Daily Archives: April 21, 2014

Studying for JLPT N1

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I’ve reg­is­tered to take the JLPT N1 exam this July — I hope to, once and for all, bring a suc­cess­ful end to my JLPT jour­ney! For the sake of any­one plan­ning to take the exam, and indeed for my own sake (intro­spec­tion is always good!), I want to give a quick overview on some of things I feel are con­tribut­ing to my progress. I will also men­tion some things that I have found use­ful for increas­ing gen­er­al Japan­ese abil­i­ty (but per­haps not so much for the exam).

- Japan­ese Tutor
Many peo­ple swear by self-study, but I find it dif­fi­cult to stay focused for an extend­ed peri­od of time with­out exter­nal feed­back and check­point­ing. Dur­ing uni­ver­si­ty, I often skipped lec­tures and class­es under the pre­tence that I could, in the­o­ry, study more effi­cient­ly by myself dur­ing the same peri­od of time. While I don’t dis­pute that claim even today, what often hap­pened in prac­tice was that I would get dis­tract­ed, pro­cras­ti­na­tion would take over, and I would end up doing less pro­duc­tive activ­i­ties.

I owe a lot of my cur­rent JLPT suc­cess to the steady pace and rhythm pro­vid­ed by my tutor. You can find Japan­ese tutors using Labochi. I have pri­vate class­es 4 times per week (before work), gen­er­al­ly work­ing my way through JLPT text­books (described lat­er) and any real-world arti­cles, doc­u­ments, emails, etc. that I am hav­ing trou­ble under­stand­ing.

- Text­books
新完全マスター文法N1 — This is a sta­ple for most N1 stu­dents and I don’t have any par­tic­u­lar com­plaints about it. The entire book is in Japan­ese with no Eng­lish, and so it may be help­ful to have a native speak­er around. I’ve worked my way through it from start to end, and although have yet to com­mit all of the gram­mar points to mem­o­ry, feel like it has enough breadth and depth to serve as my sole gram­mar text­book. If you have pre­vi­ous­ly used the N2 edi­tion of this book, the N1 edi­tion should make you feel right at home.

新完全マスター読解N1 — This book should help build out your read­ing com­pre­hen­sion. I am about 70% of the way through, and it remains very chal­leng­ing (this is a good thing!). A lot of the mate­r­i­al in this book is stuff that I would not like­ly come across in my nor­mal life (nov­els, essays, etc.) and would have no chance to prac­tice oth­er­wise. I enjoy learn­ing new vocab­u­lary via this book — there is always lot of con­text ensur­ing a good chance of remem­ber­ing the mean­ing and usage.

日本語パワードリル N1 文字・語彙 — I am not a fan of typ­i­cal vocab­u­lary text­books (i.e. ones that most­ly con­sist of a long list of words), so I decid­ed instead to study vocabulary/kanji with exam-style ques­tions. This book is sim­ply pages and pages of prac­tice ques­tions. Some of the ques­tions offer answers with very sim­i­lar mean­ings so I often find myself ask­ing a native speak­er to explain the nuances. Any new words I come across I put into Anki.

日本語能力試験 20日で合格 N1文字・語彙・文法 — This is sim­i­lar to the pre­vi­ous book, but also cov­ers gram­mar. The Kanzen Mas­ter series doesn’t offer a lot in the way of prac­tice, so I turn to oth­er sources. A sin­gle ‘day’ (of which there are 20) in this book takes me about 1.5/2 hours to com­plete. A lot of stuff is cov­ered in a sin­gle chap­ter — great for gram­mar revi­sion!

- Anki
Anki is a free spaced-rep­e­ti­tion appli­ca­tion for PC and mobile. I pre­fer it over iKnow! for when I am cre­at­ing my own con­tent since it gives me a lot more con­trol over the for­mat and lay­out. I most­ly use it for review­ing vocab­u­lary that I have come across in the above-men­tioned text­books or in real-life. On each card, I write the Japan­ese word/phrase, read­ing in kana, mean­ing in Eng­lish, and mean­ing in Japan­ese (tak­en from a Japan­ese dic­tio­nary). Anki has a pret­ty good Android app so I can review wher­ev­er and when­ev­er. There are some pre-made decks for N1 but I find it a lot eas­i­er to remem­ber cards that I have cre­at­ed cards myself.

- Japan­ese Dic­tio­nar­ies
At N1 lev­el, Japan­ese-Japan­ese dic­tio­nar­ies start mak­ing a whole lot of sense. I main­ly use the one found on the Yahoo! Japan site (it is actu­al­ly a meta-dic­tio­nary, aggre­gat­ing results from oth­er dic­tio­nar­ies). Not only do you get to under­stand the mean­ing of the word you are look­ing up, you can get some bonus mem­o­ry hits in the def­i­n­i­tion itself. A Japan­ese-Eng­lish dic­tio­nary entry usu­al­ly just con­tains syn­onyms of the word in Eng­lish with­out much expla­na­tion. On the oth­er hand, a Japan­ese-Japan­ese dic­tio­nary entry describes the mean­ing using short sen­tences offer­ing a lot more con­text.

