Category Archives: Japanese

The Ideal Advanced Language Class

When Language Classes Aren’t Challenging Enough

In my previous post I praised my university’s Chinese 101 class, which was both challenging and interesting enough to make me want to study Chinese in the future. I now want to move on to Japanese, which I have been studying now for four and a half years since starting in college. My general thoughts on Japanese study in college are as follows:

The 101/102 level of Japanese, like Chinese, was great. Things were moving fast, I felt challenged everyday, and I was excited to learn. The second year classes were similar, and I struggled a bit in the beginning while trying to keep up (I did two semesters of Japanese in 2 months via an “intensive Japanese” summer program). By my third and fourth years into studying Japanese, however, I started to like Japanese class less and less. Having gotten the basics down, there was less pressure to memorize tons of words or grammar points. I would internally groan every time I had to listen to one of my classmates struggle to discuss something relatively difficult or abstract in class.


All of the textbooks I used in college, taking 1.5 years to go through the first three, and 2.5 years for the following three. Looking back, being intermediate level (books 3~5) is the most frustrating.

1. Nakama 1
2. Nakama 2
3. Tobira
4. 日本への招待
5. 中級から上級への日本語
6. 文化へのまなざし

I didn’t feel challenged in class, and as a result I began to feel that an hour and a half in class was less helpful than an hour and a half of study on my own. In a good class, obviously, this should not happen; if lecture or class is less beneficial or interesting than self-study, then going to class has no purpose.

At this point some people draw the conclusion that classes are only useful up to a certain point, and self-studying and immersion is the only way to go. I agree that both of those things are useful (if not necessary in order to seriously improve), but I don’t want to give up on classes just yet. Surely there must be a way to make an advanced Japanese (or any advanced language class) useful and relevant. I’m nowhere *close* to knowing everything in Japanese, and so if I have the chance, aren’t there things I could still learn in a classroom environment? And if so, what kind of environment would be necessary?

Why I like Job Searching in Japan/at Japanese companies

Actually, the title is wrong. I hate job searching in Japan. In fact, I hate job searching entirely, regardless of country. It’s a soul-sucking, energy-draining, ego-destroying waste of time. But for the language learner doing job searching in their non-native language, it’s perhaps also the biggest motivator to study a language more than anything else. When you’re competing against native speakers as a non-native speaker yourself, it’s essentially a language test ramped up to eleven. You don’t know how terrible you are at a language until you’re being tested as if you were a native-speaker.

And call me masochistic, but I love it.

Last year I attended the Boston Career Forum, where I interviewed for a position at BCG, an international business strategy consulting firm. The interviews I had were completely in Japanese, and not once was my Japanese praised, nor was I told how 上手 (skilled) I was at speaking. It felt great, like I was being treated as an equal. After all, fluent Japanese was excepted for the position, and a company has no time to help you with your ego. If you can’t communicate, then say goodbye to any future interviews. While you can also talk to a Japanese friend in Japanese, it’s generally a low stress situation compared to an interview. With a friend you get the benefit of the doubt both because you both already know each other, and because you’re a non-native speaker. In an interview, this only works against you.

After the career forum I was invited by BCG to partake in a three-day long event in December called a “Winter Job”, which is used at BCG’s Tokyo office in place of final round interviews. When I arrived in Tokyo, I was the only non-Asian person (there was one Chinese student as well, but everyone else was Japanese) out of about 25 or so students at the Winter Job, most of whom were Todai/Kyodai/Keio  level undergraduate and graduate students. All communication before and after the event took place in Japanese, with the three days at the BCG office naturally spent entirely in Japanese as well. I wish I could say I became this badass, completely bilingual speaker overnight for the event, but I did not; over the three days I struggled quite a lot. Keeping up—let alone competing—with everyone else was hard, and I pushed myself to the limits of my Japanese ability.

So what if a class could recreate that same environment?

Being Challenged in a Language

Finding materials to challenge myself with in Japanese is not hard. If I pick up a Japanese book and try to read it, I’ll be challenged. A recent analysis over on Reddit finds that a good 4-5000 kanji may be necessary to fluently read relatively difficult Japanese literature. If I want to challenge myself in listening or speaking, I could listen to or try to recite  NHK news podcasts. If I try to read a couple of articles from Bloomberg Japan, I’ll run into an unknown word before long.

Simply put, there are plenty of Japanese challenges out there for the advanced learner. If anything, being at an “advanced” level makes it easier to find material because basically anything a native speaker would look at becomes fair game. At the same time, however, this proves to be challenging to adapt to the classroom environment. Choose something too difficult and learning slows down. As mentioned in a Language Learning & Technology journal article titled The Development of Advanced Learner Oral Proficiency Using Ipads, the author professor Lys cites that

…exposure [according to linguist Stephen Krashen] to the target language is crucial and that the amount and quality of comprehensible input learners receive—defined as i+1—determines how fast they will learn.

Going right after native materials from the start might be something we want to do, but the reality is that we need comprehensible input as well. But what I found in my advanced Japanese classes was that the input was dumbed down too far. I was understanding everything. Now that sounds fine, of course, but in my Japanese 101/102 classes, that wasn’t the case. If I didn’t study the night before I would be lost in class. After all, starting from zero meant I had no background knowledge of the language to fall back on.

In my advanced classes, there were occasionally words I did not know, but nothing that required advanced studying in order to follow along. And if someone in class didn’t understand a word, the teacher would explain it throughly in class. Again, while that might seem fine at first glance, in 101/102 you were expected to have studied prior to the class because there was so much material being crammed into so little time, limiting any time for explanations. In short, the leisurely pace in the advanced class—while it allowed for deeper discussion of certain tricky words or grammar points—did little to stimulate my interest or get me really excited about facing another challenging class. If I want to look up new words or slowly go through a reading, I can do that by myself. The chance to be challenged to speak quickly, accurately, and sophisticatedly on a difficult subject is something that is hard to recreate without a teacher to be your parter.

