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

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

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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

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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

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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.

 

 

 

Posted in Japanese Langauge

5 Japanese Study Websites I Love!

I’m trying to be good about studying Japanese because the JLPT is just around the riverbend, and I thought I’d share some websites that have helped me along the road with self-studying. I’ve tried to pick websites that can help anyone from beginner to advanced, but sometimes the advanced portions are limited, sorry for that in advance.

Tofugu

Tofugu.jpg

Tofugu is a great resource to learn about both Japanese language and Japanese culture. I’ve been using their kanji section in order to aid in what seems like my futile endeavor to remember any and all N2 kanji phrases. The articles are, usually, easy to read and digest while at the same time providing quality content.

Wani Kani 

Wani Kani

Wani Kani is a learning app specifically designed to help people learn kanji. Instead of focusing on reading, the whole point is to get the idea of the radicals and the meaning behind them in order to understand their context. The user types in the meaning that corresponds to the kanji radical. The only issue I take with it is that if you already know most of the basic kanji, it can take forever to level up, as each game session takes a forced break for an hour or two.

Maggie Sensei

Maggie Sensei

Every once and awhile, books can be difficult to flip through when you need help understanding a grammar point. That’s where Maggie Sensei comes in! The website is devoted to articles about Japanese grammar, and it breaks down not only how to use the grammar in a sentence but even goes into detail about if it’s better written or spoken, and even the best context to use it. I’ve been using Maggie Sensei since I touched down in Japan and couldn’t imagine where I’d be without this site.

JapanesePod101

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JapanesePod101 is one of those websites that’s got it all. If you want to learn vocabulary, grammar, speaking, listening, or kanji they’ve got it all right there. I used to use it daily until I kind of felt like I’d outgrown the lesson structure, but it’s still a great resource for intermediate and advanced users.

The Japan Times-Language Section

The Japan Times

Although it’s a news site, The Japan Times has some informative articles on how to use certain bits of grammar and even sometimes Japanese slang. They’ve got tips and tricks to make yourself sound more native when you speak, as well as some cultural issues and new Japanese that pops up from time to time (adopted language and the like). I read this website anyway nearly every other day, usually I read an article or two in the language section to help me improve my Japanese skills.

And those are five websites that I personally adored when it comes to studying Japanese. How about you, where do you go to study Japanese? Any recommendations? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in Japanese Langauge

5 Books to Pass the JLPT

It’s right around the corner, that essential test to get into any Japanese translation or interpretation job out there. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test has been around since 1984, and it has a very simple objective: “to evaluate and certify proficiency in Japanese of non-native speakers.” Yet the task of us test takers is anything but simple.

Everyone has there own different way of studying for the test. Some people simply take the practice tests over and over again to get a feel for the test itself; some people focus on vocabulary and grammar drills; while others try the more “natural” route of listening to Japanese music, watching Japanese TV, and talking in Japanese everyday. Regardless of the method, getting the right materials for the test can be daunting for a first time test taker.

Nihongo-So-Matome

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Probably the most popular JLPT test prep series, Nihongo-So-Matome breaks down lessons into daily study parts that culminate in a weekly self-taken test on the study material. Each book focuses on a different aspect of the test from mastering kanji to the listening section.

I personally love how these books are set up. Not only are they great for the test, but even for just studying Japanese in general they’re very useful. Each lesson is based around a theme, such as “family life” or “cleaning up.” Because of the easy to follow themes and the way the test is broken down into more easily absorbed sections, I put this book series at the top.

Unfortunately, the series only does N3-N1.

Nihongo Challenge

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That’s where Nihongo Challenge comes into the picture. Made by the same people behind the Nihongo-So-Matome series, these books are for true beginners. I actually recommend if you’re already in Japan to go ahead and skip N5. That level is so very basic, and honestly N4 won’t take long to beat. Basically made with the same idea of the previous books, these have some romaji and more helpful English grammar tips than the advanced series.

The JLPT Test Practice Questions Books

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The JLPT Test Questions Books  are best to save for closer to testing time. If you want to time yourself and see how well you can pass with what you know, these are the books to buy. You can get these for all levels. These books will give you a feel for what you’re up against, but keep in mind not to memorize the answers. Unlike some test study prep material given out in other countries, the test questions for the JLPT will be different from the ones in the study books.

A Dictionary of (Basic/ Intermediate/ Advanced) Grammar

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At the moment I’m currently using the Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar. However, there are three different books, one for beginners which is the Basic book. This would be for people who intend to take the N4 or N5 level of the test. Intermediate is best suited for N3 people. I’ve been told there’s a big gap between N3 and N2, so perhaps Advanced is best for N2 and N1.

These books help explain grammar structure, how it can be used, and how it can’t be used. Unlike most other books on this list, the grammar is put in dictionary style, as in alphabetical order instead of theme. They are a bit on the pricey side, but well worth the money in the end, especially if you’re a person who focuses on grammar structure more so than vocabulary.

Quick Mastery of Vocabulary: In preparation for the JLPT

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The Quick Mastery  series is much like the grammar dictionaries, but focuses on vocab only. If you’re like me and kanji is your worst nightmare, these books are for you. Also, the books have red writing below them with hiragana and/or katakana. The book comes with a red plastic filter so you can’t see those words, which helps readers to memorize the Japanese words in the kanji form.

These are grouped together by theme, too, so they’re wonderful supplementary materials to utilize in combination with the Nihongo-So-Matome and Challenge series. In general, though, I’m always recommending that people learn more vocabulary than anything else. If you’ve got the words, you can figure out the context, and then grammar will come more naturally. But then again, that’s how my mind works and different people learn in different ways.

Best of luck to everyone studying! May we all pass with flying colors.