I also use Google Trans­late, Rikaikun and JED for my occa­sion­al Japan­ese-Eng­lish needs.

- Nihon­go No Mori (YouTube)
There is a good JLPT N1 gram­mar series on YouTube by Nihon­go No Mori. The teacher (who seems to be a cur­rent uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent) reads out some sen­tences and explains gram­mar prin­ci­ples with­in them. They recent­ly remade the gram­mar videos and added sub­ti­tles and ‘spe­cial effects’. The tone is very casu­al and I find it very use­ful in con­junc­tion with the Kanzen Mas­ter gram­mar book. It doesn’t take long to watch all of the videos — do it sev­er­al times! There are also vocab and gram­mar videos for oth­er Japan­ese lev­els, as well as videos on spe­cial­ist top­ics (like Kan­sai accent).

- JapanesePod101
Although per­haps not as help­ful for N1, this site has been a very good source of Japan­ese learn­ing mate­r­i­al. This is a paid site requir­ing a month­ly sub­scrip­tion (total­ly worth it, IMO). Each pod­cast episode has a short dia­logue in Japan­ese, fol­lowed by analy­sis of the dia­logue and intro­duc­tion of relat­ed vocab/grammar in Japan­ese and Eng­lish. The gram­mar expla­na­tions are easy to remem­ber and serve as good revi­sion. The tone is usu­al­ly light-heart­ed and fun, mak­ing it very easy to lis­ten to.

- Oth­er pod­casts / radio
There are a lot of Japan­ese pod­casts on iTunes, but I have yet to find one that I par­tic­u­lar­ly like. If any­one has any sug­ges­tions please let me know! Instead, I often lis­ten to Japan­ese Radio via Radiko. There are sev­er­al sta­tions, and they usu­al­ly talk about cur­rent affairs and inter­view peo­ple. The Japan­ese here is the real deal and it is not always easy to under­stand, but is good for build­ing gen­er­al lis­ten­ing com­pre­hen­sion and expo­sure to Japan­ese cul­ture. I don’t own a TV so this is the next best thing!

- Work­ing in Japan
Since join­ing Origa­mi last year, I’ve picked up a lot of stan­dard busi­ness phras­es as well as tech­ni­cal (pro­gram­ming) vocab­u­lary. Busi­ness emails in the N1 read­ing sec­tion now seem pret­ty famil­iar despite the extreme lev­els of polite­ness. Per­haps the most use­ful thing is sim­ply being exposed to native speak­ers on a reg­u­lar basis, lis­ten­ing to con­ver­sa­tions and read­ing emails between each oth­er. Peo­ple rarely both­er to cor­rect me unless I ask them to, so it is often more pro­duc­tive to copy phras­es used by oth­ers rather than going cre­ative. I don’t come across a lot of N1 gram­mar dur­ing work, but it is pret­ty use­ful for con­sol­i­dat­ing vocab­u­lary.

I also try to read arti­cles from Japan­ese web­sites that peo­ple share. These are usu­al­ly high­ly-relat­ed to my work and so make for mem­o­rable read­ing prac­tice. I often look at arti­cles about var­i­ous star­tups from TechCrunch Japan and The Bridge. Rikaikun is pret­ty use­ful to quick­ly look-up unknown words when view­ing a web­site.

- Talk­ing to friends / Lan­guage exchange
I have quite a few friends who I talk to exclu­sive­ly in Japan­ese. This is great for both lis­ten­ing and speak­ing prac­tice, but I find that I don’t learn a lot of new mate­r­i­al, par­tic­u­lar things relat­ed to N1. For gen­er­al sur­vival in Japan how­ev­er, devel­op­ing your speak­ing skills is of course cru­cial. When speak­ing to a Japan­ese per­son, they some­times slow down their speech or use dif­fer­ent words com­pared to speak­ing to anoth­er native speak­er. I find speak­ing to Japan­ese in a group (of native speak­ers) the most chal­leng­ing.

I have also done some lan­guage exchanges (with peo­ple who are oth­er­wise strangers), but the con­ver­sa­tion rarely gets past a self-intro­duc­tion. Once you have prac­ticed answer­ing basic ques­tions about your­self a few dozen times, it is more fruit­ful to talk to peo­ple with whom you have a deep­er rela­tion­ship (you can talk about more var­ied sub­jects).

Reg­is­tra­tion for JLPT N1 (and all oth­er lev­els) is cur­rent­ly open; I wish the best of luck to all those who will join me in tak­ing it!