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#1 2012-05-30 17:07:35

bjaz
Member

tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

Hello all,
i'd like to ask you all for advice on how to move on in Japanese, as I've been feeling stuck for a while now.
Here's my story: I started studying a little by myself a few years back, since my wife is Japanese and we go to Japan every year. I like languages (studied Arabic for three years at university) and cultures, it was all fun, and I got to a level where i could communicate and understand simple everyday things.
Yet without reading, kanjis and all I was completely stuck and it came to a point where i would either need to stop or do some real studying.

Chose the latter, enrolled in one of France's best universities for Japanese, and just finished my second year exams today (out of three for the basic degree). In two years, swallowed over 1100 kanji (which I can write and read), and have been working on newspaper articles etc... I'll be taking the JLPT 2 kyû in December, and my Japanese has improved a lot, learned grammar, keigo to write 400 character sakubun, translate twisted sentences like "most people think she's one of the best actresses around" in writing, and can pretty much watch TV or a movie as long as it's not too technical.

Yet i still feel totally stuck in the language. Not that i can't speak, my mouth moves at the required speed, intonation is pretty good, but i'm still stuck when it comes to finding freedom in the language, ie being able to say pretty much what I want with the vocabulary I have in an understandable way (ie Japanese way, not translations). Let's face it, my spoken Japanese, beyond simple interractions (ie how i feel, what I want to do, what i did) still sucks way more than the Arabic I spoke after two years. I've been working like a madman (i'm 35 and this is probably my last chance at doing something like this) but still can't speak freely with the vocabulary I have.

I feel stuck as hell, and have been for a while despite all the improvements. Today in the oral exam, teacher started talking about Japanese politics, and it seemed extraordinarily hard to say anything more than "people talk about politics more in France"... I'm not sure it's just vocabulary, seems more like I can't find a way to actually say things, like people do when they explain things on Japanese TV for instance (be it the invited sensei on a talk show or a geinin, as long as it gets the point across...)

And i'd like to work on this, improve. I can speak Japanese with my wife, but it's such a downgrade compared to the discussions we usually have in French that it doesn't last long, especially since she's not my teacher. Not getting a lot of help here, and don't really know how to make the best of living with a native speaker with whom i'm used to speaking in a another language.

So here I am, nearly 4 month of natsuyasumi ahead of me, including 2 months in Japan, where I'll be working on 2 kyû vocabulary + next year's kanji. What would you do? What did you do appart from "speak as much as possible" and live in the country? I listen to Japanese everyday, talk to myself in Japanese, but still can't make it work fluently, ie finding freedom of expression in the language like I did in other languages I speak. And I feel the gap between what I understand and what I can express widening...
any tips, things to try?

sorry if this was a bit long, and thanks in advance for your help

ben

Last edited by bjaz (2012-05-31 05:18:01)

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#2 2012-05-30 21:50:59

spin13
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

bjaz wrote:

What did you do appart from "speak as much as possible" and live in the country?

I read like crazy.  I read fiction because that's what I like but as long as you see enough variation it probably doesn't matter.

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#3 2012-05-30 23:38:25

Khengi
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

It sounds like you did everything right. All you really need to do now is speak as much as possible. I'm half Greek and half Black; my father is the Greek one. Though I've never met him, stories from my mom tell me that he spoke 5 languages and was a highly wealthy entrepreneur (irreconcilable differences, I guess).

Languages stick to me like white on rice. As soon as I met my ex-girlfriend (Japanese), I was speaking everyday and in no time sounded like a native in everyday conversation. Oddly enough, it doesn't seem to flow as well when I write, but when I talk many assume I AM Japanese.

Just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk... talk to yourself out loud in Japanese, I do it!


今日の言葉: 「火事になったら、大声で騒ぎを起こせ」
Today's phrase: "If fire breaks out, create confusion in a loud voice."

Live in tents. Occupy the ghetto... this is really happening.

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#4 2012-05-31 03:26:57

Bieniu
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

I'm trying to transit from intermediate level to advanced too. I would agree with spin13. Read and listen to Japanese a lot, so you can see many different examples of using the vocabulary in Japanese. I, for instance, like to play video games, which helps me immensely, later I just repeat to myself some words, phrases and it usually works.

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#5 2012-05-31 04:06:21

Lyrencropt
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

I read like crazy.  I read fiction because that's what I like but as long as you see enough variation it probably doesn't matter.

What kind of books do you like? We don't get into personal discussions too much on this board, so I'm a bit curious.

As for myself I read light novels. 狼と香辛料, 僕は友達が少ない,  and 戯言シリーズ are some of my favorites. I have been interested in trying some more "adult" fiction, though.

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#6 2012-05-31 05:14:16

bjaz
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

thanks for your advice. I know there's no magic trick, but I was wondering if there was any exercise you'd done at one point which had improved things, since I have a quite a lot of time ahead of me.
Reading sounds good, I had very limited time because of the workload we had, yet plenty of reading material to dig into around the house.
I started reading the[ 体は全部している]novels by Yoshimoto Banana which are really accessible, if you like her writing, and was also surprised to find that Kawabata's [眠れる美女]was quite readable as well.
The problem with talking to myself is that when I can't express something I'm still stuck. But maybe it's just a vocabulary issue, and still not thinking in the language enough.
hopefully the 2 months in Japan will boost things a little, usually does.

b

Last edited by bjaz (2012-05-31 05:16:32)

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#7 2012-05-31 07:32:57

spin13
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

Lyrencropt wrote:

What kind of books do you like? We don't get into personal discussions too much on this board, so I'm a bit curious.

As for myself I read light novels. 狼と香辛料, 僕は友達が少ない,  and 戯言シリーズ are some of my favorites. I have been interested in trying some more "adult" fiction, though.

The author I've read the most is Murakami Haruki.  I liked "世界の終わり" enough to read it twice and enjoy his short stories.  Unfortunately, he doesn't have a huge range and I'm done reading him for a while.

I also enjoy Murakami Ryu, though to a lesser extent.  "2 days 4 girls" was worth two reads and, while I liked the first book, I never actually finished "コインロッカーベービーズ."  Part of it was the 3 or 4 month period looking for a used copy in BookOff, but part was the story itself.  I don't mind weird, in fact I like Hunter S. Thompson type of weird, but Murakami Ryu's is hit or miss.  Although "2 days 4 girls" is about abused girls and S&M, I liked it because of the parallel dream-like sequences.  More on the non-weird side of the spectrum, "69" was good (but also the first adult novel I read so I'm sure I missed a lot) and "空港にて" was surprisingly good for one of his no-name books.

I haven't read many light novels but I do like Otsuichi.  I was interested to see what gets a 16 year old published and while his first novel "夏と花火と私の死体" was so-so, the "Zoo" short story compilations had some great reads.  "Seven Rooms" is "Saw" level good suspense.

I've dabbled in Natsume Soseki ("夢十夜" is really good, "こゝろ" is whiny) and Tanizaki Jun'ichiro (少年 is twisted/kinky which was surprising), but haven't read many other older authors.  Abe Kobo's "砂の女" probably deserves a reread as I was a bit out of my element at the time, but who knows if I'll get around to it.  Recently I've been reading more in English and Italian than Japanese (outside of work).

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#8 2012-05-31 11:39:51

taekk
Administrator

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

bjaz wrote:

Today in the oral exam, teacher started talking about Japanese politics, and it seemed extraordinarily hard to say anything more than "people talk about politics more in France"... I'm not sure it's just vocabulary, seems more like I can't find a way to actually say things, like people do when they explain things on Japanese TV for instance (be it the invited sensei on a talk show or a geinin, as long as it gets the point across...)

This is the key. This is exactly what you want. Put yourself in situations like this as often as you can. If you find yourself struggling, it means you're exercising your brain. Find a conversation partner and most importantly, prepare topics that are difficult for you such as politics. It's also good to just ask how one would say something in Japanese, then actually say it a few times (this is important), and write it down. Writing is also a good way to collect your thoughts, just make sure to get it corrected as to avoid bad habits (lang-8). Finally, don't try too hard to guess how to say something, you'll end up with weird Japanese that doesn't help you improve. Sometimes, you just don't know the word or expression that best expresses your thoughts. Just ask your teacher, your conversation partner, or ask online.

-Tae Kim

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#9 2012-05-31 12:47:01

Khengi
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

As Tae Kim said, don't try to force Japanese you don't know. Instead, use Japanese you DO know to explain a concept.

For example, let's say you're trying to tell someone about the 駅長, but you don't actually know that word. However, because you know WHAT you want to say but don't know the specific word, describe it. "駅で一番偉い人" or something.

It's best to speak Japanese just with the Japanese you know. Natives can say strange things and it still sound 'right' because they know how to 'break the rules', if you know what I mean.


今日の言葉: 「火事になったら、大声で騒ぎを起こせ」
Today's phrase: "If fire breaks out, create confusion in a loud voice."

Live in tents. Occupy the ghetto... this is really happening.

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#10 2012-06-01 04:46:57

bjaz
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

thanks, this is very helpful. it's not so much vocabulary, I can get around using circumlocutions, but more the problem of structuring slightly more complex thoughts in an understandable, and natural way.
One thing I thought of doing was to transcribing monologues from different levels of speech and learning and memorizing it. I'm specifically thinking of passages in variety shows where you'll have a grey haired sensei explaining something about something, say the brain's relation to love or whatever.

I end up in these kind of situations a lot somehow (might be age related, or cultural), and it's very frustrating to not say something because it's too difficult to explain clearly. Or maybe it's another level of vocabulary, not so much the words rather than ways of presenting and structuring thoughts.
Another example I can think of where I felt really out of league was trying to explain my view of what French women expected out of a relationship, and interractions within the couple to a Japanese friend who was a little puzzled and asking me to expand. This was the kind of discussion where you want to move out of "y'a know, X prefer this".

When I ask my wife, she usually trims it down a lot ("people Just don't say that"), or turns it into really professoral sounding 始めさせていただきたいと思いますが Japanese, which wouldn't work in bar... Can't seem to find a middle ground to make it work with what I know.
One of this issues I'm also having is that a lot of the words I commonly use end up sounding very complex in Japanese, and fall into the "people don't usually say that" category. I'm guessing that this is part of the cultural gap, since the informal discussions i've heard in Japanese don't usually go the same places as those in other languages I speak.

An example would be explaining an idea like : " the other one of our teachers was suggesting that the popularity of 日本人論 is linked to a difficulty of defining a national identity in Japan after two major events, the Meiji restauration and the end of the empire after WW2, and how this opened the door to all kinds of weird pseudo-scientific theories focusing on the unique characteristics of the Japanese." It's just an idea, nothing too fancy, could have emerged from "y'a know, Japanese have longer intestines because of their diet" nonsense for instance.
In this case, I wouldn't bump so much on 明治維新, or 大日本帝国 but might on some words like pseudo-scientific for which i'd probably have to find something like "not very good science" or "looks like science", and would surely crash and burn on something like "national identity".
But beyond precise vocabulary points like that, the main issue would be articulation, and stuff like "opened the door", and also not having this sound too professoral / NHK like. It's also probably linked to context, as the only time I hear stuff like this in Japanese, it's usually formal.
Or in the same vein, "one of amazing things about the Meiji period is how they managed to switch the thinking from hundreds of years of bushi class rule and domination, and strong popular resentment, to a sort of "all Japanese are samurai" thinking after the first victories of the new conscript army in China and Russia..." bump...stumble...fall...

As suggested, putting this down in writing will probably help out, and drizzle down into my spoken Japanese somehow. I know I have to adapt speech to my current level, and that it takes time, but it's still frustrating to have to feel so limited, which is why I'm looking for ways to move forward a little and gain a little freedom in the language.

b

Last edited by bjaz (2012-06-01 07:22:27)

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#11 2012-06-01 09:08:33

踊り子
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

the other one of our teachers was suggesting that the popularity of 日本人論 is linked to a difficulty of defining a national identity in Japan after two major events, the Meiji restauration and the end of the empire after WW2, and how this opened the door to all kinds of weird pseudo-scientific theories focusing on the unique characteristics of the Japanese.

one of amazing things about the Meiji period is how they managed to switch the thinking from hundreds of years of bushi class rule and domination, and strong popular resentment, to a sort of "all Japanese are samurai" thinking after the first victories of the new conscript army in China and Russia...

Do you speak like this in French or Arabic in your everyday life? I agree with your wife. I don't think Japanese speak like this unless they are reading off from a script. Why don't you break down the sentences as if you are really talking at a bar in France? Or if you want to keep it as it is, putting them in writing and asking Japanese people to correct them is a good practice.

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#12 2012-06-01 10:43:06

bjaz
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

Yes, I do actually. It looks heavy, because it's condensed, but otherwise the words would pretty much be the same. This is kind of stuff we often talk about, cultures, history, politics... Japanese course includes mandatory civilisation courses, which turned are quite stimulating. Had courses on state-formation at the Kofun period, 少子化、Brasilian migrants in the 1990's, 食文化史, the 1955 system and the 自民党’s3ばん, the kind of stuff which you'd like to be able to discuss in Japanese...
But yeah, it's more a question of find a middle ground to express slightly more abstract ideas without either jumping into conference-mode, or just dropping the ideas because they're "too difficult".

We had a discussion today over lunch on vegetarianism (one of our friend's recently switched and she's proselytizing a lot, comparing slaughter houses to death camps, and my wife brought it up), which drifted into man's special relation to nature, human consciousness etc... I stuck to Japanese as much as I could and then bailed out when I tried to explain the influence of agriculture, sedentary life in shaping human consciousness and relationship to nature, which is something i'm very interested in. It wasn't all bad, you can go a long way with 意識...

I signed up on lang8 and tried the thing on Meiji as my first subscription, and already got some help. This is probably going to help me out a lot!
http://lang-8.com/421228/journals/15070 … iji-Period

Last edited by bjaz (2012-06-01 10:57:16)

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#13 2012-06-07 16:53:40

taekk
Administrator

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

It sounds like you're trying to talk about topics that are pretty specialized. I find that I need to rebuild my vocabulary base when it comes to a new field. For example, when I started working as an software developer in Japan, I had to relearn all the terminology I learned in college. Though much of it is in Katakana, I still had to learn words like 値、閾値、 変数、etc.

Did you read those those history books in Japanese? I'm assuming no so it's not surprising you can't express those ideas in Japanese since you learned the material in another language. I suggest rereading the same or similar books in Japanese.

Now the other issue may be explaining the specialized knowledge to a layman who are not familiar with say computers or history. Breaking down something complicated into something easy to understand is a skill that is very different. For example, I'm terrible at explaining computer stuff even in my native language. If you're having trouble with this, it may be because you're thinking too much in your native language and trying to stuff too much information in condense sentences to sound "smart". Just break things down in many sentences with simple words. I don't think there's anything wrong with "not very good science" or "looks like science" for psuedo-science. I think うその科学 is a lot easier to understand than 疑似科学. Also instead of "national identity", you can say "what it means to be Japanese" or 日本人であるというのはどういうことか.

-Tae Kim

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#14 2012-06-12 11:12:42

bjaz
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

thanks, they're good tips. Yes, I'm starting to realize that I'll probably have to make do with less precise terminology, especially if I want to think in Japanese. I guess things will flesh up as my vocabulary increases.
I'm going to have to dig into this anyway, just found out what next year's 作文 lesson was: 1st semester: on top of usual topic related writing, we'll have to translate extracts from a French novel into Japanese.
Second semester, same thing, except it's not a novel but a social science book (this year they had something by Emmanuel Todd http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmanuel_Todd ), which you're supposed to simplify but write as if you were the author (it's not an actual summary)...

b

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#15 2012-06-13 12:04:16

taekk
Administrator

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

I find that translating from English (or another language) to Japanese doesn't really help me learn Japanese. The part of the brain I use to translate is completely different from the part I use to speak/read/write Japanese directly. I think reading the translated version and writing about it in your own thoughts would be more useful. Oh well, I guess you can't change the assignment.

-Tae Kim

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#16 2013-07-01 11:27:57

bjaz
Member

Re: tips on moving from intermediate to advanced, feeling very stuck

Hello again... Well, a year later, here I am again smile

I'd like to pick you brains, as I've now just reached a stage in my studies of Japanese where I'm feeling a little lost.

I'm still at a roughly intermediate / advanced level- yet much more at ease with politics now smile Interpretation classes, increased vocabulary and things made things click (especially an in spoken 漢語 recognition

So here I am now, just finished my  university degree, took JLPT N2 last year with AA in grammar and hearing, and have few hundred jôyô kanji left that I'm working on. This is fine.

Nowadays I read as much as I can, novels and also the newspaper, sentence-minging the asahi shinbun as I'm aiming at being able to read the paper without a dictionary within a few months, as I'd like to try entering a translation interpretation school next April.
I'm making vocabulary list with vocab and idioms I don't know, and also read for pleasure.

I also watch tv shows ( 博士の知らないニッポンのうら、クロスアップ現代, listen to radio podcasts), movies understand the news well and also do written English or French to Japanese translations, stuff on lang8.
I have a couple of language books, but they're a little boring (速読日本語、and a couple of intermediate to advanced), and I'm finding it increasingly difficult to work with them.

My wife is still japanese but we still usually speak french at home (she's not my teacher...), and this time I'll be spending 3 months in Japan from next month onwards, on holidays, where I'd like to try and immerse and speak as much as I can, as I won't be living in Japan anytime soon.

So I have a little time on my hands and I'm trying to move forward, but it's a little hard to figure out what to do now, how to organise things.

The three years at university were intense, and now I'm really on my own and finding it hard to do anything else than reading, listening to live japanese and kanji.

My weakest point is still clearly output, and I'm really lost as to what can be done, appart from speaking as much as i can when I get the chance.

Overall, most of my training has been pretty passive, and even if I can speak and now pretty much express what I want, including more complex stuff, it's still not as natural or fluent as I'd like it to be, and I'd really like to work on this. I tried to get a summer job where I'd use Japanese but ended up at a cash register at the airport where I didn't say much more than 搭乗券はお持ちですか...

So far the only thing that's worked has been learning (spoken) texts by heart, usually from broadcasts or written down (using the Japanese part of a book for advanced conversations for learning English instance), but surely there must be something else. Speaking with friends always helps but not as much as I'd like it to.

I'd like to make my common daily speech more natural and strengthen output.

Apart from living in Japan with a daily immersion, what training worked for you?

Last edited by bjaz (2013-07-01 11:29:14)

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