Studying for JLPT N3

So I’m taking JLPT N3 the day after tomorrow and I’m pretty nervous.

For the unenlightened, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is a standardized Japanese test with five levels: N1 is the highest and tricky even for native speakers, N5 is the lowest. I will be taking N3 on Sunday, meaning if I pass I will officially have intermediate Japanese.

I know that according to Japanese language majors, N3 is pointless. ‘Employers only want N2 and above’ they say. Frankly I don’t particularly care as I’m doing the exam for myself. I’m trash so if I don’t have a benchmark and the incentive of a shiny gold star, I probably won’t study.  Also, even if the exam has no ‘worth’ employers, it’s proof that I have evolved since coming here and haven’t spent all of my free time in cake shops and bars (well I have, but I bring a textbook with me sometimes).

These are the resources I’ve been using to study. If you live in Tokyo you can get all of these books in Kinokuya book shop in Shinjuku, otherwise they should be available online.

Kanji/Vocab: Worked through the Kanji Master N3 book from Arc Academy. This is basically just a list of kanji with the readings, stroke order, compounds etc. I go through it and add vocab I think will be useful to my own deck of anki flash cards on my phone and try to go through the app every day. I also have been working through Kanzen Master Kanji  (different brand but everyone is still a master), which is basically a whole book of kanji related exercises, grouped by topic. I like it because it has pictures and I am a child.
Grammar: Grammar is definitely my weakest area. I hate it. It’s boring, I have to use my brain and it seems like I forget new grammar ten minutes after I’ve learned it. I’ve been using Kanzen Master Grammar.
Listening:
To be honest I’ve mostly been ignoring this one. I’ve been told it’s the easiest section, especially if you live in Japan. I’m going to do some practice tests tomorrow and then wing it.

You can probably tell I’m not exactly the diligent student. Luckily, two of my friends are taking N3 at the same time and we have been meeting every week for study group. This has been really helpful, particularly for making grammar less painful. We go through the points together and make stupid example sentences. A lot of the N3 grammar points seem to be for gossip and passive aggression so my friend has made this character Sakura chan, an idol who gets into a different scandal each week, depending on what grammar we are doing.

My boyfriend passed N1 this year so he’s a lot better than us. He sits in the corner during our sessions and makes suggestions (some of them useful, some less so). I think the power has got to his head though because the other day he gave me detention for looking at facebook in class.

Japanese study n3 detention
I don’t know which is worse, my Japanese handwriting or my boyfriend’s English handwriting…

To be perfectly honest, as regular readers may have noticed, the last few months have been pretty busy for me. I know I haven’t studied a lot and I’m not at all sure I’m going to pass. But I’m still super proud of what my friends and I have achieved. We’ve really come together and worked hard and got to know each other better too. I feel that, pass or fail, this test has forced me to take my Japanese to the next level so even if the results don’t go so well, I won’t regret taking it.

Are you doing the JLPT on Sunday? Have you done it in the past and how was it? Let me know!

頑張ろう everyone!

My New Years Resolutions

This blog has mostly been about my life in Japan I’m afraid this one is a personal post. Inspired by Gabrielle Leimon, lifestyle blogger at Welcome to the Birdcage, writer for the Huffington Post and one of my oldest friends, I am going to write a post about my new years resolutions. Come summer 2016 I’ll write another to see how I’m doing with them and get back on track if I’ve strayed, which I inevitably will. To be honest I’m pretty vain so I’m hoping that having my resolutions out in public will be a good motivator. I don’t usually do New Year Resolutions and if I do I fail dramatically but hey, New Years is a far bigger deal in Japan than in the UK and my life is different beyond recognition to how it was 6 months ago, so who knows what could happen? It’s probably groundless but I have a feeling that 2016 is going to be a big one for me.

1) To get healthy
Boyfriend watched me write that and promptly stuffed his face with some kind of delicious cream thing as he raised his eyebrows knowingly at me. He then offered me a chocolate finger. I did not refuse.

Moving swiftly on…
I will turn 23 in February 2016 (urgh) and this is a wakeup call that I do not have the body of a teenager anymore. Whilst I have never been terrible at taking care of myself – I’ve always exercised regularly, I eat a lot of fruit and veg, I don’t smoke and I try to get 8 hours of sleep a night – I could definitely be a lot better. I feel that so far that most of the things I do to take care of myself are restorative rather than preventative. I do enough yoga and pilates to control the pain from my scoliosis, muscle tension and time spent in the same position (whether playing the harp or sitting at a desk) enough that I’m not miserable. However, I never exercise towards a goal or attempt to build strength, flexibility or stamina beyond what’s necessary to not be in pain all of the time. I sleep through the weekends to attempt to repay the sleep debt I’ve gained during the week. I spend a day sipping water and eating salad to counteract the alcohol and junk food I’ve consumed the previous night (Japan is particularly bad for this – how am I supposed to resist temptation after a night out when every convenience store has fried chicken??). I spent the first half of 2015 finishing my degree – a lot of late nights, a lot of stress, a lot of caffeine. After a couple of months off I moved to Japan – a lot of stress, a change in diet and a job where I was often working 12 hour days. Although in some ways I have been getting more healthy since arriving, in others it feels like my body has been resisting Japan. Since moving to Tokyo I have had minor surgery and struggled with digestive problems and anxiety.

I will change job at the end of January 2016 (prepare for a tenshoku post some time in February…) and my new position will allow me more opportunities to work on my health. Prioritising exercise and sleep, I want 2016 to be a year my body thanks me for.

