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Quick Update

Hello everyone! I just wanted to apologize for not posting lately, but I have been sick last week, and I still feel tired now.

I still want to make a quick update of my reading progress, and of course, the JLPT.

I had to take a break in my JLPT preparation last week, but in any case, I don’t expect to be fully prepared for the test of July (my real goal is December). I wish I had time to learn more vocabulary, but oh well… I have written a review of the textbook So-matome Grammar N1, but I still need to work on it a little.

I have finished two novels:

I absolutely loved 『わたし、定時で帰ります』by Kaeruko AKENO (朱野帰子), it provides fascinating insights into the Japanese workplace, shows how hard it is to leave work before your colleagues but also introduces several characters who all have their reasons to work after hours.

『ガーディアン』by Gaku YAKUMARU (薬丸岳) is exactly the kind of genre fiction that I love reading. It is suspenseful, easy to read, and it also relates to school bullying, a topic that interests me. Whenever I read a book like 『ガーディアン』, I remember that reading such books is the reason why I am learning Japanese in the first place and why I am studying Anki every day.

I will write a review of both novels, but I cannot say when I post it…

And lastly, being sick made me want to read 『下町やぶさか診療所』by Yo IKENAGA, one of the books on my reading list for 2019. It is the story of a doctor in Tokyo, Asakusa, and his patients. I have just started it, but I am already fond of the characters.

That’s it! I hope I’ll be back to posting soon! 😉

Book review: 『模倣の殺意』by Sin NAKAMACHI

Presentation

Title: 『模倣の殺意』(The Plagiarized Fugue)
Author: Sin NAKAMACHI 中町信
Published by 創元推理文庫

Sin NAKAMACHI (1935-2009) was an author of crime fiction. 『模倣の殺意』was first published in 1973 under the title “新人賞殺人事件”. In 2004, 創元推理文庫 brought this mystery novel to the public again and gave it its present title.

Setting

An introductory chapter sets the facts: A man called Masao SAKAI dies on July, 7th at 7pm. He was an author of crime fiction. His death by poisoning looks like suicide but two persons are not convinced and will investigate. We follow these two characters, the chapters alternating between one and the other.

Review: Excellent mystery!

I didn’t know Sin NAKAMACHI before, and I bought this book because the obi said “これはすごい!”. I must learn not to let myself be too influenced by such promotional phrases, but in this case, it was true: this book was really good.

Japanese publishers are really good at promoting their books!

First of all, the book is an excellent mystery novel with all the elements you would expect to find in good crime fiction. However, as the obi suggests, Sin NAKAMACHI goes further than just telling a good story. If you want to fully enjoy this novel, you will have to be an active reader and try to solve the case by yourself.

I personally love novels of crime fiction where the reader is invited to participate. The author does not let you read passively and wait for the detective to name the culprit. There are things that are strange, that don’t fit, and no matter how lazy you are, you have to investigate the matter!

As for the language level, I would say that it was very similar to Keigo HIGASHINO. In the genre of crime/mystery fiction, Keigo HIGASHINO is to me the easiest author to read, and『模倣の殺意』had no difficult passages or dialogues, the story was easy to follow, but you have to pay attention to details.

JLPT Journal: Grammar done, starting drills!

I can’t believe that the test of July is in a little more than one month. My real goal is to pass in December, and I am taking the test of July as an exercise. Nonetheless, I cannot help but feeling excited (stressed) for July, and I am focusing on making vocabulary and grammar drills.

So-matome Grammar: DONE!

I have finally finished the So-matome textbook for grammar. I had planned to finish it in May, so I am very glad to say that everything went according to plan.

I am aware that the So-matome textbook is not enough, this is why I will also study with a Korean textbook:

This Korean textbook is very thorough. It has a lot of example sentences, and it has a strategical approach, showing you the grammar in the context of JLPT questions:

1- you see the grammar in a sentence where you have to choose the right grammar, 2- you see the grammar as it appears in the exercise “put in right order these 4 elements, 3- the grammar appears in a longer context, this corresponds to the last grammar exercise where you have a whole text to read.

