No Goals are Okay

No Goals are Okay post image

Goals are usually held up as the cool thing to have. Like brand bags in Japan, if you go outside without one, you are just so uncool. Or are you? Goals are amazing tools that can help you stay focused and moving forward with your studies. And for some people, that can be incredibly motivating for them to hit a certain goal.

And they are great for just that, as long as you set SMART goals of course. But, goals can also add some unneeded pressure. It might also be a little hard to articulate what exactly is the reason you are studying. And some people just like explore and see how it goes, without studying lists and lists of grammar and vocabulary and everything else.

So, it is totally fine to study Japanese or to really start any hobby without a goal in mind. Some people just do it for the fun or challenge of it. For some people, language learning can be quite therapeutic actually, I mean learning a language is an excellent excuse to just start a conversation with a random stranger.

JLPT as a Natural Goal

JLPT was born to be used for goal setting. It has somewhat evenly spaced levels (except the jump between N3/N2) that you can work your way through on your quest for ultimate fluency. And it is also a great standard that can be used when you go to look for books, because I lot of books will tell you what JLPT level they are aimed at.

And let’s face it, it is pretty cool to pass a level and proudly proclaim to the world that you did it. And wave your certificate around like you just don’t care. And fellow Japanese studiers will look on with envy as you strut about in your awesomeness.

But, sticking doggedly to the test structure can also lead to frustration and unwanted stress. You find that knowing a lot of grammar rules and speaking and using perfect Japanese really isn’t something you need in your life. I mean, maybe you just want to speak Kansai-ben. Maybe you want to take a break from spending so much time studying and just enjoy the language.

JLPT as Feedback

If you are not a goal-oriented person, then you can still use the JLPT as feedback to see what is working and what isn’t or just to see if your level is going up or down. For example, I’ve taken the N1 the last few times with a pretty good idea that I wasn’t going to pass. But, I wanted to go anyway just to see if how I’m studying is effective or not.

Also, the JLPT is a great way to measure your Japanese level, but in some ways it is just as dumb as your bathroom scale when it comes to measuring things. Your bathroom scale will just give you a raw weight and won’t actually take in account things like time of day, how much excess fluid you are carrying around and so forth.

So, your weight according to the bathroom scale will fluctuate on a regular basis sometimes daily. In order to track your progress you need to see the overall trend. The same is true with the JLPT, for N2 and N1 especially, the scores can fluctuate a lot depending on what kind of topics were on the test. Don’t take it personal if come close to passing and just miss it. It was probably just bad luck.

Are you Goal-less?

Do you love to set goals or are vehemently against them? Somewhere in between? Let me know in the comments below.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Victoria October 1, 2013, 12:13 am

    From my experience, I’d say how goals like “passing JLPT level Nx” can be used most effectively depends on your temperament and situation. For some people having the goal gives them the adrenalin boost and motivation they need to apply themselves and perform at their best. For others, the pressure actually undermines their performance. There’s a great article about it here at the NYT:

    When I was younger I used to perform really well in exams (the way that is typically attributed to boys rather than girls). At the time I knew success was important, but somehow the situation just wasn’t ‘heavy’ enough for the risk of failure to be so crippling. Also, when I was younger I tended to study logic subjects like sciences and maths, where if you knew the rules you could just apply them – there was no substantial learning of facts or new skills involved.

    These days, though, having spent the first 6 months of this year on reduced income while trying to improve my Japanese, sat five Japanese exams in the last year, and knowing that my ability to stay in Japan with a secure income and reasonable lifestyle pretty much depends on my getting N2+ and finding a job that uses Japanese before my next visa renewal, I’m just too invested to be able to find the emotional distance to perform at my best when “exam pressure” is added to the mix. The JLPT N2 in July was always going to be a stretch, but I also found the weight of having made it my focus for the six months prior bordered on paralysing in terms of exam performance.

    Of course right now I’m preparing for December, but (as much as I know it probably isn’t true) I’m also trying to tell myself it’s not the end of the world if I can’t get N2 this time around. There’s a J.TEST in January, and they seem to list an increasing number of organisations on their “who uses the J.TEST” page every time I apply. While N1 would be best for work, many opportunities will accept N2 and many people I know who are established and comfortable here have never taken N1. In practice, once you have the opportunity and the relationship with an organisation what matters is what you can do, not the certificate you hold. The only value of the JLPT is really to get your foot in the door for long enough to secure that opportunity and build that relationship.

    It is important to keep measuring progress, and the way I do that is through taking the other tests and also keeping a log of how many flashcards I’ve memorized. Anki was quite poor for that, but Mnemosyne is much better as it returns cards to the “unknown” stack if you fail them. You really can get a clear, measurable idea of how much you have memorized, and I’ve adapted most of my study to some kind of flashcard format these days as it just makes it much easier to manage. So I have a spreadsheet and I can see whether the numbers are headed in the right direction. The reassurance and confidence I get from that is really very helpful when I’m stood outside some unfamiliar university hall waiting for the exam room to open.

    Best of luck to everyone in their December preparation – good luck! 🙂

    • Clayton MacKnight October 7, 2013, 1:35 pm

      Wow, great advice and good story. Thanks for sharing it with everyone. I totally agree with a lot of what you went over. I know a lot of people that have never gotten N1 and don’t plan to, but have a job that uses Japanese on a daily basis. N1 is (sometimes) more for the honor and bragging rights. N2 is definitely useful and if get a good score at that level, you really don’t ‘need’ anything else.

      At least with my experience doing translation of all sorts of things (from business letters to abstracts for medical papers), I really haven’t had issues where I wish I had studied N1 vocab/grammar/kanji more. There are a few tricky situations, but nothing too serious.

      Anyway, thanks again, and good luck!

Leave a Comment