Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
The Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT, is administered only once per year and is taken by about 380,000 (1995 figures) non-native speakers of Japanese each year worldwide. The test is divided into four levels (1-4), with Level 1 being the most difficult. The Level 1 has a pass rate of only 29%.
After 4 years of university study of Japanese in my native country, I doubt I would have passed anything beyond Level 3 of the JLPT upon graduation. However, using the techniques I share with you below, I studied for and passed Level 1 of the JLPT on the first try after just 15 months of additional study (while working full time). This success was due not to any innate linguistic talent of mine but rather to having worked out ways of studying smart. Here is what I found works best:
Tip #1: Buy and use blank note cards religiously: I prefer the type that comes in packs of 100 cards and are bound by a single metal ring. When studying for the JLPT, I filled 35 packs of these cards, or the equivalent of 3,500 words and phrases. Carry a pack everywhere you go and write down every word you come across that you do not recognize. This works because the act of writing each kanji or grammatical phrase down goes a long way toward memorizing them. I recommend using these cards over electronic kanji or word dictionaries.
Tip #2: Read the hard stuff every day: Read newspapers, books, and other forms of the written word every day - even if you are studying for the Level 4 test and even if you must spend 30 minutes to get through each sentence. This method is great for becoming familiar with the most commonly-used words and grammar quickly, and you will soon lose your fear of difficult texts.
Tip #3: Read aloud: Language leverages different parts of our brain depending upon whether we are reading, writing, speaking, or listening. By reading aloud, it is a very efficient way to exercise the word recognition and the speaking centers of your brain at the same time.
Tip #4: Speak with as many types of people you can: If you have the opportunity to visit or live in Japan while studying for the test, take the opportunity to speak with every Japanese person you meet: old, young, men, women, teachers, businesspeople, artists, economists, the local fruit vendor: everyone. This reinforces your speaking and listening skills much more than just speaking with the same 2 or 3 people each day because you become less dependent upon their individual habits and favorite phrases.
Tip #5: Look up in a dictionary every single word you do not recognize: Treat every word you come across that you do not know as a gold nugget: write it down on one of your blank, ringed note cards (see Tip #1). Once you have filled your pack of cards, attack the cards regularly, testing yourself along the way. Keep going through the pack, removing the cards you master until there are none left. Then, review the whole pack again.
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