Archive | February, 2013

JLPT December 2012 Results Overview

14 Feb

Yesterday the Japan Foundation released its statistics for the JLPT held in December 2012. For those of you who are interested, the official data can be found here, but we are going to give you a quick run down of the results right here.

The first thing we noticed in the data was the much lower certification rate across all levels when compared to the July 2012 and December 2011 exams. This gives us the impression that this time the exam was much harder than previous exams, because strictly speaking, the percentage of certified applicants should be similar each time the exam is held. The greatest difference is in N1 – only 24.1% of all applicants (Japan and overseas) passed, compared to 37.4% in July 2012 and 31.6% in December 2011. That’s a pretty significant drop from last time, nearly 15% in fact.

The number of N2 applicants who passed also dropped from 44.0% in July 2012 to 37.5% in December 2012. This is likely because there is a higher ratio of test takers in Japan and Asian countries for the July exam. However the December 2012 figure was higher than in 2011, though only by 2% or so. For N3, N4 and N5 the situation is basically the same – all levels had a drop in certified applicants from the previous two exams. The total number of applicants who passed the exam was 33.7% (a third of all test takers) while in July 42.9% passed and 38.0% in December the year before.

Since the July JLPT isn’t held in some countries we compared the number of examinees who sat the December 2011 and 2012 exams. Last year 313,322 examinees sat the exam while in December 2011 numbers were about 10% higher at 346,023 examinees. We’d be interested to hear the reason why the number was down in 2012 compared to 2011 but unfortunately the Japan Foundation doesn’t shed much light on this.

In-depth data and charts aren’t available at the moment either, so there isn’t much we can do but wait until these are published. The average score and distribution of scores on the bell-curve chart are always great to look at because it gives you a good idea of how well you did compared to the other examinees. Even if you didn’t pass your exam you might have scored well above the average, which will definitely give you a nice confidence boost!

Let us know your thoughts on the exam statistics and why you think there was such a big drop in the pass rate this time. If you sat the exam in December did you think it was a lot harder than you expected? Or if you sat the exam previously was it easier that time than in December? We’d love to hear what you think!

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Review: Chugakusei Kanji Kakitori

7 Feb

Japanese: 中学生漢字(書き取り編)
Level: All
Format: App
Available on: iPhone/Android
Price: Free
Publisher: Gakko Net
Site: http://www.gakko-net.co.jp/

Chuugakusei Kanji Kakitori 4This is the second app published by Gakko Net designed to test your knowledge of kanji. Chugakusei Kanji Kakitori follows on from the previous app in the series, Shougakusei Tegaki Kanji Drill 1006 (see our earlier review here). Both apps work off the same formula and design features however this version doesn’t introduce any new kanji but does continue to test your knowledge of vocabulary.

The vocabulary appearing in this app is of a higher difficulty than that in the Shougakusei edition and is generally around N3 or N2 level. The kanji are presented more frequently in kanji compound words (熟語), which require you to know a kanji’s onyomi reading. This is in contrast to the Shougakusei app where kunyomi readings are more common. This isn’t that surprising considering the app is designed for middle school children so naturally they will have a much larger understanding of their language.

Words are divided into three difficulty levels with two groups per level. In total there are 600 questions, which means just only half of the 1006 kanji taught in the previous app appear here. This is a bit of a shame as it would be nice to have the ability to review all of the kanji available in the other app.

As in the Shougakusei version you draw the missing kanji in the compound on the screen to answer the question. This app is also pretty good at recognising handwritten kanji but we did encounter an occasional problem where it wouldn’t accept the correct kanji we had drawn. The answer button makes an appearance again providing you with the correct kanji for you to trace.

We did find a couple of glitches while testing the app that made us answer the same question twice in a row. Overall the stability of the app was good on our Android test device. We also noticed that the advertising along the bottom of this app was slightly more intrusive but it’s free it is a small compromise to make.

Chugakusei Kanji Kakitori is a decent app to practise your knowledge of kanji readings and handwriting. It isn’t as thorough as the previous app in the series since it is lacking quite a number of kanji but nevertheless makes a good revision tool. We recommend completing the app designed for Shougakusei students first before moving onto this app as the difficulty is significantly higher.

