JLPT N2: struggling with grammar

After my recent, humiliating defeat on a practice test for the JLPT N2, I jumped right into studying grammar, which is a subject I hadn’t really covered yet. I assumed the higher JLPT exams were more focused on vocabulary, but looking at an older JLPT grammar textbook, I discovered there is a lot of important grammar to cover. This is now reaching into the intermediate-to-advanced grammar (I’ll explain below), and is less commonly seen than the basic grammar you study for the lower JLPT exams. In many ways, the grammar you study in the lower exams is by far the most important because it’s used so often, and in so many ways. Now you get to the more obscure grammar that (me at least) almost never encountered.

Remember, the JLPT was originally designed as a university entrance exam measurement of literacy, and the grammar and vocabulary reflect this. If you reach the upper-levels, you are getting to more advanced levels of the language where reading material gets difficult, and the topics more adult. It’s fun in a way, because you know that you’re finally getting to the “big time”, but it also means you really need to study like a professional or a college student.1

Lately, I’ve been struggling with grammar points like:

  • 以上は
  • からには
  • かぎりは
  • 上は
  • からは

These grammar points all are somewhat similar, and if you look at Goo’s page explaining what they mean, you can see that there’s quite a bit of overlap. If you’re an N2 student, I’d encourage you to read the page linked. It’s hard for me to read, I spent many times re-reading it and checking the dictionary, but that’s how you learn! ;)

In some ways, the best way to learn is in Japanese itself, but sometimes you also need to know the particular nuances and then you need to fallback on English sources. However, English language materials for advanced Japanese grammar are pretty hard to find. There are plenty of JLPT books to use, but all of them usually explain in Japanese or in broken English. So, on advice from a co-worker who was a Japanese linguistics major in Kyoto, Japan, I bought the venerable Japanese Grammar Dictionary, both advanced and intermediate. The beginner one is definitely too easy for the JLPT N2. I purchased both the intermediate and advanced dictionaries while at Kinokuniya in Seattle, because while browsing through them I found that half the grammar for the N2 was in the intermediate dictionary and the other half was in the advanced dictionary. Obviously the notion “intermediate” or “advanced” is somewhat arbitrary, but it shows that the N2 is definitely not an easy test.

Also, Tae Kim explores some of these grammar points on his excellent website, and as he explains, you might see/read these grammar points rarely, and probably in written form only. But it’s good to learn it for when you do encounter it.

Think of it as a rite of passage. I still have yet to complete that passage, but I am trying to stay upbeat, even though the weeks are passing fast. :)

P.S. Speaking of Tae Kim’s website, you can now download it for free on the iPhone as an app. I found this very convient, well-designed and of course useful. :)

1 My wife points out that although I am studying “advanced” grammar, I still need a lot of work on the fundamentals. :p

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