Consider this next quote from the Professor Lys’ article:

In a study assessing language gain in Spanish speaking students spending a semester abroad, only 12 of the 22 students were able to improve their proficiency by one level (from Intermediate Low to Intermediate Mid), even though they had reported that they had used Spanish outside of class for more than forty-five hours per week (Segalowitz & Freed, 2004, as cited in Tschirner, 2007, p. 111). Students apparently blamed the repetitive and predictable nature of many exchanges with their host family.

As an intermediate or advanced learner, it’s too easy to cheat using your basic language knowledge. If you get stuck not knowing a certain word, you can talk your way around it and convey the meaning you want. This technique is called circumlocution, and it’s not a bad strategy for the beginning learner with limited vocabulary, but as the following article points out, it can become a bad habit where advanced learners “fail to push themselves to try to remember a particular word or phrase.” The Spanish students in the above example likely fell victim to the same habit: they didn’t push themselves out of their comfort zone to use more difficult vocabulary or phrasing.

The Advanced Classroom should be like a Job Interview

In a video featuring Khatzumoto of AJATT fame, Khatz points out at one point that Japanese learners (post-Japan’s 1990 bubble) are often studying Japanese out of their love of anime and other cultural interests, rather than for any economic reason. Unsurprisingly, my advanced Japanese classes have often revolved around Japanese anime and dramas, simply because most of the learners enjoy those kinds of materials. That’s all well and good—I am not suggesting that we use more dry materials in an attempt to be “serious”—but as a result the atmosphere in the class tends to be very low-stress. “Let’s all discuss this episode” or “What happened to the character in this scene” tend to be the usual discussion points, repeated ad nauseam. And when we do talk about a recent news article in class, it’s basically a “free discussion” time, with students giving their best shot at sounding intelligent. The teacher does not interfere.

This might just be me disagreeing with a certain type of teaching methodology, but I think this style of classroom is setting intermediate and advanced learners up for failure. The teacher needs to be pushing students to speak accurately by making the class a little more stressful. We don’t want students to freeze up and fail completely, but allowing them to struggle freely by themselves out loud for five minutes as they attempt to produce intelligible output is not acceptable in an advanced level classroom.

For example, a roll-playing activity could involve being an interviewee for a large bank, and therefore the role would require memorizing how to use a large number of economic-related vocabulary. If the student is not particularly interested in economics, they could be asked to roll-play describing an abstract concept related to psychology in front of a professor, or be asked to describe a photo or movie in great detail in English, and then be asked to repeat the same description—with the same level of detail and vocabulary—in Japanese. See the following “English Lesson” video from a TV variety show:

The video is comedy, but repeating what you have just said in your native language in a language you are studying (at the same level of vocabulary and fluency) is difficult.

With these examples I am trying to think of ways students could be placed under more stress. I want situations where they would be forced to memorize a great deal more of the language than they already know. With a teacher there to correct mistakes and put pressure on students to be accurate and fast, the advanced class could potentially be just as intense—if not more so—than my intro level language classes. The native-level materials are out there and can be studied on one’s own, but I still believe a well structured class could be added-value for a student, rather than a leisurely waste of time.


Leave a comment

Filed under Japan, Japanese, Kanji, Language, Self-studying

The Value of the Beginner Language Class

In my junior year of college I enrolled in two language classes: one for Japanese and one for Chinese. For Japanese I enrolled in something called “Advanced Integrative Japanese”, which was a fancy way of saying “fourth-year Japanese class.” And as a complete beginner in Chinese, I also signed up for the “Chinese 101” class that I’m sure is offered at colleges around the world.

One thing I have noticed is that language classes get a lot of flack on the Internet, perhaps unsurprisingly by the self-studying crowd, which tends to be especially active on online forums and blogs. Traditional classes are often shunned as obsolete relics of the past, and perhaps that’s because of the breadth of material we have at our fingertips. After all, we’re all on the internet now, and we have (especially as a self-studier) more access to native-language material than ever before. Three popular blog posts come to mind that are particularly critical of language classes:

Why Language Classes Don’t Work: How to Cut Classes and Double Your Learning Rate (4-hour work week)

Classes Suck (AJATT)

Using AJATT to Pwn Japanese Classes (Which Still Suck) (AJATT, again)

There are a lot of good points in all of these posts, but their messages are similar: classes slow you down, and that the fastest way to learn is through native interaction, either with native speakers or native materials. The post on 4-hour Work Week is especially critical of classes when it claims that classes merely create “the illusion of progress” for students who are too lazy/scared/uninterested in using the language in the real world through interactions with native speakers.

This seems particularly true of most students who are forced to learn a foreign language they’re not really interested in, such as in high school. Often the only real speaking practice that goes on for languages learned in high school classes ends up occurring in the classroom, and as a result the language is merely treated as another academic subject that will be quickly forgotten by the end of the year. I certainly don’t remember every fact that I used to have memorized when I took American History back in high school, and that’s because I don’t constantly place myself in an environment where I would need to recall any of those previously memorized pieces of information. The same goes even more so for foreign languages. If I don’t care about the material enough to study it beyond what is presented in class, then the best teacher in the world is not going make a difference.

That’s why language classes outside of a mandatory curriculum are so much better—that is, classes taken in college by choice—and why I think they deserve more credit. These classes are populated (ideally) by students who, for some reason or another, care about taking the class. That means that even when the class ends, the studying goes on. Especially at the beginner level these students want to learn the language on some level, and are ready to dive in.

The Beginner Language Class – A Time-Wasting Hell of Poor Speakers or A Bastion of Language Learning?

My Chinese language class had the following format: once a day, 5 days a week, about 10 people in the room. The teacher puts a new grammar structure up on the board and asks a question—in Chinese, of course—to one of the students at random. He answers. She asks another person a related question. He stumbles, she starts the sentence for him, he finishes it. She tells another student to ask the person next to him a related question. That person answers. And so on.

