Why am I so fucking stupid?
February 14, 2009 8:11 AM   Subscribe

Drunken Japanese Filter: I just got home to find my JLPT test results. I took level two of the Japanese language test for the second time, two years after the first go-round, and got 41%. Should I just give up? If not, what the f can I do?

I took the test two years ago, and I got 33%. I've been freaking living in Japan for almost 9 years. I've been fucking married for a year, to a Japanese woman, and I've pretty much committed to living here for the rest of my natural life, yet, according to my test results (a whopping 41%), I speak Japanese like, well, a child. Not a very swift child, at that.

What can I do? My job is teaching English, and to that extent, my knowledge of grammar vocabulary is passable. Aside from that, I'm an idiot pointing and grunting. Everyone else I know has passed the 2nd level of the JLPT, yet here I am, the retarded stepchild.

To make things even more fun, my test results make a joke out of all of my good faith efforts to convince my Japanese wife to learn English, seeing as I've made neither faithful, nor good efforts to learn her language. I know, at this point, I'm appealing to a very, very limited group of mefites, but to some extent, I'm not sure what else to do, between posting an Askme, or stepping in front of the chuo-sen.
posted by Ghidorah to Education (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe this is one of those tests that doesn't accurately assess how well you are immersed into the culture. Maybe you have to learn to test in order to do well on this test.

I don't know what your goal is, but if you want to convince your Japanese wife to learn English, you might consider taking the BJT. Its probably more practical, and you would do a lot better since it doesn't involve Kanji (which I assume is harder than listening and reading).

As a side not...regardless of what any test says, you gotta admit you have mad game if you locked down a native Japanese speaker who doesn't speak English.

Nice pull and good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:36 AM on February 14, 2009


my test results make a joke out of all of my good faith efforts to convince my Japanese wife to learn English, seeing as I've made neither faithful, nor good efforts to learn her language

What now? You have not made good and faithful efforts?

If you have not even been trying, then you have answered your own question on why you're failing.
posted by rokusan at 8:36 AM on February 14, 2009


Best answer: Sorry, but you need to study harder.
posted by dydecker at 8:37 AM on February 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


You shouldn't be too hard on yourself. Take some time off from studying Japanese, and review the results and determine where you need to improve then get back on the horse. Ask your wife questions if you don't understand. You do, however, need to know that she may not be able to explain the reasons from a technical point of view since she's a native speaker. Your being an English teacher will help you better understand the technical aspect of a language, but you need to also realize that Japanese needs to be approached differently from English but as its own. You need to think in Japanese and not try to relate it to English. This is what my Japanese teacher told me when I was studying. Get yourself up and start studying for it again. If you're learning to do something (which means there's a time limit), that'd be one thing, but it sounds like you're studying for your own enlightenment, which means, you have time and can afford to be flexible. Gambatte kudasai!
posted by icollectpurses at 8:59 AM on February 14, 2009


For what it's worth, you went from a 33% to a 41% without, it seems, trying. That's pretty good. Now put some real effort in to it. I remember my boy taking the Level 2 test, and he spent the months leading up to it studying kanji, thousands upon thousands of them. He also reads a Japanese news paper everyday online, and translates the articles.

You can do it. It'll just take some study time.
posted by gc at 9:15 AM on February 14, 2009


You're not stupid, Japanese is a notoriously difficult language to learn. You may have hit a plateau where you have learned enough to get by in your day to day life, and you are comfortable, so if you don't need to conduct high-level business interactions or translate classical Japanese poetry, the mind doesn't tend to retain without some intensive studying going on. Many, many expats hit this level and it's hard to move past it.

Have you tried formal language school study or an immersion program? That is, not simply two times a week after work, but several hours a day, every day. The length of time that you've spent in a country and having a native speaker as your spouse is actually no guarantee that you'll pick up the language, especially since in a country like Japan where it is all too easy to just get by without knowing the language at all. Working as an English teacher also makes it difficult to pick up the language, since you're spending significant amounts of your day working in what your brain considers to be the easier language.
posted by so much modern time at 9:15 AM on February 14, 2009


Are you learning on your own or taking lessons? If the former, you could try the latter! If sitting in a class doesn't appeal to you, get a private teacher. If cost's an issue, try to find one or two other people in the same straits and have group lessons.

