How I’m studying for JLPT N3

こんにちは!
I’m taking the JLPT N3 this December. I’ve never taken a JLPT test before, and I’m not sure if my level is near N3, but I have enough time until then to formulate and stick to a good study plan.

☆ Reading practice

The Japanese novels I have are limited, but I’m going to make use of the few I have in conjunction with online sources.

offline
The first book I’m using is Read Real Japanese (Essays). There is also a version with stories, but I prefer nonfiction. The Japanese page is on one side and the English translation of that page is on the other side. At the back of the book is a dictionary with the words that appear in the book. This book isn’t specifically aimed at any JLPT level, but I appreciate the detail that the notes go into and I love learning words from a variety of sources.

I am also using official JLPT N3 practice books and do the reading tests from them. Reading is challenging to me just because of how much content there is to get through in a limited amount of time. Here’s an example of what an official reading test looks like. I’m a very hands-on learner and like to write, so after I’ve read the piece, I like to write it down.

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reading before bed
I like to read for an hour or so before I sleep. Usually I read books in English. I have quite a few novels and nonfiction books from Japan, so I think now is the perfect time to push myself to read them. I’ll read with a highlighter and highlight the words I don’t know, and look them up in the morning. Currently, I’m reading 考え方のコツ

online
JapaneseTest4You has lots of JLPT activities catered for different levels. I’ll be making use of their N3 Reading practice tests to make sure my level is on par with the standard. I’ve noticed I read rather slowly out loud (much faster in my head), but I’m concerned about my reading speed for the test. It’s important to read fast but retain information so that you’re able to answer the comprehension questions about the section. I need to learn to read faster and more accurately!


☆ Kanji and vocabulary

online & offline
Every time I encounter a word I don’t know, I’ll write it down and make sure I know the correct stroke order. I’ll transfer it into my N3 vocabulary book and review it often. I don’t like flashcards, so I’ll stick to vocab lists on paper. It’s key to remember not to memorize single words. The best way to get Kanji in your memory is to learn it in the context of a sentence. For that reason, I prefer writing longer sentences down than single words when I’m learning new Kanji.

For me, the best way to learn Kanji is to learn it in the context of words and sentences rather than single characters. For this, I like to use jisho.org to look up a character and then see the example words for it. You can see how I use Jisho to practice Kanji in this video:

Then since I love example sentences, after learning the Kanji I will go on either tangorin or weblio and look for sentences that are at my level and one or two above my level. While doing that I’ll often encounter a new vocab word or kanji and then kind of do the same process for that word.

online
One of the best websites I’ve found for Kanji is renshuu.org. I need to make a conscious effort to use it more, though! Renshuu has quizzes, games and goals you can set for your Kanji learning. You can select which level (JLPT or Kanji Kentei) you want to review.

textbook
I am using the textbook called Kanji Isn’t That Hard! which I checked out at the library at my local Japanese Embassy. I can see the book is for beginners as it uses pictures to illustrate how the Kanji is built up, but what I like about it is that it explains the build of the Kanji in both Japanese and English. So just by reading the explanation of the character, I also learn new words. In my Kanji notebook, I write down the character, it’s stroke order, and the kun/on-yomi. I practice writing the character over and over until I don’t have to think about which stroke comes first or last. It should be a natural hand movement without too much thinking. Sometimes this means writing it 5 times, sometimes 50. I make sure to say the pronunciation of the Kanji while I’m writing it.

For other vocabulary acquisition, and since I like to learn through conversations and context, I’m using Japanese For Busy People III. It’s not specifically catered to JLPT N3, and it’s actually a bit easier than N3 would be, I think, but it’s great for a holistic approach to Japanese learning. Each chapter has a main conversation, and then it goes over grammar points with lots of practice exercises. At the end of each chapter is a Kanji section.

