The Road to Passing N1 Natasha Iman (Malaysia)
I began studying Japanese at JET Academy from the spring 2012. At that time, I was barely able to hold basic conversations in Japanese, and had a hard time expressing myself clearly. Understanding what was spoken to me in Japanese was a difficult task and conveying what how I felt was a daily struggle. When I entered JET , I was placed in the lowest class, and had to relearn hiragana with the beginner students.
Eavesdropping As A Tool
When I entered F Class, I decided to take the N4 level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). There was only three months till the exam, but I wanted to give it a go and see how far I could stretch my Japanese language abilities. I gave up on watching my treasured Korean and English drama series, and began watching Japanese television programs. I watched TV for at least an hour a day, and I tried all sorts of methods to improve my speaking proficiency. One way I accomplished this was by eavesdropping on conversations when I ate at restaurants or cafes. By listening to what people were talking about, I paid close attention to the phrases they used when placing orders and how they spoke. It was like real-time shadowing, and I immediately was able to use the phrases I heard inside and outside the classroom. July of 2012, I was able to pass the JLPT N4.
Trials and Tribulations
In my next semester, I moved to the intermediate class and set aimed to pass the level of the JLPT. Many of my classmates were taking the JLPT N2, as it was a prerequisite for entrance into vocational schools. Rather than skipping N3, I decided to continue to solidify basic grammar and reading skills before moving on. Upon entering my new class, I remember having a tough time coping with the new lessons. We began studying N2 material. I had difficulty reading passages were often used to supplement reading practice. Being in the lowest Kanji class, I wasn’t able to read most of the Chinese characters and felt inferior compared to my peers that could read the passages easily. To tackle the situation, I began reading books meant for primary school students. Also I purchased twenty books at a second-hand bookstore, finishing approximately on average a book per day.
In March 2013, I completed the Japanese Language course, and spent my entire spring break continuing on with my Japanese studies. My aim was to pass the N2 before entering the university preparation course. Most of my time was devoted to doing past exams and practice questions. This was when I first realized that I had difficulty writing the Kanji characters that I had learned in my intermediate class. To improve my Kanji writing skills, I made a list of words from the past exams and practice questions. Using the list, I memorized each Kanji along with readings and meanings as well. By June that year, I passed the JLPT N2 and was able to write Kanji characters at the N3 level.
The N1 Goal
The first day of the university preparation course, we were asked to sit for the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU). I was only able to answer six out of the twenty questions and was shocked by my results. Upon much reflection, I realized that I hadn't put in as I should have into studying the Kanji characters. When I entered the University Preparation course, I managed to move from the lowest Kanji class to the second highest class. However, I still felt that my Japanese language skills were inadequate and that it would be impossible to enter into Waseda University.
In effort to strengthen my Kanji skills I copied articles from the newspaper articles distributed in school, looking up readings of each new characters. I also read books about Political Science, Yukichi Fukuzawa and essays by Haruki Murakami. I chose books that were higher than the level I was at, forcing myself to read actively. I continued reading and became less dependent on the dictionary and was able to read much more smoothly by the time I got around to reading the last few books.
Without realizing it I was able to read the questions from the N1 paper and scoring a 139 points when I sat for it in December last year. In the midst of preparing for my university entrance exams, I barely had time to prepare for the N1 examination. To cope with the two different examinations, I split my days in half spending class time focusing on EJU preparation and time at home preparing for the JLPT.
Confidence Through Language Exchange
While I was a student at JET, I was particularly interested in Japanese than could not be learned through textbooks. In our lessons, we often had teachers talk to us about what the Japanese lifestyle, books that any Japanese person would know and about music . Knowing about these things enabled us to communicate smoothly with Japanese people as we began finding common ground between our different cultures. Furthermore, we had language exchange sessions with Japanese university students. This helped me to gain confidence when speaking to Japanese people. The language exchange sessions became a great place to try out new words and expressions that we learned in class.
Filtering Out Your Mother Tongue
After much thought, I came to realize the importance of learning how to temporarily forget my mother tongue. A way to accomplish this is by constantly speaking Japanese to the people around you and getting into the habit of thinking in Japanese as well. Training your brain to continuously think and speak in Japanese was by no means an easy task. However, getting into the routine of doing it from the beginner level will indefinitely benefit you in the long run.
Fruits of Labor
Being in able to study Japan gives you an excellent opportunity to continuously speak and read Japanese. Temporarily leaving behind your mother tongue is definitely not something easily accomplished, but getting into the routine of doing it has enabled me to pass my JLPT examinations and grow as a Japanese language learner. I believe that this is the main reason why I’ve been able to put great effort into my Japanese studies for the past two years.