Butterflyblue

月曜日, 9月 06, 2004

Chinese Test, Earthquakes

    On Saturday, I registered for the Chinese Language Proficiency Test (Chuuken), 3rd level, which will be held on November 28, 2004. I passed Level 1 of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) last year. Differences between the Japanese and Chinese tests in Japan are plentiful. The most obvious one is the demographic that takes the test. Since the Chinese test here is designed for Japanese speakers, the instruction book and study materials are all in Japanese, while the instruction book for the JLPT is in 4 languages, including English. When you go in to take the JLPT test, the directions and questions are all monolingual Japanese. This is only fair, since there are people of many different native languages taking the test. However, the Chinese test features numerous sections involving translating Chinese into Japanese and vice versa. In terms of the test questions themselves, they're different too. The only easy thing about the JLPT Level 1 is that you don't have to write any kanji. The Chinese test does seem to involve writing kanji (called hanzi in Chinese). Secondly, in a Japanese test it would be meaningless to have word-rearranging grammar questions, since the verb always comes at the end. So the JLPT has none of those, but in Japan they seem to like creating those questions for other languages, namely Chinese and English. You've probably seen these questions on English tests in Japan - the words in a sentence are all mixed up, and you have to rearrange them to form a grammatically correct sentence that matches the meaning of the Japanese sentence. These questions are actually easy if you're used to a SVO word order, but students taking the university entrance examinations seem to find them difficult to do in English. The Chinese ones I tried in the study book I bought were quite easy - the Chinese word order is also SVO, so it's not hard for an English speaker to have an intuitive understanding of sentence construction in Chinese.
    There is one diabolical type of question on the Chuuken test. They give you a word consisting of 2 hanzi characters. You have to match that word with another word, unrelated in meaning or romanized pronunciation, that has the same two tones. If the word you're given is third tone followed by first tone, you have to remember which of the other four choices are pronounced that way. The test recognizes five possibilities for each syllable - the four tones, or an unaccented syllable. It would be roughly equivalent to asking a learner of English to match words based solely on the accent of their syllables. Actually, I think they probably do this kind of question in Japan for English too, and a native English speaker looking at the question would not immediately be able to think of the desired answer. The human mind is not good at thinking of words like this, divorced from any meaning or context. It's not natural. It forces you to pay attention to the tones, which you might otherwise be tempted to ignore. But just as you don't need to have a conscious understanding of syllable accents to speak English naturally, you don't need to consciously think about every single tone when you speak Chinese either. In fact, doing so would slow your speaking speed down to paralyzed slug velocity. The best thing is to imitate how a native speaker of Chinese says a word, and remember that when you say the words yourself until you are so practiced at it you do it without thinking. When you're learning a new word, knowing how the tones look on paper does not necessarily prevent you from mispronouncing it. I think the same is true for English.

    The levels of the Chuuken test, and the cost of taking each one:

    pre-4: 3,150円
    4:    3,675円
    3    4,725円
    pre-2: 6,825円
    2:    7,875円
    1:    8,925円


    The harder the test, the more expensive it is to take it. Psychologically, this has a peculiar effect--you actually feel good for paying more money. The prices seem more arbitrary that the JLPT test (I think the cost for all the levels were the same for that, except Level 1 was 1000 yen more). The only rationale I can think of for those prices is that the harder tests might have more questions, and the test-taker has to pay per question. Having to pay more for them to devise more difficult questions for you just doesn't make sense.
    Two earthquakes yesterday. The first one occurred in the evening while I was riding a bus. The second one woke me up out of a sound sleep in the middle of night. It was scarier. But I'm okay.
    In an attempt to be cute while wearing sandals this weekend, I bought some of those decorated fake plastic nails for my toes and glued them on with nail glue. The nail glue is kind of scary, since the package warns it "instantly bonds to skin." The chic shops are full of the fake fingernails decorated with rhinestones and flowers and ribbons and glitter and pom-poms and fruit baskets and butterflies or whatever else they can think of. Just joking about the fruit baskets. My toes feel silly.

14 Comments:

  • At 5:48 午後, Blogger Matt said…

    I've got my JLPT level 2 application in an envelope ready to be posted tomorrow. I agonised about which level to try for -- 2, for which I easily passed the old 2002 test without even using all my time, or 1, which I really struggled with and ultimately failed? I guess I'm right between the two levels. In the end I decided that since the last time I took it three years ago, I only took level 4, a definite 2 is better than a possible 1 (if I study like a maniac), possible 4. If that makes sense.

    It's times like this I really wish we weren't stuck with this shitty, multi-tiered, all-the-tests-on-the-same-day- so-you-can't-even-take-both-
    and-see-which-one-you-pass system. I think a single graded score like TOEIC would work much better.

     
  • At 8:58 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    You're only taking level 2 this year?! I know what you mean about wanting to take one you can definitely pass, but I think level 2 is too easy for you. It depends on how much of the next three months you want to spend studying, though. I can recommend some books that helped me a lot if you want to try for level 1. I think if I could do it, you definitely can. Of course, since you're planning to be in Japan for the next 25 years, there's no hurry!

