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November 1, 2006

So right now, my Priority #1 is to study Japanese for the big test I have coming up in a month. It's an annual international standardised test. It's THE test for assessing Japanese competence. It's the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

There are four levels – Level 4 being the easiest, and Level 1 being complete fluency. Native, born and bred Japanese even study for Level 1. It's difficult. So, obviously, there's a big gap between each level. I figured that if I studied, I'd be able to pass Level 4 without too much trouble. So, being my arrogant and stupidly determined self, decided that if I pushed myself extra hard, I should be able to pass Level 3. So, I trotted off to the Post Shop (the one in the next town over), paid my entrance fee, and started studying.

Now, I'm realising that was probably pretty stupid. I got a book with the previous years test in it. I'm not passing that. Especially not the listening comprehension piece. My listening skills are dogshit. I got a book called "The Preparatory Course for the JLPT Level 3", deceptively entitled in English. Once I cracked the covers, I realised it was all written in Japanese! If I could read this thing, I wouldn't need it to pass the test!

This language is a pain in the ass. As if learning a new langauge with all its new words and nuances wasn't hard enough, they decided to invent two new syllabaries, each with 46 independent characters (plus extra for ariants). But that wasn't enough either, so they hopped over to China and stole a bunch of their characters as well. A few thousand of them. Even just learning what that many pictures meant would be enough, but you've also got to learn how to write them, in the correct stroke order. And, you've got to know how they're pronounced. Again, that might be OK if they were anything approaching consistent.

Because Japan ripped them off China, each kanji character has at least two pronunciations – the original Chinese sound (or a derivation of it), and the Japanese sound. And then usually, they have a whole ton of one-offs as well, just for special words. How can you tell the difference? You can't. You just have to know. Even then, just because a character might look the same, and sound the same, it doesn't mean it has the same meaning. That all depends on what other kanji or kana surround it. For example, 本 means "book". 店 means "store". What would you guess 本店 means?

If you guessed "bookstore", I'm sorry. It means "head office". Obviously. That's one that caught me out fairly early on in the game. And there's plenty more where that came from. And finally, just because it wasn't really hard enough already (especially since I've never had a Japanese lesson in my life), the cosmos decided to throw another spanner in the works by placing me in the ultimate countryside location, right in the Kansai region. Where they speak a completely different language to what they speak in Tokyo (Kanto), the "correct" Japanese which gets tested. And they're proud of it. So what I study is not what I should speak, and what I hear is not what I should learn. Not for the test, anyway.

Anyway, what I reckon I'll do from here on out is stick a little Word (or phrase) of the Day at the bottom of each post. That way I can try to solidify my learning, and you can impress random Japanese guys/girls with your extensive knowledge of their culture.

Word of the Day: 今から – ima kara – from now on…

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