JLPT 2011 New York – How to sign up and not miss it

Dear New York Japanese Learners!

The season is approaching for the JLPT or Japanese Language Proficiency Test. The test will be held on December 4th of this year, at Lehman College. As noted below, the test will be 500 people maximum, and we do mean maximum. Usually the test sells about halfway through September in New York City, and New York is always the first center to sell out and fill up. Your other options if you miss New York are Boston or DC, we recommend all potential test takers to sign up early.

Another very important part of signing up for the JLPT this year is there are NO ONLINE APPLICATIONS. MAIL ONLY. Why is this significant? Well, last year it was quite easy to secure a seat, you just had to go online, fill out the appropriate information and hit “submit.” Now, you’ll have to plan ahead, making sure all your documentation is in order, and plan to have it shipped to LA with enough time to allow for any mistakes, etc. to be rectified.

In other words, plan ahead. Don’t wait until mid-September to fill out your application form for the JLPT. New York City is the most popular and fastest selling out location for the JLPT in the U.S., so use your time wisely. The paper application form will become available on the Japan Foundation LA website in mid-August, http://www.jflalc.org/jlpt_index.html, so be on the lookout for the application and fill it out quickly and accurately.

Oh yes, and while you’re at it, start studying now. If you haven’t started studying for the JLPT and haven’t taken the test before, you’ll need to take at least one or two practice tests, and review all grammar, vocabulary, and listening and reading exercises that will be on your exam. Good luck with your studies, in our other article on this website we discuss how to best study for the Japanese Proficiency test. Please take a look!

JLPT Test – Which Level is Right for You?

Any serious learner of Japanese has considered taking the JLPT, or the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. The test can be taken all over the world, of course the country with the most test centers and frequency of administration is Japan, but in America as well there are multiple centers available to students looking to take the Japanese Proficiency test. In New York City, it is administered at Lehman College.

But what level is right for you? It depends on a few factors:

1 Frequency of study of Japanese up till now

2 – Goals you have for taking the exam

3 – How much you think you can study

1 – The Japanese Proficiency test is designed to be administered in five levels, N1 – N5. N5 is beginning level, and N1 is the highest or fluency level.

To get a sense of how each level differs, please try the sample problems found on this website: http://www.jlpt.jp/samples/forlearners.html

To get to take N5, we would recommend about 2 years of Japanese language study, or the Hills Learning equivalent of six semesters of our 2 month classes. Students taking N5 know some basic Japanese grammar, about 100 Kanji or so, and know the other alphabets Hiragana and Katakana.

To contrast this, N2 (the second highest level of the exam) requires knowledge of 1,000 Kanji, and about 6,000 vocabulary words. To give you a sense of the grammar you have to learn, there are 181 grammar patterns (not including basic grammar patterns that have been learned previously for N3 and N4 levels), and your listening skills have to be developed to listen to everyday conversations, office meetings, and general lectures and be able to pick out and understand what’s being said.

For students that are serious about learning Japanese and have been for sometime, maybe want to move to Japan or get into a Japanese company, we feel that N2 is the natural choice to take. Please see our JLPT Class for more information about our group course on this class.

2 – Which leads us to the second factor, what is your goal for taking the JLPT test? There are various reasons why people take the Proficiency Test, from trying to get a job to entering university. If it’s a specific goal such as entering a Japanese university as a foreign national, or applying for a translation job (for example the State Department has requirements of N1 for various positions), then you already know you have to pass the N1 level of the test.

N1 is naturally the hardest level of the exam, and just within the past couple years has become even harder. Students that don’t use the language on a daily basis at work, didn’t grow up speaking it, or do not have the time to immerse themselves should seriously consider not taking this level. It’s the fluency level for a reason, grammar and vocabulary studied for the test are usually not used in regular conversation.

As mentioned earlier, the N2 level is a great level to take if you’re interested in working in a Japanese company, or just looking to improve overall conversational and reading fluency. The grammar patterns for the test are used in everyday conversation, the vocabulary and kanji are frequented in newspapers, and you can claim you’re “business fluent” on a resume.

N3 is the newest addition to the JLPT level catalog, and it’s not quite clear to this author how the level will be used both on a practical basis and in the job market.

N4 has historically been the level that states you’re “not a beginner of Japanese.” Basically, N4 is where students are introduced to Keigo, the formidable polite language that has no direct equivalent in English. Add around 500 Kanji to the equation and it is proven by passing this level students are no longer considered beginners of Japanese.

3 – Which leads us to our third point, how much time do you have study for the Japanese Proficiency Test? Here’s the quick answer, if you do not use Japanese on a daily basis, you will need to study for the test. Whether it’s N5 or N1, students need to develop a regiment and study quite a bit. As with all tests, the first step is to understand the structure of the test and take some sample problems. Then afterwards for any level, students should be ready to study at least 3 to 4 hours  per week. N2 and N1 require more intensive regiments.

