If you’ve been following along for a while you’ll know that I’ve been flirting with the Japanese language on and off since sometime in 2017. It’s mostly been off though, and I never managed to do anything but learn the scripts, scratch the surface in terms of grammar and vocab, learn a few phrases I could use when chatting, and notice several similarities with Korean. None of this summed up to any kind of actual fluency, and my interest soon faded as I became busier with other things.
This year in late spring something made me take up Japanese again. I cannot say if it was pandemic boredom, curiosity, a desire to learn something new – or a combination of all three – but I started using the Duolingo app (yes, I know it sucks but still) and finished reading Genki 1 the most elementary Japanese textbook on the market. By the end of Genki 1, I had reinforced my Japanese foundation and made my latent vocabulary knowledge active again. I felt motivated and ventured into Genki 2 only to find it a bit overwhelming for strict self-study. As a consequence, I have been taking regular Italki classes with a Japanese tutor twice a week since August where we have gone through Genki 2 together.
I was lucky to find the most amazing tutor who also speaks Korean. That means that when she wants to explain some grammar she can explain the Korean equivalent to me instead of going through English, which has next to nothing in common with Japanese. Under her guidance, I managed to reach a decent speaking level and in a fit of (over)confidence I even signed up for the JLPT (standardized Japanese language test for non-natives) in Copenhagen. I signed up for the N4 level (there are levels N5 through N1 with N5 being the easiest) in September feeling confident that I could match the requirements by December if I studied hard. I must have forgotten about also having signed up for the TOPIK to be held in October because the first six weeks were strictly dedicated to TOPIK preparation.
That meant that I only had less than two months to really prepare for the JLPT. Realizing that I had to make the most of the short amount of time, I chose to study with a Korean language JLPT test prep book as I find that if there’s anything the Koreans do really well – it’s cramming for tests. The book was extremely helpful. It carefully explained the format of the test and by the end of November, I felt ready to tackle the N4 exam.
On December 5 – the day of the test – I got up at 5:20 to catch an early train to Copenhagen. Then I headed for Copenhagen Business School where the tests were being held. Having recently taken the TOPIK exam I was surprised to see how many were standing in line outside each classroom. Even for the most difficult N1 level. Before entering, we had to show covid-passes and were then instructed to sanitize and wear masks whenever not seated. Then we just sat there and waited for the test to begin. I think we were around 30 in my room – many apparently from other countries where the test had been cancelled due to the pandemic.
Then at noon, the exam could finally start. We first had 25 minutes for vocabulary and kanji knowledge, then 55 minutes of grammar and reading and finally 35 minutes of listening. Between each session was a completely unnecessary 35(!) minute break. I felt extremely confident to the point of being cocky in the first two parts only to be humbled by the listening part. I’m still quite sure I passed though, but I was discouraged that listening proved such a challenge since I had aced several of the mock exams I had done beforehand. I know I aced the two first parts which count for a total of 120 points. I may only get half of the 60 points for listening, but that should in any case be well above the 19 listening points needed to pass and combined with the other points significantly above the 90 overall points needed to pass the N4 level. Well, we’ll know for sure when the results come out!
All in all, it was a cool experience. I love challenging myself to reach new goals and feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment when I do reach them. At the beginning of 2021, I had not foreseen that I would go in this direction but it sure has been fun. Right at the end of the exam, I swore to myself that I would never do a JLPT again, but the next morning I found myself browsing the web for intermediate textbooks and by Friday afternoon the Quartet books 1 and 2 had arrived at my door. I’m not saying that I’ll try for the N3 next year but I think we all know that I’ll do it eventually.
For now, I’m back to focusing more on Korean which will always be my true passion. I recently bought a really cool book on pronunciation that I’ll write more about later. I still manage to incorporate a bit of Japanese into my day but I enjoy being able to relax a bit more now that the exams are over.
For those of you who are interested in content for Japanese N5, N4 levels, I highly recommend checking out Japanese with Shun on youtube. For more advanced content I’m also a big fan of Japanese Ammo with Misa.