☆ Practice and immersion

1. I’ll be using the app Goodnight to practice Japanese, although it’s mainly used by Taiwanese people. Some Taiwanese people on the app speak Japanese too. I found a good friend who lives in Japan and though he’s Taiwanese, he’s on N1 level. We speak Japanese together. Talking to someone on N1 level is great because they’ll use different vocabulary than someone on my own level would.

2. I might also use the app Saito-san to broadcast in Japanese. You can have a little broadcast room and viewers can join while you speak about various topics. I did this a few years ago and you can see my video of it here.

4. Changing my phone, apps and laptop settings
I changed Spotify, Facebook and Instagram to be in Japanese, and I also set my phone language to Japanese. I have a separate Twitter account for tweeting in Japanese and following Japanese accounts too. Finally, I’ve gone as far as labelling all the folders on my laptop in Japanese. This won’t guarantee me passing JLPT N3 of course, but just seeing Japanese and seeing Kanji every day helps remind me what my goals are.

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I’ve labelled my laptop folders in Japanese!

5. My daily planner and shopping lists
My planner notes are all in Japanese, and I often write my shopping lists in Japanese too. This helps me use Kanji I wouldn’t normally write out, and also helps me learn new words when I need to explain something in Japanese.

☆ I don’t have a daily plan

Because I have a fulltime job, and I tutor languages after work, I don’t have enough energy or time to dedicate a specific amount of time to JLPT study each day. In fact, if I tell myself to learn 10 words a day and finish one lesson from a book a week, I’m going to stress myself out a lot more. I prefer a more haphazard approach, studying when I feel up for it, and then giving it my all. Of course, consistency is key, so it’s important that I do something in Japanese each day (like listening to a podcast at work) instead of ignoring the language until I feel like it.

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6 unique ways to improve listening in any language

You sit at home and read your textbook, get all the questions right, and speed through your Duolingo and Memrise apps… but then once you have to talk to a native speaker, suddenly, you have no idea what they’re saying! Why is listening so hard?

Remember, listening is one of the most important aspects of communication. When you were a baby and you learnt your native language, did you start speaking immediately? I’m pretty sure your mom didn’t put a textbook in front of you when you were learning to say “mama”. You learnt by listening to her, right? That’s the process we need to adopt. In many languages, I prefer to listen to the language way before I dive into learning how to speak it. This way, I’ve come up with 6 techniques you can implement to improve your listening comprehension in any language.

01 | Draw it out

Listen to what someone is saying (on a podcast, on the radio, or on a TV show), and draw it out. This will help you identify intonation, so that you sound more natural when speaking, and so that you’re able to identify sound patterns in the language you’re learning. If you want to be very technical, you can draw a graph on paper with lines indicating high/low pitches, and then draw a certain word or sentence out. It’s important for languages such as Hungarian and Vietnamese, where questions don’t have a rising tone, unlike in English. Here’s an example:

Sound-graph

02 | Siri and your GPS

If you use Siri, you can change the language she talks in. What’s great about Siri is that what she says also appears in text. Siri has also been programmed to sound like a natural in each language, so you might notice subtle differences in intonation, humour, and formalities in each language. Additionally, change your phone language to your target language, and your phone GPS should start up in that language. I learnt the words for “left” and “right” in Hungarian by listening to my GPS – I didn’t even have to look the words up once!

03 | Call some strangers (no need to show your face!)

For Chinese, I like to use the app called Goodnight. Many Taiwanese people use this app, and since there’s no video feature, it’s purely a voice chat app. It’s great to hear how people answer the phone, what things they normally say when starting a conversation, and of course, to get used to natural pronunciation and filler words.

For Japanese, there’s an app called Saito-san. It does have a video function though, so be careful for people who are there for PG-18 reasons. I don’t recommend it for younger learners. If you can filter through the weird people, it’s an excellent way to practice both your speaking and your listening. You also don’t have to have the camera on either and can choose to do just a voice chat. They also have a broadcasting feature where you can host your own little live audio show.

