Thursday, December 06, 2007

Japanese Proficiency Test and Me

This past Sunday was the Japanese Proficiency Test. After a couple years absence, I decided to take the Japanese Proficiency Test again.

My history of the Japanese Proficiency Test goes like this:
2002--Took level 4 and passed it.
2003--Took level 3 and passed it
2004--Was planning on taking the test, but missed the application deadline.
2005--Didn't bother taking the test because I had given up studying Japanese
2006--Didn't bother applying because I was back in America (I've heard it is possible to take the test outside of Japan, but what's the point?)

A while back I listed off a bunch of reasons why I had become disillusioned with studying Japanese. All of those reasons still hold, and in fact I've thought up several new ones. Even if I did manage to master Japanese (and I'm no where near it now) I'm not sure what I'd do with it. Translating work is often few and far between, and not necessarily all that much better paying than the ESL I'm doing now (well, not NOW now, but that I usually do). My historical and cultural interests are mostly Western based, and often I wonder if I have an interest in continuing to study Japan for the rest of my life. Plus, now that I have a basis of the fundamentals of conversations, all the blood sweat and tears I put into studying only increase my communication abilities incrementally.

Not to mention Japanese is an incredibly difficult language. To quote from the introduction to one of my textbooks: "I well remember how discouraging it was not to be able to read freely in Japanese even after three or four years of study at an American university, especially after having been able to read plays and novels in my second year German class. I used to think that this was solely a Kanji problem, but later realized that my limited vocabulary and knowledge of idioms was equally to blame. One literally starts from zero when one learns Japanese, a fact brought home to me when I returned to the study of French after a few years in Japan. It is only after studying Japanese that one appreciates how close English is to other European languages in vocabulary, sentence construction, and way of thinking. Of course that's what makes Japanese so fascinating as well as so frustrating."

But for all that, I decided that since I'm back in Japan now, and don't know when (if ever) Shoko and I will be able to make a permanent move back to the States, I decided I had nowhere to go but studying Japanese.

And so the struggle begins again.

This fall I signed up for the Japanese Proficiency test. (And by the way, what a pain in the neck that was. Go re-read Aaron's post for a great summary of all the trials and tribulations one has to go through just to get the application packet for this thing).

Deciding what level was easy. I had already passed 4 and 3. The only place to go was up to 2.

What do all these levels mean, you might ask? Well level 4 is dirt easy. If you've been in Japan for a year, and you've made a little effort to learn the basics of the writing system, it's essentially a give-me.

Level 3 requires a bit of hard studying and putting the nose to the grindstone, but it's not hard at all to pass if you put in the effort.

Level 1 is notorious for being impossible to pass. Japanese people can't even pass it.

You'll notice I skipped level 2. Somewhere in there between level 3 and level 1 (obviously) but probably closer to the level 1 side. The test levels don't always make equal jumps in difficulty you see. The jump from level 3 to level 2 is much bigger than the jump from 4 to 3.

It is possible for some people to be in Japan for several years and not be able to pass level 4, but it's rare and almost takes an effort. You have to intentionally avoid all exposure at all to Japanese and keep yourself surrounded by an English ghetto (some people do manage to pull this off).

By contrast, I also know a couple JETs who have gone from zero Japanese to passing level 2 in a year and a half. It is very rare, but it does happen. (Although at least one of them did so at the cost of his eye-sight, and has had problems with his eyes ever since).

Six years into it now I'm obviously taking the slow route. It's not for lack of effort I can assure you (at least not during the first 3 years anyway). Partly it's because foreign languages don't appear to be my strong point. And perhaps partly because my anal-retentive style of studying (making sure I completely master the basics before moving onto the the next level) slows me down.

Even at my peak I couldn't have passed the second level. But since I stopped actively studying Japanese my level actually went down, even while living in Japan. And then the 8 months I was in America, and didn't do any studying other than the occasional phone call to Shoko, really hurt me.

But there was certainly no point in re-taking the easier levels I had already passed. So, with full knowledge that I didn't have a snowball's chance in hell of passing, I signed up for the level 2 test. It would be a good motivator for me to study. And it would be good practice for when I actually did have a chance of passing the test (perhaps next year, if I study hard).

How did the test go? I can't say now. Check back in a couple of days.

Link of the Day
City Commission Passes Resolution against Iraq War
December 5, 2007: After months--or even years of debate depending on how far back you trace its origins--the Grand Rapids City Commission has finally passed a resolution against the Iraq War. The resolution will be sent to Grand Rapids Representative Vern Ehlers and Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow


inertbat said...

For me those tests were great motivation to study... and now being able to understand everything on TV (there are some pretty good history and ancient culture programs on NHK) and read everything that comes my way without having to ask anyone for help is kinda nice.

As an extra reward it's a lot easier to make friends now that people don't have to tone down their Japanese for me to understand. It's more relaxing for everyone involved, I guess.

Anyhow whether or not you passed, it's great that you tried and congrats on the effort!

ジョエル said...

Congragulations on the effort may be premature...But I can't say anything just yet.