The in-class pace is fast, and the content is all speaking. There’s no writing during this class, no worksheets, and no handouts—that’s for your own practice as homework to be done outside of class. The textbook is a collection of ~30 conversations presented in both English and Chinese, with grammar notes explained in English and Chinese on subsequent pages. Homework involves memorizing the current week’s conversation, translating short paragraphs in English to Chinese (there’s your writing practice), memorizing short speeches in Chinese that you’ve written, and being able to transcribe short spoken sentences into Chinese characters. There’s a comprehensive quiz every week.

That was my Chinese Class, and for me it was awesome. I learned a lot, and I probably made as much progress as an average student does in 1-3 years of Chinese in high school. Seriously, it was hardcore.

Study the Language to Study the Language

I’m raving about my Chinese 101 class, but now let’s flash forward 1 year after finishing it. The result? I have forgotten most of what I learned. If I walked into my Chinese 101 final today I know I would surely fail; it has literally been over a year since I studied or engaged in the Chinese language in any serious way.

So does that prove the “class haters” points? After all, I took a class and now have few results to show from it—surely that means classes don’t matter. And if I can’t remember any Chinese, doesn’t that mean I’m in the same place as where I was after finishing my Spanish classes in high school? The answer, however, is no; and it’s because my mindset is quite different. Let me explain.

The Chinese class mattered because I’m still excited about picking up Chinese at some point in the future. Had I not taken the class, I might have had a vague desire to start learning at some point, but no language foundation or starting momentum. On the other hand, I have no desire whatsoever to study Spanish, regardless of how “useful” it is considered. The difference here is that the Chinese class instilled an interest in the Chinese language. I made rapid progress during the class and I feel confident I could do it again. I enjoyed speaking in Chinese and would love to be able to do it again at a higher level. There were very few lessons on “culture” in my Chinese class, but that’s because the class made the language challenging and interesting enough to be worth studying because it was fun. In other words, I studied Chinese because I wanted to become a beast at Chinese.

In my high school Spanish classes, the teachers tried to introduce students to Spanish culture, music, etc, as an attempt to give us reasons to study the language. While I understand the reasoning, I tuned most of it out. I didn’t give a damn about Cinco de Mayo, and it just turned me off to studying if this was supposed the “fun” part of the language. I should first be excited about studying the language because I simply like studying the language. For me, this is the purest and best form of motivation, and it’s something that a good class can do for a student. Cultural/native-language stuff like movies and music can be found on one’s own and can come later once the student has a decent foundation to actually make sense of the material.

Plus, since cultural stuff has to do a lot with personal taste—I would rather have my eyebrows plucked out than be forced to learn about traditional Japanese festivals and ancient shrines—trying to appeal to everyone in a single class is impossible. Classes in the beginner level, therefore, should focus on making the language challenging and interesting. And because an entire language can’t be taught in a single class, the goal should be to provide motivation and basis for further study if the student chooses to do so. Chinese 101 did that well.

Later I want to talk a little more about “Advanced language classes”, something I feel could be done a lot better than what I have experienced so far in my study of the language. Until next time…


Filed under Chinese, Japan, Japanese, Language, Self-studying

The SPI Test & Job Searching in Japan — Learn Japanese Antonyms & Synonyms

If you’re like me, then you’re probably one or both of these two things:

  1. You’re thinking about working in Japan one day (but perhaps aren’t a computer science major…)
  2. You want to enhance your Japanese vocabulary

If you ever want to work for a Japanese company, especially as a fresh graduate right out of college, then you might find yourself having to take something called the SPI適性検査, which is one of the most popular “recruitment aptitude tests” in Japan. While many learners aiming for Japanese company employment might assume that having JLPT skills at Level 1 would be sufficient for general job searching in Japan, this is in fact not the case in the beginning of the process. Let me explain.


Welcome to your worst Japanese nightmare

When you apply to a typical Japanese company, assuming you have no direct connections that would boost you straight through to the interview process, after listening to a general info session (can be online but quite often in person) you first submit an エントリーシート (entry sheet), which is a one-page form that includes your name, university, and perhaps a small box for your 志望動機 (reason for applying). When you submit this form in person—such as at a career fair with Japanese companies, including CFN, Mynavi, Works Global Japan, Top Career, etc—you will hand write it in Japanese, so be sure to practice writing Kanji just enough to answer the questions that are typically asked. Memorizing your 志望動機 down to the letter is probably not a bad strategy.

If the company is interested in talking to you further, you will likely receive instructions to take a WEB検査, or online test. If you’re lucky you’ll skip right to the interview where you can show off your Japanese and interviewing skills, but there are plenty of large corporations in Japan (Softbank, for example), that require the test first. And while some companies, such as Rakuten and most foreign investment banks have their own English version, most companies have it in Japanese only. In this blog post, Ms. Melfi sums up the test quite well:

Imagine having to take the JLPT1 in 30 minutes, with two more 30 minute sections on logic and math. […]

Unequivocally, the JLPT1 does not qualify you as ready for the Job Hunting process.

In other words, if you just passed the JLPT level 1 and are feeling rather good about yourself for barely squeaking by, be prepared to be pummeled by the typical web test (SPI test) that job searchers are required to take. Sure, if you were able to skip the test and get right to the interview and show your employer that you’re perfectly competent at speaking, and could look up unknown job-specific vocabulary as it comes your way, the world would be a perfect place. But it’s not, and the SPI, in my opinion, is a big unspoken roadblock that prevents non-native Japanese from entering Japanese companies, despite their constant pleas for “more global talent.”

According to a friend of a friend, he was asked by a Japanese company to take the test, but he responded that as a non-native Japanese person the test had no meaning, and that he should not have to take it. In reply, the company agreed with him, moved him right along to the interview process, and then he got the job. I can’t say this is typical, or even if the story is true, but if you don’t feel ready for the test this might be a nice hail mary move to try out.

At any rate, just because the test is hard does not mean it’s impossible. It’s a Japanese test, which means, for the most part, it’s perfectly study-able. If you have come this far in your Japanese study to consider applying to a Japanese company, then you can get over this as well. It just requires you to change what you’ve been studying.

