Sunday, June 26, 2011

Used and Abused - JLPT

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I will be taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) soon to prove my worth to Japanese companies. I have been studying pretty hard (for me) and was excited when I received in the mail an invitation to participate in the official JLPT Practice Test. Not only would I have the opportunity to:

1. Practice timing and test technique in a real-life situation
2. Get a good gauge for the difficulty or easiness of the test questions

I would also receive a whopping 2,000 yen for my trouble! -- if I would also be so kind as to take a survey or write an essay at the end of the practice test. It seemed too good to be true...

The Practice Test was held on Sunday, June 19 and after completing the experience, I realized it had made me feel used, abused... and worthless. How the hell, you ask? Let me explain.

The invitation to the Practice Test explained that I would helping Japan Educational Exchanges and Services refine the test and adjust it as necessary before the big day. Thinking that it could be no more painful than the test I had originally taken in December, I felt it could only benefit me to participate. How hard could it be to take a practice test and fill out a survey?

Unfortunately, I underestimated how difficult and brutal the experience would be. The practice exam was held at a university that is currently observing the nation-wide practice of 節電 or energy-saving, in an attempt to prevent national black and brown outs due to the crippled nuclear power plant in  Fukushima. While I fully support and admire the Japanese energy conservation efforts, it is my very strong opinion, that if energy-saving means that the air-conditioning must be turned off with the windows closed while hundreds of foreigners struggle with a 4-hour exam, 節電 can kiss my sweaty butt.

The conditions were torturous, at best.

And to make matters worse, the practice test was at least doubley as difficult as the actual exam I took in December. The first two hours of the exam, I was confident I had the correct answers for an overwhelming 5 questions. The second half, where I had originally been confident in 70% of my answers, I thought there was a chance I may have had 20% of the answers correct this time around.

And then, after I felt as though the JEES had had its way with me, mentally... the sheer impossibility of that test (to me) made me feel as though all the studying I had done had been in vain and that I, in fact, had been delusional this whole time about having any kind of Japanese language skills... they had me fill out a survey about my Japanese communication level.

They made me feel like nothing and then asked me if I liked it and if I thought I was any good. Then they gave me 2,000 yen for my humiliation and walked away laughing, knowing that in a few weeks, after they had adjusted the actual exam based on our collective results, that they would be laughing again when I come crawling back for another dose of torture.

I had willingly given myself to the JEES for the promise of a "good practice experience" and some change in my pocket. However, after I thought more carefully about how my talents, if I had any to begin with, were going to be used -- to adjust the exam and possibly make it more difficult -- I couldn't believe I had chosen to participate.

Having had a week to reflect on the experience, I realized that in the after-math, any confidence I had gained in my studies has now been diminished to non-existence. I feel beaten and bruised and find myself fearing July 3rd more and more. Every time my study partner mentions the number of days left until the exam, I find myself flinching like an abuse victim who fears another slap across the face.

I had been telling myself this whole time that this time, I got this. I will pass the JLPT and prove to myself (and the world?) that I have the skills needed to be considered capable of "Business Japanese." But after that beating... all I can think is, what am I doing?! Why am I going back? Do I really want to endure another experience like that and then, a few months from now, have it punctuated by another letter in the mail saying I did not pass?

Not really.

But I'm going to... in 6 days and counting. Shit.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Random Truths of the Moment

Back in the heyday of MySpace, people were constantly filling out About Me surveys. Most of the time, you didn't care what the person actually answered (or even what you answered, yourself), but it was a great time-killer and aided procrastinators the world over.

I feel like I don't see these things that often anymore, but I found one that I liked on a friend's tumblr and thought I'd steal it and post it.

This one is called Random Truths of the Moment. And it's just that. Whatever is true right now. And even better, all I had to do was bold what was true. No needing to think of clever or unexpected answers. Just bold.
Random Truths of the Moment.
Bold What’s True:

