The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is something that I, a student of Japan and its language, have been battling with for some time now. Many of you may remember an old post of mine containing a quote from Miyazaki Toten that reeked of despair and frustration. Not long after that, many of you e-mailed me and tweeted at me and left supportive comments and talked to me and just really gave me a lot of hope. I hope you all remember the follow-up post, where I decided to pick myself up and dust myself off. I will say now that yes, even now, I get frustrated, but I am now miles (kilometers?) from where I was when I wrote about giving up.
A while back, I had a conversation with Lindsey (!!!) about studying for the JLPT. She had made this awesome study plan and said something to the effect of, “we’re both teachers, we plan lessons for our students, why not do it for ourselves?” I mean, I had all of the materials sitting right in front of me, I hadn’t really been utilizing them to the full extent I could have been.
So I threw myself into studying. I picked up those books and dug into them. I bought a notebook to write down all of the grammar points I was learning and the practice exercises that went along with them. I mean, I actually needed to physically write everything down into this notebook, instead of just circling the answers in the practice text. I found that if I actually did the writing myself, I was more apt to remember what was written down. Following this mindset, I also bought a graph paper notebook and used it to practice new kanji as well as some kanji I knew, but wasn’t entirely sure of how they were written. Luckily, I sit next to one of our school’s Japanese teachers in the office, and he gladly helped me when I wasn’t entirely sure of stroke order, usage, etcetera.
Wow was he helpful, and never ever once condescending or confusing. Sometimes when I ask people questions about word usage or idiomatic phrases, they tend to go off on a nihonjinron tirade that never really ever answers my original question and always succeeds in me saying “yes, I agree, you speak a difficult language…” but never following with, “… can you freaking help me now?!”
I think that perhaps the difference between him and all of my other Japanese teachers was that my teachers were teaching Japanese to me as a foreign language. Whereas, he teaches Japanese to high school students as like.. their first language. I mean, he’s the equivalent of what my English teachers were like in high school, making us read great novels and write essays and papers about them. Not so concerned with the correct-ness of the language, but more about how one communicates with it and its usage and written form. I wish I could have taken all of my Japanese in college from a teacher like him, but I suppose it was best that I learned my basics the way I did!!
I finally invested in an electronic dictionary, as time was of the essence!! It was, hands down, the best purchase I’ve ever made it my life!! I know how to use a regular-old paper Kanji dictionary, but let’s face it, those things are a pain in the butt to lug around and looking up kanji using the STEP method takes a fair amount of time. The electronic dictionary is a huge time-saver and convenience. I can even save all of the entries I’ve looked up with a flashcard feature, and review them later on. It has a pronunciation guide, thesaurus, encyclopedia, business dictionary, cookbooks, medical dictionary… etc. Totally a great purchase, even if it did set me back a couple hundred bucks.
Lastly, I’ll talk about the texts I used. I will provide links to them on Amazon.co.jp, along with their reviews.
日本語総まとめ問題集 [2級文法編] and日本語総まとめ問題集 [2級漢字編]
these two texts are published by Ask publishing. When I looked at them in the bookstore, I appreciated the fact that they contained English explanations and (in the Kanji book) lots of useful vocabulary. Unfortunately, the English translations are poor and are in need of serious revision. When I was making my own notes in my notebook, I translated the example sentences myself so they would be easier to relate to and understand. The other axe I have to grind with these books is the fact that they have lots of really negative sentences in them, that just… kind of make you want to give up studying! They don’t really create any kind of positive attitude toward language learning!
The Japanese in this letter is filled with mistakes.
I can’t even write hiragana, so of course I can’t write kanji.
It is impossible to pass the test with my current abilities.
The Japanese in this essay is so bad that it’s impossible to fix.
I mainly bought this book to take and read on the train to and from work. It’s a nice size for commuting, and it comes with a red plastic plate so the words and furigana printed in red disappear and force you to memorize the vocabulary. It’s nice for short-term memory recall practice, but as a regular study method, I would personally steer clear of this kind of book.
Wow! I really loved this text the most out of all of them. Reading comprehension is probably my weakest section of the test, but this book is great as far as explaining the types of questions, giving you wonderful explanations of how to break down sentences and truly get a grasp of what you’re reading. However, this book is written entirely in Japanese, which makes it a little tiresome at first. I figured that since I’m taking a N2 test I should at least be able to read 80% of this book, so I shouldn’t complain that it’s written all in Japanese – that is what I’m aiming for. I WANT to be able to read and understand 100% of the book! So. I did my best and made my way through the N2 practice problems, and I did very well with this text, and I highly recommend it.
I’d also like to mention that I used all of these texts in conjunction with the mass amounts of Japanese I already know. I do have a degree in this stuff, and without my background, I think it might be hard for an independent learner to work with these texts. On the other hand, everyone is different, and who am I to say what works for me may not work for anyone else!! I encourage everyone to find their own style and way to study whatever it is you’re passionate about! For me it happens to be Japanese. I loove Japanese. I love how it rolls off of my tongue and I love writing it mostly! I like all of the little idiomatic expressions and I even like the things that challenge me like humble speech and transitive/intransitive verb pairs. I think it’s really cool. Anyway. I’ll stop gushing over how much I enjoy this language and keep my fingers crossed that I did well on my test this year!!