Enter the Antonyms (and Synonyms)

When studying Japanese, my vocabulary generally comes from sentences and vocabulary lists that correspond to something I’m reading. I believe this is a fairly practical way to go about learning new words, since I’m learning things that directly relate to what I want to understand. For the SPI test, however, a decent portion of the 国語 (Japanese language) section revolves around identifying antonyms (反対語) and synonyms (同意語), which is something I simply have never done before in Japanese. Thankfully, this is probably the part of the test that is easiest to study: rote memorize enough antonym/synonym pairs and that should mean a decent shot at doing well.

There are two sites online I have found (other than buying a test-prep book on that seem useful and are free:

  1. StudyPro ~SPI2 • SPI3対応
  2. SPI試験対策集会所 (site looks right out of the early 90s, but still good)

For instance, combining the lists of 同意語 (synonyms)  provided on both of these sites, I’m able to compile a list of 238 vocabulary words. Each word’s reading and definition is listed, along with its synonym provided in parenthesis. If for each word in Kanji you can quickly recall it’s reading, meaning, and corresponding synonym, you should be good to go.

封建  ほうけん    feudalistic(独裁)
独裁  どくさい    dictatorship(封建)
宿命  しゅくめい   fate(運命)
運命  うんめい    fate(宿命)
冷静  れいせい    calm(沈着)
沈着  ちんちゃく   calm(冷静)
没頭  ぼっとう    absorption in(専念、熱中)
専念  せんねん    absorption in(没頭、熱中)
熱中  ねっちゅう   absorption in(没頭、専念)
不平  ふへい     discontent(不服)
不服  ふふく     discontent(不平)
傑作  けっさく    masterpiece(名作)
名作  めいさく    masterpiece(傑作)
秀才  しゅうさい   prodigy(俊秀)
俊秀  しゅんしゅう  prodigy(秀才)
損益  そんえき    profit and loss(損失)
損失  そんしつ    loss(損益)
欠点  けってん    defect(短所)
短所  たんしょ    defect(欠点)
欠乏  けつぼう    shortage(不足)
不足  ふそく     shortage(欠乏)
著名  ちょめい    famous(有名)
有名  ゆうめい    famous(著名)
規定  きてい     regulation(規則)
規則  きそく     regulation(規定)
形見  かたみ     memento(遺品)
遺品  いひん     memento(形見)
意外  いがい     unexpected(案外)
案外  あんがい    unexpected(意外)
尽力  じんりょく   endeavor(献身)
献身  けんしん    endeavor(尽力)
断続  だんぞく    intermittent(中断)
中断  ちゅうだん   interruption(断続)
不意  ふい      sudden(突然)
突然  とつぜん    sudden(不意)
必然  ひつぜん    inevitable(当然)
当然  とうぜん    natural(必然)
転居  てんきょ    moving(移転)
移転  いてん     moving(転居)
疑問  ぎもん     doubt(疑念)
疑念  ぎねん     doubt(疑問)
了承  りょうしょう  consent(許諾)
許諾  きょだく    consent(了承)
滋養  じよう     nourishment(栄養)
栄養  えいよう    nourishment(滋養)
準備  じゅんび    preparation(用意、支度)
用意  ようい     preparation(準備、支度)
支度  したく     preparation(準備、用意)
落胆  らくたん    disappointment(失望)
失望  しつぼう    disappointment(落胆)
自然  しぜん     natural(天然)
天然  てんねん    natural(自然)
督促  とくそく    demand, urge(催促)
催促  さいそく    demand, urge(督促)
順序  じゅんじょ   order(次第)
次第  しだい     order(順序)
永遠  えいえん    eternity(永久)
永久  えいきゅう   eternity(永遠)
対等  たいとう    equivalent(互角)
互角  ごかく     equality(対等)
願望  がんぼう    wish(希望)
希望  きぼう     wish(願望)
筆記  ひっき     written(記述)
記述  きじゅつ    written(筆記)
不偏  ふへん     universal(一般)
一般  いっぱん    universal(不偏)
負債  ふさい     debt(借金)
借金  しゃっきん   debt(負債)
知己  ちき      friend(友人)
友人  ゆうじん    friend(知己)
発達  はったつ    development(進歩)
進歩  しんぽ     development(発達)
親切  しんせつ    kindness(厚意)
厚意  こうい     kindness(親切)
質素  しっそ     thirfty(倹約)
倹約  けんやく    thrifty(質素)
原料  げんりょう   materials(材料)
材料  ざいりょう   materials(原料)
承認  しょうにん   approval(承諾)
承諾  しょうだく   approval(承認)
同意  どうい     agreement(賛成)
賛成  さんせい    agreement(同意)
瞬間  しゅんかん   moment(瞬時)
瞬時  しゅんじ    moment(瞬間)
模範  もはん     model(手本)
手本  てほん     model(模範)
関与  かんよ     participate(介入)
介入  かいにゅう   intervene(関与)
待望  たいぼう    long desired(念願)
念願  ねんがん    long desired(待望)
根底  こんてい    foundation(基本、基礎)
基礎  きそ      foundation(根底、基本)
基本  きほん     foundation(根底、基礎)
責任  せきにん    duty(責務)
責務  せきむ     duty(責任)
冷淡  れいたん    cold-hearted(薄情)
薄情  はくじょう   cold-hearted(冷淡)
実践  じっせん    put into practice(実行)
実行  じっこう    put into practice(実践)
活用  かつよう    use(利用)
利用  りよう     use(活用)
手腕  しゅわん    ability(技量)
技量  ぎりょう    ability(手腕)
便利  べんり     useful(重宝)
重宝  ちょうほう   useful(便利)
綿密  めんみつ    careful, detailed(細心)
