One of the biggest criticisms of the JLPT is that it only measures ‘passive’ skills, like reading and listening. And the idea is that in order to know a language, you have to know the whole language. You have to know not just the ‘passive’ skills, but also the ‘active’ skills of speaking and writing.
And in general ‘passive’ skills get a bad rap for a lot of different reasons. For example, it might be the way you learned a language in junior high or high school (that was my experience in the States with Spanish and German). Or it is generally considered a useless skill by itself because you can’t interact with someone if you only have passive skills in a language.
But, passive skills are necessary and can be incredibly useful if you leverage them to enhance your active skills. You can use different skills to master different aspects of a language.
Listening is Linked to Speaking
Generally speaking, if you have pretty good speaking skills you also have pretty good listening skills and vice versa. By practicing both you can learn different things about a particular language.
By doing active listening, where you are actively trying to break up a piece of content, you can learn some phrases, but most importantly you can pick up rhythm and tone of voice. This can pretty critical in a language because by using different tones, you can convey different meanings.
For example, look at this expression here:
“Wow! I’m so happy for you! That’s great!”
This expression in English needs to have a pretty light and bubbly tone and rhythm. If you say it any other way, it will probably come off as sarcastic or just down right mean.
With a lot of active listening, you can pick these things up and be able to speak more naturally and be clearly understood.
Reading is the Best Way to Learn Vocab
Reading is a good way to learn a new vocabulary word because you will be able to see it in context. Hopefully, you can understand the main idea of the passage, so that when you do see the new word, you’ll at least be able to guess at the meaning and be fairly accurate.
If you then look up the word in a dictionary, you pretty much have all you need to know a word: the definition, part of speech, and usage. Of course, one sentence is probably not enough to allow you to have a full understanding of the word, but this is far better than just blindly studying some JLPT list.
Studying JLPT lists are great practice, but only studying the lists will probably not allow you to pass the higher levels of the exam. It’s a bit like only taking vitamins and drinking water and wondering why you aren’t healthy. You need a well-balanced study regimen in order to make it in the big leagues.
Are they really Passive?
In order to really master these skills, you need to take them past being a passive skill and make them more active. You can’t just switch on the TV in the background while you are doing the dishes and hope to absorb a language, you really need to dig your teeth in and try to digest it all.
For listening, this might mean that you are actively watching the TV and reading the subtitles (in Japanese). Or simply just listening to one piece a few times until you understand everything.
For reading, this might mean you circle words you don’t know and actively try to guess their meaning before looking them up in a dictionary. Or simply practicing your skimming skills to help you read faster and comprehend the main idea of the piece faster.
What do you Think of Passive Skills?
Are they useless? Useful? How do you put your passive skills to work for you?
Photo by misawakatsutoshi