    I actually enjoyed studying for the test last year. It did wonders for my kanji skills. I'm so addicted I have to take another language test this year. Good luck!

     
  • At 9:15 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    There is also the "J Test" - Test of Practical Japanese, 実用日本語検定。 I haven't taken this test yet and I don't know much about it, but I think there is just one test you take and get a score, not like the JLPT system. A friend of mine took it. She liked it because you get your results quickly.

     
  • At 2:50 午後, Blogger Matt said…

    I'll check out the J-Test, thanks -- there's a test for business Japanese that also you just get a score for, which I also plan to take.

    I have kind of a philosophical objection to studying for a test that's supposed to measure day-to-day ability. When I get level 1 (next year), I want it to be because I know so many on-yomi and grammar quirks that I could have walked in off the street and passed the test with no preparation.

    Also, more practically, I don't get much out of just random study books -- I have to learn in context or it doesn't stick. That's why I read so much. It's the only way I can learn anything.

    Of course, I'm really going to be kicking myself if this philosophy lands me in a crappy job next year because all the good ones require level 1. But maybe if I have a good J-test and Business Japanese test and do well in the interview...

     
  • At 6:32 午前, Blogger Matt said…

    Huh, I thought I replied but maybe it didn't go through. Yeah, I could maybe squeeze through level 1 if I studied like a study-crazed bandit (and thanks for the offer of recommendations), but since these tests are supposed to be about everyday Japanese ability I kind of want to do it in a "I could have walked in off the street any day, sat down and done this test easily" way rather than a "My house is strewn with kanji cards; I will never know more about Japanese than I do this morning" way. So I guess I have another year to get that good.

    Part of the reason for this is that I never remember much from contextless studying. That's why I read all the time -- it's the only way I can learn anything..

    The J-test looks cool, thanks. I'll check it out. I guess the problem with these tests is always who cares about their results, but it can't hurt to have a lot of different certifications to put on the resume..

     
  • At 9:15 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    I think the J Test is the same as the business one. Not sure, though, that was just my impression.
    The 2-kyuu might measure day-to-day ability, and so if your Japanese is good enough you can walk in off the street and pass it, but I think the 1-kyuu is a little different. I've heard it gets harder every year. It doesn't hurt to get the edge the study books will give you. If everyone else is using the study books for it and you're not, you have a disadvantage. There are only about 60-some grammar patterns the 1-kyuu tests in the grammar section. If you study them from the books, they're yours for life and you get easy points on the test. If you hope to come across them while reading, well...good luck. I read a lot in Japanese too, and I almost never come across any of those grammar constructions. They are rare, even in written Japanese. So not studying them is a handicap for 1-kyuu.
    You don't need to study the listening for 1-kyuu, that's easy, and you don't need to study for the reading section if you already do a lot of reading. Kanji and grammar were the only two areas I really studied for. As for kanji, I never said that the book was "contextless"--actually, it helped put kanji in a context I could easily remember them without excruciating feats of memorization. Books that are good for advanced study of Japanese are rare, and this is one of them. I would have wanted to use it even if I had no intention of taking the test.

     
  • At 5:41 午後, Blogger Matt said…

    If they have an advantage from studying and I don't, and if I still pass, that makes me a SUUUUPERMAAAAN! OK, what's the book? I'm curious now.

    BTW, I didn't mean to imply that you were just cycling through lists of kanji and taking the tests like a machine, although maybe it came across like that. You're like my sempai, dude, the only other blogger I know who reads Japanese books too (well, and ever talks about it.)

    JETRO and the J-test have different dates so I guess they're different, although they might be run by the same people for all I know. (Totally different topic, I hate the name "J-test", it sounds totally frivolous and shallow with the echo of "J-pop" and all.)

     
  • At 12:42 午後, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    OK, the book I'm thinking of is 完全マスター漢字 日本語能力試験1級レベル - Kanzen Master Kanji for Level 1.
    Here is a link to it on Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.co.jp/exec/obidos/ASIN/4883192822/qid=1094783576/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl/249-1630368-8560361

    There is also a Kanzen Master Kanji for Level 2:

    http://www.amazon.co.jp/exec/obidos/ASIN/4883192296/qid=1094783576/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl/249-1630368-8560361

    And for grammar -
    完全マスター1級日本語能力試験文法問題対策
    http://www.amazon.co.jp/exec/obidos/ASIN/4883190897/qid=1094783980/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_2_1/249-1630368-8560361

    完全マスター2級日本語能力試験文法問題対策
    http://www.amazon.co.jp/exec/obidos/ASIN/4883190889/qid=1094784052/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_8_1/249-1630368-8560361

    The Kanzen Master kanji book helped me learn the multiple readings for about 900 kanji quickly and painlessly - in about a month. The results stayed with me, too. I still remember what I learned from that book. And I wouldn't have had a chance on the grammar section of the test unless I'd studied one of the grammar books. I just don't use patterns like that in everyday life. For every one of them, there is an easier and more common way to say it in Japanese. And they use most of the same tricky grammar patterns every year. Forewarned is forearmed. (Is that expression weird or is it just me? It looks like it means you have forearms...)

