December in Japan is always unbelievably busy. There is the Christmas/Bonenkai party season. Then, you have New Year’s cards to design and write. And finally, the big cleaning where you throw out as much of the old as you can to make way for the new. Then after New Year’s, you have your first visit to the shrine, first visits and formalities to all your business contacts. And if you still have enough energy, New Year parties.
Needless to say I got way behind with my studying. The graphic above is taken from my Memrise account. The red line is the number of words I forgot, and the green line the number of words I know. It took a beating over the holiday break, and I am just now starting to get it under control and add new words to the stack.
Getting back on track is always a game of patience. If you try to go too fast, you just start mindlessly punching in words and not retaining that much. You go to slow and you risk getting buried under the inevitable review that comes. I think I am managing a lot better than last year at this time when I basically took two weeks off from studying and came back to about 600 words I needed to drill through.
So, I recently got a new job, or more specifically, a new contract that requires a lot more Japanese than what I usually need. I kind of took on the contract hoping I would be able to use my Japanese a lot more since I really haven’t been getting any kind of natural practice other than some eavesdropping on the train and a little small talk with some mothers when my daughter is taking some gym classes.
The use of Japanese is going to be a little limited, but I’m still a little nervous about it. I used to be pretty confident about my ability to start up a conversation with someone and keep it going, but those days are gone. There are going to be a few staff meetings I’ll be sitting in on that require some good focus, which I’ve started to lose.
Anyway, I’m excited to actually be using Japanese on a regular basis again and using some old muscles that haven’t seen that much exercise lately. I’m just hoping that it doesn’t eat up a lot of my time with reports and such. I’d like to maintain some semblance of a work-life balance.
I’ve been getting a lot of questions from readers about how to pass N1 recently. Although I have yet to pass the N1, I have been in contact with a lot of folks that have. I’ve been trying to pick their brains as much as possible to try to tease out what separates someone from an N2 level and an N1 level.
Some key points that I have seen come up time and time again is the need for immersion in the language. You don’t necessarily have to be living in Japan. A lot of people outside of Japan, have passed the exam through some hard work. But, you do have to strive for automaticity with the language. Automaticity is basically what it sounds like, everything should come to you automatically. If you have to still take some time to translate things to understand them, you haven’t quite reached that level yet.
I admit, there are times when I have to take a step back and translate a passage piece by piece before I can get a good understanding of what it is about. I don’t have this problem with most common materials – letters in the mail, notices, advertisements and such, but if it is something more abstract and indirect, I really need to take a step back and try to understand as much as I can by doing a little translation in my head.
Also, at this level, you need to really take a genuine interest in reading and listening to Japanese a lot. You’ll need a lot of bulk input in order to bring your vocabulary up to level that is needed for the test. Using SRS, like Anki and Memrise, can only get you so far. You will have to go out and really see and hear those words in context a few times in order to really get a good enough grasp on the language and make it automatic.
I think drill books are still useful at this level, and give you a decent idea of what to expect on the test, but don’t expect them to fully prepare you for the real thing. Kanzen Master is a really useful series, but I found their reading book for this level was far too easy to prepare for the real exam. It’s a good start, but try not to get a false sense of security from it. The same goes for mock tests. They try their best to make these tests on par with the real test, but a lot of times they fall flat.
How about you?
How are your studies coming along? If you are studying for the N1, what are you doing to prepare?