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JLPT BC 48 | Different Forms of Language

Japanese reading and listeningI’m still chugging my way through 試験に出る読解N1/N2 (Reading exercises on the test), which is a pretty difficult book. Again, not for the faint of heart. There are numerous words in the essays that probably should have definitions, but just don’t. I don’t mind this too much because I’d like my practice to be more difficult than the actual test, but be sure that you know your N2 vocabulary pretty well or you are not going to get a lot out of this book.

I’ve also started timing myself. I used to think my reading speed was pretty good, but since I ran out of time on the last test, I’ve been rethinking that a bit. So, I’ve started doing a lot of timing and a lot of reading. I have been falling behind on numerous occasions, but I’ve also been doing it on the train where there are plenty of distractions.

Different Forms of Language

Anyone that has studied Japanese probably knows that there a few different forms or levels to the language. You were probably taught (even before you really needed to know) that there is casual, polite, humble, and respectful, etc… forms of the language.

But, there are other things to be aware of about a language. Something that I didn’t really notice until later, was the difference between spoken and written Japanese (or any language really). When I first started studying for N3+ it didn’t really occur to me that a majority of the new grammar was for the written language only and not for the spoken language.

If you think about it, we have this same thing going on in English, too. Because reading is a more prepared and thought out way of communicating it tends to lend itself to more complicated forms of grammar and vocabulary. Spoken language is more spontaneous, so the language is generally more simple and to the point.

N3 is the Dividing Line

In the lower levels of the test (N5 and N4) the grammar that is tested over is usually present throughout the test in the reading and listening sections. So you can’t really see that big of separation between the two forms.

However, starting at N3 the grammar becomes more written grammar. There is still some more complex spoken grammar added in, but I’d dare to say that a lot of the new grammar is used more in the written form of the language than in the spoken.

So when I first started studying for the upper levels, I erroneously assumed the grammar I was studying would be in both the listening and the reading. But, it isn’t. The simpler and short grammar tends to be more in the listening and the longer, stiffer grammar tends to be more in the reading. Those are some broad generalizations, and there are exceptions to that rule, but that is the basic idea.

Reading Section vs. Listening Section

In the reading section you will find a lot of the grammar you typically see in a grammar prep book like the So-matome series or New Kanzen Master series. These textbooks not only cover what is going to be in the ‘grammar’ section of the exam, but also the reading section. Especially any kind of linking words like それでも、それに、そのうちに, etc… These linking words are crucial for quick comprehension.

But in the listening section, you will find that they use more phrases and vocabulary that is used in nuanced ways. They won’t test you over the obvious meaning, but try to trick you with negative questions and hypothetical situations.

Also, they will test you on your raw skill of listening and being able to focus on main points. This is where anyone with ADD is going to have issues with the test. You can’t let yourself get distracted as they discuss topics or decisions. You have to follow the entire conversation because one word could change the whole meaning of it.

Be on the look out for hypothetical situations or quotes, too. Something that has caught me off guard before is the use of ~け and だって. The first is used when the speaker is trying to recall information and the latter is used when someone is reporting what someone else is saying. If you aren’t listening carefully, you might mistake these as something the speaker is saying which can change the answer to the question.

Train your Ears

How do you train for the listening section? Do you have any tips? Please share them in the comments below.

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Music by Kevin MacLeod Photo by Official U.S. Navy Imagery

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