The JLPT has officially come and gone. And now comes the slow wait for results in January. In between, we have Christmas and New Year’s celebrations that are begging you to relax and take it easy. It can be a bit hard to focus.
This is made worse by the fact that you might now know if you passed or not. So, you are no sure if you should start studying for the next level or reviewing the old material again. You might find yourself a little lost because you are so used to studying the books and vocabulary for your level.
But, right now, you have a lot of time. There is at least 7 months between now and the next time you take the test. And, for some, it might be pretty easy to get lost and find yourself doing something else until the test results come back and you suddenly realize, you need to pick up the habit again.
What are you going to do with all that time? How about a big project? You’ll have plenty of time to finish it, and it will keep you focused through the holidays and up to when you get your results back.
Time to pick up a native book for the 1st time or if you regularly do some reading how about picking up a book from a different genre? Yes, it might be challenging, but you have time to work it out and get used to reading real native materials, of all sorts.
Be sure to mark them up and take plenty of notes. This is where used books come in handy. You can buy a book for cheap and not care about keeping it nice. Or, if you are living in Japan, you don’t have to feel like taking it back with you when you leave or move.
How about trying to write a short story? This could be a translation of a popular tale or even your own idea. Use some local news or a story from your past and add a little flourish to it. Another trick I learned is to look at interesting photos at Flickr. There is usually some kind of story you can find.
Be sure to test yourself by using new vocabulary and phrases. If you don’t know how to say it, ask somebody that can. Push what you are capable of doing and expressing. At first, your writing will probably be a little stilted and sound to ‘directly-translated’. That’s about where I am when I write a story at the moment. There is not style, just meaning. That’s okay, you are not writing a Pulitzer-prize-winning novel, just practicing Japanese.
Again, it’s time to go native. Find a jDrama, Japanese movie, or an English movie that has been dubbed and watch it with Japanese subtitles (to double-check your listening). Be sure to look up any words you don’t know. You might want to double-check your understanding with a native friend as well.
Granted this is probably something you should wait to start doing after you passed N3. It doesn’t hurt to try it earlier though. You will be surprised how much you’ll understand of certain scenes. Although there will be other scenes that you will have zero understanding of.
The re-watch the episode or movie from the beginning to end. Try not to stop, but if you are unsure of a word or phrase stop and check. Then, watch a final time without subtitles and listening for all the words. If you have a little trouble go back and re-listen to the part you missed. If you are feeling up to it, you could even try to act out the parts, by shadowing the conversation.
For speaking, a big project you can take on are what I’d like to call ‘stump speeches’. If you are not familiar a stump speech is a speech that politicians use on the campaign trail. They usually start off with it, and then personalize the rest of their speech/talk with something that pertains to that audience that they are talking to.
These are really helpful for learning a language as well. There are common questions that people inevitably ask you. The most common by far is ‘Where are you from?’ (どこから 来ましたか？) or some variation of that. And you can of course just answer with a simple one word place name and be done with it. But why not take the opportunity to have a longer conversation?
You can add in details about your hometown like what kinds of things are popular. What kind of food is popular? (this is really important in Japan where every single little corner of the country has some kind of famous food or drink). What is the weather like? Does it have 4 seasons? Does it snow there? Yeah, these kinds of things might sound boring, but it keeps the conversation going and the person you are talking to can ask more questions.
You can create little stump speeches (at least 4 sentences long) for all sorts of questions. And of course if someone asks you this question, you don’t need to rattle off the entire thing, but you have ideas and ready-to-use phrases if the conversation goes that way. Let your imagination run wild and write as much as you can. Then, the next time you bump into a Japanese person, you’ll be fully equipped.
What’s your Big Project?
Are you going to take something on this break? Let me know about it in the comments below.