金曜日, 10月 01, 2004

Rating Language Fluency in Japanese

    I remember looking at this Rate Your Language Fluency Test soon after I arrived in Japan a year ago, and I think I score farther along the fluency continuum now than I did, particularly in the area of being able to understand overheard speech on the street. This test is not specific to Japanese though, and I think it would be good to make up one tailored for Japanese fluency. For one thing, these self-score fluency tests always use "reading the newspaper" as a barometer of your reading ability in a language. I don't think this is necessarily the most appropriate measure when it comes to Japanese. Personally, I hate reading the Japanese newspaper!

   Here is my attempt at devising such a self-rating system...please make comments!




1) Reading skills (choose one)

a You have not yet learned hiragana and katakana.

b You know hiragana and katakana. You can read simple sentences with some effort. You don't know any kanji. You are afraid that if you learn kanji, you will forget hiragana and katakana.

c You read hiragana, katakana, and up to a few hundred kanji. You can read e-mails, signs, maps, and other things useful for daily life in Japan.

d You enjoy reading in Japanese. You read manga, novels, newspapers, or other books or magazines while consulting a dictionary. Although your reading speed is much slower than your native language, you can finish reading a story or book with some effort and enjoy it. You frequently make mistakes with kanji with multiple readings, because you're not sure which way to pronounce it in context. You also may encounter many kanji while reading that you don't know at all. I think this level is approximately equivalent to JLPT Level 2.

e You can read well without consulting a dictionary. When you come across an unfamiliar word, you can guess the meaning from the context. If you then look up the word anyway, the dictionary confirms the meaning you thought it was. You know approximately 2000 kanji or more. When you finish reading a page, you can often guess what the first word on the next page will be. You have favorite Japanese writers, and own several of their books in Japanese. You can get accurate information from Japanese webpages and instruction manuals. You use a kokugo dictionary more often than dictionaries to and from your native language. You can watch a foreign movie (Chinese, Korean) with Japanese subtitles without feeling like you're missing anything important. You sometimes know kanji that your Japanese friends don't know (this can occur at any level, but is more likely to happen here, unless you are a kanji prodigy). When you see a kanji with multiple readings, you know the correct reading, hesitating or making a mistake only very rarely. I think this level is approximately equivalent to JLPT Level 1.

f All of the above and more. You can read things that are difficult for Japanese people to read such as classical texts, textbooks containing specialized technical language, poetry, Noh drama, that kind of thing. When there is a game show or quiz book with kokugo questions designed to stump the Japanese audience, you know the answers and wonder how the game show contestants can be so clueless! You know many "四字熟語” (Chinese 4-character expressions) well. You have favorite "四字熟語.”
You can read kanbun. You can read "grass script". I'm just throwing a bunch of things in here that I can't do. I don't really know anyone who can do all of them!

Your score:

a) 0 points - Get out there and learn kana already.
b) 5 points - Kanji don't bite.
c) 10 points - You can live comfortably in Japan with this.
d) 15 points - It's amazing how many years it takes to get to this level.
e) 20 points - I think this is "fluent" at reading.
f) 25 points - You are amazing.

2) Listening skills (choose one):

a) You cannot understand spoken Japanese at all except for the occasional word.

b) You can usually understand what people are saying when they talk to you directly. They must speak slowly and use easy Japanese for you.

c) You can listen to things that are more detailed and use more vocabulary than basic conversation, and get the gist. You can understand Japanese cartoons such as Doraemon and Atashinchi. If you ask for directions on the street, you can understand the answer.

d) You can understand conversations both in standard Japanese and in your local dialect, although you may not know all the slang words you overhear. You can enjoy going to Japanese movies without subtitles, although you might not understand everything. You have favorite Japanese TV shows. If someone leaves you a voice mail message in Japanese, you understand it after listening to it a few times. When the cashier tells you the price of something at the cash register, you understand and find correct change without having to look at the visual display.

e) You can understand Japanese conversations overheard on the street and in other public places. Your Japanese friends talk quickly and use idioms when they talk with you without stopping to explain themselves, because they know you can keep up with them. They don't slow down their speech for you. If someone leaves you a voice mail message in Japanese, you understand it the first time. You can understand news stories and documentaries in Japanese. You could write large numbers accurately if they were dictated to you quickly in Japanese. You have no trouble understanding the TV and radio, although you may occasionally miss details. Sometimes you draw a blank on a slang term or katakana word that you hear for the first time. If you are having trouble programming your VCR or connecting to the Internet, you can call customer service and follow their detailed instructions without requesting customer service in English. You can not only watch Japanese movies without subtitles, you can walk in after the movie has already started and infer what you missed.

f) You understand 100% of what you hear on the TV and radio, just as if you were listening to your native language. No details escape you. You are familiar with slang terms and abbreviations used in the spoken language, such as Raishin (来神) for "Coming to Kobe" and "Dorakue" for "Dragon Quest" - when you hear a shortened word like that you guess immediately what it's referring to, whether it is a shortened katakana word or shortened kanji compound. You can watch a TV show that has been dubbed in Japanese with the voice actors talking very fast in order to keep up with fast-talking non-Japanese actors, (I am thinking of Chris Barrie's speech on Red Dwarf and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour--they sound absurdly fast in the Japanese dubbed versions!) and you can follow their speech and enjoy the jokes. You can listen to Japanese comedy such as manzai and rakugo, and understand it. You can understand slang in more than one local dialect.
    Listening comprehension in Japanese is fairly easy compared with the other 3 skills, but I tried to put in the (f) category everything I still consider to be difficult.

a) 0 points. Take a class.
b) 5 points. Many English teachers in Japan are at this level.
c) 10 points. You're getting there.
d) 15 points. Only more time in Japan will improve your ability further.
e) 20 points. Listening fluency.
f) 25 points. Nothing escapes you.