I still don’t know if I will buy the Shin Kanzen for grammar or not… I remember that the Shin Kanzen was a little overwhelming for me when I took N2. More than once, I felt discouraged when studying with it…

Drills, drills, drills!

In order to get ready for July, I bought this two textbooks of drills by ASK publishing:

I think that making drills is a very good way to review and learn new words. My first impression is that the grammar drills are very close to the So-matome grammar textbook. I cannot say anything definite for vocabulary because I haven’t studied with the So-matome vocabulary book, but I would not be surprised if it were the same.

As a result, I find the vocabulary drills quite difficult, I usually answer at least one third of the questions wrong.

As for grammar, as I said, the drills seem to be very close to the So-matome textbook. This means that if you have gone through the whole So-matome grammar textbook, you will find these drills easy and answer most of the questions right. However, it seems that the drills will not test you on grammar points that are not in the So-matome textbook… I still need to make more drills to see if this first impression is confirmed.

Other things

I am still working with the 日本語単語スピードマスター, and I have reached unit 39. I had to admit that not using Anki was a bad idea… I thought I could learn and review the vocabulary using this book only, and while it did work during the first units, it became overwhelming with time. I have decided to add the words and example sentences to my Anki deck, which is better in the end.

I am still working with the So-matome textbook for kanji, and I must say that I am quite bored with it. I will continue until the end, but I feel that the lessons are not all useful. Sometimes, the textbook introduces words that are too easy, and I feel like I am losing my time. On the contrary, some lessons have difficult kanji, but they are introduced quickly, and I feel that I don’t master them even after I studied the lesson.

I am still reading in Japanese almost everyday, and I also do some JLPT reading practice from time to time. I am also glad to announce that I took the habit of listening to the NHK News every morning. I don’t understand everything but I feel that I am getting slightly better, which is very encouraging.

That’s it for this JLPT update! I hope I will be able to have decent results in July. I will certainly write another JLPT update before the test!

Book review: 『6月31日の同窓会』by Yukiko MARI

Presentation

Title: 『6月31日の同窓会』
Author: Yukiko MARI (真梨幸子)
Published by 実業之日本社

Yukiko MARI is a prolific author of mystery novels, but this one is the first I read.

Setting

The main topic of the book is that former students of the same school receive an invitation for the “6月31日の同窓会” and die soon after.

Review: Liked it, but expected more…

First of all, the setting was very appealing to me: when it comes to genre fiction, I like mysteries and murders, but most of all, I like mysterious murders. This book seemed to be exactly that: June, 31st?? People receive an invitation and die mysteriously soon after that??

On one hand, I was happy with this book, I read it relatively quickly, it has a good mystery, and I also liked how many things are connected with the past, and how complex the relationship between students of the same class can be. The part “secrets of the past/complex human relationship” was good and this is what I really enjoyed in the book.

On the other hand, I was a little disappointed by the lack of investigation and suspense. With such a setting, I was expecting something more gripping. I would say that there is no real suspense, and that I sometimes felt frustrated with the characters’ attitude and passivity.

There are a lot of characters in this novel and a lot of different times. I highly recommend that you take notes while reading, to put everything in chronological order and see how events are linked with each other.

Overall, it was not difficult to read, a little more difficult than Keigo HIGASHINO but still okay to me, but it was hard to tell and recall who is who and who did what and when. Maybe there were too many main characters for the size of the novel, with the consequence that I didn’t feel that I know well each of them. When a character was mentioned after a while, I had to check my notes because I didn’t remember exactly their role in the story. So if you read this book, you should take notes!

To conclude, the novel was good, but I cannot help but feel a little disappointed. I certainly had too high expectations!

These days…

You know these days when you have a lot of time (the whole day or the whole afternoon, or several hours) to study your language but end up doing nothing?

There are so many things that you want to do (or need to do) that you don’t know where to start. If you decide to do something first, you end up thinking that this other thing is more important and switch to it. Then you realise that you should definitely do something else and switch again.

