Saturday, 28 November 2009

Japanese Books and Oriental Language Proficiency Tests

I've decided to have another go at learning Japanese. I did some about 10/11 years ago, (the intensive first year class at Leeds Uni) and did quite well in that - got a first (A) in the first semester and a 2i (B) in the second. Sadly, I now remember very little really and I can't even be certain how to read some of the syllabary characters anymore! So, I first bought a little book for NT$40 (less than £1) to practise reading and writing hiragana and katakana, and then invested in a main text. Of course, both are from Chinese to Japanese, but I can manage that fine at beginners' level. This course has at least 6 books and I can get the first 4 for a discount price at the bookshop at the university we live very close to.=)

A few weeks ago, we took the TOP Huayu, the Test of Mandarin Proficiency, Taiwan version. Despite having learned for many years, well over a decade each, we just took the Basic level, which requires about 1600 words. There is an 800 word Beginners Level as well, but I wasn't about to drop that low!! Anyway, these things are tough! I'd heard that the HSK (the mainland Chinese version) was really hard, and it seems from the passing grade stats on the Wikipedia article about, that the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is a beast and three quarters! Now, I can't comment on a comparison between those and any English language testing system and I haven't yet got to the point of working towards and taking my Zertifikat Deutsch, so I have no real Western comparision, but the TOP Basic seems to require about 77% in order to pass at all and get grade 1, with grade 2 coming at 86%. I just scraped a grade 2 by virtue of having got the overall mark required and got grade 2 standard in 2 of the 3 individual tests. A bit depressing really. I mean, I have a degree in Chinese Studies, which was about 60% language based, plus a postgraduate diploma in translation (Chinese-English) and 7+ years teaching experience with beginners, and I only got grade 2 out of the possible 7. You have to take the Intermediate test (which I plan to do in May and re-sit next November if need be) to get grades 3 or 4 and the Advanced (forget it!!) to get grade 5-7 and comparison chart of TOP and HSK grades says I have the equivalent of HSK 5 - HSK 6 standard being the requirement to join the 2nd language speakers of Chinese organisation, ASCSL, the other benchmark being degree level Chinese. I confess I feel a bit better knowing I have HSK 5 level, sounds a lot better than just TOP 2, but these things are not easy!

The format is really quite quick fire and you have to be concentrating 100% to have a chance. The listening section is played once only, which is considerably tougher than the twice or more you get in the UK for language listening exams, and there's just about enough time to complete the Basic paper. I hear that the Intermediate writing section is pretty quick as well and that you barely have time to think at all! Whew! Thinking about it, I suppose so many people do so badly in the JLPT as they may feel that their Japanese is fine, they can cope OK with life there and have friends etc, so they may go in for exams that are just too high, given the demanding nature of the test procedure. I was thinking it might be fun to have a go at the Japanese one when I've done some self study here - just the bottom level, level 4 test, but I'm not so sure now....

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