JLPT BC 68 | Context is Key

Japanese out of context

Something seems odd about this picture.

Generally speaking, it is usually pretty easy to find a conversation partner in Japan. I mean the whole country is literally filled with native speakers. But, being that I have an incredibly crazy schedule, working 6 days a week, I’m usually not free to meet up with folks at any reasonable hour.

I also think the other challenge for me will be simply getting my conversation partner to meet up regularly. After all, I live in the ‘big city’ (is Kyoto big?) and people have some pretty crazy schedules. Especially during this season.

If you are unaware, the Japanese fiscal year ends in March, which means that this is an incredibly frantic time for people making budget, spending excess money, transferring folks around to other parts of the country, etc… So that means it’s next to impossible to arrange anything regular.

Nonetheless, I’ve started the wheels rolling. I haven’t come across that much significant yet, but I’ll report in as soon as I do.

Other than that, I’ve still been hammering away at ほぼ日刊イトイ新聞の本 (The Book of the Almost Daily Itoi Newspaper). It has some pretty interesting meanderings. The most recent I read was his musings on how the internet connected people together. Pretty entertaining and pretty good reading. There are some tough spots with some tough vocabulary, but overall, something that a N2+ person should be able to make their way through.

Context is Key

If you’ve lived in Japan for any length of time, you’ve probably come across that guy or gal that can tell jokes in Japanese like the best of them. They can place complex food orders, telling the waiter to hold that and add extra bit of this, flirt with girls or guys, and generally be a jovial conversationalist in Japanese.

But, if you put anything with kanji in front of them they faint. Or, if they did take the JLPT, they might be able to just pass N4. And they might even turn to you ask, how do you say ‘What are you doing?’ in Japanese.

There is of course the opposite situation, where someone can read a book on modern philosophy, or listen to a newscast without issues, and be able to talk about those things fairly easily but have trouble asking some simple questions about an item at the electronics store. Or not be able to ask for directions effectively.

It’s easy to assume that if you study all the words, the phrases, and the grammar points, you’ll be able to handle all the situations that life throws at you. But, that isn’t actually the case. You’ll be well prepared for those situations for sure, but still struggle when you first encounter them.

It’s all about the situations you are exposed to

It all comes down to context. The context that you are exposed to the most will be the context that you will be able to handle the best. This is in fact how you learned your first language growing up. You were exposed to different situations, and through trial and error discovered what language was best to use in what situation.

One clear example of this comes to mind for me. We once had a new Japanese teacher come in that started working for us. He had spent most of his adult life in Australia (since he turned 18). He had to ask the other Japanese staff members about how to answer the phone in Japanese. He wasn’t quite sure about the most polite way to answer.

He never had to learn that skill because he had never been in that situation before. He had worked in Australia which is a generally pretty laid back society and never had to answer the phone very formally in any language.

We learn languages mostly from context. You can’t just learn words in a vacuum and assume you are able to take on the world. It is a lot more complicated than that. There are certain phrases and expressions that are only used in a particular situation. This becomes more and more true the higher up you go.

Vary your Exposure

So, it might be a pretty good idea to go through not just one textbook but another textbook to help you see things from a different direction or to get something to click. Seeing the same grammar point in a different context is sometimes enough for it to click perfectly into place.

Also, specifically for the JLPT, you should vary your reading. Spread it out between novels and fiction, blogs and news articles, apartment flyers and advertisements. All of these types of readings are on the test.

And, yes, it is a good idea to go through a reading comprehension book, but that’s just going to give you the rules, and order for it to become natural, you are going to have to practice it. And that means a good healthy amount of native material. Again, this is really true for those going for N2+ (and even a little bit of N3).

Of course, you should vary your exposure to listening as well. There are tons of listening materials to choose from, you can check out jDramas or soft news stories (on broadcast in Japan or on YouTube). There are also podcasts that you can listen to of native speakers that you can get from the Japan iTunes store. Or of course, Japanespod101 has a wealth of material as well.

How do you get your exposure?

What are some ways you try to vary your exposure to Japanese? Let me know in the comments below.

P.S.  Do you need more context? Then, you should join my newsletter!

P.P.S. Do you like getting exposure?  Really, me too! You should leave me a comment on iTunes about them and leave me a review.  If you have comments or suggestions for the podcast, by all means let me know in the comments below or contact me and let me know what I can do to improve the show.  Thanks!

P.P.P.S. Join the party over at the Facebook Page.  There you can get up to the date info about the site and join the conversation.  Hope to see you there!

What Should the Podcast be About? (select up to 3)

  • What I am doing to study and prepare (25%, 76 Votes)
  • What's it like to live/work/study in Japan (18%, 55 Votes)
  • Focus on grammar/vocab/kanji for one level (per year) (18%, 54 Votes)
  • Interviews with test takers (15%, 47 Votes)
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Music by Kevin MacLeod Photo by Kate Ter Haar

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