Truth be told, I should be the last person giving advice on how to study for the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests >:D It’s almost legendary among my circle of friends how I slept through half my Level 2 exams and still managed to pass with an above-average percentile rank.
However, and I can say this with a good deal of confidence: not cramming for the exam may actually help you pass. By employing alternative methods to acquire and retain vocabulary words, as well as using the language in daily life to develop a natural feel for it, you are actually learning as opposed to simply memorizing. If you want to go the same route, here are five things I did that helped me wing my way to a Level 2 Certificate.
Watch Japanese-dubbed anime or drama with the subtitles off.
Sometimes viewers rely too much on the subtitles to understand a show’s storyline, so they end up ignoring the dialogue altogether. By turning off the subtitles while watching the show, you are forced to concentrate more on what the characters are saying, which you then translate inside your head to get an idea of what’s going on.
This method will also help you learn the subtle differences between modern Japanese from its older forms like Meiji Era, Taisho Era, etc., as well as the differences between feminine Japanese and masculine Japanese. This last bit is especially important as it can get a bit awkward if you are a girl using the masculine form, and vice versa.
Read a light novel from cover to cover without relying on your dictionary.
Just like watching shows with the subtitles turned off, reading text in straight Japanese will force you to rely on your internal dictionary instead of a real one. I recommend light novels over manga because manga have visual cues that help you “cheat” your way through the storyline.
Light novels may lack pictures but they have simple stories and use modern words, so they are very helpful for word retention. Another useful thing you can do with light novels is list down unfamiliar words you encounter, and then look them up later to add new words to your vocabulary.
Reverse translate manga in English back to Japanese.
One of my favorite “study methods” is to acquire two different versions of a particular manga chapter or short (either by purchasing the books or uh “borrowing” them from file-sharing sites), translating the English version back to Japanese, and then cross-referencing my translation to the original Japanese to check how close I got.
It sounds fairly complicated, and I have to admit it is not a good technique for beginners, but for intermediate to advanced Japanese language students who would like to check how extensive their vocabularies have gotten or how many grammar patterns they know by heart then this method is a fun alternative to answering mock exams.
Go to a Japanese karaoke box and sing your lungs out.
Although the JLPTs do not have an oral exam portion, I still wholeheartedly recommend this method as a way to build up your Kanji vocabulary. When you sing Japanese songs at a karaoke box the words scroll by the screen at a fairly rapid rate (depending on the tempo of the song), which means that you have to know what they are to sing them properly.
It is also an absolutely fantastic feeling to be able to finish an entire song without fumbling over the words or missing entire phrases of the lyrics altogether. But the best part for me? The booze >:D Who says learning a new language isn’t fun?!
Have conversations with your friends in straight Japanese.
My everyday sentences are liberally peppered with Japanese since many friends speak it as well, and it is a good way to stay in shape and not forget things you have acquired so far. I also love the fact that it’s like speaking in code, and we can gossip about the old lady in the leather miniskirt sitting in the next table at Starbucks without fear of her overhearing us.
A quick warning though is that it is very, very easy to stray into weaboo territory with this exercise. To prevent yourself from sounding like a bad fanthing, make sure you use a wide variety of grammar patterns even if you are conveying similar thoughts. Mix up your vocabulary a little so that you don’t sound like an anime dub.
And for the love of all that is holy always remember where you are! Practicing your Japanese on friends in a park is okay, but not so hot if you are in a Japanese restaurant surrounded by natives — it will look like you are showing off, and if you make a mistake it can get pretty embarrasing pretty fast.
People who know me might argue that the fifteen odd months I spent in Tokyo as an exchange student skewed the statistics in my favor. While I do admit that it helped immensely, we have to accept the fact that not many people will have the same opportunity, so we have to come up with creative ways to learn Japanese.
I wish all the Japanese language students and Japanese culture enthusiasts all the best with the upcoming exams in December. がんばって 下さい！