Now that I have passed the JLPT N1 (July 2019) and even took the test of December (still waiting for the results), how shall I continue to study in order to improve my reading skills and be able to read more difficult and challenging books?
My main goal in learning Japanese has never changed: I want to read all kinds of books in Japanese. Taking the JLPT (especially N2 and N1) has helped me considerably to progress towards that goal, mainly because the JLPT forced me to learn new words regularly, to learn new grammar and to read difficult texts.
And this is exactly what I shall continue to do if I want to keep improving my reading. Vocabulary is especially important, so I will focus on learning new words regularly in 2020.
So here are some of my plans for 2020:
Enjoy Japanese: read crime fiction
First of all, I will continue to read crime fiction and just enjoy it. I usually don’t need to look up words to read authors like Keigo Higashino, so I will just read for pleasure and don’t think of studying or improving my reading skills.
Build vocabulary #1: Difficult books
In order to complete my reading challenge for 2020, I will need to read more widely and to try new genres, to read nonfiction and even to read literary award winners. I will certainly come across a lot of unknown words and my goal is to add to Anki the words that I have looked up in my dictionary while reading.
This will certainly be the most challenging thing I do in 2020. I can read mystery novels, but as soon as I step out of my comfort zone, I really struggle. I start looking up words and feel discouraged when I realise that the next paragraph contains as many unknown words as what I have just been through. It is hard to force myself to 1) look up words and 2) add them to Anki and learn them. I am always tempted to just keep on reading because I can understand the general meaning anyway.
Build vocabulary #2: Use JLPT textbooks
I still have a Korean textbook for the JLPT N1 that I haven’t finished. I will certainly use it to add words to my regular Anki deck.
Build vocabulary #3: Read the news
I will continue to read the news in Japanese, but I will also try to learn new words through it. It is so convenient to read the news on my phone where I have access to any word’s meaning through the built-in dictionary, that I never really bothered to learn new words from the news. When looking up words is so quick, easy and convenient, it is sometimes hard to feel the urge to actually remember the words.
I have started a new Anki deck only for the words that I found in news articles. I know it’s best to keep everything in one place, but starting a new project from scratch has always been a motivation booster for me. I am also adding the names of politicians, their position inside the government or words on current issues like 国際観光産業振興議員連盟 and I don’t want them in my regular Anki.
Take the JLPT N1 in December 2020?
I know that this might sound very bizarre, but I am thinking of retaking the JLPT N1 in December 2020. The thing is that I sometimes need external motivation to get things done. I think that I will wait until the Summer of 2020 and decide then whether I register for the test of not. If I have learned vocabulary regularly as planned, I won’t take the test. But if I find that I have done nothing at all, maybe I will.
In any case, I can see at least two advantages of re-taking the JLPT N1, or even take it once a year.
If you say “my goal for this test is to get a better score than last year”, you will have a well defined and concrete goal to work towards throughout the year. It can be the external motivation that forces you to study regularly, especially if you have made a public commitment to improve your score and to publish your results.
Taking the JLPT every year can also be a good way to evaluate your progress and level from year to year. The JLPT scoring system is designed in such a way that any improvement in your score is meaningful. You don’t get a better score because this year’s test was easier or because you got lucky and was tested on the words you had learned. You get a better score because you were able to answer the questions that other test takers did not answer.
About my blog
I will certainly continue to post about the JLPT from time to time, but I won’t continue to post in my “JLPT journal” section once a month. I think of creating a new series to replace it, maybe a “reading journal” where I write about the books or passages that make me struggle 🤔
Having no study plan and no textbook to finish before a certain date really feels good! But I know that it might also mean that I won’t be studying at all in 2020… There is nothing wrong with that after all, but I keep thinking of all these books that I want to read but cannot because they are too difficult!
So you didn’t mention it but I assume you’re watching or listening to stuff in Japanese too? I am very literate in Japanese but I think it would’ve been very difficult and inefficient if I didn’t hear the language a lot because of the nature of the Japanese writing system… usually it makes more sense to hear the word then find out how it’s written instead of encountering word and trying to guess how to read it ( it’s a waste of time and effort sometimes due to tenon and the milllion readings) . By listen I watched a lot of talk variety shows. I never listened to an audiobook though. I plan to this year though
In general the audio makes remembering stuff easier…
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Hello! Thank you for your comment. I did not mention it because improving my listening is not one of my goals for 2020, but I do listen to Japanese on a regular basis. Nothing close to a total immersion though.
I see what you mean about words, but I think that I am doing exactly the opposite. I don’t know if it is a strange way of learning, I never really thought about that before. But as I spend most of my time reading in Japanese, I ended up being able to guess the meaning of a lot of unknown words thanks to their kanji and the context. As you say, guessing the reading is often pointless, but what matters to me is the meaning, so that I can understand what I read and go on reading.
I totally agree that audio makes remembering easier. I guess that I should listen to things in Japanese more often!
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I love your site and am motivated by all your reading goals. By the way, how did you do on N1 in 2019?
I failed it for the 3rd time, but scores are improving… 80, then 85, now 89… Slow but sure. I think I’ll take one year off of JLPT stress to enjoy reading in high volume.
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Thank you for your comment!
Improving one’s score every year is a great achievement in itself! I was also able to improve my score in December (I got 60 at reading!) compared to July, even though I did not study much during the second half of the year. But I think that spending more time reading novels and less time in my JLPT textbooks has also contributed to my scores.
I think it’s a good idea to take a JLPT break from time to time. That’s what I did between N2 and N1, I spent a whole year reading novels without stress 😉
Just popped in to say that you and your site is a constant source of inspiration for me in reaching the next plateau in my Japanese, and in reaching any plateau in Korean, which I started learning a year ago. I am in awe of your dedication and focus. (And great taste in interesting books.)
As for the JLPT, I’m not sure I’ll ever take it. (Like any such test, a big part of it is learning the mechanics, pitfalls, etc. of the test itself.)
Memory wasn’t what it used to be (and other reasons), but I appreciate all your blog posts on the your JLPT experiences.
As always, thank you.
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Thank you very much for your comment, I am so happy to hear that the blog is useful.
It’s perfectly fine to never take the JLPT. Tests and results have always been a great source of motivation to me, so the JLPT has helped me stay focused and motivated, but it really depends on what type of learner we are. Immersion, for example, is another great way to progress, certainly even more efficient than taking tests.
Good luck with your Japanese and Korean! I am also learning both 🙂