Thanks for reading about the JLPT test and we welcome your comments and questions. Good luck with your studies!

Japan Day – A great opportunity to learn Japanese in New York

Thanks for coming to our website and your interest in learning Japanese! This past weekend was Japan Day, an event that celebrates Japanese language and culture in New York. We’d like to talk more about this, and think it’s one of the best opportunities to experience Japanese culture and language in New York City. The event numbers around 50,000 people. Please mark “Japan Day” on your calendar for next year!

Japan Day used to be just about Japanese culture and Japanese performances, such as cultural icons of Calligraphy and Hello-Kitty. Only recently though  Japan Day decided to offer a Japanese language tent along with their cultural exhibitions and demonstrations.

Each year, the Japan Day staff, along with Hills Learning and other involved language schools, come up with a list of key vocabulary phrases for Japan Day. This year was no different, our theme was Ganbare Japan, or “Japan, You can do it!” We taught language through a traditional Japanese card game called “Karuta.”

Many of the participants not only loved learning the language for a bit, but also really liked the cultural exposure. You can stop in and get tattoos, pictures with Hello Kitty, calligraphy cranes, and of course watch the performers. The performers range from cultural icons such as Karate clubs, to famous Jazz Singers and musical groups.

For reference, here is the Japan Day vocabulary we learned this year:

がんばれ – ganbare – You can do it!

ありがとう – arigato – Thank you!

おはよう – ohayo – good morning

こんにちは – konnichiwa – hello

大丈夫 – daijyobu – It’s okay

せんばづる – senbazuru – 1,000 origami cranes

友達 – tomodachi – friend

愛 – ai – love

希望 – kibo – hope

おうえん – o-en – support

すごい – sugoi – wonderful, great

元気 – genki – healthy, how are you?

Thanks for reading, and we hope to see you next year learning Japanese at Japan Day!

Learning Japanese…in New York?! What’s the best way to do this?

We’ve had numerous students interested in learning Japanese in New York City and wondering what should be the first step in learning the language. While there are a multitude of websites and other resources for learning Japanese online, one of the key recommendations for learning a foreign language is learn from a native speaker of that language.

Why is this so? You would think with developments such as Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, Japanese Pod 101 and a plethora of other language sites and software that the ancient old tie between teacher and student for learning Japanese is losing its importance. Computers can replace people for many things, such as computations, household chores and even driving, so shouldn’t they be more efficient at teaching Japanese than human beings?

And also, what about old fashioned studying on your own? We have video games, books, websites, personal speaking dictionaries, and voice recognition software. If for example a student were to say “Ketsu” instead of “Kutsu” in Japanese, the computer would know right away that the student said “someone’s behind” instead of “someone’s shoes” and would correct them in pronunciation.

While we don’t hesitate to recognize development and advancement in learning Japanese where it is due, namely in voice recognition software, overall nothing will ever replace a well trained, experienced, and talented Japanese language teacher. A Japanese language teacher brings so much more to the table than any language learning “aid” could ever bring. (We like to think of software, cd-roms, video games as “language learning aids”) Here’s what a Japanese language teacher brings:

1 – a natural language partner – A computer can never be programmed to react with emotion to conversations. Since a language such as Japanese is absorbed and processed in the brain through conversation, a computer will never teach a student how to naturally speak the Japanese language.

2 – an irreplaceable source for writing – When you learned cursive as a child, was it through computers? No, it was through your teacher in the classroom. He or she looked over your shoulder, checked your stroke order, and corrected you when they couldn’t read your writing. Only a live breathing Japanese teacher can offer this.

3 – a teacher provides a relationship – This is perhaps the most overlooked part of the learning Japanese experience, in a place outside of Japan such as New York. When you live in Japan, you’re forced to use the language through multiple daily interactions that call for it, but in New York City no one cares if you speak Japanese, right?

Wrong, your teacher does. She checks up on your Japanese homework, gets excited when you remember and use a new vocabulary word, gets disappointed when you say you cannot make Japanese class, and comments on all her various cultural experiences growing up in Japan and how different it is in New York. From both a cultural and linguistic standpoint, a Japanese teacher is irreplaceable when it comes to effectively learning Japanese in New York City.

If we still haven’t convinced you enough in regards to learning Japanese in New York City, even after you’ve seen our list of Japanese Language Teachers, I’ll share a quick encounter I had with someone who had been learning Japanese with “language software.” We all know which one it is.

So I was at an Education-expo, walking around to different tables, and I managed to meet a guy who was working in a local school and was learning with language learning software at home. He said he enjoyed the software and approach, and I said great, “hajimemashite”, and he looked at me with a blank stare. I said, that’s “nice to meet you” in Japanese.

