JLPT BC 149 | The Harry Potter Method

JLPT BC 149 | The Harry Potter Method post image

It has been an incredibly busy couple of weeks. I was incredibly busy with Halloween and the little one.  We were actually able to go trick or treating twice.  Trick or treating is not yet a standard thing to do in Japan but we always arrange a small trick or treat event in our neighborhood for the kids. It was a lot of fun, but also a lot of busy work.

Also, the website has been going through some minor growing pains lately. The site has grown by about 25% in terms of visitors since last year, which means my hosting company is starting to strain a little bit. I had to do some late night research to make sure the whole thing keeps going and doesn’t get crushed under its own weight. But, by all means please keep visiting the site. I love having lots of visitors!

So this December I will not be taking the test as I usually do for a variety of reasons. The one big reason was that I’ve just been trying to do way too many things at once. Having a 3 year old and juggling a few jobs can weigh you down a little bit. This resulted in one of my worst scores ever on the last test because I was just not in it when I took the test back in July.

So, I have had some time to change some things around and see if a different strategy might suit me better for passing the test. I’m still not sure if it will make a difference or not. Right now it is just good to be able to get so many things done that I’ve been putting off for way too long.

I’ve done my best to abandon drill books. Although I will probably revisit them again in the future, I’m letting them gather dust and instead doing more immersive learning. Or at least, that is what I’m trying to do. It seems like lately there have been far too many emergencies to deal with, but that is the game of life, and I know I’m not the only one.

Harry Potter

So, I recently made it out to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, usually shortened to just USJ. It has grown quite a lot since I was there about 3 years ago. One very new addition was Harry Potter land. Now, I wouldn’t really say I’m that big of a Harry Potter fan. I thought the whole series was pretty good, but nothing phenomenal. However, I am a bit of theme park nut and I had to visit it to see how the whole place was setup.

Anyway, after walking through the land and taking in the shops, I suddenly remembered the Harry Potter audiobook that I had bought awhile back and had done nothing with. I had been saving it for when I could go back to ‘fun’ studying. You know, after I had chewed through all the JLPT stuff.

I had been trying to read Game of Thrones in Japanese and was having a heck of time with it because of the rather complicated vocabulary and some expressions. And about every 3rd or 4th word I looked up was a word that I had seen in Harry Potter before but just forgot how it was used. And being that I have hardly made it through the Harry Potter course I made on Memrise, I figured I would revive my efforts to master the book.

Harry Potter is kind of unique in a way because it is one of the only books that has been translated into Japanese and also has an audiobook to help with listening. Audiobooks, for whatever reason, are not as popular in Japan as they are in other places. For instance, you can get every one of the Harry Potter audiobooks (all 7) in Polish, but only the first two are available in Japanese. And even those are hard to come by because they were released on CD and never digitized. They have actually stopped making new copies. Instead, you have to snatch up the used copies while they last.

I ripped the CDs for personal use on my iPhone (still legal in Japan by the way), and then slowed them down so that I can listen to them more easily when I was walking to and from work. This is especially helpful for the first chapter which is a little overwritten (like most first chapters of books), so it is difficult to understand the first time you go through it.

I should say that I have read the entire book once before, so this should be review. But, I’ve noticed I missed a lot the first time through, so I have been adding more to the Harry Potter course as well as picking up even more expressions and sentence patterns.

The point of practicing this book again is too really master it this time. The first time I went through I was just striving for comprehension and kind of passively picking up a few things here and there. But now, I’m going to read and reread, as well as listen to the audiobook several times until it becomes automatic for me. The goal is stop thinking or working to understand what is being said but for it to just come to me automatically.

So far I feel it working out quite well. I can, of course, understand the Harry Potter audiobook quite well after a few listens, but my overall listening skills are starting to improve. I feel that my head doesn’t ‘reject’ Japanese as often as before. It seems to take a lot less effort to concentrate on what people are saying. I’m hoping that this will improve my reading as well. Although, I often don’t have enough time to sit down and read along with the audiobook.

The goal here is to get so comfortable with the set of vocabulary in the first and second book that I can cut through the rest of the books in relative ease. I still wish there were audiobooks for the rest of the series. That would make my life a lot easier because I spend a lot more time running around than sitting down, but I guess I’ll take what I can get.

Memrise Premium

Memrise has recently made a premium version of their web app available that I have been test driving since the very early days. It has been interesting to see the stats develop and mature to something that is really useful to use for focusing your studies on those nasty words that seem to never quite catch on.

What I especially like is the difficult words option where you can drill and practice just the words that you have been missing a lot. Already, if you miss a word during a study session, you will be prompted a few more times again with that word. But with this is new feature I can go through a round of the words that I have been missing a lot lately in order to give myself one more look at it in a different session.

I have found that this has really driven home the words and made them very automatic for me. It also gives me a chance to spend some extra time with them and create some nice mems (mnemonics). Often times in a regular session you have a lot of easy prompts that you sail through and then get hung up on a few difficult ones. Personally, I get a little frustrated having to spend extra time on the tricky words. But, if you are specifically drilling them, you are more focused and ready to try to remember the definitions.