There are also the things you don’t want to do and avoid doing by spending your time in other more pleasant but not so useful activities. And of course, instead of actually doing things, you search the internet for tips on how to do them.

In the end, you feel frustrated because you did spend the whole day “studying” your language, but you didn’t do anything really.

I guess this happens to all of us. It happens to me all the time! But my life does not depend on my Japanese level, I’m learning Japanese as a hobby, and I do enjoy spending my day with Japanese even if I am not actively studying it!

Don’t be too hard on yourself if you feel that you haven’t been productive, we don’t need to be productive all the time, we don’t need to be progressing all the time, and we don’t need to check boxes on our to-do list all the time!

Book Review: 『おはなし・ねこあつめ』by Haruka SHIOTSUKI

Presentation

Title: 『おはなし・ねこあつめ』
Author: Haruka SHIOTSUKI (汐月遥)
Published by 集英社みらい文庫

This book of 196 pages contains 8 short stories featuring the cats and universe of the mobile game Neko Atsume by Hit-Point.

The book has full furigana and is written for children (小学中級から). Every other spread contains some coloured, super cute illustrations. The stories can be read independently from one another and it is not necessary to play the game to understand them.

Setting

The game Neko Atsume is a mobile game on iOS and Android where the player can put cat food and cat toys in his house and yard and wait for cats to come and play around. The idea is that you don’t own the cats and don’t have control over who comes or when, they are free to come and go as they please. You can take pictures of them and collect them in an album.

The stories in 『おはなし・ねこあつめ』features some of the numerous cats who appear in the game, keeping their name and personality. They play in the yard, meet friends or go for a little adventures in the surroundings.

Review: Super cute, easy to read!

For children (but still interesting)

First of all, these stories are written for young children, and you should not except too much from the plot. I read on Amazon several reviews saying that adults can enjoy the stories too. Personally, I would not go as far as saying that adults can read and enjoy this book, it depends on what kind of adult you are, I guess. Let’s say that if you like Neko Atsume or if you like stories featuring cute cats doing cute things, you will like this book (I did).

The stories are very nice stories for children. They talk about friendship, discoveries and adventure. When I read this book, I was in the mode “ok, I’m an adult reading stories for children because I’m learning Japanese”, but I must also admit that I found some stories very touching and interesting (the 6th one in particular is my favourite).

The author really managed to create new stories while keeping the atmosphere of the game. The owner of the yard (who is also the player and the reader) is sometimes mentioned but never appears in the stories. While you don’t need to know or play the game to read the book, the two go along well.

Easy to read

This book is very easy to read, which is not the case of all the books for children (I personally often find books for children rather difficult to read!).

First of all, it has full furigana so you can easily look up unknown words. Some kanji words are written in hiragana instead so if you are struggling with kanji, you will find this book easier to read. To me, it was, on the contrary, a good exercise that forced me to read a lot of hiragana and not rely on kanji.

Of course, books for children can feature grammar and vocabulary that learners only study later, but to me, this book was surprisingly fitting the level of intermediate students. At times, it almost felt as if the book was written for Japanese learners instead than Japanese children.

Some descriptive parts can be more difficult to read, but I think that this book can be a good choice if you want to start reading in Japanese but don’t feel like tackling a whole novel for adults.

As for me, I have read this book at a time when reading in Japanese had become less enjoyable to me. I guess that the other novel I am reading at the moment is a little challenging, and I have spent several days without opening it. Reading『おはなし・ねこあつめ』felt like a breath of fresh air, and remotivated me to read in Japanese!

JLPT N1: Practice test!

I took my second practice test for N1 this weekend!

This time, I bought a Korean collection of 5 practice tests. The book is called JLPT 일본어 능력시험 실전모의고사 and is published by 동양북스.

The second volume is for the answers, the scripts, Korean translations and explanations. Even though they devoted an entire book for the answers, I find that the explanations they give are often superficial.