細心  さいしん    careful, detailed(綿密)
正確  せいかく    accurate(的確)
的確  てきかく    accurate(正確)
帰省  きせい     return home(帰郷)
帰郷  ききょう    return home(帰省)
生涯  しょうがい   (one’s) lifetime(一生)
一生  いっしょう   (one’s) lifetime(生涯)
起源  きげん     origin(発祥)
発祥  はっしょう   origin(起源)
揶揄  やゆ      tease(愚弄)
愚弄  ぐろう     tease(揶揄)
我慢  がまん     endure(忍耐、辛抱)
忍耐  にんたい    endure(我慢、辛抱)
辛抱  しんぼう    endure(忍耐、我慢)
高尚  こうしょう   refined(典雅、上品)
典雅  てんが     refined(高尚、上品)
上品  じょうひん   refined(高尚、典雅)
貢献  こうけん    contribution(寄与)
寄与  きよ      contribution(貢献)
出色  しゅっしょく  excellence(抜群)
抜群  ばつぐん    excellence(出色)
疎外  そがい     (to be) cast out(排斥)
排斥  はいせき    (to be) cast out(疎外)
漂泊  ひょうはく   wandering(放浪)
放浪  ほうろう    wandering(漂泊)
腐心  ふしん     take pains to(苦心)
苦心  くしん     take pains to(腐心)
歴然  れきぜん    evident(明白)
明白  めいはく    evident(歴然)
廉価  れんか     low price(安価)
安価  あんか     low price(廉価)
頑丈  がんじょう   healthy, solid(壮健)
壮健  そうけん    healthy, solid(頑丈)
横柄  おうへい    arrogance(尊大)
尊大  そんだい    arrogance(横柄)
堅持  けんじ     adhere to(墨守)
墨守  ぼくしゅ    adhere to(堅持)
邂逅  かいこう    chance meeting(遭遇)
遭遇  そうぐう    chance meeting(邂逅)
格言  かくげん    proverb(金言)
金言  きんげん    proverb(格言)
確執  かくしつ    fued(反目)
反目  はんもく    fued(確執)
敢行  かんこう    decisive action(断行)
断行  だんこう    decisive action(敢行)
簡単  かんたん    simple(容易)
容易  ようい     simple(簡単)
機転  きてん     quick wit(機知)
機知  きち      quick wit(機転)
工面  くめん     raise money(算段)
算段  さんだん    raise money(工面)
啓蒙  けいもう    enlightenment(啓発)
啓発  けいはつ    enlightenment(啓蒙)
激励  げきれい    encouragement(鼓舞)
鼓舞  こぶ      encouragement(激励)
回顧  かいこ     recollection(追憶)
追憶  ついおく    recollection(回顧)
険悪  けんあく    threatening(不穏)
不穏  ふおん     threatening(険悪)
原因  げんいん    reason(理由)
理由  りゆう     reason(原因)
合格  ごうかく    pass an exam(及第)
及第  きゅうだい   pass an exam(合格)
安泰  あんたい    tranquil(静穏)
静穏  せいおん    tranquil(安泰)
婚礼  こんれい    wedding(婚儀)
婚儀  こんぎ     wedding(婚礼)
妨害  ぼうがい    hindrance(阻止)
そし  そし      hindrance(妨害)
蹉跌  さてつ     setback(挫折)
挫折  ざせつ     setback(蹉跌)
残念  ざんねん    unfortunate(遺憾)
遺憾  いかん     unfortunate(残念)
賛美  さんび     praise(称揚)
称揚  しょうよう   praise(賛美)
示唆  しさ      hint, suggestion(暗示)
暗示  あんじ     hint, suggestion(示唆)
交渉  こうしょう   negotiation(折衝)
折衝  せっしょう   negotiation(交渉)
多弁  たべん     talkativeness(饒舌)
饒舌  じょうぜつ   talkativeness(多弁)
知悉  ちしつ     deep knowledge(精通)
精通  せいつう    deep knowledge(知悉)
執着  しゅうちゃく  be a stickler(拘泥)
拘泥  こうでい    be a stickler(執着)
大衆  たいしゅう   the masses(庶民)
庶民  しょみん    the masses(大衆)
賢明  けんめい    wisdom(利発)
利発  りはつ     wisdom(賢明)
詳細  しょうさい   details(委細)
委細  いさい     details(詳細)
長所  ちょうしょ   strong point(美点)
美点  びてん     strong point(長所)
崇拝  すうはい    admire(敬慕、傾倒)
敬慕  けいぼ     admire(崇拝、傾倒)
傾倒  けいとう    admire(崇拝、敬慕)
心配  しんぱい    worry(懸念)
懸念  けねん     worry(心配)
辛酸  しんさん    hardships(困窮)
困窮  こんきゅう   hardships(辛酸)
頑健  がんけん    robust, brawny(屈強)
屈強  くっきょう   robust, brawny(頑健)
精読  せいどく    careful reading(熟読)
熟読  じゅくどく   careful reading(精読)
切望  せつぼう    longing for(熱望)
熱望  ねつぼう    longing for(切望)
束縛  そくばく    restraint(拘束)
拘束  こうそく    restraint(束縛)
粗相  そそう     blunder(失敗)
失敗  しっぱい    blunder(粗相)
完遂  かんすい    to accomplish(成就)
成就  じょうじゅ   to accomplish(完遂)
抜粋  ばっすい    selection from text(抄録)
抄録  しょうろく   selection from text(抜粋)
核心  かくしん    kernel, core(枢要)
枢要  すうよう    kernel, core(核心)
奪取  だっしゅ    capture by force(攻略)
攻略  こうりゃく   capture by force(奪取)
敗走  はいそう    retreat(退却)
退却  たいきゃく   retreat(敗走)
功名  こうみょう   great feat(殊勲)
殊勲  しゅくん    great feat(功名)
繁忙  はんぼう    busy(多忙)
多忙  たぼう     busy(繁忙)
卑近  ひきん     familiar(身近)
身近  みぢか     familiar(卑近)
緩慢  かんまん    slow (worker)(遅鈍)
遅鈍  ちどん     slow (worker)(緩慢)
歳月  さいげつ    time, years(星霜)
星霜  せいそう    time, years(歳月)
変遷  へんせん    (historical) change(沿革)
沿革  えんかく    (historical) change(変遷)

Some of these words are not especially difficult, such as 有名 and 当然, but being able to point out from a list of words which has the closest meaning in about 15 seconds is likely something that requires a bit of studying, hence the hefty list above. Using the links above you could compile a similar (but perhaps even longer) list for antonyms as well.