Score: 7/10

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Review: JLPT N2 Grammar Drills

6 Feb

Level: Upper intermediate, N2
Format: App (Android)
Publisher: Sanshusha Publishing Co. Ltd.
Site: http://www.sanshusha.co.jp/np/index.do

N2 Grammar Drills 1

JLPT N2 Grammar Drills is exactly that – an app designed to drill all the grammar that appears in level N2 of the JLPT. Developed and published by Sanshusha, this app is currently only available for Android devices and can be downloaded for free. The app is very user friendly and navigation requires no knowledge of Japanese.

There are nine units, each of which contains around 30 questions. Each unit focuses on grammar that is similar in either meaning or structure. Generally, around 20 grammar structures are included per unit, so given the limited number of questions you should only expect to see one or two questions per structure.

The questions themselves are multiple choice and require you to choose the correct answer from four options (and on the rare occasion from five). If you answer a question incorrectly you are given the right answer on the next screen.  A nice little addition is the kanji button in the top corner. When you press this button the app displays the readings of the kanji in the question. Though for some reason not all the kanji in the question are included, which we feel makes it a bit pointless. Once you’ve completed the unit you are shown an overview of your answers. Three quizzes that cover all nine units are also included so that you can review grammar terms from all units at once.

JLPT N2 Grammar Drills isn’t the prettiest app we have ever seen but the fonts are easy to read and it is nice to see a free app with no advertising. Throughout the test phase we didn’t experience any crashing on our Android device running ICS either.

If you are looking for an app that will teach you N2 grammar, then you should give this one a miss. Since there aren’t any grammar explanations this app is only really useful if you have previously studied the grammar from some other source (such as Kanzen Master N2 Grammar). It might be useful for doing a quick revision while on the bus to your exam site or in the days leading up to the JLPT, but overall the app’s use is rather limited.

SCORE: 4/10

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5 Really Useful Japanese Onomatopoeia

3 Feb

Like the English language, Japanese has quite a number of words used to express sounds, words which are known as onomatopoeia. Some common English onomatopoeia are words like ‘bang’, ‘crash’ or ‘boom’. However the Japanese have perfected these words into an art form that they are no longer used to only represent sounds, but also emotions, people’s behaviour and the state of objects.

In Japanese these words are known as 擬声語 (giseigo) and can be broken down into a couple of groups. The two we are interested in are 擬音語 (giongo), which represent sounds such as a dog’s bark or a door slamming, and 擬態語 (gitaigo), which are used for behaviour and emotions. Words similar to gitaigo don’t really exist in English; instead we tend to use an adverb to give a person’s behaviour the characteristics of something else. Think sluggishly and sheepishly. On the other hand, the sound of a gitaigo word represents the way someone does something or how they feel. ニコニコ笑う (niko niko warau)  means to smile while くすくす笑う (kusu kusu warau) means to chuckle to oneself. To different actions but both use the verb 笑う (warau) meaning ‘to laugh/smile’.

What’s more, these words are actually quite common in everyday spoken and written Japanese so it pays to know a few of the more common ones. If you use these words your Japanese will sound much more lively and natural, and they really help to emphasise what you’re talking about. They are also kind of fun to say because in English we don’t really have anything that sounds like these words at all. In this post we are going to focus on some 擬態語 (gitaigo). Here’s five to get you started.

1. ゆっくり – ‘Yukkuri’ is one of the most common gitaigo you will hear, and it means to do something slowly, calmly or restfully. It can be used with any number of verbs, for example ゆっくり歩く (yukkuri aruku) to walk slowly, ゆっくり食べる (yukkuri taberu) to eat slowly or ゆっくり考える (yukkuri kangaeru) to think slowly about something/to think something over. It can even be used with the verb する to mean ‘not really doing much of anything, just taking your time to do as you please’.

2. びっくり – ‘Bikkuri’ is another word you will hear ALL OF THE TIME. It’s used when you’re surprised or shocked about something and is paired with する.  You bump into your friend unexpectedly while getting some groceries, びっくりしました! Your teacher tells you that you aced that exam you were sure you had failed, びっくりしました! You get the picture. It’s a really versatile word and very very Japanese.