3) Speaking skills (choose one)

a) You can speak a little, but you must use gestures and English words to communicate most things.

b) You can explain what you want or need, ask questions, and use grammar constructions such as -koto ga arimasu. You tend to overuse the word "watashi wa." Sometimes people find your accent difficult to understand.

c) Your accent seems more natural, and you can say many things with confidence. You still have trouble talking about anything beyond common everyday situations, and you break down and speak English frequently.

d) You can speak on a variety of topics, but you often have to ask the person you're speaking with how to say the word you want in Japanese. You can ask questions and talk to people wherever you go in Japan, but sometimes you mispronounce words, especially katakana words and words with double vowels or consonants, leading to misunderstanding. When you have an in-depth conversation in Japanese, you find it helpful to have a pad of paper nearby to aid communication.

e) Your vocabulary has grown, so you almost never have to use an English word or ask people how to say something. Instead, if you don't know the exact word, you just explain what you want to say using different Japanese words. You have Japanese friends whom you talk to primarily in Japanese. You can communicate adequately with a person who doesn't speak English, whether that person is Japanese or from another country with Japanese as your only common language. You have no fear. You don't need to take a dictionary or a pad of paper with you when you go out knowing there will be a need to communicate in Japanese. You can talk on the phone easily, whether it is a phone interview for a job or consoling a friend who broke up with her boyfriend. You can express any need or question you can imagine in Japanese. Even if your speech isn't always perfect, you are confident in your ability to make yourself understood.

f) You would have no trouble giving an academic presentation or defending your doctoral dissertation in Japanese. You are frequently mistaken for a native speaker on the phone or in dim lighting, as long as your appearance doesn't give you away. You think in Japanese to the extent that it is difficult to switch back to your native language. You speak more quickly in Japanese than in your native language. You are eloquent and persuasive in Japanese. You use keigo and kensongo well enough to impress employers at a job interview.

a) 0 points. More time in Japan and/or a class for you.
b) 5 points. You need to talk with Japanese people more, and get them to help you.
c) 10 points. This is an intermediate level.
d) 15 points. Another year or so in Japan will take you to the next level.
e) 20 points. The much-coveted prize of fluency is yours.
f) 25 points. You can now become rich and famous appearing as the celebrity foreigner on talk shows. Milk it for all the ego-boosting shock value its worth.

4) Writing skills (choose one)

a) You are practicing writing kana using a children's Anpanman coloring book.

b) You can write hiragana and katakana.

c) You can write hiragana, katakana, and some simple kanji.

d) You can write a one-page essay, speech or letter in Japanese, but you have to consult the dictionary and if you ask someone to correct it for you, they point out many grammatical mistakes. Your handwriting looks a little strange to a native speaker. If you're a teacher and you write something in Japanese on the board, your students may laugh at you and you don't know why. You can send keitai mail in Japanese. You think in Japanese while you're writing.

e) You can send long e-mail in Japanese (several paragraphs). You can write a letter or essay and proofread it yourself, making sure it doesn't contain any mistakes. You think in Japanese while you're writing, and know when something doesn't sound right grammatically. You use idiomatic expressions in your writing. You can write fiction in Japanese. Your sentences are often long and complex, whether you're sending an e-mail or writing a formal essay. If you notice your writing contains the same word or grammar too many times, you change it to make it read better, just as you would in your native language. You don't make mistakes when choosing kanji from the computer or keitai program, but you might not be able to write them all by hand. When you write by hand, your stroke order is usually right. Your handwriting is similar enough to a native speaker's that you would not get ridiculed for writing on the board or making a handwritten comment on a handout that you distribute at a class or a meeting. It would be hard for anyone to tell from your writing that you're not a native speaker.

f) You can write accurately all of the one thousand-whatever frequently used kanji, without making mistakes between easily confused kanji. You can write poetry in Japanese. You always know the right stroke order and how many strokes something is. You win prizes for your calligraphy. You have had newspaper columns published in Japanese. You are working on a novel, play or poem in Japanese, and are looking for a publisher.

a) 0 points. Anpanman will help you.
b) 5 points. Don't stop now.
c) 10 points. Now to put them all together...
d) 15 points. This is intermediate, but not so far from fluency as you might fear.
e) 20 points. Writing fluency.
f) 25 points. Go you.