There are also some really interesting stats if you are stat nut that covers how long your learning streak is, how much time you spend on each course, and how many words you forgot that day, as well as how many you learned. These can be really motivating if you like to see stats of how you learning.

How are you doing?

Have you ever tried to tackle the Harry Potter books or any native materials? Tell us about them in the comments.

Photo by Karen Roe

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Ami November 27, 2014, 7:15 am

    I really admire what you have accomplished. I have read Magic Treehouse books and now reading How to Train Your Dragon. However, I stopped momentarily because I’m studying for N2 because in the How to Train Your Dragon, a lot of the vocabulary is more N1 level (I think). I need to concentrate for the test since it is in less than two weeks. I’d like to know what books are good to read for N2 level.

    • Clayton MacKnight November 27, 2014, 11:24 pm

      Not a lot of books are ‘perfect’ for N2, but How to Train your Dragon is probably pretty close. When I was that level, I read a lot of movie novelizations. The small little Disney movie novelizations like this are perfect for that. If you can get through them at a good pace, you are definitely N2 level. They won’t contain a lot of the serious vocabulary that comes up on the test though, for that you’ll have to read kids/elementary school newspapers or material designed for the test.

      • Ami November 27, 2014, 11:58 pm

        Thank you!

  • Bob November 27, 2014, 3:30 pm

    Can you recommend a good N5 or N4 deck on Memrise? The ones I have tried have to many errors when you have to spell the words.

  • Bob November 28, 2014, 1:25 am

    Thanks Clay. I have not tried them yet. I IME support is better, I can use that.

  • Lukas Frank August 11, 2015, 8:31 am

    Hello Mac,

    I’ll be going to Japan for one month in September/October, so I’ve been concentrating on studying in the last few months. As you might remember I barely passed N2 in 2013 and I almost failed because my reading comprehension was pretty bad. I knew that I would certainly fail N1 without increasing the amount of literature I read.

    Until now I read few scientific texts about history and literature which I found online and tried to write a short lecture in Japanese.

    I also found a nice page named 青空文庫 Aozora bunko, which contains translations of well-known literature from all around the world. I started off with Maurice Leblancs “L’Aiguille creuse” (The hollow needle) (which I read in German in my childhood, so it wasn’t that difficult) and now continue with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (which I have never read before, which means the Japanese version is my first “contact” with this book).
    I copy the whole text from the page into an OpenOffice document, then I change the font size and margins to make the text fit on only a few pages (If there are 30 instead of 100 pages, it motivates me more). Then I start reading, copy unknown words into a Japanese-German online dictionary called “Wadoku” and write unknown readings and translations into the document.

    I also ordered the whole Sô Matome series for N1 (which means now I own all books for N2 and N1) quite a while ago. I worked my way through the Kanji book several times looking up the words if the English translation doesn’t fit that well, but I didn’t consider the example questions because they seemed to difficult. It doesn’t surprise me because learning words without context is not very effective. But since I started reading with Aozora I get the feeling that everything will get more automized in the future.

    Best regards,

    Lukas Frank

  • Lucía September 3, 2015, 10:42 pm

    Hello Mac. I’ve tried to listen to the audibook of Harry Potter and the Phiosopher’s stone and the results are positive. I understand a lot of what they say (this happen because I’m very acquainted with the story), which doesn’t happen when I read the book (I miss almost every sentece). In that sense, Harry Potter audibook has been very benefical to me. I wish they were more audiobooks of fantasy in Japanese. For instance, I would love to get my hands into a How to Train Your Dragon Copy.
    ¡Saludos desde Chile!

  • Valerie February 27, 2016, 12:33 am


    I know it’s been a while since this post was made- I love your website!
    I’m planning on tackling the N1 this year, and I read your post (& I think I commented) about how waiting until the last minute will be detrimental… So I’m taking your advice!
    I randomly picked up the last book of HP in Japanese, and stumbled upon this post… Eureka! It’s going to come in handy!
    I used to be a native speaker (lived there until the 6th grade), but being relocated to the middle of nowhere in Illinois, I didn’t have the opportunity to keep up with it, or even grow. I get your “my ears don’t reject Japanese”- whenever I hear words I don’t understand, I naturally want to just skip over it, instead of looking up the definition and really understanding the vocabulary.
    Currently, I have signed up for “Conversation Exchange”, and hoping to do some practice speaking there. I’m really afraid of the N1 (passed the N2) just because I keep failing the practice course that’s available Online.
    I’m currently reading a few books and going over my Kanji, but I feel as though that’s not enough… any other suggestions you may provide will be greatly appreciated!

    • Clayton MacKnight February 27, 2016, 2:55 pm

      For N1, you just need to read a lot of different kinds of material. Newspapers, editorials, novels, etc… Read so much that it becomes automatic to you. Do the same with listening basically. You just need a lot of exposure to it and practice test questions a lot as well.

      I think with that kind of background, it shouldn’t be too tough. Good luck!

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