What is a “Great” level of Japanese?
I’m a 37 year old man, yet I feel that I constantly improve and become more fluent in my native tongue of English. In that case, how can I realistically expect to reach a “great” level of Japanese? What is a “great” level of Japanese?
The Current Level
I’m technically “upper-intermediate” according to the glut of Japanese learning resources on the web and in text books, however I’m not sure of how this reflects in real life. My Japanese grammar and Japanese Vocabulary use is limited in the day to day but my understanding isn’t so bad.
During the time I spent in Japan, I could talk some of my life story and the road that led to living in Japan, broach politics and philosophy ever so slightly, talk about my work tasks with other staff at an elementary level and in my social time I could get to know people at bars. When it came to work meetings in Japanese, or watching J-Drama or Anime without subtitles I could only get the minimal understanding, and often misunderstood a lot.
It’s Hard to Listen
My Japanese listening level is so, so much worse. Just like real English speakers we can meet in a pub in London, or at a conference in San Francisco, not many people speak like they just swallowed a textbook. Similarly, locals we may meet at a bar in Kabukicho or colleagues at a meeting in a Tokyo boardroom can’t be expected to have the same tone, speed of delivery and clarity of all those voice actors we spend time listening to on learning materials.
In normal conversation, syllables become slurred and crash into each other( and that’s before beer o’clock compounds things further) and the space between single words in a sentence get slimmer, to the point that it sounds like your conversation partner just reeled off the longest word ever.
One time working in Japan, a colleague spoke to me at native speed for quite some time, before I had a chance to say 「も一回、ゆっくり言ってもらいませんか」(one more time, more slowly please?), he just read the expression on my face, looked sheepish, walked away and never spoke to me again.
What do I want to achieve in the next 12 months? Getting over the anxiety I have in talking to anyone about business related things without sounding like a complete fool with … extended … periods …of silence with errrrr thinking out, um, loud noises. Being able to read more magazine and web articles, watch some Japanese films or TV with only needing minimal guidance and being able to write more expressively in Japanese would also be great.
Exams and Tests?
Despite the existance of the Japanese Language Profiency Test (JLPT), academic tests are in my opinion not a great benchmark of ability. The tests are multi-choice and focus on grammar and vocab with some listening thrown in. If my target was to merely pass one of them I could just hit the textbooks for a year and stay in my comfort zone, not having to speak with anyone I’m unfamilar with and coast along until exam day and hit the N2 (second hardest) exam and be likely to pass. Many job listings at Japanese companies expect N2 (or equivalent) expertise to be eligible for employment if you are a non-native. However I heard of someone with N1 (The HARDEST exam level) ability being completely unintelligible to anyone who spoke with him.
Book smarts are clearly no replacement for street smarts.
The kind of studying and drilling of specific vocab and narrow range of grammar learning one would need to pass the test will not really help me achieve my targets I set above.
So what will I do and how will I show you what I’ve been up to? I have a list of ideas below
- Write mini-blog posts in Japanese, on a site like Lang-8 and share the links here that you can read too.
- Create a Twitter profile that follows only Japanese language accounts and Japanese learning resources – you will also be able to follow me as I retweet some interesting uses of Japanese Grammar, Japanese Vocab and Japanese Slang.
- Get regular speaking practice at meetups and share the details with you here.
- Get some regular one-to-one lessons with a tutor either online or in-person and share reports with you here.
- Hit the textbooks as usual, plus other online resources such as Kanshudo.com, JapanesePod101, and more (I’ll speak about these more later), and as I find any cool, fun, interesting Japanese resources I will share the links you here.
- Read Japanese language blogs that are suitable to my level, watch some of the J-Drama on Netflix that have subs, watch Japanese TV via Youtube.
- My learning won’t just be exclusive to me – as I progress I will write Japanese Grammar articles, Japanese Quizzes and other Japanese Exercises that you can enjoy and benefit from, too. Writing about something that a person has learned is an excellent method for them to consolidate their knowledge.
- Learning how to learn itself – from better methods for memorization, how lifestyle and other activities can help improve learning ability for me and for you and all the cognitive benefits that learning can give us.
- Towards the end of the stretch I will write more and more content in Japanese for you to read along with and check against an English version so that you can learn too.
So it Begins..
I’ve detailed the above in broad strokes, I will write up a more detailed chart and record of what I’ve done so that you can hold me to my targets and I can keep mind of what I’ve done so far on my journey this year. I’m really excited and I hope you are too. I will write more about each of the above strategies over the next few posts before we kick off the one year span to the ultimate goal of a pretty decent communicator in Japanese!
Until next time, stay keen, stay curious!