Ok, phew! We are all done with the test! Now, it is time to sit back and wait for those results that are coming sometime in late January right? I mean, why study now? Now is a time for celebrating stuff, join the holiday cheer and all that.
Although you have probably been cramming for the last month (or several months) and are more than ready to just take a break and veg out in front of the TV or get started on all those New Year’s cards you want to write to your Japanese buddies. You should try to at least wedge in a little bit of study time to keep yourself going.
I know it is probably something you don’t want to hear right now, but please for second, put down the eggnog and listen to me.
No seriously, stop drinking. I’ve got something important to say.
Keeping up your studies now, will have big paybacks later for a variety of reasons. Also, now is the time to get your face out of that drill book and use the language. Yes, drill books are helpful, and are, at times, a necessary and extremely beneficial learning tool to help you refine your language. But, they aren’t the language.
Regular Textbooks can Only Take you so Far
There are a lot of great textbooks out there. Minna No Nihongo and Genki come to mind as the two books that can generally be found on most people’s shelves, unless you had the misfortune of having to trudge through **** for a college class. These textbooks are pretty good, and they have their place in learning despite what some gurus might tell you.
But, any language needs to be used in the wild before you can really feel it. If you were raised in the States, like I was, you had to work your way through German, Spanish, French or Latin class. I was a good student, but I could not get interested in language class to save my life. To me it was just books and conjugation drills and writing down sentences that we never used.
We study language as if it is a dead animal, and we are dissecting it to see what we can learn. And while I think learning grammar and being accurate with a language is important, you also should go out and use it with somebody. Either find a real life chat partner (if you are studying at a university this is usually easy to find) or someone on Skype.
If you are worried about your level, don’t be, chances are that through a variety of tactics (hand gestures, writing things down, talking around the word) you can get the basic idea across. You might have to sometimes resort to English here and there, but you’ll find that if you try, you are a lot more fluent than you think you are.
To Pass N3+ you Need to Get your Nose out of the Textbook
You can probably pass N5 and N4 by sticking to the grammar and vocabulary lists and drilling them as much as you can, but that tactic won’t work for most people at the higher levels. I honed my reading and listening comprehension skills by going through the drill books, but I picked up a lot of other skills by just doing a lot of reading, listening, and speaking.
For the old test, you used to be able to go through drill books, do a few past tests, and drill the vocabulary over and over in order to pass. The new, post-2010, test is a lot more practical and requires you to have a better understanding of how the language is used not just grammar points and vocab words.
I doubt that you will be able to pass the test without picking up a least one or two native books written for natives, at least at the N1 and N2 levels. Reading through just one native book will give you a ton of vocabulary and will help you increase your reading speed.
The Moral of the Story – Go Native
The sooner you go native, speaking with natives, reading native books, the sooner you will get comfortable with the language and take it to the next level. So, during this downtime I encourage you to go seek out some native material to practice with.
What native materials are you going to work with? Let me know in the comments below and I’ll try to give you some pointers to maximize your practice.