For Hindi, Arabic, English, French and more, you can use the app called Wakie. It’s a phone-call app like the ones above, but with a wider audience. Also no camera, so you don’t need to be afraid of making mistakes at all.

04 | Shadowing

Shadowing means repeating what someone is saying. You can do this through any audio material, like the radio, a TV show, a podcast, or even music (though often, for tonal languages, tones are ignored when singing). Listen to slow news as well, such as News in Slow Japanese. By shadowing, you’ll get used to how native speakers speak, which in turn will make listening to them easier since you’ll be used to intonation and word usage. If you constantly listen to Japanese music, TV or radio, for example, you might hear a specific grammar structure being used and then you’ll say “Oh! I remember that. Now I see how it’s being used in daily conversation”. You’ll feel good about yourself and it’ll be easier to listen to native speakers.

05 | Slow down video and audio speeds

If you’re watching a YouTube video in your target language, you can slow down the speaking speed. You can also slow own audio on VLC. Another thing you can do is use the listening sections from standardized exams to hear slow audio. On YouTube, you can find tons of videos for JLPT listening, and the same can be said for the Korean TOPIK and Chinese HSK. The beginner levels are usually spoken slower, making it easy to hear the words clearly.

06 | Learn filler words and interjections

Native speakers don’t sound like they do in textbooks! It’s important to learn filler words. In English, some filler words are “um”, “uh”, “well”, “hmm” and so forth. Similarly, other languages have their own unique ways of pausing during speech, and these often don’t appear in textbooks. You can look these words up, but the best way to learn them is by speaking or listening to natives. Watching TV shows in the language is also a wonderful way to pick up filler words. In Korean, Japanese and Chinese TV, you’ll often see filler words and sentences written on the screen like playful subtitles. These are good because you can hear the word and see it visually, helping solidify it into your memory.

It’s a workout!

In closing, remember to make listening a part of your language-learning routine. Think of it as a workout. You can’t go to the gym and just do leg day every day. Your arms won’t be toned and your legs will be insane. You might be excellent at grammar and vocabulary but you may not have confidence to speak because you’ve never practiced speaking and listening. Everything is connected, so by practicing listening daily, you’ll be ingraining native grammar into your memory too. Just remember, practice makes permanent, not perfect… so make sure you check things with native speakers if you’re unsure!

 

Tips & tricks for vocabulary acquisition

New language learners often look at others and think learning vocabulary is something that happens quickly. They seek for ways to speed up their vocabulary retention. It’s not wrong to look for ways to learn faster, but one needs to keep in mind that having vocabulary words stick in your long-term memory takes a while!

Methods to try

GOLDLIST
Lots of people use the Goldlist Method for remembering vocab. However, it is not my favorite because of the long time between learning a word and reviewing it again, but it’s nice and structured.

FLASHCARDS
Write the word on one side of a card/paper and on the back write it’s meaning/pronunciation/usage. If you don’t like paper you can use apps like Anki. You can go further and categorize the cards into piles of “know” “review” and “new”.

REMEMBERING WORDS 
Make sure to use your words as soon as you learn them. You can write them in sentences and have them checked on websites like italki, or you can use it with a native speaker and ask them to correct you if you use the word wrong.

LABELLING
You can label things around your room/house. Stick a piece of paper to your fridge that lists the word for “fridge” in your TL. You can do it with anything from your mirror to your closet to your potplant.

SHOPPING LISTS/PLANNERS
I usually write my shopping lists and planner/diary entries in another language. For example, if I have a “meeting”, I won’t write it in English, but rather in a language I’m learning. Especially if it’s a new word (like “call plumber”, for example), writing it down more than once in your planner will engrain it into your memory if you use it enough.

