Tag Archives: japanese

Life after JLPT N1

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!

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: , , ,