By Ronnie Augusto Triminio
With winter comes not only holiday cheer and presents (COVID-19 notwithstanding) but also the bi-annual Nihongo Noryoku Shiken, or Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). The JLPT is the most well-known metric for Japanese learners to expand their educational and career opportunities. The test ranges from levels 1 to 5, with 5 being the easiest and 1 being the most difficult to pass. If you’re interested in taking these tests or just want to improve your Japanese, here are a few things I’ve learned in my studies.
Examine How You Learn!
While it sounds counter-intuitive, taking a look at how you learn your native language can provide some insight on what learning strategies do and don’t work for you. Did your school’s language classes engage you? Are you a visual or interpersonal learner? For me, I learn best when I’m in a classroom setting with a clear goal in mind. I struggle a lot when I need to study alone. To prepare for the JLPT, I’ve started taking classes twice a week at Sasebo’s English Academy Cultivate, which offers evening classes in Japanese. If traditional classes don’t work for you, then perhaps making Japanese friends through apps such as HelloTalk or meeting face to face at a local bar might be another way to practice Japanese!
Make A (Reachable) Goal
Learning Japanese is a great goal, but it’s a bit too vague and grandiose to truly feel like I’ll accomplish it soon. When compared to a goal like “be able to order a big mac combo by myself within two months,” the latter sounds far more doable. Having a simple and specific goal stops you from being aimless and more incentivized to achieve the goal! Having a short deadline is also effective at keeping you on track. Having the deadline somewhere accessible, such as the calendar app on your phone, is good for keeping you responsible. After you reach your first goal, you should make another similar but a bit more difficult goal in order to continue your studies.
Create A Personalized Study Guide
An outline is not only a key tool in writing but also in studying. For learning Japanese, there is a lot you have to study, especially if you come from a country that doesn’t use Chinese characters in their writing system. There are the alphabets (three of them), vocabulary, grammar, speaking, listening and writing. If you know how you learn, then you are equipped to make your own personalized study guide. How many hours in a week will you set aside to study? What will you study on which days and how? These questions should be answered by your guide. Like your goals, your study guide should be feasible and work around your regular schedule without adding stress.
Although boring, there’s no doubt that one of the most crucial aspects of learning anything is through repetition. For Japanese kanji, I strongly recommend using the web browser apps WaniKani or Anki on mobile. Using them every day to review has improved my reading ability by a lot. For listening practice, I recommend listening to the podcast バイリンガルニュース (Bilingual News) on Spotify or Apple Music. The hosts speak in both English and
Japanese, so even if you aren’t confident in your abilities you will always be able to follow along! Finally, I recommend creating a daily diary. The diary can be written or recorded depending on what skills you want to focus on. I find creating a diary helps me not only practice what I learned, but also allows me to better express my feelings in Japanese.
The hardest for me, but definitely the biggest lesson I learned this year. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because you will make them during your studies. Mistakes are a learning opportunity, not something to be embarrassed about. Remember that to any listener, a person who makes many mistakes but still gets their point across is more fluent than someone who knows all the grammar points but doesn’t speak unless they have to. Join up for some local classes or events to interact with more Japanese people. I began learning how to play the Koto, a Japanese instrument, with a Japanese instructor and I’m extremely glad I did. It’s an experience I could have missed if I didn’t put myself out there.
Learning a new language can be an extremely frustrating experience. Even still, Japanese is an interesting language and I don’t regret studying it for a single second. Hopefully these tips will help you in your studies. Good luck!