After antonyms and synonyms, the next part of the Japanese language section of the SPI test involves reading short passages and answering 1-3 questions about them, often in less than a minute or 90 seconds. I wish I could say I had an ultimate trick or study method for this portion of the test for us non-native speakers (as reading speed is not exactly an easily upgraded skill), but purchasing an SPI test-prep book and going through questions is likely your best chance. Something else you may want to try is to estimate how fast you read English, and then give yourself that amount of time to answer a JLPT level 1 reading passage. Obviously you’ll be hampered by the time limit, but you may discover what works for you when trying to rush through a Japanese passage.

Finally, there is also a math section in the SPI test, which isn’t terribly difficult (think back to the SAT or ACT if you’re from the United States), but is made difficult because, again, it’s in Japanese. What that means, then, is that additional practice is  required. In a future blog I hope to go over some math vocabulary in Japanese (which I have been meaning to study myself), something is not covered in typical Japanese language classes as far as I know.

1 Comment

Filed under Japan, Japanese, Language

New Challenger: Chinese

I’m not good at updating blogs. They’re too easy to ignore and I’m too good at procrastinating. And it’s not just blogs either; emails, Facebook messages, texts—you name it and I’ll be sure to read it and not reply. Oh sure, I’ll think of a brilliant reply in my head, and carefully formulate exactly what it is I want to say, but I won’t write it down. My friends who wonder why I take so long to reply sometimes hate me for it. I swear it’s a curse.

But putting that aside (after all, I’m blogging right now!), I’ve decided to blog today to talk about two things near and dear to my heart:

  • I passed the JLPT N1 (that’s the highest level)
  • I am going to start learning Chinese again more seriously, this time through self-studying.

I have always been a Japanese language focused person, but seeing that I have been able to come pretty far with Japanese gives me hope I’ll be able to something similar with Chinese. Perhaps not to the same level and not at the same rate as Japanese, simply because I actively sought out study-abroad opportunities in Japan throughout college and pursued every one of them and that’s not possible time-wise with Chinese, but I think If I worked hard enough I could get to a level I could be satisfied with. Hopefully.

But let’s start with the good news — the JLPT passing and all that jazziness.


If you’re reading this you probably have a good idea what the JLPT is, but it’s a test designed for foreign speakers of Japanese to test their proficiency in the language. The test only measures reading, grammar and listening skills, with no writing or speaking portions in the test whatsoever. As someone who believes their strongest abilities lie in speaking I think that’s a huge mistake, but it’s a widely recognized test by employers (at least while going to various career forums in Japan and abroad, required Japanese level nearly always tended to be measured in JLPT score, with N1 corresponding to “Native” in many cases, although I wouldn’t agree with that).

So I took the test in July while I was in Japan—I remember quite vividly that it was humid as balls, and that on top of this I was taking the test at a college with a giant campus, meaning even more thick layers of humidity to swim through before I made it to the thankfully air-conditioned testing room.

I also remember that after finishing the test I was 99.999% sure that I did not pass. Because even though I had purchased a few test prep books, namely the Kanzen Master Series, (which I was wary of buying at first because of the massive hype it has online, but it really does live up to it), I barely touched the books due to poor time management up until the day of the test. I had gone through about 1/3 of the Kanji book and 1/2 the grammar book, but don’t ask me if I remembered anything on test day. I simply cursed myself for not having prepared more throughly and walked away from the testing site in what I’m sure was some sort of melancholy daze.

And then I didn’t think too much about the test after that, telling everyone that “yeah, I took it, but will probably take it again because I don’t think I passed.” A total no-confidence answer, which couldn’t have prepared me for what came next:


With the applicant number edited out for security reasons (?)

Result: passed

It floored me. I didn’t check the results until the beginning of September (even though they were released on August 27th), assuming I had failed. I simply checked only because I was preparing to sign up for the December exam and I wanted to see how much more I would need to study.

I should point out one thing about my result, which is of course the ROFLOLOLMAO score of 100/180. Because it’s literally the lowest score you can get on the exam and still pass. One question more wrong and I would have failed. In fact, probably even less than that considering the exam is curved.

But I still passed, bitches.

So what do I do now? Well, as a professor at the University of Kyoto points out in a page on his website about how he passed the TOEIC exam with a perfect score:


Or in English, “people who get perfect scores on the TOEIC are a dime a dozen.” I don’t know about that, but it’s what motivated the guy to get a perfect score on the TOEFL as well. He’s certainly pretty darn badass at English. But what I’m trying to get at is that it’s the same (and probably even worse) for people who pass N1 as well:

People who pass the JLPT (N1) are a dime a dozen. And for me, I’m still not as good as I want to be. There are still so many words to know, and so many more ways in which I could get more fluent at speaking. I don’t consider being able to do Japanese some kind of parlor trick to impress Japanese people—I’m in it to actually learn it, and being at some arbitrary line in skill level as determined by a test doesn’t really mean much to me. It’s time to move on to bigger and better stuff: Novels, newspaper articles, TV shows—anything I can get my grubby foreigner paws on. I didn’t come this far to call it quits just yet.

Learning Chinese: An exercise in motivating myself… again

So I have been wanting to learn Chinese for some time now, and I even started Chinese at college two years back to get myself going. Furthermore, because my school probably offers one of the best Chinese language curriculums in the country, I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much when I say I got a fine introduction to the language at an intense pace unlikely found at many other places.

But then I studied abroad in Japan for a year and have since forgotten almost everything (at least production-wise).

Oh great.

So I find myself in a bit of a crappy position: I am currently in my last year in college and could take the next level of Chinese, but it would require me to play a huge amount of catch-up in terms of material to re-learn, all while trying to keep pace with kids who are more fresh and who have more free time to study. I feel like by not taking Chinese this year I’m turning down a super hot girlfriend who simply is too needy when I don’t have a lot of free time. Or something.

At any rate, this sucks.

