Tag Archives: japanese

Life after JLPT N1

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A few weeks ago I anxiously logged onto the JLPT website to check my N1 result. I passed! Great! Now what? The long journey towards fluency is now over, right? Not even close. I still come across new words and phrases on a daily basis. I spend more time studying (or rather, being exposed to) Japanese than ever before. The journey has only but begun!

Recently I have been investing a lot of time into reading native material. Reading Japanese (print) books has always been a pain for me. Looking up unknown words/kanji can be difficult if you are not sure how to write them. You can quickly lose motivation if you stumble into a string of new words. Is there a better way?

Enter the Kindle app (I’m reading on a Nexus 7). If you long-press over any word a popup will appear with the reading and definition (in Japanese). If that is not enough, you can also easily copy words/phrases into any other app of your choosing (e.g. other dictionaries, Anki, etc.). Highlighting words will create a bookmark allowing you to view them again in context later. I usually do this for all new words and phrases. The Kindle app makes reading Japanese a much more pleasant experience!

Amazon Japan has a large selection of both digitalized novels and manga. I enjoyed reading 雨の日も、晴れ男 (a novel) and 日本人の知らない日本語 (manga). I have been trying to read for about 1 hour everyday before bed – a modest target that hopefully ensures I won’t burn out. I think eBooks are great for non-native speakers – give it a try!

Category: Japanese, JLSP | Tags: , , ,

Going offline with Nihongo no Mori

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I wrote about the Nihongo no Mori group (日本語の森) before in a previous blog post – they are a Waseda student group who produce YouTube videos teaching Japanese grammar, vocabulary, special language topics (e.g. regional accents), etc. Their videos were extremely helpful in my N1 study and I strongly recommend them to anyone looking for alternative study materials. Their non-JLPT videos are also pretty entertaining to watch and give a glimpse into various Japanese cultural topics (who doesn’t want to learn about Samurai?).

Last week they held an ‘オフ会’ (offline meeting/party) in Shibuya and I decided to attend to meet the students (teachers!) and thank them in person. I invited my friend Aysel who happens to be a Waseda (exchange) student and who became an immediate fan of 日本語の森 after I linked it to her. We knew the event would be recorded (and made into a YouTube video) so we were a bit nervous, but it turned out to be very fun and we were able to meet some interesting people here in Tokyo!

They rented a large room and had chairs arranged in rows, with a desk for the teachers at the front. Honestly, the setup looked a bit like a press conference at the UN rather than a YouTube party! They gave us a goody bag as we entered the room and we took some seats. The event started a bit later than expected so we had a chance to talk to the other people in the room. Unsurprisingly, they were all non-Japanese (from many different countries!) studying for JLPT. I even found someone from Vietnam! But decided against trying to communicate to them in my poor Vietnamese – at this point, my Japanese is definitely a lot stronger!

There wasn’t really an opportunity to talk with the teachers directly – instead we spent most of the time playing three games. The first was a variant of Rock Paper Scissors / Janken (たたいて・かぶって・ジャンケンポン), with the added rule that the winner has to grab the (inflatable) hammer and hit the loser on the head, while the loser has to grab the helmet and wear it to protect himself. The teachers gave us a demonstration and then we joined in afterwards. If we won against a teacher of our choice, we got to take a picture with them – I chose and won a picture with Yuha-sensei! It felt like we were taking pictures with pop idols rather than ‘ordinary’ university students, but I didn’t let that thought ruin the fun… I await the day somebody takes part in a convoluted game of Rock Paper Scissors just to win a photo opportunity with ME!



Aysel was not so lucky...

Aysel was not so lucky…

The second game was the ‘Wasabi Challenge’. They put large amounts of wasabi inside a single piece of sushi (out of many), and the teachers each took a piece in turn and ate it. The job of the rest of us was to guess who had ate the wasabi-filled piece, from the facial expressions/reactions of those eating. We also played a reverse version of the same game – all except one had large amounts of wasabi while the single piece had none. They were pretty good at acting so I couldn’t really tell who it was – as expected for a YouTube group! Aysel took part in the student version of the game, fooling almost everyone with her class acting skills.

Aysel taking a mouthful of wasabi... Or is she??

Aysel taking a mouthful of wasabi… Or is she??

For the final game, one of the teachers placed mystery items in a box and the others took turns to guess what was inside by touching it with their hands. The audience could see what was inside (generally ordinary stuff like soft toys, pencil sharpener) but we gave our best (over)reaction to put off the person guessing. At one point there was a piece of raw chicken in the box, whose texture would have surely freaked anyone else out, but Misato-sensei was surprisingly unfazed and stayed extremely calm – 余裕!

I don't like touching raw chicken even when I know what it is...

I don’t like touching raw chicken even when I know what it is…

After the games we took more pictures together and filmed a short clip with everyone dancing. They said they would be using that clip at the end of every(!) Nihongo no Mori video to encourage people to subscribe. I am very happy to have participated in this event, even if there are some embarrassing moments captured on video. I think studying Japanese is incredibly important for anyone who wants to be here for the medium-long term and I support any initiatives bringing foreigners one step closer to fluency!

Spaced repetition with iKnow!