It’s night right now.     
There’s something else you should be doing at the moment.     
You ate chicken today.
You are lactose intolerant.
There’s a nearby TV on.
You get along with your neighbors.
Twilight is a horrible series.
You’re hungry right now.
You have worked out today.   
Running a mile sounds awful. (I’d love to be able to run a mile right now..)You have a job.
You love to bake Christmas cookies.   
Your parents are still together.
You woke up before 11 this morning.
Baths are better than showers. 
You are 5’5” or shorter.
You hate British accents.
Victoria’s Secret is a good store.
Cats are better than dogs.
The 90’s sucked.   
Your favorite color is either blue or purple.
Your hair is short.
You are by yourself right now.
The last thing you drank was water.
You’re in your PJ’s right now.
Your hair color is natural. (some of it is)
Fred from Youtube is annoying.
You don’t drink soda. (I rarely drink soda)
There’s at least 20$ in your wallet.
It’s cold out.
Orange juice is better than apple juice.
You love someone right now.
Video games are awesome.
Your sheets are white.
You have read works by Shakespeare before.
You’ve been professionally diagnosed with a psychological disorder.   
You know someone in the hospital right now.
You know someone who has beaten cancer.
Sneakers are your favorite shoes to wear.
Chocolate is better than vanilla.
You’re allergic to peanuts. 
You’ve never been to New York City.
You’ve never been on a varsity sports team.
You want to go to Europe. (back to Europe)You’re using a laptop right now.
Plastic surgery is a good idea. (in some cases)
Vanilla is the best scent a girl can wear.
You’ve made yourself throw up.
Your friends do drugs.
School is too early. 
Your nails have nail polish on them right now. 
You’re Italian.   
You have a tan right now.
You’ve been on a diet before.
You shop in plus sized clothing stores.  (I do sometimes in Japan)
Hot Topic is scary.
There are socks on your feet right now.
I’ve used a hair straightener.
Shopping online is easier than shopping in an actual store.
You’re in Verizon’s network.
Cheesecake is delicious.
Your BMI falls into the overweight category.
You have gotten your hair cut in the past month. 
Your birthday is within the next 2 months.
Comedies are better than action films.
Math is the best subject.   
You are fluent in more than one language.
You love Greek food. 
You consider yourself a picky eater.
You have more than 3 pillows on your bed.
You live with at least one parent.
You’re happy right now. (but not satisfied)You are a high school graduate.
You have a pet cat.
You were born before April 5th, 1991.
You have brown hair. (maybe? or black? not sure.)
You have blue eyes.
You are in a relationship. 
You can count to 20 in another language.
You have studied a foreign language.
You voted in the 2008 presidential election.
You own a vehicle that is older than a 2004.
You have worked 3rd shift.
You have worked in a fast food restaurant. (Does TCBY count as fast food?)
You drove somewhere that was further than a half hour away today.
You live in New Jersey.
You live in Montana
You live in Pennsylvania.
Your last name begins with an ‘M’.
Your middle name begins with a ‘C’.
Your first name begins with an ‘S’.
You are older than 19.
You are an only child.
Your parents are divorced.
You have more than one sibling.
You are a vegetarian.
You have a gym membership.
You are in the military.
You have a relative in the military.
You have been to Canada.
You have been to Mexico.
You have been to Europe.
You are currently enrolled in college/university. (Just on Saturdays for their Continuing Education Program)
You have done something you told yourself you wouldn’t.
You have/had braces. 
You wear contact lenses.
You have a tattoo on your ankle.
You have a tattoo on your wrist.
You have a tattoo on your lower back.
You have a tattoo on your upper arm.   
You have a lip piercing.
You have a tongue piercing.
You have your cartilage pierced.
You have curly hairYou have received flowers from someone in the last 2 months.   
You are engaged.   
You are married. 
You have children.  
You are an aunt or uncle. (to dogs)
Your bedroom walls are blue.
Your bedspread is red.
Your bedroom carpet is beige.
You have been drunk in the past 24 hours.  
You watch Scrubs.
You watch Jon & Kate Plus 8.
You watch American Idol.
You have been to the movies within the last month.
You have cursed in front of your grandparents.
You had a lunch box with a cartoon character on it when you were little.
You actually pay attention to politics.
You have kissed someone within the last week.
You were told you looked cute today.
You were hugged today.
Your best friend is the opposite sex. (some of them?)You have paid more than $100 on one item of clothing.
You had a date to prom.
You are a good speller.
You are always on time.
You have done something illegal within the last 24 hours.
You have ridden an elevator within the last 3 days.
You have spent the night at someone else’s house within the last 2 weeks.
You have been out of the country within the last year.   
You love Chinese food.  
You love Italian food. 
You love Mexican food.
You love country music.
You love rap.
You love hip hop.
You love punk rock.
You love hard rock.
You love metal.
You love classic rock.
You love bluegrass.  
You love oldies.
You love techno.
You love instrumental music.
You knew someone younger than 10 who passed away.
You have taken pictures of yourself just because you were bored.
You have been in a car wreck.   
You have had stitches.
You have a parent who is a teacher.  
You have a savings account.
You currently have a $2 bill in your possession.
You have dated someone who was 2 years younger than you. (went ON a date)
You have dated someone who was 2 years older than you.
You have broken up with someone for someone else.
You have been cheated on.
You are Mormon.
You are Buddhist. 
You are Agnostic.
You wish at 11:11. (sometimes)
You have had your current job for more than 3 months.
You have had your heart broken.
You broke someone else’s heart.
You felt bad about it.
You have an Aunt Karen. 
You have an Uncle Bill.
You have a cousin Sarah.
You have a cousin Adam.   
You have worked with a Danielle. 
You have ridden in a car with a Stephen.
You have hugged a Tiffany. 
You have kissed a Blake. (on the cheek, maybe)
You have had class with a David.
You have had a crush on an Emily.
You have dated a Derek.  
You have been neighbors with a Hannah.
You have done something just for the fact that you were old enough to.
You have been to a cemetery at midnight.  
You have been a vampire for Halloween.   
You have been a witch for Halloween.
You have been a pumpkin for Halloween. 
You have stayed up for 48 hours straight.
You have been to Walmart in the past 3 days.
You own a pair of scrubs.   
You own a cowboy hat.  
You own a leather coat.
You are missing someone right now.
You have been let down recently.
You have had someone you thought you could trust betray you.
You would rather have a one-night stand than a relationship.
You would rather win $500 from the lottery, than be a guest on a game show.
You have met someone famous.