So I’ve decided to study Chinese on my own and chronicle my attempts at doing so on this blog assuming I don’t run out of enthusiasm along the way. I think it will also be a good exercise for me to practice various language-learning techniques and programs,  see what really works for me, and discover if there are new ways of studying I should pay attention to. This will be all super beginner stuff, and I’ll be using a Chinese language textbook called “First Step” that I purchased from the Chinese department, as I don’t think it has actually been published yet officially. That makes me cool, by the way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Chinese, Japanese, Language, Self-studying

My Kanji Skills Suck Worse Than Those of a Six Year Old — And What I’m Doing to Fix It

The Background Story

Just yesterday I took a two-hour Japanese exam for the MEXT Scholarship, which would give me a free-ride for a year at a Japanese university to study Japanese. A great deal, but apparently so highly competitive that my local Japanese consulate has been only able to successfully send one student in the past several years to Japan—and on top of that, the person they were able to send was half-Japanese, and apparently already fluent in Japanese. For example, I found this post on the Reviewing the Kanji  forum posted by Zorlee, who is going for the same scholarship, except that he’s already long passed the highest level of the JLPT, and therefore is much more likely to get the scholarship than I am. Hmm, perhaps if the Japanese government were really trying to bring more foreigners over to Japan, they shouldn’t require near-native Japanese as a prerequisite? (Sorry, that’s my bitterness speaking.)

At any rate, I had already come down to the consulate for the interview, so they let me take the qualifying Japanese exam for the scholarship as well. It was mostly multiple-choice, split into 3 difficulty levels. If you’re familiar with the JLPT, I would say the easiest difficulty was around 5/4-kyuu on the JLPT, the intermediate level around 3-kyuu, and the hardest difficulty 2/1-kyuu—certainly no walk in the park. The test was two hours long, with each difficulty level having the same sorts of questions. First some grammar fill-ins, then some expression/keigo questions, and then a reading passage.

Furthermore, while there was no listening section to the test, the test did have a short “Kanji Writing” section, where you would have to produce Kanji based off the given readings in a sentence. This is where I failed, big time.

While I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing the meaning and readings of Kanji when I come across them in reading, my writing-kanji-by-hand skills have taken a very sharp nose-dive. After all, I do all my writing on the computer, so thanks to the magic of auto hiragana-to-Kanji input, my ability to actually write almost any even moderately complicated Kanji has all but disappeared.

For example, with a word like 準備 (junbipreparation), I can recognize it in writing, hear and understand it easily, and even use it in a conversation freely without much effort. But if you were to place a blank piece of paper in front of me and ask me to write it down, I would laugh in your face—I would simply have no idea where to start. How do I bring my horribly deficient writing skills up to speed with my comparatively strong listening and speaking skills?

Enter Kanji Kentei — Kanji Learning Software for the DS

On my way back from the Japanese Consulate, I stopped off at BookOff to browse a few manga titles to distract myself from my failure at being able to reading Kanji when I came across a used copy of 200 Mannin no Kankena Kanji learning game for the DS. Kanji learning games for the DS are nothing new, but at least for me, I had always been tempted by the idea of buying one but had yet to through with it. But since I was already there at the BookOff, I what-the-heck-ly decided to purchase it.

For those who don’t know, the game is actually designed to prep one for the Kanji Kentei (Kanken) — a test of Kanji ability designed for Japanese people, which has a wide variety of levels, from  elementary school all the way up to beyond-adult at the highest level, where even a fully-literate Japanese adult would need to sit down and do some studying in order to expect to pass. And unlike tests of Japanese ability designed for non-natives (e.g. the JLPT), the Kanken is not fully multiple-choice—rather, many of the questions require production of Kanji just from its reading in context, or from its location in a 4-kanji expression. Example questions can be found here.

I’m not sure how interested I am in taking the test—it seems like there’s too much emphasis on memorization of tiny little Kanji rules that wouldn’t be so useful for me to learn as a non-native, at least not at my current, relatively-low Japanese level.

But getting back to the game, while the reviews for it on are not terribly high, most of the given complaints have to do with how the Kanji-recognition system is not too great (often being too generous with writing mistakes). While I understand the complaints, I’ve found that for my purposes, the recognition system is good enough. What’s most important is that it’s giving me a chance to easily practice my Kanji recognition and writing skills in a rather fun way. I’ve been reviewing the easiest Kanji levels (the ones designed for first graders) pretty quickly, but expect to slow down once I head into middle-school level and start coming across lots of new words. Perhaps it’s just the strange pull of using a DS itself, but I do find myself a little addicted to learning Kanji right now using this game. Here’s hoping this isn’t just a passing obsession.


This is the basic Kanji writing mode I've been using the most. Not as concerned about the other modes, like "count the number of strokes" or "what stroke number is this." Maybe helpful, but I think I have the general writing order down without feeling the need to go into crazy-anal-kanji-learning-mode.

There are a number of gameplay modes, including ones that force the player to count the number of strokes in a character, or figure out which number a certain stroke is, but I don’t find those too useful. The ones I’ve been using most often include:

– Write the kanji from the given reading in context

– Write the reading of the kanji in the sentence

– Write the correct Furigana (for example, choosing whether 登る or 登ぼる is correct)

There are also modes for writing 3 and 4 character kanji compounds and for determining if the kanji in a certain word are compliments, opposites, etc, but again, at the moment I just want bare-bones kanji writing and reading practice. The modes I’ve listed above have been sufficient for my needs in that respect so far.

So is this the Best Method? Is this worth my precious Japanese-learning time?

Everyone on the internet seems to be concerned about using the “best” and “fastest” method to learn Japanese—just see the claims made on AJATT about various learning methods that say, “This […] is not how to learn. Not effectively.”

I’m wary to suggest one learning method over another, but I will say that the addictiveness of the game environment has been important to me in helping me stick with it. I can just pop open my DS and do some reviews of Kanji for a little bit without much hassle. I’m also a sucker for progress bars and learning statistics pages, and the game is luckily chock-full of those too. Furthermore, the game has lots of sample sentences that I plan on compiling in order to review for later.