NOTETAKING
I find it much faster to write notes using Chinese characters/Korean words mixed in with English. It sounds insane, but writing “名” is much faster than writing “name”. Fellow students in university used to get frustrated when they asked to borrow my notes because half of it wasn’t English. I guess this is just for speed rather than vocab retention. You can make up your own ways to write things. For example, instead of writing “design”, a word I use a lot, I take the Korean word 디자인 and shorten it to ㄷㅈ – two characters which are super fast to write!

Finding new words

Watching TV shows/movies/dramas can help you pick up new words easily if you make sure to write them down when you encounter them. Korean/Japanese/Chinese shows are especially good because they often put the word being said on the screen (especially with explanations or something funny someone said). You can also watch shows with subtitles in your TL rather than your native language so you’re sure about the spelling.

Listening to music/radio/podcasts: Same concept. You might not know how to spell the word that you hear, but you can try, and then type it in to a dictionary app and check if you were right. In terms of checking word meanings, you can also do a google search/other search engine search with the word to see what pictures come up.


tl;dr: Here’s a video to go along with this post!

Language learning and creativity [Guest post]

By Mari Polyglot

Chances are you haven’t realized yet how close language learning and creativity lie. Maybe the first thing that pops in your mind is what your crafty friend Laura does while sending letters to her pen pals; but creativity is not exclusive to glitter addicts and artists.

What is creativity? Let’s see what different languages think about it.

According to the Oxford dictionary, creativity is “The use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.” But for the RAE (Royal Spanish Academy – Real Academia Española) it is simply “the faculty of creating” and “the capability of creating”. And according to Dutch dictionaries, it is “the talent to create new things and/or to be creative”. What I want you to take from this is that even though we use different words to describe something we still get to the same point: the art of making something new.

We can all agree that creativity is the art of creation. The way we create new ideas and projects is by thinking outside the box. Getting new perspectives on things, situations and relationships is what makes us leave our comfort zones and create.

Going back to the definitions before, we can see how languages open up new ways of getting a new point of view. So, even though creativity translates directly to the spanish  word creatividad, each language has a way to define it.

This phenomenon translates to many aspects of language learning. In English and Spanish we would say seventy-five and eighty-two while in Dutch and German the counting will be five and seventy , and two and eighty… And then there’s the French who will say sixty-fifteen and forty-twenty-two respectively.

Just with counting, we can see how many different ways there are to express the same concept. Learning multiple languages thus leads us to think differently and foster more open-minded ideas.

These perspective shifts are not only from a linguistic point of view. If we go deeper into other cultures, we gain many other abilities. Not only do we develop empathy towards others, love for the unknown and a big heart, but we start to be creative by mixing traditions, ways of cooking, social environments and opening up our lives to opportunities that are no longer confined to the limits of our own culture.

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“Not only do we develop empathy towards others, love for the unknown and a big heart, but we start to be creative by mixing traditions, ways of cooking, social environments and opening up our lives to opportunities that are no longer confined to the limits of our own culture.”

Experiencing linguistic and cultural immersions help us think creatively and become more prone to finding creative solutions to any situation.

Language learning for creative people

Now we know that languages affect our creativity in a positive way. What about the other way around? How can creativity help our learning? This one is very simple and even though you can still bring your crafty side to this, it is mostly related to the way we study.

You guys are geniuses, I’ve seen it. You come up with new ways to memorize, to take notes, to learn better almost everyday! That is creativity, finding different ways to do something so it gives you a new benefit. I love seeing all of the challenges you come up with and how supportive you all are of each other’s ideas.

PS: I am not even mentioning Conlangs because that’s a whole other topic, but think about how creative and interesting are languages that come from someone’s imagination entirely. I am fascinated by the amazing linguists that are behind these powerful new languages and have created communities around them.

Creativity and self study

Like most of you, I learn languages from home using all kind of apps, books, websites and videos. The reasons why I learn from home and not in a classroom environment are first, because I can do it in my pajamas and second because I can adapt it to my needs and move as fast or as slowly as I want. Than means that even though I have teachers, tutors and friends that correct me as I learn, I am pretty much my own teacher. I have to come up with new activities, a lesson plan and a sort of balanced learning process. Of course, I don’t do it exactly as a teacher; actually, I do it without even realizing it.

