>>2019.01.28: still a WIP >>

Part two of the stuff about my Japanese degree(s):

4. Timeline of my Japanese learning progress
5. Description of JLPT levels N5 through N1 and related study tips
6. My general tips for how to study before and during the Japanese degree

Part 1:
1. Degree breakdown
2. Description of Högskolan Dalarna's classes
3. Description of Miyagi University of Education's classes (the exchange classes I took in Japan)


★ During 2nd semester (Dec to Jan 2017) I self-studied Tobira from start to finish, until then I had been more or less purely studying from textbooks. After finishing Tobira I started using Japanese on Twitter, watching anime with Japanese subs, reading manga etc. every day.

★ Jan 29th, 2017 (beginning of 3rd semester) I took the J-CAT:
 • Vocab: 41 / 100 
 • Grammar: 50 / 100 
 • Reading: 47 / 100 
 • Listening: 40 / 100 
 • Overall: 178 / 400 
JLPT N3201 or higher would've been N2. Some of my classmates had around 130; others (living in Japan) had over 201. One year later in January 2018, after having been on exchange in Japan for one semester, I was at just below N1 level.

★ July 2nd, 2017 I took the JLPT N2 (having had 3 months to prepare). After the test I basically tossed my textbooks and started studying via real-life Japanese (anime, manga etc). Got my test results August 23rd:

 • Vocab, Grammar: 27 / 60 (19 to pass)
 • Reading: 23 / 60 (19 to pass)
 • Listening: 30 / 60 (19 to pass)
 • Overall: 80 / 180 (90 to pass) = I failed by 10 points.

★ September 2017: I felt I was securely in JLPT N2. News articles, dialects, archaic speech ("crazy monk-talk" etc) were still too difficult. Started watching anime and documentaries even without Japanese subs. With Japanese subs, I understood about 50-70% of N180-90% of N299% of N5-N3 level shows without looking anything up.

★ October 3rd2017: Went to Japan for the first time in my life, for the exchange year. I couldn't really keep up with normal spoken conversation and it felt like my exchange classmates were leagues ahead of me. It felt like I couldn't pass JLPT N1 level by June. I didn't know any keigo (very polite language) at all, thus couldn't understand stuff like shopkeepers. Us exchange students stuck to either the "Chinese" or "English" language groups, we didn't really speak in Japanese to each other.

★ November 2017 I bought the entire e-book set of Harry Potter; started reading it without looking anything up and thus finished my first 2-3 novels in Japanese. After that I bought 1-2 trashy BL novels from the 100 yen section of a used bookstore (romance is the easiest genre to read), and a lot of secondhand manga. I was studying vocabulary but only on the commute to/from school. I got a part-time job at a food car (no interview, no CV/resume), made various Japanese friends but none I could talk to "every day". Us exchange students really started meshing and speaking Japanese together.

★ By the end of January 2018 it felt like I could probably barely pass JLPT N1 by the end of February. The amount of unknown words in reading/worksheets was noticably diminished from October. Instead of reading books/manga I got a Netflix subscription and started watching hours of TV with Japanese subs every night. In N1 grammar class I was consistently getting around 50% correct on the worksheets even when I felt like I was guessing randomly. My pronunciation and speaking speed had very noticably improved. Novels I read were: BL romance ones, Fight Club (in translation), and fanfiction.

★ By April 2018 I was having job interviews and phone interviews entirely in Japanese, and reading 2-3 manga volumes a day. I was getting 50-80% on the in-class JLPT N1 worksheets. Despite not studying the grammar, I had been passively picking it up due to reading so much random manga and bits of novels, so I "recognized" all the N1 grammar even if I didn't know or remember how to use it. I'd started teaching English 3-4 hours a day 7 days a week to an office-worker couple in our same age bracket, so I was orally translating and teaching between English and Japanese daily.

★ By September 2018 when my exchange ended, Japanese felt completely "normal" to me. My last week in Japan was spent at an old lady's house and (a friend from Esperanto club), and let me tell you, it's a huge pity university exchange students don't get to do homestays because being in a "homestay" like that shoots up your Japanese faster than anything else you can do. I felt like I learned more in that week with her than I had in 2 months of self-study. I thought that with another year in Japan, I could definitely get to almost native level in understanding.

★ By January 2019 due to perpetual unemployment in Sweden I ended up starting a translation/publishing company and unrelated to that unexpectedly started getting both "Japanese to English" and "English to Japanese" customers via fandom connections and Twitter. I wrote in Japanese for English speakers selling merchandise to or needing to send customer support messages to Japanese fans, and wrote in English for Japanese people wanting to write love letters in English to their foreign boyfriends etc. My Japanese certainly wasn't perfect but it was "good enough".
Getting heavily into "Golden Kamuy" (ゴールデンカムイ, 金カム), which is an N1 level series, I ended up reading and/or translating (privately for friends, of course) 30+ pages of manga and doujinshi a day on average, and started translating my own fanfiction to Japanese for the first time, as well as writing drabbles in Japanese.

★ By February 2019 I'd done a really detailed analysis of some VIZ manga to find their mistakes/omissions compared to the original Japanese, and through that discovered the average manga translator is only JLPT N2 level whereas I was around N1. Shocked at this, I immediately created a sample translation portfolio and started applying for manga translation jobs (out of 5 companies 1 got back to me). On average I could read + translate + proofread 10pgs of N1-level manga in 30min.
★ By March 2019 I felt I was securely in some form of low N1, and I'd begun translating novellas from Japanese to English, or teaching people Japanese from novellas they wanted to read, as freelance work. In my free time I was reading random nonfiction books in Japanese (such as ones that taught how to read 古文 or 漢文, or memory techniques, or Hanguel etc). In the average nonfiction book there was only 1 unknown word per 2 pages, but I still had a harder time with fiction and spoken Japanese.


For all levels I recommend using "Genetic Kanji" as the order to memorize kanji, along with a memory technique I'll write about eventually in a book.

JLPT N5 and N4 are hard to distinguish between each other because they're both so basic you still don't even know all the "basics". Unfortunately.


★ Study/Practice Recs:
└◆ N4-N5 anime
└◆ N4-N5 grammar
└◆ Simple shoujo/porn/BL manga (ex. 聖ロザリンド)
└◆ Books meant for children who are just learning how to read by themselves (not ones meant for parents to read TO their children).
└◆ 二ノ国 (Ni no Kuni: NDS, not PS2), has furigana & voice-acting.
└◆ とびだせ どうぶつの森 (Animal Crossing New Leaf: 3DS), has furigana.
└◆ Pokemon Gold/Silver/Crystal (GBC), other Pokemon games are harder.
└◆ BOTさん (short stories with pictures)
└◆ Go Nihongo (culture stories)
└◆ Go Nihongo (short stories)

★ Pokemon Green(/Red/Blue/Yellow) example:

"Yes-yes! Welcome! This is Miracle Bicycle Shop!". In kanji this would be: はい、はい!いらっしゃい!ここ は ミラクル 自転車 屋!



★ Recs:
└◆ N5-N3 anime
└◆ N3-N2 grammar
└◆ Children's books originally written in Japanese and meant for 1st through 6th graders. These usually come in larger font and with hiragana over every kanji. Translations of English books are normally a lot harder (many use archaic words and strange writing styles, "tailor, taffeta, hansom")
└◆ JLPT grammar videos from "Hina-chan" (日本語の森) on YouTube; she speaks entirely in Japanese so it might be a bit hard at this stage, but her example sentences are really good.
└◆ .hack// original 4 PS2 games, they're voice-acted. Parody mode (unlocks after you've beaten normal mode) is easier to understand than normal mode.
└◆ Sims 4 (computer game). It'll be difficult but you can manage it.
└◆ Let's PlaysVlogs
└◆ Drama CDs with matching manga panels; look on YouTube and NicoNico.
└◆ Fairytales for young children (picturebooks for ages 5-7 or so, called "絵本"). Be careful because some are actually written in dialectal or archaic speech.
└◆ Crappy BL/romance novels. These are some of the easiest reading material I've found, although some are a lot more difficult than others. In Japan you can pick these up for 100 yen at Book Off.
└◆ Harry Potter books (buy them off "Pottermore"); you can use Calibre to insert or remove furigana and kanji and thus adjust the reading level to your needs, ex. I changed all instances of ふくろう "owl" to 梟. You can use external software to insert spaces in-between the Japanese words. Harry Potter's only easy because you already know the contents in your own language, you can watch the movies, and the vocabulary repeats itself constantly.

An example of Sims 4 in Japanese:



★ JLPT N2: You start learning slang, archaic & dialectal stuff. Japanese starts to click and feel natural. N4-N5 level stuff doesn't even require brainpower to understand. N2 has, overall, the most useful vocabulary and grammar for anime and manga. "Y'know, I had dogs when I was a kid, and they're really cute so I like them" level.

└◆ N2 is business-level (although, depending on the company, N1 is business level) and is the level of a finished Swedish or Finnish Bachelor's Degree. According to what I've been told, in most countries around the world including America, England, Italy, Germany and France it's the level of a finished Master's Degree.

By "business level" what they mean is that you know enough Japanese to be able to just barely get by at a low-level job, ex. selling oden or working in the back room at IKEA. If you go to job conventions in Tokyo they'll probably have a minimum requirement of N2 in order for you to attend. The average manga translator seems to be N2.

Having proof of N2 level (whether through having passed JLPT N2 or having failed N1 but still getting enough points on it to count as having passed N2) will let you get a work VISA more easily, as noted below in the N1 section.

★ Recs:
└◆ N2-N1 anime
└◆ N2-N1 grammar
└◆ JLPT grammar videos from "Hina-chan" (日本語の森) on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tVKqDebSSU
└◆ Romance novels (any kind)
└◆ Easy fanfic (on Pixiv)
└◆ Visual Novels (Dating SIMs etc)
└◆ Harry Potter novels
└◆ Tutorials (ex. how to make 水飴, recipes, sewing tutorials)


★ JLPT N1The level of a Japanese middle-schooler. You can read anything without any real problem and without using a dictionary. Stuff no one teaches in class (=slang, archaic Japanese, dialects, proverbs, pre-WWII kanji etc) you'll need to self-study. You're still definitely not native-level in Japanese but you're at the point where careless natives sometimes don't realize you aren't.

└◆ N1 is the standard "professional (translator)" level. It's higher than "business level" and is usually higher than a finished Master's degree in Japanese (a Swedish/Finnish Master's might get you there but as no Swedish school lets you get a Master's in Japanese online, I don't know). If you're applying for a work VISA, at least when I looked in 2018, you get +15 points for N1 level Japanese and +10 for N2 level.

└◆ Most people never get to this level and even if they do, they only know everyday or business Japanese and not archaic stuff or dialects.

When I took the JLPT N1 test in 2018, none of the grammar on any "JLPT N1 grammar list" I found or had studied during my exchange year in N1 prep classes was actually on the test. Instead they seem to have recently changed the JLPT to be geared towards Chinese-speakers (as I heard from Chinese classmates, many questions were specifically geared towards kanji choices etc that Chinese versus Japanese speakers would do). Throughout the test as a whole there was basically less than 5 katakana English words, despite that real Japanese is full of katakana English even in business settings, and all the audio examples were things like "Sally's gonna be late to turn in her project for work, can't you talk to the boss for me?" types of business situations.

It's my personal suggestion to completely ignore N1 grammar/vocabulary lists and just look up stuff you don't know as you actually find it when you're reading instead. You also have to read different genres. Some N1 grammar/vocab only pops up in manga, some only in fiction novels, some only in nonfiction, some only in WWII era or "emulating WWII era" texts, etc. Up until N1 it doesn't matter what you read because from N5 to N2 the grammar is so "basic" it appears everywhere, but when studying for N1 you really have to read a wide variety of things.

★ Recs:
└◆ N1 anime: Basically find any series that has a lot of words you don't know and then just watch it.
└◆ N1 grammar.
└◆ Fiction novels meant for late elementary schoolers or above.
└◆ Nonfiction books meant for middle schoolers and above. A lot of nonfiction's actually meant for a wide audience, as in both middle schoolers and businessmen, so it's not as hard as you might expect.

└◆ Themed and high-level manga: Gintama, Golden Kamuy, Sanctuary, and any manga covering a specific topic (ex. deafness, dentistry). For example, Golden Kamuy canon and fandom uses a lot of pre-WWII era words (such as 接吻 instead of キス for kiss; 呑む instead of 飲む for drink alcohol).

