The Japanese language proficiency test is used to evaluate and certify non-native speakers ability with the language. While the highest levels such as N2 and N1 are necessary for working in sectors such as translation, healthcare, and business, many take the test simply to gauge their progress with the language.
Personally, I’ve never bothered taking it, even though I’ve been living in Japan for two years. My job doesn’t require me to learn it, everyone of my JTE’s (Japanese teacher’s of English) i work with speak perfect English, and I found making friends in Japan to be relatively simple, even with a limited vocabulary. So why should I bother taking it?
Let’s get philosophical for a bit. What do you think motivates people more, positive experiences or negative ones? I would have to say negative ones influence people more in the long term while positive experiences influence people in the short term. Let me explain.
After two years of being the only foreigners at my school, i’ve gotten used to being “out of the loop” on a lot of things.
- Situation #1: You don’t realize that today your classes have been switched because of the assembly. This is important information; however your JTE was too busy to inform you because well, she is not your mom. And even if she were, she be too busy to tell you anyways. But it’s your fault dude, if only you studied harder you could have understood the morning staff meeting.
- Situation #2: It’s the farewell enkai (drinking party). One of your favorite Japanese teachers is leaving, and he is giving his farewell speech. You understand bits and pieces, but mostly you’re gathering information by the feeling of his voice and people’s reactions. You see a tear roll down his eye, and you wonder exactly what he expressed in his speech.
- Situation #3: Teachers around you are talking and they are making jokes about some of the students in their class, perhaps the same trouble student you’ve also taken issue with. Suddenly everyone starts laughing hysterically over… something. But you missed a step there. Why are they laughing, you wonder. This situation can happen at almost any time and anywhere, of course!
Honestly, living in Japan and not knowing Japanese can leave me feeling quite vulnerable, stressed, and maybe even paranoid. This naturally has become a huge motivator for me to study the language even harder. I want to be able to speak with my coworkers and to understand daily life around me without relying on my JTE’s for everything.
Now, let’s talk about some of the positive experiences that have motivated me to study Japanese. Although negative experiences influence us more than positive ones in the long term; i find that positive experiences can often be better in the short term. Here are three separate situations (intimately linked) that happened on the day I payed for my JLPT test!
- Situation 1: One of the Japanese teachers who doesn’t speak any English at my school invited me out for lunch. We all had a good time at the steak restaurant and I felt closer to my coworkers even though I was doing mostly listening to what they were talking about. He payed for the whole thing, and we agreed we should go out again. That was actually the second time he took us all out. I felt that we would become good friends in time despite the language barrier between us. As to say thanks, I went home to make brownies for him.
- Situation 2: Later that day, I go home and start making brownies only to realize that I need a baking pan, so I go to the Kirindo next to my apartment to find one. The Japanese lady there helped me find what I was looking for (as she always does). We couldn’t find the baking pan, so I asked if she had a screwdriver so I could take off the handle of frying pan at home. The store had zero screwdrivers, but she had one herself, so she actually let me borrow hers! I was flattered she trusted me with her own screwdriver. I had every intention of coming back the next day to return it with some brownies.
- Situation 3: The brownies are cooking thanks to the Kirindo lady helping me out. I head to the convenient store to pay for my JLPT test. At the screen I run into some trouble. I enter the application number to pay for the test, but it’s not registering. A bit stressed out, I let the guy behind me go ahead of me. He then took the time to help me figure out my application. A few times we weren’t sure what was wrong with it, only to figure out I was entering the wrong number. We laughed it off. Then I thanked him for helping me. He told me to try my best on the exam, and then I walked away feeling extremely motivated to study hard for it, as if the universe was trying to deliver a message to me: 頑張って.
So while my negative experiences have ultimately motivated me to study for months and months at a time, It wasn’t until recently it frankly hasn’t been enough. However, luckily, thanks to the few individuals I mentioned, these positive experiences have given me a new surge of energy to take on the N3 this December with full force. I hope to meet more people who will bring me joy as these few individuals have.
Message received: 頑張ります！