Nothing deep, but it was fun.

This has been random truths of the moment.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

Japanese Language Proficiency Test

In America, most of us speak English -- albeit, some of us speak bad English -- but for the most part, we are considered "native speakers." Immigrants and foreign nationals who live in America, however, do not always speak our language and unless we are having some kind of communication issue with these non-English speaking individuals, I think many of us don't care that they can't speak the language.

I think this includes employers, as well. They don't care if an employee can speak English if the job doesn't really require English-based interaction with clients or customers. And in some cases, even when the job does require one to speak the language, it is often amazing how often you go through some fast food drive through and realize that you can't understand your order-taker and they have no idea what you're ordering! It's even more amusing when you, yourself, don't speak English all that well and are trying to place your order. (Case in point: Us kids used to make my mother, originally from Thailand, order our McFlurrys at McDonald's. Our mother can't say McFlurry at all. And in Ewa Beach, the Filipino employees never understood us, even when those of in the car who CAN say McFlurry tried to order. Funniest stuff in the world.)

In work places that have higher standards when hiring -- it's usually okay if you're not a native English speaker, as long as you can speak well enough and understand most of what's written. Many employers do not require documentation proving that you speak English -- they simply interview you and know that you do, based on the way you handle your interview. If you can communicate and are qualified for the job, "Congratulations, you're hired!"

Unfortunately, this is not how it works in Japan. For Japanese citizens to be hired for a job that requires the English language, they have to take a test called TOEIC and your score tells employers whether or not you have the English skills needed for the job.

And if you're a foreigner trying to find decent work in Japan, forget going into your interview and trying to razzle-dazzle your potential employer with your best keigo (honorific language) and pimp kanji skills. You can sound like a Japanese national and maybe even read better than one, but that's not enough to qualify you for the job of your dreams. No, no. You need to have pass the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test)

This spiffy test comes in five great levels (as of 2010) and if you want to be considered awesome, Levels 1 and 2 certifications are what you need to get your hands on. Twice a year (in Japan) and once a year (elsewhere), you get your chance to prove to the world -- or at least to Japanese companies -- that you have a handle on their language. And with these certifications, the seas part, and the world of decent paying positions become available to you and employers actually will take the time to listen to your plea of "Please hire me."

However, this is a Japanese-made test, which means that while this tests for reading and listening comprehension, the makers of this exam could give a flying monkey butt about whether or not you can speak the language. Here enter the Chinese nationals who can use their awesome reading abilities to pass the test, but can't say hello in Japanese. And here enter people like me who can talk and talk and talk and talk, but who suffers when it comes to kanji.

I had been to quite a number of job interviews and had gotten tired of hearing the same things over and over: You have the experience we are looking for. Your Japanese is very good. You don't have JLPT certification. Sorry, please contact again if you get this.

I studied my booty off and took the stupid JLPT in December 2010. And I.... FAILED by 2 points which is 1 question! Your actual percentage of correct answers does not determine whether or not you passed. If it did, I would have passed. Instead, they weight the questions -- awarding the most points to questions that most test-takers missed. And this, my friends, was my downfall.

So, my next chance at greatness is on July 3, 2011. I have enrolled in a weekly 2-hour prep course at Temple University Japan and am trying to study daily. Trying, of course, is the operative word. I really hope that I do well this time and ideally, pass. What this will mean for me? I don't yet know. But certainly, it'll give me some kind of personal validation -- and maybe some professional validation, too. That is, after all, why I began studying in the first place.

Count down to JLPT: 23 days. Wish me luck.