└◆ Read Japanese webpages on very specific topics to do with Japanese life. For example, go find a page on getting your "proof of disability" card (just search something like 障害者 証明 カード) and learn the various terms used on the page.

└◆ Learn Keigo: First you need to learn to understand keigo, then you need to parrot it in order to learn how to use it. The easiest way to learn keigo is actually from anime, manga and videogames, but keep in mind that some series use shallow or wrong keigo, or no keigo at all, and other series are almost entirely in keigo. For example, the "Legend of the Galactic Heroes" anime uses tons of correct keigo in the original version, but simplified/shallow keigo in the new, remade version. In "Golden Kamuy" there's not much keigo in the manga itself, but there's a lot of correct, high-level keigo in fanfiction and doujinshi when certain characters are involved.

└◆ Learn Fictional Dialects: Yakuza movies, samurai movies, geisha movies, manga set in the countryside, you'll extremely often come across watered-down dialects in fiction. So you'd best learn to understand them. It's usually just simple stuff like でげえ instead of でけえ or でかい ("huge").


Beyond N1

Aside from just "keep ingesting media that has an adult-level vocabulary" (which can be harder to find than you'd expect), you can get actual used textbooks for Japanese middle schoolers, high schoolers and university students in different subjects and reading them. This way you'll get both the vocabulary and the "common knowledge" that they have.

Also, of course, you need to be writing and speaking in Japanese as much as you can. If you don't live in Japan just create a Twitter account and Tweet in Japanese or something every day. That's what I've been doing since my 3rd semester or so. Then start writing full-length blog posts, essays, nonfiction, fiction etc in Japanese.

This happens naturally when you actually converse with people online — for example thanks to Golden Kamuy I met a Japanese person who told me about their grandpa's actions around the time of the Russo-Japanese war etc, which lead me to tell them about my great-grandpa's actions during WWII, but to do so I had to write a lot and look up a lot of war terminology I didn't know and so on.

Degree Study Tips

★ You can never be too far ahead. I was supposedly a full semester ahead of the class in both 2nd and 3rd semester but felt like I was barely hanging on.

★ If you don't understand the grammar, skip it, revisit it later — and read tons of manga or watch anime with subtitles. You'll see it 500 times in manga compared to just 5 times in your textbook. I've learned way more grammar/vocabulary from anime/manga than I have from any textbook.

"Read the Kanji"

• Learn 3-5 words, read a single manga/book/fanfic page or watch 1 minute of a TV show, then learn 3-5 more words. That's how I could keep up my motivation and study all day long. When reviewing, review 10-25 words, read 1 page etc.

• Use black background with light text to save your eyes; this can be done with Stylish and CSS on your computer, or changing the font type and inverting the colours on your smartphone.

• To learn handwriting, set sites/apps to authentic-looking handwriting fonts as well as look at a ton of doujinshi on Pixiv. Below is "Seafont" (海フォント) on the Memrise app. You can get handwriting fonts at a site like this: http://www.freejapanesefont.com/category/handwriting/

"Honyaji Re" (ほにゃ字)

For practicing handwriting, you can read something random in a handwriting font and copy down the whole text with a pen.

• For learning to write, get a Twitter and start tweeting immediately, preferrably bilingually because that way you'll more easily get Japanese followers. In the beginning just write single words: post a photo of your house and write "house (家)". Once you know verbs, write a verb and a noun: パン欲しい "(i) want bread", etc, and in that way just keep improving.

• For learning words, break each word into its kanji (meaning + 2 most common pronunciations), then its compounds, then the full word. Ex: for 子犬 (koinu, puppy) memorize:

子 - offspring, small thing
子 - (Japanese pronunciation) ko
子 - (Chinese pronunciation) shi
犬 - dog
犬 - (JP) inu
犬 - (CN) ken
子犬 - koinu
子犬 - "child-dog", puppy

If you learn some Chinese before Japanese you can avoid a huge chunk of this work.

• It's best if you memorize vocabulary using a language that's much simpler than English; my retention rate is 70% if I use English but 90% if Esperanto (English is my first language). Your brain simply has an easier time if you're memorizing "north, opposite-north" instead of "north, south". You don't have to worry about memorizing most Japanese words if you learn Chinese first.

