Onwards to Joyo Literacy

In an effort to try and finally plug up the gaping holes in my Japanese literacy, I bought JLPT1-level kanji flash cards, i.e. the ones that should put me at official Japanese literacy. I’d gotten a ton of mileage out of my JLPT2 cards, even passing the exam in the process, so I know they do the trick. Right now I’m prioritizing reading over writing, so issues of being able to recognize but not replicate aren’t quite as big a deal for me.

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s difficult to just memorize a kanji flash card. The ones I use, from White Rabbit Press, have all sorts of useful details on them. They have pronunciations (even more obscure ones), they have multiple examples of usage, and of course a picture of the kanji itself. The potential trouble lies in the fact that, not only are there varying pronunciations depending on whether the characters are being used in compounds or along with hiragana, but in many cases words will have very abstract and sometimes even contradictory meanings just from centuries of history and its influence on the language. The kanji 唐 (pronounced “tou” and “kara”) originally referred to China’s Tang Dynasty, but it can even refer to China itself or Arabic or just mean “foreign” in general.

Reading the characters in isolation also only helps so much, as you mainly encounter them in compounds and in sentences. As a result, I find that it’s more important to introduce myself to the kanji just to get their images in my head, and then to read as much as I can (manga counts!) in order to just get accustomed to recognizing them in the middle of a sentence or on a sign. One problem, of course, is that my reading material and the kanji I’m studying are not part of a greater package so I can’t just study some words and then read the relevant article which tests those abilities.

This is actually why textbooks and workbooks and especially a solid curriculum in a structured class can be so helpful. It immediately sees if you actually know what you just learned. Alas, I have no such materials to work with, but for now I’m content with what I have. Even if I don’t end up absolutely mastering these kanji, I know I’ll at the very least be in a position to improve.

PS: I know Joyo is being replaced, I just forget what the new one is called.

Kanji Deja Vu

One of the most frustrating things in studying Japanese is coming across a kanji you swear you should know but still don’t.

Usually what will happen is that I’m reading something in Japanese, be it manga, article, essay, or book, and I’ll hit a particular word that I don’t know the meaning of, but still feel like I recognize it. Then it hits me that I’d seen this word previously, and I had been in almost the exact same situation, where I’d be looking at something and finding the kanji, this time determined to commit it to memory. Except I didn’t which is why I’m in that current situation in the first place. Ever break a promise to yourself and then forget that you did? It’s kind of like that, only I don’t ruin my friendship with me forever as a result.

A couple of recent examples include:

基礎 Kiso, meaning “basis.”

至る Itaru, meaning “to reach.”

Maybe if I just complain about Japanese enough, I’ll learn it.

Jokin aside, the real culprit is obviously under-use, and if only I’d keep up my studies more consistently this sort of thing wouldn’t happen. I’m reading quite a bit of Japanese lately so hopefully more of it will be able to stick, at least reading-wise. Spoken Japanese is another matter entirely, and I can feel myself not developing in that regard as much as I should (and possibly even regressing a good deal). I have to reassert my conviction to learn, as I have every reason to do so.

Studying This Here Kanji Again

No, I haven’t decided to take the JLPT1 at this point, but I have been hitting the kanji again, many months after my successful clearing of the JLPT2.

In reviewing my flashcards, I’m actually sort of amazed I was able to retain so much. While a lot of times the knowledge will be incomplete (I’ll remember an On reading but not a Kun reading or vice versa), it’s still there in parts. The human mind is an amazing thing, and in a way it’s given me further motivation to keep up my independent Japanese studies, as I know that further progress is still very much possible.

One area I feel I lack in which concerns me is a proper understanding of Japanese culture, and how to read certain situations and then speak the language accordingly. Put me into a raw Japanese business setting, and even with my Business-Level Japanese, I’ll flounder because I’ve never studied about Japanese corporate settings.

JLPTToo Much?

The Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT, or 「日本語能力試験」 (I’m writing this down so I finally remember what the damn test is called in Japanese), is a test given once a year so that those who study Japanese may get proper certification to show that, yes, they know *this* much Japanese. 4 is the easiest, requiring only basic Japanese education, while level 1 is super crazy difficult and you really shouldn’t try it.

I have been aiming for the JLPT2, which is the “business” level, and described on the official site as…
Level 2: The examinee has mastered grammar to a relatively high level, knows around 1,000 kanji and 6,000 words, and has the ability to converse, read, and write about matters of a general nature. This level is normally reached after studying Japanese for around 600 hours, which is equivalent to completing an intermediate course.

Passing Score: 240/400
Writing-vocabulary: 35 min
Listening: 40min
Reading-grammar: 70min
Total: 145min

And looking at the material required, I can’t tell if I’m in over my head or not. I’m pretty confident I could pass the level 3 without too much trouble, but I might be in a situation where the level 3 is too simple and the level 2 is too difficult. Also, because I haven’t been regularly exposed to normal Japanese since leaving Japan three years ago, I fear my listening skills have deteriorated significantly.

That said, the weirdest thing is that upon checking out some sample tests, I found the reading comprehension to be easier than the isolated vocabulary section. This goes against everything I’ve ever experienced with foreign language exams.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to master all ~1000 kanji required for the test, and the result is I’ve been making weirder and weirder tricks for remembering certain words.

, or pole, I remember because it sort of looks like Souther, the Pole Star.

, or hatred, I remember because the right side looks kind of like Optimus Prime, and the left side looks sort of like a cannon (yes, I know it’s a version of the heart radical), so “Megatron hates Optimus Prime.”

Every time I do something like this, a baby probably dies.

Anime as context for learning Japanese

I’ve previously discussed using anime to support one’s Japanese studies, where I pointed out that it is very possible to do so.

Recently, this topic of discussion came up with a friend who also studies Japanese, and we determined that context can be very useful for learning any language, and in the case of Japanese that context may very well be the anime you watch. Just remembering a scene where a word is used can be enough to recall the meaning of something.

It might be looked down upon, but hey, whatever works, right?

Actually, more than anime and remembering vocabulary, I feel that making mental connections can be very useful in learning kanji. As an example, while studying with the help of flash cards I came across the word 油断 or “to be off-guard” and I immediately recognized it for one reason and one reason only.

Yuuda S(hi)ta!

Of course, don’t rely totally on anime, and don’t let it be the sole focus of your studies.