Because I know that my best way of learning is by doing fun stuff, I need to come up with innovative ideas that will keep me interested and engaged during my language learning process. So my creativity comes in handy! I paint fun scenarios and then write a story behind them, I share my progress on social media to feel some sort of validation, I sing, I follow tutorials, I play games and just keep doing fun – almost childish – activities.

It is not about creating a perfect schedule or routine; the most important thing is to create powerful ways of learning that will help you really memorize and learn long-term.

Why mixing creativity and language learning?

Sometimes we underestimate the power of creation, or even worse, we think we are not capable of coming up with good ideas. In reality, we just have to think of creativity as a natural way of thinking. Changing up your language routine is not only necessary to be constantly progressing – because you have to learn different things in each stage of your learning – but also so you can stay motivated.

Once again, the point is to find innovative ways to make your language learning more efficient. If that way includes crafts, do it! It might include going to a language cafe, translating songs or playing video games in your target language.

I am sure that most of us are interested in many things, so mix and match your passions. Let one inspire the other. Find like-minded people and enjoy the language process as much as you can! Languages are everywhere, so there’s no excuse! It is time to create and learn.

Oh, and remember to have a lot of fun with it!



Written by Mari Polyglot
Illustrated by Mari Polyglot
Edited by Lindie Botes

Mari is a language enthusiast from Venezuela with a passion for teaching. She hopes to one day serve as an inspiration and guide for future polyglots.

Instagram / Twitter : @MariPolyglot
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/MariPolyglot

 

How to study Japanese grammar

Grammar is either your favorite part of a language, or the most frustrating part of a language. Here’s my guide on how to study Japanese grammar:

1. Take a grammar structure and practice writing it in your own way. Then, get it checked by a native speaker. 
For example, if you have the structure ~てみる which is to “try”, then and your example is 「この本を読んでみてください」 (please try reading this book), then you can take the sentence and replace words to make it your own. e.g.:
このパンを食べてみてください Please try eating this bread
その車を運転してみてください Please try driving that car

2. Don’t just rely on one textbook.
There are great grammar forums that you can use for reference to read more about grammar structures. I suggest the following:
Jgram (so good, even has JLPT level indicators and study lists)
Take Kim’s guide to Japanese
Maggie Sensei

3. Use the structure as soon as, and as much as you can
As soon as you learn something new, don’t just write it down in your notebook and forget about it. You can make an Instagram post using it, write a blog in Japanese using it, or even just talk to yourself or make a video where you use it. The more you say it, even if you just speak to yourself, the more it will become cemented in your memory.

4. Keep listening and reading Japanese
If you constantly listen to Japanese music, TV or radio, you might hear the grammar structure being used and then you’ll say “Oh! I remember that. Now I see how it’s being used in daily conversation”. You’ll feel good about yourself and you’ll be reminded of what you’ve learnt.

5. Get a grammar reference dictionary
My FAVORITE grammar dictionary is A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui. It’s full of examples ❤ There are 3 dictionaries: One for basic, then intermediate, and finally advanced. I use the intermediate one. I kind of use it like a reading book and just look at it for fun, which is super geeky, I know. It’s so beautiful.

6. Don’t focus exclusively on grammar. Learn from daily conversation and remember not to neglect reading, writing, and listening. Think of it as a workout. You can’t go to the gym and just do leg day every day. Your arms won’t be toned and your legs will be insane. You might be excellent at grammar and vocabulary but you may not have confidence to speak because you’ve never practiced speaking. Everything is connected, so by practicing Japanese daily, you’ll be ingraining grammar into your memory too. Just remember, practice makes permanent, not perfect… so make sure you check things with native speakers if you’re unsure.


Header Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash