Learn Japanese the Hard Way

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[jlpt N2] Building a minimum vocabulary list

I am gathering here a few elements about the minimum vocabulary required to pass the N2.

A few list from the web:

For the books, I am looking at:

For Anki, I am already working on: Core 2k/6k/10K Further Optimized 

Now I need to, somehow, tie all that together. I am thinking of aggregating all the lists from the web and match them against the Anki Core 2k/6k/10K Further Optimized list to see how much it covers.

I’ll keep you posted!


OK, so I toyed with the Core 2k/6k/10K Further Optimized deck that seems to contain some JLPT old level associated with each word. Since the new jlpt N2 is the old jlpt 2 level, I could use it.

The way the card are organized is not just by usage, but also they tried to group by kanji. I decided to see if I could reschedule my deck to see in priority the cards for JLPT N2.

After some digging using Anki browser with query like “deck:current card:1 jlptlevel:4 is:new”, I could see that I have still:

  • 38 unseen card for jlpt 4
  • 703 unseen card for jlpt 3
  • 921 unseen card for jlpt 2

I have decided to suspend all my cards:

  1. "deck:current card:1 is:new"
  2. select all
  3. click on “suspend”
  4. "deck:current card:1 jlptlevel:4 is:new"
  5. select all
  6. click on “suspend” to unsuspend the card
  7. select all
  8. Reschedule “Place at end of new card queue”
  9. do from step 4 for level 3 and 2

Now I have all the 1662 card for jlpt 4, 3 and 2, scheduled in that order, which should keep me busy for the next 3 months or so… after that I will pick up the other card.

I will still try to check the list, but from what I have seen, it seems to make sense.

Filed under japanese jlpt anki

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What I learned doing a sample jlpt N3 test

Yesterday I finished taking a “dummy” jlpt N3 test that you can download from free from the jlpt website

First, the result:

  • Language Knowledge / 言語知識:47/60

  • Reading / 読解:51/60

  • Listening / 聴解:38/60

  • Total score / 総合得点:136/180

These are “raw score”. JLPT is doing some adjustment in order to generate a more accurate score, independently of the actual questions. I will write more about it later, but this is a very common things among this kind of exam.

Thus being said, since you need at least 95/180, I think I can say that I would have passed. Awesome!

What I learned:

  • The Reading section is long and I nearly didn’t finish in time. Even if I could understand very well, I struggled at the end by lack of time.
  • The Listening part was much more challenging than expected. There is definitely room for improvement here. Part of the difficulty was linked to polite speech.

Since I will be taking the N2 level, which is even more difficult, I will have to work on improving my reading speed and listening skills on top of the vocabulary and grammar.

Still, it feel good to know that I am starting with a level just above N3. Next step is to try a sample N2 exams.

for reference: my scanned answers (pdf, 16MB) and the official answers (pdf, 135kB).

Filed under jlpt n3 jlpt japanese

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Passing the N2: the plan

So, after deciding to pass the N2 (see previous post), I want to outline a few step.

Step 1: checking my level.

I have started doing the official JLPT N3 test (you can find it here for free, included audio). I will report my result as soon as I have finished.

After that I will do the same for an official JLPT N2 test. The goal is to assess more precisely my level and define a learning strategy, with my teacher, for my weaker points.

Step 2: setup a review schedule as soon as possible..

I have only 8 months left to get ready. It seems like a lot, but the “bottleneck” is how fast I can learn. My “learning velocity”

Even if no official list exists, you can find some rough estimate about the kanjis, vocabulary and grammar points needed to pass. 

For the kanjis, I am already way beyond what is required: the minimum is around 1000 kanjis but I know currently around 2400 kanjis (meaning and writing, but not all of the reading).

For the vocabulary, I am going through the infamous 10k list in Anki here: Core 2k/6k/10K Further Optimized. My current velocity is 20 new words a day. Since I have already reviewed 3,500 words, I should be around 8,000 words from this list by the time of the exam. As I plan to add words on a more “on demand” basis depending on my reading. I am confident that I can have memorized around 10,000 of the most common japanese words by the test, which is much more that the quoted figures of 6,000. I will give some internet links and build my own list in another post.

For the grammar, I have started a list that I will build from different web sites and books. There is maybe a few hundreds points here, but they need to be much more understood that vocabulary. I will invest in a few books.

For the reading comprehension part, I am already in the habit of reading original japanese content (LifeHacker is great in japanese). I will have to continue and increase my daily reading. I will take the time to reading more slowly and check more for comprehension.

For listening comprehension. Same here: I am used to listen to podcast and watch original drama on a daily basis. 

Filed under jlpt japanese

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My Next Challenge: Passing the JLPT N2 in June 2015

After summer, I have been thinking about what I should focus on for this year in Japanese. After spending 6 years studying, I felt that having a clear goal would help me.

For those who don’t know, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is the most (only?) used japanese language level certification. The test go in 5 levels, from N5 (easiest) to N1 (hardest).


After talking with my teacher, we felt that I could have a shot at N2. According to official stats, passing rate is around 40 %.

What makes it so motivating is that it’s the minimum required to actually work in japan. It has huge symbolic and motivation value to me. Having it would definitely open some doors.

My other motivation is that it will push me through upper-intermediate in a more structured ways. There is tons of vocabulary and grammar points to learn when going through intermediates and having a structured way, with books and reference, will give me a path.

Finally, I tend to be somewhat competitive and I want to crush it on the first try. After 6 years of studying my japanese, even if this is only symbolic, it will be an achievement that I can be proud of.

Sure, it will imply spending some time working on the exam and not only working on my japanese, but I feel it is worth it. 

If possible, I will pass it in Japan, after spending a couple of months there, to boost my level.

I’ll write more about it and explain my study plans, methods and results in this blog.

After the N2, the next focus will be business japanese.

Filed under japanese jlpt

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Why it’s easy to learn japanese: you just have to work on it 2 to 3 hours a day for 10 years

Very often, I am practicing my kanji or vocabulary in a nice coffee next to my apartment.

Sometime people, when they see me practice, say to me that it must be hard to learn japanese.

My reply is always:

there is zero difficulty, you just have to work on it 2 to 3 hours a day for 10 years.

They usually think I am just being ironic, but this is not the case here.

You see, my point is that the hard part is not the japanese-part, its the “working on it for 10 years”-part. You can’t fail to learn japanese by working on it for 10 years. There is no risk of failure.

Whenever you want to start any major undertaking, the hard part is to keep going on.

You would have the same challenge whether you where learning piano, flying an airplane, start a business, learn to paint or drawing, learning japanese, etc. There is nothing specifically hard about japanese.

Sure, some of them might just take 5 or 6 years to reach the level you are looking for. So what ? it’s not a race.

This is why motivation is the key to your success. Focus on having the motivation and the “working on it daily for 10 years”-part will take care of itself.

Now, stop reading this and start learning.

Filed under japanese motivation easy

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The real challenge of language learning is “not giving up”

That is the reason learning the “easy way”, aka “slowly” will kill you sooner or later.

If you don’t work every day, you won’t see results fast enough and in a couple of years you will lose your motivation and give up.

This is why you need to have fun while learning the language. Who can’t stand doing boring stuff for a couple of hours a day for years?

This is why learning the 2000 heisig kanji in 100 days is great. You really feel that you have moved forward when you can finally make sense of signs in the street or newspaper headline that you couldn’t start to understand just of a few months back.

This is why I am adding more than 25 new words a day on my Anki decks. This is why I should even push it more.

You have to increase your learning velocity and then you’ll see and feel results.

Seeing results will increase your motivation.

Your increased motivation will, in turn, make you want to immerse more in the language and learn faster.

Basic positive feedback loop.

So, what are you waiting to crush it?

Filed under japanese japan language failure

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At first, just focus on showing up at the starting line

Starting everything is hard.

And getting into new daily habits, like reviewing your anki deck, starting a daily meditation or working you kanji, is even harder.

That is why, at the beginning, the goal should not be “doing it”, but just  ”getting into the habits of doing it”. That is why you should only think about getting to the point where you are ready to do it. Just show up at the starting line.

You will see that it can already be hard enough. You might need things ready that you don’t have (running gears if you wanted to do jogging for exemple). There are tons of details to choose. When do I do it ? how to do it? etc… That is why that, at first, just try to figure out what it takes to go to the starting line.

I decided to try meditating everyday. My only goal for this first week is to get me in meditation posture once a day and just focus on getting that done. After that, even if I meditate for 1 min, I call it a success. 

Whenever you start anything, start small. So small that you can’t fail. Then grow it slowly.