Either way, if you feel a lot of pressure to learn quickly, try taking it slowly but committing for the long haul (like the rest of your life). Then hang up some posters with tortoises and hares.

Also, if kanji is a big stumbling block then as hal_c_on said just try ignoring it for the time being and building up your speaking and listening skills without it.

Meanwhile, you could just both learn Esperanto.
posted by trig at 9:29 AM on February 14, 2009


By the way, kudos for trying.
posted by trig at 9:29 AM on February 14, 2009


This is not about how dumb you are or because you've hit a learning plateau. Let's face it, you're a non-native and you really haven't any long term formal education like the Japanese. You haven't spent those years in a Japanese high school(as a student, not a teacher) learning subtle meanings in conversation, or technical terms used in study books, or even quizzed on kanji meanings. JLPT expects you to know all that by the time you pass level 1.

So don't worry, JLPT 2 and 1 are known for being notoriously hard and are targeted towards obtaining perfect Japanese fluency, not business fluency or passable fluency for a non-native. If you pass JLPT 1, that pretty much means you can speak like a native.

You're also dealing with a standardized test that's something like the United States' SATs, meaning that if you want to pass, you'll consciously have to make an effort to study material that's going to be on the test, you can't just study a little and then wing it. So, check out JLPT 2 study books or maybe even take a JLPT class. It will definitely help you out in the end.

Here are some flash cards to help you get started.
posted by nikkorizz at 10:02 AM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oops, sorry, so_much_modern_time. When I said "plateau," I wasn't referencing you, and I actually agree with what you have to say. :)

I also forgot to mention that most JLPT study guides will tell you exactly what's going to be on the test, so there won't be any questions on whether the material you are learning are worthwhile.
posted by nikkorizz at 10:09 AM on February 14, 2009


Best answer: I'll take a guess at what your problem is, but I could be wrong.

You have a distorted image of what it means to be versed (二級) or fluent (一級) in Japanese. A big contributor to this is Japanese people's tendency to be 褒めすぎ. Even basic phrases picked out of a tourist guide to Japan will elicit cheers of amazing mental prowess from most Japanese people you meet. I don't think they are doing this to be patronizing, rather, they just don't expect white people to learn their language (unfortunately for Chinese, Korean, etc foreigners, they don't get the same low standards).

The 能力試験 has a lot of breadth despite its relatively short length. You need to break away from the standard that no doubt the rest of Japan is holding for you, and try to build some genuine fluency. When you get on the internet to read through blogs and news, is it exclusively in English? Stop that. When you encounter grammatical structures and words you don't know/can't read, are you looking them up? Unlike English where we can use "context clues," in Japanese it is important to learn what each character means so you can put it towards understanding other compounds that use the character as well. Hell, when I learn a compound I haven't seen before, I make it a point to learn a separate word for each character in the compound in addition to just learning the compound itself.

Good luck, and remember: at this point in the game there is no such thing as "too much studying." Even if you went into the test and completely blew it away, the disparity between the 二級 and 一級 is such that your extra preparedness would only be a drop in the bucket towards studying for a passing score on the 一級.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 10:19 AM on February 14, 2009 [4 favorites]


You don't mention studying at all. Do some formal study.

You are also incredibly harsh with yourself, which gets in the way of learning. Try to be kinder to yourself and nourish your sense of gently going about doing what is needed in order to achieve your goals.
posted by Riverine at 10:25 AM on February 14, 2009


To make things even more fun, my test results make a joke out of all of my good faith efforts to convince my Japanese wife to learn English, seeing as I've made neither faithful, nor good efforts to learn her language.

Are you saying that the test proves you have not made good faith efforts, or you really have not made good faith efforts? In the first case, it seems like you should get your wife to help you with your studying so that there is quantifiable evidence that you've been working hard. If the second is true, um, why haven't you been studying if this is so important?


The whole thing about you having to be proficient in Japanese in order to make a case for her to learn English is a strange power dynamic I'm not going to touch. I do think you really need to sit down and figure out why you need to pass this test- is it for you, or your wife? Seems like you're putting yourself through a lot of anguish, and that's only worth it if you get something useful out of it. It's really not helpful to hang all your ideas of self-esteem on a test. Tests can be taken over, but you're not going to test well ever if your entire sense of self worth (or marriage) is dependent on how well you do on the test.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:29 AM on February 14, 2009


First of all you have to get over your test results. Yeah, you're angry, but being angry at a situation is the worst thing you can do to get a better understanding of it.