I then asked him, what do you know in Japanese? He said, “otoko no hito”, which means “guy.” I said, how about anything else? And he said another word, of which I don’t recall but it wasn’t a Japanese term that I’ve learned in my past 10 years of instruction in the Japanese language.

This guy could’ve been igai, or an exception, but the point is that in a beginner’s class of Japanese you learn the basics of speaking to people, such as “hajimemashite.” Any student that doesn’t at least learn that phrase in the first couple classes of private lessons isn’t learning Japanese.

So what are you waiting for? Come learn Japanese with Hills Learning’s Japanese Classes in New York, or any other language school. Remember, we focus on the quality of the teacher, and try our best to build the student – teacher relationship, which is key to any language learner’s process. Thanks for reading and good luck learning Japanese!

Learning Japanese – The Writing System

If you’re interested in learning Japanese, a lot of students in New York are daunted by the fact they have to speak a language that’s different grammatically, and also have to learn how to write the Japanese language. Our article (Learn Japanese NYC) teaches a bit about the differences between the three alphabets, Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. It goes onto say that it’s really not that difficult to Learn Japanese, even when living in New York City. Please check out our article today to learn more about writing this wonderful language!

Learn Japanese NYC… for $10!

Are you one of those students that has always wanted to learn Japanese, but just not ready to pay the high prices to take Japanese language classes at a college in New York? Hills Learning for a limited time offers a $10 Japanese Trial Class.  This coming Friday, instead of going out to the movies or spending money at a club or bar, why not spend the earlier part of your night learning Japanese, one of the most fascinating languages in New York City?

Hills Learning is conveniently located next to Grand Central Station. Why is this good for learning Japanese? Well, after you’ve finished with the $10 trial Japanese lesson, you can attend some of the Japanese related businesses nearby, such as ramen shops and Japanese grocery stores, and of course the king of all things Japanese in New York: Kinokuniya Bookstores, located right next to Bryant Park.

So what are you waiting for? Come enjoy your Friday night with Hills Learning and learn Japanese today!

A Great Sushi Restaurant Next to St Marks Place

I went to a very good sushi restaurant the other day. I found it off the beaten path, at St. Mark’s Place, the unofficial Japan Town of New York. The restaurant was quaint, affordable (a sushi dollar menu with a wide variety of sushi!), and also had pitchers of Kirin for around $17. Definitely a good break from the typical New York overly expensive and not so delicious sushi experience.

The sushi restaurant was called “NORI”, if you google “nori sushi nyc” this restaurant will come up. The website is http://www.norinyc.com/

Japanese Proficiency Test – What’s Changed and How to Handle It

Whether you’re a new student for the Japanese Proficiency Exam or have taken it in the past, the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) in 2010 has changed. Consequently, how to study and handle the exam has also changed.  This article will discuss the history of the exam and why changes were brought about, what’s new about the Japanese Proficiency Test for 2010, and how to best study to pass the JLPT.

The reason why the test was changed in 2010 was test takers and school administrators were complaining that the exam wasn’t adequate. What kind of exam, they wondered, measures language ability without any spoken component to it? Although there is still no speaking contained in the Japanese Proficiency Exam, it was rumoured that the exam’s setup was getting oboselete and predictable. The Japanese authorities responded with a new test.

The main changes in the exam are as follows:

2009 – there were 4 levels of the Japanese Proficiency Exam: 1-kyu, 2-kyu, 3-kyu, and 4-kyu. 1-kyu represents the highest level, “fluency” in the Japanese language. 1-kyu consists of obscure Japanese grammar patterns, insanely hard reading passages, and listening sections that sometimes make you wonder if the language you heard was actually Japanese. 4-kyu is the entry level part of the exam, “beginner.”

2010 – 5 levels 1-kyu, 2-kyu, 3-kyu, 4-kyu, 5-kyu. Here’s what happened with each level of the JLPT:

1-kyu got harder. This is because a lot of university students, embassy applicants, translators, etc. were mastering the exam at a faster rate. The Japanese government responded by making the content of 1-kyu harder.

2-kyu stays the same. This is actually very good for potential job seekers and ambitious employees who want to work in a Japanese company. 2-kyu represents “business fluency” and while studying to pass the 2-kyu level, students actually learn quite a lot of useful Japanese in the process.

3-kyu – a new level. The jump between the old 2-kyu and 3-kyu was too great, so there is now a new level of the Japanese proficiency exam. “intemediate”

4-kyu is the old 3-kyu level. Sorry 3-kyu holders, your level of Japanese has just been brought down a level.

5-kyu is the old 4-kyu level. Sorry 4-kyu holders, “.

The scoring system has changed. Gone are the days where test takers can get 100 on reading and vocabulary, a 50 on listening, and still pass the test with flying colors. Now every section needs a passing score to get a passing grade on the exam.

