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StephenC

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Hey everybody! I'm Stephen, a high-school junior in his fifth year of Japanese. This year I plan on applying for the JET MIP to visit Japan. For the most part I'm confident I can make the program, but I'm worried about the standardized exam,the NJE, I have to take as part of the application. Because the highest level of examination the program accepts is level 3, I decided I would do it. But after taking some practice tests, I realized how much kanji I would need to know to walk in fully prepared. I realize the program also takes level 2, but as my sensei already decided my whole class would take the level 3 test, I decided I might as well kill two birds with one stone. Despite lacking in kanji, I am confident that I know enough vocabulary (in hiragana/katakana) to ace the oral portion of the exam. While I will brush up using old textbooks and notes, I was wondering if anyone here:

1. Has a list of common kanji (a minimum of 2000 would be great).
2. Has any tips for taking a multiple-choice Japanese test drawing from articles in Japanese (test example here).
3. Has any NJE specific tips (this is aimed at those who have taken the NJE before).
4. Has any kanji memorizing/learning/understanding skills to share.

As I have only about a month to prepare, as well as attending school and preparing for SAT/ACT, I can't really put into action any long-term advice towards this exam, but please do share any long-term advice! Also I understand there's no real "get good quick" method, but as long as I can streamline my preparation even a bit I would enjoy any input. I understand some of what I'm asking might be a bit unreasonable, but I greatly appreciate any help or advice. Sorry for being so convoluted and thanks in advance!

P.S. If there's a better place for this post, I would love it if you could direct me to it as I am new to this forum and not very familiar with what goes where yet. Thanks!
 

Mike Cash

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How do you get five years into a formal program which has failed to prepare students with kanji proficiency? It boggles my mind that students overseas are held to even lower expectations than the ridiculously low expectations to which foreigners actually living in Japan are held.

I would suggest an SRS (spaced repetition system) flash card app. The one I would recommend is StickyStudy. It has decks arranged either by grade level or JLPT level. I've been using it lately to rebuild my writing (ability to actively recall kanji). I can read just fine, but years of computers and phone usage have killed my ability to write to the point it was embarrassing.

I've gone through by elementary school grade level, working all the way up 1 - 6 in order, writing out the kanji in a practice notebook as I go. I created a new deck for checking recall and included all the kanji sets for grades I had completed (updating as needed), set the prompt to not display the kanji, giving only the Japanese readings and English meanings, and used that to reinforce/check active recall by writing the kanji, then tapping to reveal it.

You might try something like that. You may wish to tackle it by the JLPT lists rather than the elementary grade school lists; I suspect it may be of more immediate practical value. But still, it is amazing what a large bulk of Japanese can be covered with nothing more than the 1,006 kanji from the elementary school curriculum.

The key thing is to have some organized approach to it, hit it hard and hit it often, and to build muscle memory by actively writing rather than just looking at the characters. Speaking the readings aloud and writing them next to the kanji (like furigana) will also help. Getting your hand, eyes, and ears all involved in the process will provide multiple layers of learning reinforcement.
 
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StephenC

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@mike
First, thanks for your comments!
In regards to your bewilderment of overseas preparation of kanji proficiency, I can only say that I was mentally unprepared for the kanji on the practice tests. In hindsight I realize I actually knew most of the kanji but couldn't cope with the presented format of the test. This lack of mental preparation as well as the pressure to do well screwed my ability to cope with the increased amount of kanji. Thankfully, due to your comment, I have reasoned through my trauma and have realized the crux of my issues.

After reading your comments and doing a bit of research, I found that I had learned most of the elementary kanji (I assume you mean this). I also took a look at the JLPT kanji lists and StickyStudy, but found them to be underwhelming. After looking at the JLPT lists, I found myself to be around N4 but also knowing some kanji from higher levels. With a more concrete understanding of where I stand on a standardized level, I would like to ask you specifically a question. Am I missing something or does elementary level kanji overlap with JLPT? And if so, at what level of JLPT does elementary kanji stop or is seen very little in JLPT lists?

Once again, thanks for your advice!
 

nekojita

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There's no simple way of ranking kanji by "easiness". There's the order by which they're taught in school, and the JLPT order (from the old tests, the new test have no kanji "list" as such and are better for it).

With these sort of tests, it's not about how many individual kanji you know, it's about vocabulary, how you handle unfamiliar kanji/words in context, and how much practice you have with the type of material that appears in the test. For example, the JLPT is heavily non-fiction, often involving text like opinion pieces or advice columns. Therefore you get an advantage by practising reading that sort of material.

Here are some sample questions I found for the test (linked from what appeared to be the official page)
Quia - Class Page - NJE Sample Exams

The first thing that strikes me about the reading is that even level 3 doesn't appear to be very kanji knowledge heavy - they put furigana on 地震. There's no way you need to go off and try to memorise 2000 kanji for this test - that would be a waste of your time (I think it's a waste of time more generally, but that's another argument).

The second thing is that all the example questions have a similar theme:
1) Practical info - advice, guides, pamphlets, etc.
2) Picking out individual information, not necessarily reading and translating the whole thing.

