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JLPT

Book Review – Kanji Master for N1

Kanji master for N1 (Arc Academy) lists out around 900 Kanjis with their onyomi and kunyomi readings and stroke count. This combined with the 1000 and odd Kanjis that you’ve already learnt until n2 should take you closer to the ~2000 Kanjis that you are supposed to know for n1. Short sentences with words using each Kanji have also been provided. However the meaning of those words have not been mentioned. Besides, stroke order has also not been provided.. There are totally 6 chapters which have been further divided into smaller sub divisions based on topics such as economy, education, nature, personal, attitude, politics and so on.

Not sure if it’s because of the “laundry list” nature of the book – with pages and pages of Kanjis listed out, I never quite got comfortable with this book. There are practice exercises too at the end of every chapter. But I was so intimidated by this book that I didn’t even attempt the exercises. Thinking about it now, not sure what made me buy this book in the first place:-). Remember using Henshall’s instead to memorize all the Kanjis and then question banks to check how much I knew.

The recent editions of this book have a new book cover – wonder if the contents have changed too. I would think the entire approach of the book has to be reworked to make it more student friendly.

 

JLPT, Vocab and Grammar

Book Review – Chukyuu Kara Manabu Nihongo

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I would put this book somewhere between n4 and n3 level. It has some interesting passages (25 to be exact) for reading comprehension practice – most passages are observations of human nature – how certain colors are associated with boys and certain others with girls, how young moms behave in trains and so on. There’s even one on how marketeers invade one’s privacy. All passages are followed by questions based on the passage and a practice section for grammar points covered in the passage. You can hope to pick up interesting vocab such as “ikigai”, “niramekko suru” :-). And no.. there is no English meanings/explanations provided for anything – which is good in a way. After all in the actual exam the passages are bound to have words that you don’t know..but you still ignore those and try to get the overall meaning the passage is trying to convey, right?

The best way to attack the “reading comprehension” section in my view is to enjoy reading in Japanese – begin by choosing books that are slightly above your current level and read them in your free time.  If you stick just to the book that you purchased for the JLPT exam, it would qualify as “studies” and might seem like a “chore” beyond a point. This is where books such as this one and this one come in handy.

Japanese thoughts

Clean lines and perfect angles in Japan

The Japanese seem to love them as is clear from the curve that they draw on the road to indicate the angle at which you make a turn to the right or left. Most roads are narrow and you can rest assured that by taking the turn exactly at that angle you will stay within your lane no matter how big your vehicle.

Even the randomly placed rocks at a zen garden have a certain aesthetic appeal to it. Apparently, the rocks at Ryoanji have been so arranged that viewed from any angle only 14 out of the 15 rocks are visible at a time.

The Japanese tea ceremony is another instance where you turn your tea cup at a particular angle, lift it and transfer it to another hand in a particular way. There is a certain way the teapot is held and tea is poured. So Zen..so neat!

The traditional Japanese bow is made at different angles depending upon the person you are bowing to. You’d bend 45° (Keirei) to show respect and 70° (Saikeirei) to show respect to the point of reverence:-). You would probably just mildly nod your head for someone who is junior to you.

Even Japan’s funkiest architecture seem well thought out – with clean lines and angles. Nothing ever seems out of place in Japan to the point where you begin to think the Japanese have some kind of “obsessive compulsive disorder” :-).

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(picture source- wiki and trendir)
Japanese thoughts

How proficient are you in your mother tongue?

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This does not simply refer to the ability to make yourself understood. How many of us can give a decent speech in our own mother tongue – a speech that is not laced with too many foreign words, a speech without grammar mistakes?

In India especially, mother tongue is spoken at home with a heavy mix of English words. Most of us go to English-medium schools and pick up a bit of spoken English along the way. While at school, English, for most of us works just as a medium to understand other subjects like Science and Math. We don’t stop to enjoy the beauty of English poetry and English grammar is something we worry about only the day before the exam.

If this is the case with English, the way we treat our mother tongue is infinitely worse.Some of us finish schooling without learning to read or write in our mother tongue. Some of us barely learn to read and write and quickly shift to learning French or Spanish in middle school. We do this under the false assumption that these languages are easier to learn and therefore easier to score marks in. At the end of 16 years of schooling,  we have “learnt” around 3 languages but are fully conversant with none.

Later, depending on where life takes us, some of us are forced pick up a new language. This is when all those schooling years that we spent relegating “language” to the bottom of our priority list comes back to haunt us:-).

Those who have a sound grammar base in their mother tongue invariably find it easier to learn a new language. The others struggle and imagine that the language they are trying to learn is “tough”. But as far as grammar is concerned there is no tough or easy language. If you already have a fairly good hold over one language, the journey to learning another new one can actually be fun…you compare the sentence structure of the new language with your own and try to relate to a new system of thinking and communicating. It’s almost as if you’ve found the keys to a whole new world.

But when your grasp over your own language is weak, it becomes that much more difficult to pick up a new language. Add a tough script like Japanese or a tricky pronunciation system like Chinese to this mix to make learning a new language seem tortuous.

I would think that the first step to learning any new language is to love, enjoy and appreciate one’s own language first.