    As you can see, the person who scores 25 points in all four categories (and I seriously doubt there could be such a person!) gets 100% on this test, but I consider 70-80% fluent, don't you?
    I hope this test isn't seen as being unfair or cruel to people at the beginning stages of learning Japanese - or people learning Japanese outside Japan. No one is meant to score 100% on this test, certainly not me. I don't pretend to have all the answers about learning Japanese. I just hope this post will amuse you and generate some comment about Japanese study.


  • At 5:30 午前, Blogger Evelyn said…

    I barely give myself a 60, but I think writing is the hardest skill to improve through self study. Speaking and listening usually go hand in hand, if you say something wrong, people will correct you. Reading improves as you read more, but writing, someone has to correct your writing. If you are in school, instructor who grade your paper will correct your mistakes, but if you are just writing emails with friends and such, sometimes they don't bother to make corrections as long as the point is understood right? ... And written Japanese is slightly different from spoken Japanese too...

  • At 8:22 午前, Blogger Matt said…

    I'm afraid to score myself.

    I think the last question mixes up two different things though -- composing written Japanese (preparing the sentence in your head), and actually writing it (by hand, as opposed to via keitai or whatever). Maybe I am just biased because handwriting is my vast, unmissable weak spot. ;)

    I also think, this is a general comment, that questions about vocabulary are hard to frame because everyone learns at least a little bit of vocab about what they do for a living. In Japan, JETs learn a bunch of school terms, visitors working in the snowfields during winter no doubt learn a lot of skiing and mountain terminology, the immigrants who work in factories probably get their manufacturing lingo down first... it's like using all your experience points on one skill while the others stay at 1, to use a nerdy metaphor that I believe you will understand.

  • At 9:40 午前, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    Good comments. I purposely included both kinds of "writing" in the final section. They are both important. There ARE situations when you have to write things by hand. In my case, I think my handwriting identifies me as non-Japanese, and that's something I'd like to correct (by going back to those Anpanman books if necessary!) I wouldn't give myself zero points for writing, though, because I write fairly good emails in Japanese.
    I added a disclaimer and a scoring note that I hope will clarify things. Basically, if you write well on the computer/keitai but can't write by hand, go ahead and put yourself in the e group but subract 1-3 points for your handwriting, if you so desire. You don't need to subtract points if your handwriting is merely messy. Lots of people have messy writing in their native language. Sometimes writing that is too neat identifies someone as a non-native speaker. The thing is, if someone was holding a handwriting sample from you and one from a native speaker, would they be able to easily tell whose was whose?
    It's like a Turing test- a metaphor I'm interested in lately because I want to use the language learning/Turing test parallel in a science fiction story I'm writing. No one could mistake me for Japanese if they see my face. But if they can't see my face, what would I have to do to fool them?
    On the other hand, language fluency doesn't mean that you speak and write exactly like a native speaker. That's raising the bar too high. Fluency merely means that you can use the language easily. By that definition, you are both fluent, congratulations. But there are degrees of fluency, and to some extent such degrees can be quantified. The main value I see in rating yourself this way is to see how you can improve, and then, by taking the test later, see how far you've come.

  • At 11:28 午後, Anonymous 匿名 said…

    sometimes you mispronounce words, especially katakana wordsYes! Why is this? I'm right between speaking levels D and E, but my pronunciation of katakana words seems to have only gotten worse, sometimes to the point where I wonder if it was better when I first started studying Japanese. Maybe I spend less time committing the pronunciation of katakana words to memory, since I figure that I already "know" them.

    Anyway, I suppose I should spend a little time brushing up on those, instead of looking for ways to avoid saying "California" and "credit card". ^^;


  • At 3:36 午後, Blogger butterflyblue said…

    I suck at pronouncing katakana words. It's a potential minefield for English speakers. Have you ever tried saying a name like Catherine Zeta-Jones or Arnold Swarzenagger in katakana? It's impossible for us to do it, knowing the real (in our country) pronunciation. I want to improve my pronunciation/accent in general. I think I should start watching random dramas while I'm cleaning the apartment and just repeat after them everything they say. I've gotten somewhat lazy and I haven't corrected my bad habits.

  • At 11:07 午前, Blogger Al Hoang said…

    Your rating system is pretty thorough however I think a lot of learners end up at one point falling between point D and E and there's a decently fine distinction for them. I know I definitely fall between D and E for most cases. So it's really frustrating. Usually a word shouldn't throw me in reading, conversation, or writing but it can and I can get stuck on it. I've found that one skill I must really work on is learning how to hold onto that word in memory while keeping track of a running conversation so I can ask about it later. I'm getting better at it but there are times when I am tired or lazy and don't.
    I'm curious what you would do if you would expand the points between D and E and make some more distinctions. And as for reading the newspaper, yeah I don't consider that a great barometer either for reading Japanese fluency. I dislike reading Japanese papers myself.

    I put down the barometer for really knowing an expression or word if I can explain it in both japanese and english. There are many times I can guess the English meaning or many times my brain turns off English and just runs on Japanese but there are times when I hit a word and I'm completely baffled on what it means even with context. And it's almost always the keyword in a passage.



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