Choosing practice tests

「so-matome practice tests N1」の画像検索結果

I was very tempted to buy the collection of practice tests published by So-matome. I know that there are two volumes, each containing two tests.

I saw on Amazon a comment in English saying that this book was too easy. From what I read from other test takers and Japanese learners, the actual test tends to be harder than the practice questions found on the official JLPT website. It looks like the test has become harder over the years (especially the listening section) so a book published in 2010 might be too easy.

As a consequence, I decided to ignore the So-matome practice book and bought this Korean book instead. It was published in 2018 and contains new tests designed by the authors (not former real JLPT tests) so I hoped that they would be difficult enough.

My results

Taking a practice test is great, but it is better to also analyse why some of our answers are wrong. This is what I will do in this post.

Vocabulary

There are 4 types of questions in the vocabulary section.

The first exercise asks you to give the reading of a kanji word. I did well in this section, I just got one answer wrong. I think that my Anki deck for kanji is bearing fruit because the words I answered well were words that I have learned through it.

Score: 4/5

The second question asks you to choose a word to fit in a sentence. For some questions, I had to choose randomly. The reason why I find this exercise hard is that all the words are given in hiragana. Sometimes, I don’t recognise a word that I would have known if it had been written in kanji. In this exercise, you are also likely to find onomatopoeia and adverbs, both my weakest part when it comes to vocabulary.

Score: 4/7 but among the good answers, 2 were chosen randomly. So my score could have been 2/7 with bad luck.

The third exercise is to find a synonym. Here again, I have a hard time with onomatopoeia. I also made one stupid mistake.

Score: 5/6 with 2 good answers picked randomly, so it could have been 3/6.

The fourth and last question is the hardest to me. You are given four sentences using the same word and you have to tell which sentence is correct. I will be honest with you, I got only one question right and I chose it randomly. In fact, I chose all the answers randomly because I could answer none. I didn’t know these words well. If I had met these words in a novel, they would not have bothered me because I more or less know what they mean. But I don’t know how to use them.

Score: 1/6 but it could have been 0/6

What I learned from this test:

I am very glad that I took this test because I know in which direction I must go to study vocabulary. I will continue to learn the kanji with my Anki deck because it seems to work. I need to learn more onomatopoeia and adverbs and I should start now. I am also happy to see that my decision to add sentences and phrases in Anki (rather that words only) was a good one. The reason why I messed up the fourth question is because I have learned words on their own until now. From now on, I will add more sentences in Anki and be sure to know in which context a word is used.

Grammar

There are three different questions in the grammar section.

The first question is to choose the right grammar. I didn’t do well in this section but it is not entirely my fault. First of all, I am very glad to say that I answered correctly every questions featuring a grammar I had learned in So-matome. Among the questions I could not answer, most of them featured grammar points that were not in So-matome (I have checked). I think that only one was in a lesson towards the end of the book that I still haven’t studied. So even if I had finished the So-matome textbook for grammar, I could not have answered more than half of the questions. This confirms one thing: the So-matome textbook for grammar is far from covering all the advanced grammar you need to pass the JLPT N1.

Score: 4/10

The second question asks you to put in order four parts of a sentence. I got two answers wrong, but to me it was more a problem of vocabulary than grammar.

Score: 3/5

The last question is to find the right grammar in a long text. The two questions that I answered wrong are: one with adverbs (I am really bad at remembering adverbs) and one that features N2 grammar points, which I had forgotten.

My score: 3/5

What I have learned from taking this practice test:

The So-matome textbook is not enough! In fact, I knew it before, but now I know it even more. I will have to use other textbooks, but this is what I had planned to do anyway.

And of course, I need to review the N2 grammar!

Reading

The reading part of this textbook was very strange. I know that the questions can be tricky, that even if you understand the text, you might have a hard time answering the questions. However, in this practice test, the authors seem to have got a little carried away. I find several answers very questionable. It is sometimes more a matter of subjectivity and sometimes I just cannot understand why an answer is wrong or right, or to be more precise, I understand but I disagree. I think that for some answers, you could easily argue that this answer is right and this one wrong when the authors said the opposite.