So for each level:

1-kyu you’ll need to get a 70% on the Vocabulary Section, Listening Section, and Reading / Grammar Sections. If you score below a 70 on any of these sections, you fail the exam.

2-kyu, 3-kyu, 4-kyu, and 5-kyu you’ll need to get a 60% “.

With each drop in difficulty, the length of the test shrinks. The vocabulary, reading, and listening sections also get easier.

What this means When studying for the Japanese Proficiency Test going forward, all test takers must be more cognizant of developing all their language skills. If a test taker fails to do the Reading, Listening, or vocab recognition sections properly, they fail the test overall.

Therefore when studying, please purchase a listening book, as well as a reading book and a grammar book. Look for the publishers Japan Times or ALC, both companies have great reputations in Japan, and write quite useful series. Any specific questions please feel free to ask on this article.

PS – If you haven’t started studying, please start now! Create a regiment, prepare to study at least 2 hours a week, and aim for on average 3 to 4 hours per week. The Japanese Proficiency Exam in New York City (and the rest of the U.S.) will happen less than 6 months from now, in December.

Japan Town in New York? Why, it’s St. Marks Place

A lot of our readers and students of the Japanese language have all been to “Japan Town” in New York City. However, if you look on a map or read a guidebook, there’s no official listing of Japan Town in New York. There’s definitely a Chinatown and Koreatown (Koreatown is actually written on 32nd street) so where’s the Japan Town? And why has it been called that?

The “where” is easy to explain. St. Marks Place is actually another term for East 8th Street. The “Japan Town” location is centered between 2nd ave and 3rd ave, if you’re going to take the subway, take the 6 to Astor Place or the R or W to 8th Ave NYU. Then walk east along East 8th Street or St. Marks Place and you’ll come across a street loaded with Japanese goodness.

Although not nearly as conspicuous as Chinatown or Koreatown, Japan Town does have it’s own charm and feel. Every sign might not be in Japanese, but there are plenty of good yakitori, izakaya, sushi, ramen, and other Japanese restaurants to lure in the passerby.  Before you get to 2nd avenue on the north side of the street don’t forget to stop and take a look inside the JAS Mart, a small little convenience store that sells foods and other articles that are uniquely Japanese.

The ambiance of  St. Marks Place though is not really reflective of Japan. Although Japanese are lured to the area due to Izakaya’s, Yakitori Places, and of course the ever famous and popular Setagaya Ramen, the area’s main demographics seem to have more of an NYU feel. Lots of young close to graduation college students mix with asians of all backgrounds to make you feel like you’re more in Roppongi than Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Despite the contradictions, anyone interested in Japanese language or culture in New York should visit Japan Town at least once. The food might not be Tokyo quality, and the karaoke (the popular Sing-Sing) might not be the best price around, but it does feel like a New York version of Japan. And who knows, 日本語で話しかけたら誰か答えてもらうかもしれない!

WIT Life #93: サンフランシスコの日本町

WITLife is a periodic series written by professional Writer/Interpreter/Translator Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03). She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and here she shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observations.

My interpreting travels bring me to San Francisco this time, and I couldn’t leave without paying a visit to Japantown.  I hadn’t been there in a couple of years, but I clearly remembered  the array of restaurants, souvenir shops and an onsen-like spa I once had a soak in.  I went with a friend who was craving something sweet and wanted a recommendation, so I suggested we get 白玉汁粉 (shiratama shiruko), one of my favorite Japanese desserts following ぜんざい (zenzai).  We went to Kissako Tea where we were served by Hiro and Koji, pretending to be a charming couple. .

Kissako also had a nice selection of mochi  (pictured left), including strawberry, orange and lima bean, but I wasn’t blown away so didn’t sample any.  I had heard of Benkyodo, a mochi specialty shop where it is handmade and there is more variety, but they are not open on Sundays.  Something to be tried on another trip…

After we satisfied our sweet tooth with the shiratama shiruko washed down by green tea, we took a walk around the mall which is a mix of places with yukatas and other Japanese clothing, a fairly large Kinokuniya, purikura booths, and stores selling Sanrio products.

Speaking of Sanrio, there was an interesting article in the NYT the other day called “In Search of Adorable,” regarding the company’s strategy in finding a character to replace the legendary Hello Kitty who has dwindled in popularity at age 36.  The article cites that “Hello Kitty lost her long-held spot as Japan’s top-grossing character in 2002 and has never recovered,” something surprising considering how you see her plastered everywhere both here and at home (she is beaten out by Anpanman!).  However, the article discusses that part of her problem might have been this very overexposure.

Somehow replacement candidates such as the pink dalmation Spottie Dottie and the baby panda Pandapple have not been able to capture the same kind of merchandising magic as Hello Kitty, so it is back to the drawing board for Sanrio.  Who will be their next character to take the world by storm?