active learning generally helps the most people overall.

One of the things I used to do in university is get with a friend or two and we’d put snacks or candy in the middle. If you got 5 answers right, you could eat something. If you got the answers wrong, you starved! It was effective for me, and we also made songs to go with certain grammar points or shared different tricks we’d stumbled upon. With other people you can gain different ways of looking at the material, and that’s important in order to make the information go into long term memory instead of just short term.