• Replace the roots of words in a text with matching kanji. This works much better with Esperanto, Swedish etc than English because with English you can no longer tell 私 is a noun, 好 a verb, 黒 an adjective:

I like my black dogs —> 私 好 y s
Jag gillar mina svarta hundar —> 私 好r a a ar
Mi ŝatas miajn nigrajn hundojn —> 私 好as ajn ajn ojn

English also has ex. "I like him", "he ran like the wind", "it was like, almost too big": 好 only means the first (=Esperanto and Japanese use 3 different words where English uses 1).


Tips for all Japanese courses:

└◆ One of the best things you can do is learn to read Chinese to a basic level. I heavily recommend the site "Domino Chinese", it's only $2 USD a month and can get you to reading newspapers in Mandarin in just 9 weeks (approx. 200 study hours). Similar to how like 60% of English vocabulary is directly borrowed from French, Japanese is actually like 70% directly from Chinese in vocabulary; most Japanese grammar concepts are direct copies of Chinese (ex. both Japanese and Chinese say "give" to say "please") and there's often a logical pattern between the pronunciation in Mandarin and the pronunciation in Japanese (ex. Mandarin is "kuh wai (cute), dien hwa (phonecall)" and Japanese is "ka wai, den wa") even if that specific pronunciation is only in a few rarer words in Japanese.

Kanji meaning, usage and pronunciation is a lot more regular and simple in Chinese than it is in Japanese, so Chinese is much faster to learn (ex. Japanese says "hito, jin, nin" for "person 人" but Mandarin just has one, "rzen 人") and you'll learn the "secrets" behind word usage and stuff in Japanese automatically, that the dictionaries don't tell you. Kanji are easier to learn in Chinese because they're used "individually" and have more regular usage in general, while in Japanese they're often used as set pairs so you never really learn the meaning of each individual one in many cases. Anyway people who know Chinese normally learn Japanese 3x faster. You'll also make a lot of friends who know both Chinese and Japanese, so you can ask them for help.

I however do NOT recommend learning Chinese from a university class, as in my small experience with them they teach you useless stuff and/or stuff in an order that's extremely detrimental to learning and makes you much slower to learn than you could be learning (similar to the Japanese degree I've been getting at Högskolan Dalarna).

└◆ Learn Esperanto (you can do it in 3 months), it'll help you with understanding grammar and word-building concepts. After Esperanto most people become 3x faster at learning a foreign language than their peers of the same language background (whatever that background may be), so with Chinese and Esperanto together you'll be 6x faster, eh? You'll also make a lot of Japanese friends who know Esperanto so they'll help you when you get stuck with Japanese.

└◆ Use erasable ink highlighters and pens for vocabulary or grammar you don't know. These notes can be pronunciations, kanji meanings, paragraph summaries, you can underline stuff the teacher said for sure is going to appear on the test, whatever. After you've thoroughly learned the vocabulary you can erase the highlighting, so if you plan on selling the book later it's no problem. I do this in anything that I read on paper — manga, textbooks etc. The highlighters I use are called "PILOT Friction Light" (パイロット 消せる蛍光ぺン フリクションライト).

└◆ Learn all unknown words from class as fast as you can. Do grammar homework the same day you received it (so the grammar is fresh in your head from class). Always read through a reading assignment twice and when possible attempt to translate it before class (you remember the information much better if you've written down a translation).

└◆ For the grammar you've learned in class, keep your own list of helpful example sentences that you find as you keep learning Japanese. Later if you need to review or help another student out it'll be super useful. For example, if I'm reading manga on my smartphone or watching anime with Japanese subs I screencap a particularly good example sentence, then add it to a list later; after a while I'll have 20 example sentences while the textbook only has 2.

└◆ Use a smartphone dictionary (or something similar) that lets you bookmark words as you look them up, and bookmark every single word you look up; later learn the words from the bookmark list.

└◆ Use an OCR app (or something similar) to OCR book pages, signs, etc with lots of words or kanji you don't know, then just copy-paste the words into a dictionary. It's faster than trying to use handwriting recognition dictionaries.

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