Therefore the best method is to first read the questions, then go back to the text. For example, Q7 is "According to the brochure, what is a popular thing to do in summer?". Since it already gives you four possible options, all you need to do is look at the text relating to summer and decide which is the most likely.

Ask your teacher for similar practice reading materials, or more sample tests. These sort of materials are popular in textbooks so they might have some things on hand.
 

Glenski

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There's no way you need to go off and try to memorise 2000 kanji for this test - that would be a waste of your time
After 5 years of study, he should know them already. He said he knows enough but "couldn't cope with the presented format of the test." Makes me wonder what his class format has been all this time.
 

Mike Cash

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After 5 years of study, he should know them already. He said he knows enough but "couldn't cope with the presented format of the test." Makes me wonder what his class format has been all this time.
I've seen on television before several instances of high school students visiting Japan after taking Japanese in their local school for up to three years....and have wondered the same thing every single time. That's why I remarked about it boggling my mind they can be under lower expectations than the near-zero expectations placed on foreigners who actually live here. Yes, he should know them but based on what I've seen I would place the lion's share of the blame on whomever has been teaching him for five years.

I had never heard of the NJE test before. I can't help but wonder if it is something North American teachers have gotten up to help mask the fact they've done such a crap job educating their students that they can only achieve so low on the JLPT it would call into question their performance as teachers. I noticed from their site that the certificates very much follow the typical modern American touchy-feely "everybody gets a trophy" pattern.
 

StephenC

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After 5 years of study, he should know them already. He said he knows enough but "couldn't cope with the presented format of the test." Makes me wonder what his class format has been all this time.
In response to your comment, the testing formats are written and sometimes oral. Usually questions are one to two sentences following a prompt. (ex. write in the correct particles for Qs 10-13, then per Q there would be one sentence with x amount of blanks). Only recently have we started looking at large amount of texts (ex. the NHK website, Miyazawa Kenji's Ame Ni Mo Makezu) using kanji without hiragana above them or using only kanji within the chapter of a 1-2 page article. Also all of the text has been standardized with a certain font (ex. Times New Roman) so I found it more difficult to read the articles in the Quia example.

As for everyday class, my sensei focuses on pronunciation and vocabulary while also adding in grammar points and kanji.

It's also possible I was affected by my lack of sleep, hunger, and other bodily issues. But as I attend school everyday with these afflictions and still do quite well, I can't help but think these matter very little.
 
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StephenC

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I've seen on television before several instances of high school students visiting Japan after taking Japanese in their local school for up to three years....and have wondered the same thing every single time. That's why I remarked about it boggling my mind they can be under lower expectations than the near-zero expectations placed on foreigners who actually live here. Yes, he should know them but based on what I've seen I would place the lion's share of the blame on whomever has been teaching him for five years.

I had never heard of the NJE test before. I can't help but wonder if it is something North American teachers have gotten up to help mask the fact they've done such a crap job educating their students that they can only achieve so low on the JLPT it would call into question their performance as teachers. I noticed from their site that the certificates very much follow the typical modern American touchy-feely "everybody gets a trophy" pattern.
Despite attending a rigorous high school, one of the best in the nation, our Japanese program is sorely lacking. The biggest issue is the lack of interest in Japanese, so the program had been canceled three years back, with my class being the last class. After we graduate the program will cease to exist. Also the class is extremely paced in my opinion with HW being 10-20min a night. Not to mention my school treats languages besides Spanish and Latin as nothing more than foreign languages, meaning there is not a huge emphasis on the rigorousness of the classes. Sometimes I can squeeze time in and find supplements for my paced class, but most of the time I am swamped by other classes' work.

As for the NJE, most people I have asked don't know about it. Neither did my sensei till this year. That's all I have to say about it.
 

StephenC

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There's no simple way of ranking kanji by "easiness". There's the order by which they're taught in school, and the JLPT order (from the old tests, the new test have no kanji "list" as such and are better for it).

With these sort of tests, it's not about how many individual kanji you know, it's about vocabulary, how you handle unfamiliar kanji/words in context, and how much practice you have with the type of material that appears in the test. For example, the JLPT is heavily non-fiction, often involving text like opinion pieces or advice columns. Therefore you get an advantage by practising reading that sort of material.

Here are some sample questions I found for the test (linked from what appeared to be the official page)
Quia - Class Page - NJE Sample Exams

The first thing that strikes me about the reading is that even level 3 doesn't appear to be very kanji knowledge heavy - they put furigana on 地震. There's no way you need to go off and try to memorise 2000 kanji for this test - that would be a waste of your time (I think it's a waste of time more generally, but that's another argument).

The second thing is that all the example questions have a similar theme:
1) Practical info - advice, guides, pamphlets, etc.
2) Picking out individual information, not necessarily reading and translating the whole thing.

Therefore the best method is to first read the questions, then go back to the text. For example, Q7 is "According to the brochure, what is a popular thing to do in summer?". Since it already gives you four possible options, all you need to do is look at the text relating to summer and decide which is the most likely.

Ask your teacher for similar practice reading materials, or more sample tests. These sort of materials are popular in textbooks so they might have some things on hand.
Thanks neko!
 