And you're frustrated. I can understand that. I've never found a woman as frustrating as the Japanese language. But you've got to get over that too. I'd guess your environment is probably making it worse. Teaching English is a crappy way to learn Japanese, when I was living in Japan I would easily go a week without talking to someone fluent in English. It really made me step up my game. And I don't know very many people at all who have passed JLPT2. I'm guessing that's because you hang out with the other language teachers that you know so many who passed, but that doesn't seem normal to me. Hell, I met a guy my last trip who has lived there 7 years and could barely order food and couldn't read kana. The amount of Japanese a person needs to just get by is very low, and most people I met there pretty much set up the world so they didn't have to learn any more than necessary.

Forget about making promises to your wife, forget about test scores and do it for you. Because your life will dramatically improve with your fluency. If your wife likes it good for her, but that's not the point. If you pass the test then whoopee, but again not the point. You've got to do it because you don't want to talk like a 5 year old any more. How many Japanese (Non English speaking) friends do you have? Not enough! Get some more! How much of the 朝日新聞 do you read every day? And do you talk about what was in it with anyone? Make yourself a regular at some local cafe/bar/restaurant where no one speaks a word of English. Join a neighborhood organization. Turn off the English interface on your mobile phone and default to Japanese input on all of your computers. Write mash notes to your wife and have her correct your grammar and spelling. Go to the karaoke box and learn some old fashioned 演歌. (That really helped with my reading ability and a bunch of words I'd never learn any other way.) I'm sure you carry a Wordtank everywhere but do you use it every day? Do you know how to use it fully? (10 minutes with the guy at Bic Camera made mine 10x more useful.) If you really immerse yourself more deeply in the language you can't help but learn.

Relax. You've got to let it go. If you say "Why am I so fucking stupid!" every time you see the language you're not going to learn a damn thing. And trust me, you're not stupid. Japanese is really damn hard. It can be mastered by an English speaker, but it's a life long project, not something done in a few years.

Oh, and maybe find someone to talk to about your frustration, someone who's lived there for 20 years or more. I guarantee it's not just the language that is frustrating you. Although I didn't live there that long, I have had many people tell me of the 7 year wall. After 7 years the shine has worn off and you get frustrated with being an outsider every goddamn place you go, you get sick and tired of the "Oh you know how to use chop sticks?!" and "Your Japanese is soo good!" routine and you start to really examine why you're there. A lot of people find out that they don't have a good answer to the question.
posted by Ookseer at 1:02 PM on February 14, 2009


I've always maintained that while I was at school in Kyoto, I learned a whole lot more outside of class than I did in class. But that was the cool stuff; it wasn't going to help me pass any tests.

It sounds like you're trying to pin the entirety of your language proficiency on a single test, basically negating what you already have simply because you don't have the certification. You can't do that. Some of the most intelligent people I've known got crappy scores on the SATs. Hell, some of them didn't even go to college. That doesn't somehow nullify their knowledge or mean that their ability just up and disappears. You've been there for almost nine years and are married to a women who doesn't speak English--you're obviously doing something right.

But if passing the 二級 really is important to you, just study your ass off. But study for the test. They're testing you on a very specific set of things, not on how well you can hold a conversation or how well you can function in society.
posted by fantastico at 1:48 PM on February 14, 2009


I have to join those who asked whether you've been studying. Have you?

Some of the things on the test, you won't pick up by watching TV or talking to your wife and friends. Such as the kanji. Or some of the grammatical structures.

There are books on the test. Buy them and study them. 90 min a day for about 30 days leading up to the test should be enough.

(Apologies if you've done that already. You don't mention it, so...)

If you pass JLPT 1, that pretty much means you can speak like a native.

No, it doesn't.
posted by sour cream at 2:07 PM on February 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Note, when writing a reply, never look back for what someone wrote, then mark it as best answer. The reply goes away.

Thank you for all of the help. I'm feeling rather sheepish for posting drunk, and still pretty stupid for failing so spectacularly. I should point out that I didn't expect to pass the test, simply because I had not done enough studying. I had been in a class preparing for the test this fall, but it was far too difficult, and switched to a weekly conversation class (I ended up after the test because the class was like an eikaiwa class, too much teacher chat, not enough practice). That said, I was hoping for something like 50%, not 41%, which was a pretty cruel surprise, and still hurts rather deeply.

