Tag Archives: JLPT

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!

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!

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: , , ,

Learning for the sake of learning

We were final­ly able to meet every­one on our course, just in time for the ori­en­ta­tion at the uni­ver­si­ty. We were able to expe­ri­ence first hand, the hor­rors of over­crowd­ing on the Tokyo sub­way dur­ing the morn­ing rush hour — an expe­ri­ence we will now have to endure every sin­gle day! The jour­ney from Shi­mo­takai­do to Ichi­gaya takes about 45–60 min­utes. The nov­el­ty fac­tor meant that we were still rea­son­ably cheer­ful, but I sus­pect that the jokes about ‘get­ting close to each oth­er’ will soon wear thin as time goes on. Like sumo wrestling, there is only so much that we can take. The sub­way trains are well air-con­di­tioned and very clean, so it is gen­er­al­ly quite a pleas­ant expe­ri­ence (minus the over­crowd­ing).

When we arrived at the uni­ver­si­ty, we were giv­en a talk by one of the course coor­di­na­tors about the hous­ing con­tract and gen­er­al rules and reg­u­la­tions. She alter­nat­ed between Eng­lish and Japan­ese and I tried my best to look like I could under­stand the gist of both (with well-timed nods!). We filled in a bunch of forms and ques­tion­naires about our lev­el of Japan­ese pro­fi­cien­cy and the cours­es that we would like to take. The dif­fer­ent class­es [class A to class E] rough­ly fol­low the dif­fer­ent lev­els of the inter­na­tion­al Japan­ese Lan­guage Pro­fi­cien­cy Test. For­tu­nate­ly, we were told that those who had not stud­ied Japan­ese before did not need to attempt the lis­ten­ing and writ­ing place­ment tests and were only required for an inter­view. It seems like most of Cam­bridge as well as the Finns will be in the beginner’s class (class A), which is good since we have been hang­ing out togeth­er a lot any­way. [“A is for awe­some!”]

The coor­di­na­tor remarked about how the pro­gramme was quite strict, but only 60% atten­dance of the class­es is required. This seems to me to be a very lax fig­ure — I could effec­tive­ly skip class for an entire month and still pass! There are also a ridicu­lous amount of pub­lic hol­i­days [almost one day per week] where we don’t have class­es, and so I don’t except there to be too much pres­sure. Since I have already grad­u­at­ed, the trans­fer cred­its are incon­se­quen­tial to me and I am effec­tive­ly learn­ing Japan­ese only for the sake of learn­ing Japan­ese. This rep­re­sents a refresh­ing change to my time at Cam­bridge where I felt pres­sured to try and max­imise exam per­for­mance at the sake of learn­ing about things I was inter­est­ed in.

We got a first taste of the Nihon cafe­te­ria and I found the food to be very good qual­i­ty and gen­er­ous in por­tion size. For about 600 JPY we were able to get a set meal of miso soup, sal­ad, rice, and fried pork cut­let. We bought the com­muter pass that allows us to trav­el freely between Shi­mo­takai­do and Ichi­gaya, and it cost about a whop­ping 30,000 JPY (just over £230) for three months. To con­trast, a one-month ‘zone 1 only’ trav­el­card in Lon­don costs £99.10 and so the com­muter pass in Tokyo is rel­a­tive­ly good val­ue. How­ev­er, it only pro­vides free trav­el for one par­tic­u­lar route and so we will still need to pay for tick­ets when we go out­side it.

The Finns received a sig­nif­i­cant mon­e­tary grant from the uni­ver­si­ty and so we decid­ed to go back to Hara­juku to spend some of their mon­ey and kit out in Tokyo fash­ion! The Brits were unfor­tu­nate­ly feel­ing a bit poor after pay­ing for the com­muter pass, but I was still able to find some cool flip-flops and invest in a 100-yen umbrel­la. Today was the first day it rained in Tokyo since we arrived, and I per­haps even pre­fer it to the sun­shine. The air was much cool­er and the streets were less busy — a touch of Lon­don nos­tal­gia per­haps? I thought I wouldn’t miss the UK at all (par­tic­u­lar­ly the weath­er) but it seems there is still a soft spot for it in me some­where…

Category: JLSP | Tags: , , , , ,