Since the game is designed for native-speakers, the game does not include any sort of dictionary (the biggest problem for me in my opinion), but I’ve been able to supplement my playing by looking up unknown words on my computer. A lot of the vocabulary in the sentences is not always the every-day sort of stuff found in Japanese textbooks—even on the easiest levels I’ve come across words I never bothered to learn in Japanese, like stilts, plaza, steamboat, harbor, feather, etc. Not the most useful words in the world, but at this point, these are words I need to force into my passive vocabulary so I can prepare myself to read texts more fluently, and not get tripped up when a conversation turns to something rather specific.

I’ll try to update this blog with sentences from the game so that others can see what it offers more concretely, and for my own learning purposes. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the sentences in the game for shadowing practice—the vocabulary is not terribly useful—but for kanji and reading practice these should be worth a look.


Filed under Japan, Japanese, Language

How to (not) interview in Japanese

While browsing for interviewing tips in Japanese, I came across the following video, teaching viewers about how to talk about their hobbies. I encourage you to watch at least the first 20 or so seconds of the video, which is the “bad example.”

And to break it down for you (with appropriate subtitles):

And then he just sits there confidently, shining that brilliant sports-loving smile. Hired.

Leave a comment

Filed under Japan, Japanese

A fresh batch of Japanese sex-vocabulary: 下ネタなんでだろう(歌)

If you’re looking for Japanese that you’re not going to find in any textbook, then sex-slang is certainly at the top of your list. While books like Dirty Japanese might have something useful, I’ve mentioned before that books like that tend to have a bunch of terms that are old or outdated, but are left in simply to enhance the book to a reasonable size for publishing—the author has no real incentive to keep the book updated with current content while cutting outdated or stranger words. So if you missed out on AJATT’s Moe Sentence Pack (apparently full of dirty vocabulary), then I suspect this post (and the longer videos linked below) should be more than satisfactory for your “learning” needs.

After all, it’s either use this, or just open up one of the educational videos you recently downloaded in that that 12 gb folder you having laying around your computer. You know, the one titled “Puppies and Kitties (MOM, DO NOT OPEN),” I know it’s there somewhere.


So luckily, I came across a new language-learning website (new for me at least) called RhinoSpike. The premise is pretty simple—you have pieces of text in a language you’re learning, and you want the audio of a native speaker saying your text out loud. Alternatively, you have some audio in the language you’re learning, and you need a transcription of it. Both are possible to get at RhinoSpike (although audio recordings are much more popular) as long as you record or transcribe another user’s request in return.

The premise is interesting, and custom audio made out of text of your choosing—perfect for your shadowing practice (you have been shadowing daily, right??)—is quite neat. I would just warn potential users not to get too into using the site. An audio file of a lengthy text or transcription of a long video is enough to keep anyone at a high-intermediate level or below occupied for quite a while. And by “get too into,” I mean get obsessed with recording for other users without practicing on your own. I know, for example, I’ve wasted many an hour correcting the English of various users on Lang-8 without actually working on a post in Japanese myself!

That said, the point of this post today is to share an absolute gem I found in the transcriptions section of RhinoSpike. I present to you 下ネタなんでだろう (Literally: Dirty Joke, I wonder why? although I might consider translating in context as simply Why does this (shit) happen? — you’ll see when we get to the translation) , a song by みうらじゅん (Miura Jun), a manga artist who has also branched out into doing other things as well, such as songs.

The song here is one of the dirtiest and funniest things I’ve seen in Japanese (although like most Japanese comedy, puns still continue to make up a bulk of the humor), and thanks to the wonderful transcriptions by smokedoyster and tomoch of RhinoSpike, it’s now much easier to understand and translate into English!


Why does this shit happen?


Why do you say “no” when your pussy is so wet?




Why do girls at brothels get lonely when they lubricate themselves?


Why are the razors at Love Hotels such bad quality?


Why does your penis get itchy when you’re about to do it?


Why is there so much porn at the bottom of Shinto shrines?


When doing it from behind, why do you think of someone else?


Why do you get addicted to doing it in the g-spot?


Why does she only say “delicious” when giving you a blow job?


Why does it smell like piss when she’s blowing you?


Why does she let you go down on her even when she’s a virgin?


Why doesn’t she want to kiss you after you cum in her mouth?


When you can’t get hard why do you cum anyway?


When you get a boner in the middle of class, why does your desk get lifted up?


Why do girls stop removing their panties after they reach their thighs?


Why does she always say “It’s fine to leave” when you’re leaving?


Why do some people ask “was it good?” after sex?


Why do your lips get swollen after going down on a girl for too long?


Why is that whenever there’s a hole you want to fuck it?


Why is that when she says she’s on her period you suddenly realize what you’re doing?


Why do some guys say “I’m not looking” in order to watch a girl jack off? (probably wrong on this)


Why do some guys compare their penis size when they see a Pine Mushroom (a very penis-y looking mushroom)


Why does this happen? Why does this happen? Why does this dirty shit happen?

The rest of the transcription can be found on the RhinoSpike site, although I don’t think I’m up for translating much more of it at the moment. I admit that the translation thus far has been a bit of a learning experience for me, but doing this in a public library has made me somewhat nervous about continuing (especially when I need to rely on Google Images in order to figure out what some of the sex slang is actually referring to…).

At any rate, I’m certainly taking the AJAAT credo of “Any Japanese is Good Japanese” to its absolute limit by trying to understand this…song. The song sounds a lot funnier in Japanese than it does in English (although that could be the result of my clunky translations that are likely inaccurate or plain wrong), and for those who just can’t get enough, NicoNico video has two additional videos of the same material, clocking in at 14 minutes and 23 minutes respectively. Even the Japanese commenters on NicoNico video make plenty of comments while watching the full-length videos, including ones like “way too long” and “I can’t believe there is still 20 minutes left on this video.”

However, I think I’ll leave it to you to see if you can make it through an additional 30 some minutes of what you’ve just seen above.

Leave a comment

Filed under Japanese, Language, misc