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I’ve recently renewed my iKnow! subscription, with the aim of finishing the Japanese Core 6000 series (the 6000 most commonly appearing Japanese words) once and for all. I’ve tried many different methods for vocabulary building and I’ve found iKnow! to be one of the most reliable to date (if you put in the time!). After learning some words in iKnow!, I seem to notice them randomly when watching TV shows, reading articles, etc. which further reinforces the words in my memory. In conjunction with generous helpings of natural sources of Japanese, I am hoping iKnow! will help push me towards fluency in 2014.

iKnow! is an online, paid, learning service based on spaced repetition that can help you learn and remember words. There are pre-built courses with example sentences, images and sounds, and your progress is saved online. iOS and Android apps are also available (full disclosure: I used to work on the iKnow! Android app).

iKnow! welcome screen.

iKnow! welcome screen.

Spaced repetition is a learning technique whereby you increase the amount of time between subsequent reviews to maximize learning efficiency. Intuitively, reviewing items too early (when you still remember it) is wasted effort, and so to minimize the amount of time studying you should only review just as you are about to forget it. There are algorithms that exist to try to calculate this optimal time interval, one of which is implemented by the iKnow! service. iKnow! also introduces the concept of ‘mastering’, which is basically a threshold at which retention is deemed sufficiently high.

Repeated reviewed items follow a different curve

Repeated reviewed items follow a different curve

There are several free spaced repetition apps available too (e.g. Anki), but I’m choosing to use iKnow! for the pre-packaged content, varied quiz types, target setting/progress system, and reliable syncing across different apps/platforms. iKnow! repeats content a lot more often during a session making reviews take a bit longer compared to Anki, but reading the example sentences again and again seems to help me with retention.

Core 6000 is split up into 6 different series (Core 1000 – Core 6000), each having 1000 words. In turn, each series has 10 courses, containing 100 words each. The initial courses have plenty of images and example sentences, but this degrades somewhat as you progress (from around Core 3000 you only get one example sentence per word, and no images).

iKnow! study screen.

iKnow! study screen.

I started on Core 1000 Step 1, and my most recently mastered course was Core 4000 Step 5. Having currently put in 208 hours in total, the average time for me to finish a course is 6 hours. With some extrapolation, and a study target of 7 hours per week, it will me 150 hours (21.4 weeks) to finish the remaining 25 courses. Maintaining 1 hour per day may seem straightforward, but without some basic planning it is easy to slip up. This time round, I’m going to try to split up my sessions throughout the day to get through it a bit easier. Feel free to ask me about my iKnow! progress in 2014!

Current progress in iKnow!

Current progress in iKnow!

JLPT… We meet again!

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On Sunday, I took the JLPT exam (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) here in Tokyo. The JLPT has several levels ranging from N5 (the least difficult) to N1 (the most difficult). Having recently passed N3 in July, I decided to give N2 a try this time round! N2 is generally considered the minimum level required to live and work in a Japanese environment without major problems. Improving my Japanese will help me in all aspects of my life (as long as I remain in Japan) and so it only make sense to spend the time to study properly. I think I sat this a bit prematurely, but it gave me a concrete target to aim for and has helped to guide my study in the past few months. Pass or fail, I am happy some progress was made!

In Japan, you can take the exam up to twice a year. You apply for a particular level a few months in advance, paying a nominal fee (5500 yen). The test location seems to be decided based on your address – I was assigned to Tokyo City University – Setagaya campus. The test site was 15 minutes walk from the nearest train station. I was worried the place might be hard to find, but there were many, many other people (1000s?) also sitting the exam, and we formed a long line from the station all the way up to the test site. The other candidates seemed to be predominately Asian (Chinese, Vietnamese), but there were also people from many other countries too. Everyone seemed to be in their early 20s, and judging from a few overheard conversations, mostly university students.

There were several exam rooms across several buildings, with each room having about 100 students. They were extremely strict on what was allowed and not allowed on your desk – in particular, several people were told off for having erasers still inside their cases. All of the instructions from the examiners were in Japanese, but they generally stuck to set phrases and used simple language. It was interesting to see how well (and not well) my fellow students could understand the oral instructions!

The N2 exam is broken into two sections, ‘Language Knowledge’ (vocabulary, grammar, reading) and listening. The first section, including prep time, was about 2 hours, while the second lasted about 1 hour. There was a generous break (about 30 minutes) in-between. Time management was a bit of a problem on the language knowledge section, but I managed to make it to half-way through the last question before time ran out. There were quite a few words I didn’t recognize in the vocab section, and it took me more than a while to read the long passages in the reading section, but grammar went reasonably well. I was feeling mentally drained going into the listening section, but had no choice but to keep as focused as I could throughout. Most questions and key points are only mentioned once, and so a brief slip in concentration could spell disaster. I made many notes whilst listening, but still missed a few things when it came to answering the questions. If the audio was played twice, this would be be the easiest section of the exam by far. But the extreme level of concentration required (along with being generally tired after the language knowledge section) keeps this somewhat challenging.

The results will be announced in early February 2014(!), so I have quite a while to go before I find out how well I did. I will keep studying in the meantime – hopefully 1 year from now I will be in a position to confidently sit JLPT N1! Time to ramp up my study for 2014!

Category: Japanese | Tags: , , ,