For those of us in Asia (and select other places around the world), we only have 3 weeks until the July test. After taking my practice test last week, I’ve really realized that I need to improve my ability to summarize what I’ve read for the questions on the exam.
It seems summarizing (rephrasing 2 or 3 sentences into 1 sentence) is a key part of N1 and N2. I believe this is one of the major problems of passing those tests. We get used to simply reading Japanese text and extracting the information, but it is also incredibly useful to be able to summarize what we’ve just read.
One way I’ve been practicing to do this is to tell a summary of what I read or watched to my wife in Japanese. It’s definitely good practice for describing things and improving fluency.
Improving your Japanese Listening with Movies
Many foreign language learners have problems understanding what is being said by a native speaker. They can understand tapes custom made for their level, but the moment they step out into the real world they get lost.
Foreign movies are one of the tools that can bridge the gap between ‘book’ Japanese and ‘real’ Japanese. And, you can’t complain about the lack of selection or variety. There are literally thousands of movies to choose from and learn from. Also movies can draw you into a plot and motivate you to understand the listening because you’ll be getting more out of the movie (and understand why your Japanese friend next to you is laughing his head off).
When I say ‘real’ Japanese, I mean things like idioms and unique uses of words. The JLPT prepares you with a solid grounding of the grammar and base vocabulary that is needed to survive in Japan, but if you want to take your Japanese to another level of nuanced speech, movies can take you there.
Also, movies contain a lot of realistic listening situations. The actors or voice actors if dubbed will be mumbling, dropping off sounds, shouting, speaking with strange accents, etc… This is all great stuff for when you get into the real world where nobody speaks perfectly.
It can help you on the test as well. Visual cues like gestures and facial expressions are important to understanding the meaning of what is being said. On the test, you are stripped of these visual cues mostly for logistical reasons (it’s not very feasible to rig up a TV in the testing center). However, being able to imagine the conversation visually will really help you keep track of the details much better.
Next time you are in the test, be sure to try to visualize the two speakers. I even close my eyes to do this and try to see the two or three people talking. It really helps to make the situation easier to understand.
So, how do you practice your Japanese Listening?
Well, for beginners, you might want to start off watching movies you have already seen or from a franchise (Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc…) that you are familiar with. That way you will have a good background of the different characters and their relationships.
In fact, I would recommend only English speaking movies unless you are an advanced learner. This makes it a lot easier to understand what is going on because the movie is meant (culturally and linguistically) for an English speaking audience. Of course, if your native language isn’t English, you might want to find a movie that was originally released in your native tongue.
If you can read kanji, use subtitles and listen to the English at first. This way you can pick up new phrases and their meanings pretty easily. If you can’t read kanji, you might want to try using Japanese subtitles and listen in Japanese. This will help you pick up the readings of the different kanji as well as review Japanese you already know.
As you are watching, be sure to write down as many new words as you can without going overboard. If you try to write down everything in the movie, you won’t be able to pay attention enough to understand the plot and the movie will become more like a homework exercise.
If you do want to learn every word and phrase. Say you want to be able to understand your favorite movie from start to finish in Japanese. Then, you can replay each DVD chapter of the movie until you’ve absorbed every last word. I’ve never personally loved a movie so much to do this, but I have to say it would be pretty bad ass to be able to understand the entirety of the Godfather in Japanese.
You can pick up movies at your local video store if you are in Japan. They might require you pay a small membership fee (somewhere around 300Y) and need some kind of Japanese ID like your Alien Registration Card. Or, you can usually catch a movie on TV for free on the weekend.
If you are outside of Japan, you are still in luck, because you can pick up DVDs from yesasia.com. Just be sure you have a region 2 DVD player or a region free player. Keep in mind, too, that if you spring for the Blu-ray version of movies, Japan and America are in the same region for Blu-ray, so you don’t need to have a different player to play these movies.
Importing DVDs or Blu-rays can be a bit pricey, but if you really like a movie it might be worth it. If you have a particular request, I can try to find a used copy and put it up on fluterscape.com for you. A used copy might save you about 50%. Contact me if you are interested.
I should also mention that any new digital TVs should have a subtitle function. If you are watching a Japanese TV show or movie, you can turn on the subtitles to read what is being said. I’ve found this to be immensely useful for learning new words.
Go rent a movie or watch a movie on TV. What new words did you learn?
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