    Sorry, I feel like my last post was too pushy. Everyone has their own personal style. You think of the tests as a measure of ability, in which case targeted study threatens to render it meaningless. On the other hand, I sign up for the tests to motivate myself to study, so NOT studying would make them meaningless for me. What's valuable to me is not the score, nor the experience of going into a room, sitting at a desk and taking a test with a group of other people, but rather what I learn from studying for it before the test.

    No, you're my "senpai" - you have most of your blog translated into Japanese, and I couldn't even begin to do that with mine!

    "J test" does sound stupid - I just couldn't remember the full name. So, what are the dates of the two tests? Maybe I should consider it.

     
  • At 8:01 午後, Blogger Matt said…

    Yeah, but it's not translated into GOOD Japanese. ;)

    "J-test" is the name they use, though, it's not you. The full name on the envelope that arrived today is "J.TEST実用日本語検定". Oh well. At least the Japanese part sounds sober and respectable.

    J-test (sorry-- J.test): 2004-11-21, 2005-02-06, 2005-04-17 are the next three dates, and it looks like the application cutoff date is about a month before each individual test.

    (http://www.jtest.org/jtest/)

    JETRO Business Japanese Test: the next one is 2004-10-28, and the cutoff date is 2004-10-06. There's also a super-special JOCT ("JETRO Oral Communication Test") which is by invitation only (based on JETRO test results, natch) so the dates are secret.

    (http://www.jetro.go.jp/it/e/bj/index.html)

     
  • At 1:36 午前, Blogger Evelyn said…

    (I stumbled upon your site from google for wataya risa - after reading your post, i bought install from kinokuniya in new york, but i think it's still hard to read for me.) i took JLPT level 1 in 2002, but failed ... (60% for all 3 sections), passed level 2 in 2003 with only 68% ... so i am back to studying again for level 1. i liked what matt said about learning from context. i bought a grammar study aid book this time, but i find i mix up the grammar patterns easily ... do you have any advice? i took 4 years of japanese classes in college even though i wasn't a japanese major. mandarin is my first language, so i don't have to learn how to write kanji's but just the equivalent meaning and pronounciation... but i still find learning japanese difficult...

     
  • At 10:01 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    Hi Evelyn,

    Thanks for writing. Are you still getting 60% on all three sections when you take the practice tests? And do you have any Japanese friends who are willing to help you study, or can you find a Japanese tutor in your area (New York?) I worked with a Japanese tutor once a week while I was studying for Level 1. Some things you can do with that person are - ask them for clarification of the grammar points, so that you can remember them- it often helps simply to discuss your area of difficulty with someone else. To practice listening, have them make up a fake little story for you while you take notes, and then have them ask you questions afterwards. Show him or her the listening questions on the level one practice test so they can make up fake questions on that level. If you don't have a partner, you can still practice listening to Japanese movies, radio or news programs. Try taking notes on what you hear, then going back and checking to see how good your notes were. You should be getting 90% or more on the listening section of the Level 1 test, because those points will help you pass the other sections, grammar and reading, which are more likely to have very tricky or obscure questions. I think you can improve your score on the listening section substantially by listening to any kind of natural speed Japanese and taking notes on it, and checking your comprehension afterwards.
    Maybe I will try posting some study material for Install on this site, for learners of Japanese who want to read it. There are some idiomatic and cultural things in there that might not be obvious if you don't live in Japan, even if you know all the words. Also, I couldn't have read it myself without a good dictionary. I think a complete Japanese to Japanese "kokugo" dictionary is a must for this kind of novel. Japanese to English dictionaries just don't have everything, and it's discouraging if the words you look for are never there.

     
  • At 6:08 午前, Blogger Evelyn said…

    Thanks for the explanation about dictionaries. (When I see string of hiragana that is not in my known vocabulary list, I have trouble identifying where the word starts, so takes me a while to find it in the dictionary using different starting points... ) I am studying on my own right now, it's been 5 years since I graduated from college, I wonder if my level went down from my last official Japanese class. But I have not taken JLPT practice tests recently, will try soon. I live in central Jersey, so Kinokuniya in NYC is not too far away. I try to watch fujisankei international channel - short 10 min news, ai no ri, ningen no shomei, but can only understand partially. But for reading, I decided to start with children's stories like Kani to Saru, Nezumi no yomeiri, and work my way to high school level reading (hopefully) :)

     
  • At 9:00 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    I used to go to the Kinokuniya store in Seattle. They're great, aren't they. I belong to a Yahoo group that sometimes discusses the JLPT - if you're interested, the URL is:
    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ganbattekudasai/

     
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