Mike Cash

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I know what you mean. At my hick university back in the 80s Japanese was what I called an "orphan language" (together with Russian, Portuguese, etc) in the Department of Modern Languages. The school didn't give a damn.
 

nekojita

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Ah, memories (of awful high-school French classes).

Poetry is all well and good, but what would be helpful (for the exam, and in general) would be to find reading material of a more practical nature. Non-fiction/educational material aimed at middle/high schoolers will use less kanji and is better than something all-kana aimed at five year olds.

Examples (I am happy to dig up stuff if you want to give me a theme to search on)
100 yen shop science experiments
the history of chocolate
A bunch of stuff about space (JAXA do do some nice public outreach).

What isn't uncommon is to see people struggle with timing on exams because they aren't used to reading. (Seems to be a common complaint with the JLPT). That you struggle with text that isn't in a font you're used to is a potential issue, but easily fixable with more exposure.
 

StephenC

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Ah, memories (of awful high-school French classes).

Poetry is all well and good, but what would be helpful (for the exam, and in general) would be to find reading material of a more practical nature. Non-fiction/educational material aimed at middle/high schoolers will use less kanji and is better than something all-kana aimed at five year olds.

Examples (I am happy to dig up stuff if you want to give me a theme to search on)
100 yen shop science experiments
the history of chocolate
A bunch of stuff about space (JAXA do do some nice public outreach).

What isn't uncommon is to see people struggle with timing on exams because they aren't used to reading. (Seems to be a common complaint with the JLPT). That you struggle with text that isn't in a font you're used to is a potential issue, but easily fixable with more exposure.
Thanks for the sites neko! As for the theme, I can't really think of any. The exam seems like it will pull from anything, so just different fonts would be the only thing I would be searching for.
 

Mike Cash

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Thanks for the sites neko! As for the theme, I can't really think of any. The exam seems like it will pull from anything, so just different fonts would be the only thing I would be searching for.
I got the impression that at least some of the reading materials used in the exam are original creations made by the people who prepared the exams. The wording/phrasing of some of the content seems like it was specifically written for foreign learners of Japanese rather than for native speakers.

The biggest problem most learners have with the reading portion of tests is that they never get around to incorporating actual reading (as opposed to just learning how to read) into their studies. The only way to get better at reading Japanese is by reading Japanese. This many years into learning, I would have expected them to have you capable of reading things like magazine articles, short stories, and light novels by now.

If you perceive lack of familiarity with different fonts to be the problem, this is probably just a lack of familiarity with reading Japanese period and not the fonts. Fonts don't differ that much.
 

StephenC

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I got the impression that at least some of the reading materials used in the exam are original creations made by the people who prepared the exams. The wording/phrasing of some of the content seems like it was specifically written for foreign learners of Japanese rather than for native speakers.

The biggest problem most learners have with the reading portion of tests is that they never get around to incorporating actual reading (as opposed to just learning how to read) into their studies. The only way to get better at reading Japanese is by reading Japanese. This many years into learning, I would have expected them to have you capable of reading things like magazine articles, short stories, and light novels by now.

If you perceive lack of familiarity with different fonts to be the problem, this is probably just a lack of familiarity with reading Japanese period and not the fonts. Fonts don't differ that much.
This is also completely possible.
 

Mike Cash

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I read it. Really inspiring stuff.
I'm from the same area as him and attended a local university at which he later was a professor. I learned of him when he was still a student at Bethel. The head of the psychology department at UTM told me the following anecdote about him about twenty years ago and Robert Allen's offhand remark has stuck with me ever since:

As you know, the first time the man was ever in a classroom as a student in his life was when he was in his thirties. Naturally, he knew nothing of school or campus life. Consequently, a fellow student was tasked with taking him around and getting him started. The student took Allen to the campus bookstore at the beginning of the term in order to buy the textbooks he would need for the classes he was taking.

Allen got the required books, then kept scooping up one after another books for courses he wasn't taking. The student told hm he didn't have to have those, that they weren't required for his classes. To which Allen replied, "I'm not going to let college interfere with my education".

If you want to learn Japanese, don't feel you have to be held back by your school's crappy Japanese program. There are abundant resources out there for rising above the low expectations of others.
 

StephenC

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I'm from the same area as him and attended a local university at which he later was a professor. I learned of him when he was still a student at Bethel. The head of the psychology department at UTM told me the following anecdote about him about twenty years ago and Robert Allen's offhand remark has stuck with me ever since:

As you know, the first time the man was ever in a classroom as a student in his life was when he was in his thirties. Naturally, he knew nothing of school or campus life. Consequently, a fellow student was tasked with taking him around and getting him started. The student took Allen to the campus bookstore at the beginning of the term in order to buy the textbooks he would need for the classes he was taking.

Allen got the required books, then kept scooping up one after another books for courses he wasn't taking. The student told hm he didn't have to have those, that they weren't required for his classes. To which Allen replied, "I'm not going to let college interfere with my education".

If you want to learn Japanese, don't feel you have to be held back by your school's crappy Japanese program. There are abundant resources out there for rising above the low expectations of others.
I don't have much to say. Truer words have never been spoken.
 
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