2) To get better at Japanese… but to not take JLPT N3 in July 2016

For those who don’t know, the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is a standardized Japanese test taken by learners worldwide. There are 5 levels – N1 is the highest and indicates near fluency. N2 a level is where you can handle most situations living in Japan can throw at you – above average students will reach this level after a four year Japanese degree in the UK, although some of my friends on BA Japanese took this test and failed despite having a good level of language. I was intending to take the level below this, N3, which is basically a conversational level of Japanese. I was probably at about N4 (Elementary Japanese) when I arrived, strong on listening but weak on kanji as the University elective I took was grammar focused. You can take the JLPT twice a year, in July and December, and I on coming to Japan in August I set myself the reasonable goal of attempting N3 in July 2016. In the new year, I’ve resolved to try harder at Japanese but I’ve also decided to save JLPT N3 until at least December 2016. This may seem counter-intuitive but bear with me.

I like tests. So sue me, I do.  Everyone is different and tests suit my learning style far more than coursework, which made my undergraduate degree and my 12,000 word dissertation pretty challenging. I’m generally pretty good at tests too but occasionally this doesn’t work in my favour. Because I’m good at ‘exam technique’ (or ‘faking it,’ whichever you want to call it) sometimes I’ve been put into tests before I’m ready and I’m less good than I seem from my results, which actually hurts my learning in the long run. This is the main reason why I’m not entering N3 in July. It’s not because I think I can’t hack it: I know I could make a serious attempt. However, I think that if I enter I will get obsessed with learn Japanese for the exam and lose sight of the wider goal of communication. The main thing I want to focus on at the moment is speaking – I want to be able to communicate with my bandmates better. I want my Japanese friends to feel like they don’t have to speak in English all of the. I want to not get the look every time I speak to shop assistants. There is no speaking aspect of the JLPT and things I would have to work pretty hard on to pass N3 are unnecessary for me to better my speaking at my current level. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those foreigners who can’t be bothered with kanji – I actually love them. I learn kanji through compounds which is a great way to build up vocab. The problem is I can’t deny that I actually find it easier to learn kanji than to do ‘real language learning.’ When I have half an hour spare in the staffroom, it’s far easier for me to write pretty kanji than learn a complicated grammar point or slog my way through a reading exercise. I’ll need to know 650 kanji for N3 so I feel that if I enter I will spend a lot of quality time with my kanji app instead of learning Japanese which will help me interact with the people around me.

It will be a challenge to motivate myself without a test but part of what I want to achieve is getting out of the mindset that learning should get you sweeties and CV points. Greater understanding of this wonderful language and better ability to communicate with Japanese people should be its own reward.

3) To create more

Since graduating from University I have rediscovered my creative side. During my time studying and my year out working in music PR I guess I was creative in some ways – I wrote essays and press releases, organised parties and concerts and performed a fair amount – but my mind was always so busy with external pressures that I didn’t really make much I could call my own. Blogging has helped me remember how much I love creating stuff. In 2016 I want to write more blog posts and more songs. I want to get back into my YouTube channel. I want to put effort into my band, not putting too much pressure on anything but just having a great time.

4) To be more present

I’ll admit it, I don’t fully know what this means. All I know is that sometimes I’m pretty bad at it. As an ENTP I’m programmed to live in a world of ideas, possibilities and plans and, quite frankly, this has often been an advantage at University and at work. But it can also be anxiety inducing, especially when you live abroad.

Self-help articles throw around phrases like ‘cultivating mindfulness’ all the time, but I’ll be the first to admit I don’t fully understand what ‘mindfulness’ means. I can’t meditate. Sorry. It’s not helpful to me at all, I just sit there longing for it to end, getting more angry with myself and more anxious.

I’m a big fan of the book on life as a JET, This Japanese Life and the blog of the same name. Reading the post about ‘mindful running’ was the first time that I realised that mindfulness could be activities other than staring at my eyelids hating myself. Finding ways to practice mindfulness whilst running and doing yoga (see resolution 1) is actually possible for my over-excited type A mind and I’ve found it helpful to my mental well being.

I live in Japan and I want to be ‘more present’ in Japan. The age of the internet does not help with this. It’s wonderful that I could Skype my parents on Christmas day, but not so great when you realise that you may physically be in Japan but your mind has been elsewhere all day. You wake up and check facebook. You reply to an email from your parents and check your instagram on your lunch break. You go home and watch Netflix in English then procrastinate washing up by scrolling through your facebook feed again. There are your friends. They’re smiling at nights out in the clubs you used to go to, walking through the countryside, eating a terribly British Christmas dinner with their families. Two of them at a gig in London of one of your favourite bands saying they miss you.

Sometime in December I realised that I was using social media as a coping mechanism. Every time some stressful liguistic or cultural misunderstanding occurred I would check my phone. Breathe. Here are people who get you. If you post a status they will understand your humour. Checking your phone reminds you of social circles where you belonged, where you didn’t have to worry about offending people by accident. Where interacting with people was easier. I don’t think social media is intrinsically a bad thing, but this kind of behavior is unhealthy. It’s wonderful that I can use facebook to keep in touch with my friends on the other side of the world but this kind of checking is making me miss home and giving me FOMO abound. It’s a small thing, but to try and be more present in Japan, I’m going to try and do facebook free January. I’ll still be blogging, and still on twitter and instagram, but for an addict like me I thought it was best to start with a goal I could actually keep – and seeing as facebook probably causes the most problems, it will be the one to go. Yes, you can clap really slowly now.

I guess, when I say I want to be more mindful, what I mean is I want to be more aware of my own thoughts and how I experience things. Maybe if I cut down on the internet usage, keep at the yoga and the running and generally just try to experience things on their own terms, I’ll start to understand more what it means to ‘be in the present.’

Or maybe not.

I’ll let you know mid year if I find out anything interesting.

nye beach kamakura
Me on a beach in Kamakura on New Years Eve, just out from paddling in the freezing sea in sunglasses and a bobble hat