The texts in themselves were not very difficult, I was able to read them quickly and understand them without problem. However, I didn’t score as high as expected because of these tricky questions.

Score: 17/25

What I learned from the test:

I found none of the texts difficult to understand, but I need to practice answering the JLPT questions. While I do criticise some of the test’s answers, I know that the JLPT questions for reading are tricky. This kind of test forces me to think more before answering.

Listening

Listening is the real reason why I bought this book. As I mentioned previously, the listening part of the JLPT seems to have become harder and harder with time so if you practice with an old test, you will find the listening section too easy.

I was hoping that the listening section will be difficult in the book I bought, but it was not, and I am very disappointed. Listening is my weakest point, I really need to practice with questions that have the same level of difficulty than the actual test.

First, my score: 31/37 😮

This is not possible!! This test is telling me that my listening is better than my reading?? 🤨

To me, this listening test sounded easier than the actual N2 test I took in 2017. The main reason is that it had almost only casual conversations, and they were easy. What I call “casual conversations” are the discussions involving friends, students, family or even colleagues talking about daily life problems. Usually, I find these conversations easy, and I can answer the questions. On the contrary, speeches in formal context, discussions involving technical terms or work-related discussions are very hard for me.

When I took the JLPT N2, there was almost no casual conversation. I was desperately waiting for friends to talk about the report they have to give to their professor, or colleagues who would talk about the best way to relieve from stress. But no, it was only technical or work related contexts.

This Korean test contains essentially casual conversations, which is why I scored a relatively good score. During the listening part, I even thought I had bought the book for N2 by mistake and quickly checked the cover!

The first two types of questions were especially easy.

The third type of questions is certainly the hardest (you hear the questions only after hearing the text), and it is where I lost most of my points.

The fourth question was obviously and ridiculously too easy. It is the question where you hear someone say something (a short remark), and you have to find a correct answer between 3 possibilities. In this test, you could almost guess the right answer by the tone of the speaker. The three answers were so different from one another, that the right one was obvious.

The remaining questions were also easy.

What I learned from the test

I need to find other listening material to practice listening.

Conclusion

Taking this practice test has motivated me to go on studying vocabulary and grammar. I still have time before December, and I am more and more confident that I can get a good score if I continue to study seriously. More than anything, I am very happy with my new Anki format (sentences rather than words), and I cannot wait to see the results (I guess that I will be ready for December!).

I am still worried for the listening part… why is every practice test too easy? I always consider that a practice test should actually be harder than the real test… if you know a practice test with a decent listening difficulty, please let me know in the comments!

Blog anniversary and new schedule

I am a few days late, but my blog turned two years old!

I take the opportunity to announce a change in my blog schedule. I find it very hard to post twice a week as I had planned to in January 😔. Obviously, the preparation for the JLPT is taking too much of my time.

I also want to change a little the direction of my blog. As it is now, my blog is very personal, I use it mainly to record my own progress, write a language journal and stay motivated.

While I will continue to write this kind of posts, I will certainly write them less often. I found that it was easier to talk about what I was doing to learn Japanese last year because I had time to explore several methods and experience new things. This year, I don’t really have much to say other than “I finished the 20th lesson of my JLPT grammar textbook”, haha.

What I really want to do now is to write posts that could be useful for other language learners like learning tips, textbook reviews, novels recommendations and so on. These kind of posts will certainly take some time to write, but this is the direction in which I want to go.

To sum up, you will find on my blog:

  • Personal updates of my Japanese learning journey. I think that I will write when I feel that there is something interesting to say rather than forcing myself to write once or twice a week.
  • Longer posts about things that can be useful to learn Japanese. I have several ideas of upcoming posts, but they take a long time to write.
  • Book reviews, as usual.

Unfortunately, I cannot really schedule these posts, but I will do my best to write as often and regularly as possible.

Thank you for following and reading my blog!