3. たっぷり – ‘Tappuri’ is often used with food and means ample or plenty. A sign advertising a new donburi outside a restaurant might read 牛肉たっぷり! (gyuuniku tappuri) meaning ‘there is heaps and heaps of beef in this!’ or you might see お野菜をたっぷり入りました on the menu of a Chinese restaurant, which essentially means ‘We’ve put a lot of veggies in this’.

4. ぐっすり – ‘Gussuri’ is used with the verb 寝る (neru) to sleep and together they mean to sleep soundly, or to be in a deep sleep. A useful one to remember when you’re telling your friends how you slept after your night out at karaoke.

5. こっそり – ‘Kossori’ means to do something sneakily or stealthily and generally has a negative connotation to it. For example こっそり入る (kossori hairu) means to come in/enter sneakily. We could be talking about a burglar entering a house or a teenager sneaking back inside after going out. Another example is こっそり見る (kossori miru) meaning to sneak a glance. You could use it to say you looked at your friend’s answers in an exam or took a peek inside a closed door.

So there you have it! Five new words that will really help to lift your Japanese and make it a touch more expressive. We’ll bring you some more of these words soon since there are A LOT more of them out there.

Review: Talking About Japan

1 Feb

Japanese: 英語で話す日本 Q&A
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Format: Reference book
Publisher: Kodansha International
Site: http://www.kodansha-intl.co.jp

Talking About Japan is a bilingual Japanese-English book that covers a wide range of topics from Japanese history and geography to the economy, government and society. This book is great for improving reading comprehension as it’s printed in Japanese on the left-hand page and in English on the right.

At approximately 300 pages the book isn’t a light read. However remembering that half of Talking About Japan is printed English, it really isn’t that huge and as each chapter covers a particular topic about Japan it’s easy to pick up and put down without losing ‘reading momentum’. Topics covered include geography, history, government and the economy, way of life and society, culture, clothing and housing, and Japanese customs.

Kodansha first published this book in 1996, so figures on the economy and population, for example, are now out-dated. Despite this you will still find the vocabulary and terminology used in these chapters useful, particularly if you have limited exposure to materials that concern more specific areas  like taxation, exports and natural resources, the political system, and the constitution for instance.

The chapters on culture, customs, food and daily life in Japan makes for an interesting read. Luckily for us Japan is very traditional in these areas so the information presented here is still relevant, even in more recent times.

Each chapter contains a range of questions and are answered in about half a page. We feel this is an appropriate length since the answers can be detailed enough without becoming long-winded and over complicated. Some questions discussed in the book include, ‘How many volcanoes are there in Japan?’, ‘What kind of crimes are the most common in Japan?’, ‘What is Zen?’, ‘What is a common wedding ceremony in Japan like?’ and ‘What is the correct way of bowing?’. There really is quite an extensive list of topics being covered here.

Like other books we have reviewed from Kodansha (see our review of Konna Eigo ga Wakaranai!?) this book has been written for native Japanese speakers. Kanji is frequent and furigana is limited unless the name of a person or location is being discussed. This means the book might be out of reach for learners who are not at an upper intermediate or JLPT N2/N1 level. The grammar used in the book averages around the N2 level.

If your Japanese comprehension is around this level then we can see this book becoming a useful resource. Talking About Japan will definitely strengthen your vocabulary given the native-level Japanese it contains and the wide range of topics it covers. If you are preparing to take the JLPT, this book would be especially useful with improving your reading speed for the short and medium length questions. On the other hand, if you aren’t sitting for the JLPT and would just like to read up on Japan and all aspects of its culture and people then you too will find this book interesting

Overall we think the best thing about Talking About Japan is the ability to read the text in either Japanese or English. Once you’ve tried reading the Japanese text you can read the English translation for extra clarification, or if you vocabulary is lacking in a particular area, you can focus on reading those chapters first. We do recommend having a kanji or electronic dictionary beside you, however, to look up the readings of unfamiliar words given the lack of furigana.

SCORE: 7/10