As to motivation, points raised by a couple answers, yes, I know people who've been here for years and still can't speak. I've been here for nearly nine years, and I'm afraid of becoming 'that guy.' I don't want to be the guy who can barely speak. I don't want to have the marriage where the couple doesn't really understand each other. I do know I need to study more, and I will.

In response to the 'power' concept about my marriage, my wife doesn't really like studying anything. It's not her thing. I've been trying pretty much everything I can to help her find motivation to study English, not because of power, or laziness, but because there's so much in English (which is, as a teacher, former English major, and one-time attempted poet, still one of the loves of my life) I would like to share with her. There are so many movies I'd like to watch with her that just haven't been released in Japan, so many books I'd like to talk with her about. Hell, I'd love to be able to show her Futurama, which is as yet unreleased here, and has no subtitles. At this point, I can't. I was hoping to set a good example for her by doing well on the test, and I definitely haven't done that.

As for the 7 year wall, I'm a couple years past that, and staying, most likely, for the long haul. And, as many of you have point out, I need to change how I study, study more, and study more effectively.

Thanks for all the help.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:50 PM on February 14, 2009


the fact that you are upset about it means that you care about it. That, is the first and most important step. The second step is to stop studying for a meaningless test. there, I said it. The JLPT is meaningless and almost useless.

Why? some anecdotes: I know people who have passed the JLPT level one test and can't speak Japanese. The vocabulary, and to some extent the grammar, in the higher levels of the JLPT is very rarely used in conversation or even a work situation. I went to a group inteview for a job. The person next to me had a JLPT level 1 certificate. The interviewer asked us some questions in Japanese which I responded to and he fumbled through. I got the job and I have no certifications. So if studying for the test is not the way to learn Japanese then what is? For me it was immersion. I speak Japanese at work, I watch Japanese T.V. . I have about 50% Japanese friends who don't speak English and the rest are English speakers or foreigners. On the other hand is a friend of mine who has lived here 10 years. His friends are mostly foreigners, he downloads American T.V. and reads English books, His girlfriend and Japanese friends are all fluent English speakers. He has a basic level of Japanese only.

What I recommend for you: Download the firefox browser, download the rikaichan plugin which translate Japanese text you roll your mouse over. Find a Japanese blog or news site that is interesting to you. read it every day. Use the save function in rikaichan to save new vocabulary that you see more than once. Use a flash card program to review that vocabulary every day for a month. Every month start a new vocab file. That and speaking Japanese as much as possible. Vocabulary is the key to understanding and having conversations. Do not study grammar beyond the basics. Just copy what you hear people saying. If you hear a grammar form come up in conversations a lot look it up.
posted by Infernarl at 5:44 PM on February 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm currently studying for 2kyuu, with the aim of taking it this summer. Out of my friends here who actually care about learning Japanese, I will be the last one to take (and hopefully pass!) the JLPT.

I am using this series of study books based on their recommendations, and they've been really easy to work with. Readthekanji.com has also been really good for kanji study. It has all the kanji you'll need to know for the JLPT, split up by level.

Good luck with your study, and hopefully we'll both make it! \(^_^)/\(^_^)/
posted by emmling at 8:26 PM on February 14, 2009


Response by poster: emmling, thanks for the note. I checked out the website and have been using it for a little while. It's pretty much just what I've been looking for, since making flash cards to carry around is a pain (especially when you've got a couple thousand words to learn), and the flash card apps I've got on my ipod don't have the random order/practice mode kind of thing. I think that will be a big help.

And again, thanks everyone. I know it's a silly test, and I know people who passed level 1 who can't speak well (just like I know people with >800 on toeic who can't speak English), but I think part of it is that, like emmling, I'm pretty much the only one I know who still hasn't passed it, and it's personally embarrasing. Much like posting drunk to askme.
posted by Ghidorah at 1:27 AM on February 15, 2009


As far as Kanji learning is concerned there are a few good titles for the Nintendo DS. I don't know how well they tie into the JLPT scheme of things, but using the lowest level of one of the games, "Zaidanhoujin Nippon Kanji Nouryoku Kentei Kounin: KanKen DS", corresponds to the Kanji in my grade 1 workbook. It'll be a while before I see if the next level corresponds to grade 2.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:06 AM on February 16, 2009


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