December 9th, 2009
I noticed that lately many people find my blog with search queries such as “jlpt revised n3″, “text books for jlpt N3″, “prepare for N3 jlpt”, “jlpt n3 books”, etc. This makes a lot of sense, since the last of the old format JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) examinations was conducted last Sunday, the 6th of December, 2009.
Starting next year the JLPT will be replaced by the revised format, which is essentially the same as the old one, except that the first (vocabulary and characters) and third (reading and grammar) sections are merged into one big one (with no pause? that’ll be tough!). And, of course, the introduction of the new N3 level, which is between the old levels 2 (new level N2) and 3 (new level N4). The gap between the old levels 3 and 2 was indeed rather large, jumping from beginner’s book to serious hobby level with a 300% increase in vocabulary required, for instance.
And with the introduction of the N3 level, a whole new market for textbooks and study aids specifically targeting JLPT N3 opens up, and you’d expect the publishers to rejoice and then hurry to be the first one to the market with such a book, wouldn’t you? So last time I went by the big Kinokuniya book store in Yoyogi, out of curiosity of just how difficult/easy the new level n3 was I had a look at the old JLPT bookshelf (where I used to hang out, before I graduated from the JLPT). And lo and behold there were none! None study books targeting JLPT N3, that is! Lots of books and flash cards and stuff targeting the other, old levels, still though. A search on Amazon has the same result: no JLPT n3 books.
The bookshelf with textbooks for JLPT level N3.
So where are these books? Did the book writers/publishers not realize that there was going to be a guaranteed demand for them? Or are they hoping people will buy the remaining old format JLPT books before they introduce new once to the market? Because surely the demand for old ones will drop significantly once new ones are introduced, especially for the old levels 2 and 3, I would presume. Anyway, as soon as they’re out and I’ve had some time to evaluate them, I’ll update my Best Books for Learning Japanese page with recommendations on JLPT N3 books as well.
December 7th, 2009
So after my first Chinese conversation lesson, I realized that I had to make some changes to my Chinese studies:
- Practice more simple sentences and basic vocabulary. The kind of stuff people usually start off with. I have a tendency to go for more advanced grammar and vocabulary immediately, which isn’t bad in itself but leaves a big hole where elementary expressions and vocabulary should have gone. It’s hard to do conversation when you can’t even introduce yourself…
- Pinyin is essentially bad – so reduce the reliance on pinyin and look at the characters and memorize their pronunciations by itself (by listening to a tape or the teacher, for example). I thought pinyin was a fairly good way of writing Chinese, but I now realize that down to the monkey’s balls it’s essentially the same as romaji is for Japanese – i.e. an unnatural way of expressing the language. Not an incorrect way, but very sub-optimal.
Kobe Chinatown. Bruce Lee has nothing to do with the content of this post.
- Study hanzi characters and their readings one by one (or short compound words) – starting with simple, frequent characters and moving on from there. Hanzi is how Chinese is written, and as with Japanese, literacy is essential. I have a tendency here too to go for the hard stuff too early, so I need to start over a little and learn from the beginning.
So considering that, the following constitutes my current Chinese study method:
- Using Anki (a spaced repetition system application), I study elementary characters, short words, and simple phrases. With Anki you can download “decks” (sets of “flash cards”) made by other people and provided for free. I found one called Chinese Characters (Level 1 and Level 2) apparently based on the book New Practical Chinese Reader. I don’t use that book but the deck is very useful in itself. The quality is a bit variable though, but I’m adding and changing things as I go along. Considering it’s free and doing it all yourself would take significant time, it’s really good value for time.
- Practice writing hanzi, using some Chinese character writing sheets I found online provided by the University of Vermont (the ones called Practical Chinese Readers Book I and Book II). These are very useful. Again, the quality could be better (readings and stroke orders would be nice, for instance) but for a price of zero, they’re extremely good value. I just write and write the character all over many times, and do the same sheets multiple times. It’s not the most fun activity nor the most fancy kind of study method out there – but actually when I come home from work and I’m tired, that kind of activity is just about what I am able to manage. And I am certainly seeing good progress!
As an aside: I can read about 2,500 Japanese kanji, so most of the elementary/intermediate Chinese is readable for me already, but I never learned to write kanji by hand… I can only write maybe 100-200 characters. Which isn’t a big deal but it’s not very good either. So I’ve decided to use this as an opportunity to learn how to write the simplified Chinese characters, since that will be useful for writing Japanese too (with some exceptions). Since I’m lazy I really prefer the simplified characters. I mean compare 认识 with 認識… I know which one I want to write 100 times on the blackboard.
- Using the books I bought before, keep studying grammar using the grammar book and vocabulary and pronunciation primarily using the other book. Fairly standard. I study grammar before going to sleep (well it makes me go to sleep), and pronunciation/vocabulary some times in the evenings. I am also hoping to use the vocabulary book at the Chinese conversation lessons, since that book has nice, big illustrations accompanying simple words, it should be suitable for learning the correct Mandarin pronunciation.
It’s going well, and it’s fun. It’s great to be able to apply my experience and knowledge of learning from 5+ years of Japanese studies to Chinese. My study methods are incredibly much more efficient now. I will soon have to set some intermediate goal (the current final goal is to be able to read a book in Chinese within two years), such as passing a particular HSK level next year. I’ll have to discuss that with the Chinese school teacher.
December 2nd, 2009
As I wrote about half a year ago, I started studying Chinese. To tell you the truth, that has been going kind of slow. “Slow” is really just an average though; I’ve studied grammar and the characters (hanzi) quite a lot, i.e. the areas that appeal to me the most, but not vocabulary and pronunciation very much.
That doesn’t really work out well for Chinese, though. I think the main reason for that is that – compared to Japanese – pronunciation is very difficult. I don’t know about you but I can’t remember a word that I can’t pronounce. Or rather I can remember it as a (hanzi) character, but I can’t connect that to a sound, which makes it semi useless. Of course it would be possible to learn Chinese completely as a written language without ever learning how to pronounce things, but besides that being sub-optimal (it would certainly be very valuable for a deaf person, for instance, though) I also think it would take even longer than it takes to learn Chinese while learning both reading/writing and listening/speaking at the same time (for a non-deaf person).
So what I’m trying to say is that I finally realized that me going all in on hanzi and all out on pronouncing the damned thing was not going to work (obviously!), which is where Chinese Future comes in.
Chinese Future happens to be the portending name of a Chinese language school conveniently located between my office and my home, slightly cheaper than the competitor across the road, and with a name that I think really captures the essence of why learning Chinese is not only a fun activity but also highly rational for anyone with a remaining life expectancy of over 20 years – in a very non-subtle manner!
So yeah, I signed up as a customer-student there and had my first lesson yesterday. It seems like in Japan everyone’s going to language schools all the time – it’s really the hip thing to do. No one ever seems to learn any language though. In practice that usually means Japanese people going to “learn” English at one of the English conversation “school” chains, which never seems to produce any result. Considering not being able to speak any foreign language being a point of pride for many Japanese individuals, that is hardly surprising.
So color me full of skepticism (as always!) when I went there. But the first lesson is free, after all, so not much to lose anyway. The following 8 lessons are just 3,000 yen a piece – a considerable amount, but not too large to give it a shot. So well, that is my plan at the moment: Try those (in total) nine lessons and see whether or not language conversation school is really the thing for me. I’ve already got some good conclusions from the first lesson, which I’ll summarize in the next blog post. Stay tuned.