This year, I decided to sign up for the foreigner living in Japan rite of passage -- the JLPT. Also known as the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. If you want a job outside of the JET program (where I've heard from a number of sources the preference is actually for people with little or no Japanese language skills), you need to take this test. I'm not planning to stay in Japan much longer, but I figured I would like to have some kind of certification to put on a future resume. And it would give me a "carrot" to encourage me to study Japanese. Which despite having ample time at my desk in which to study, never quite seems to happen.
Long story short, that hasn't really worked. So here I find myself with mere days before the test date, and I'm cramming away. I wanted to challenge myself, so I signed up for Level 3. Which covers basic Japanese grammar, and about 300 kanji. The kanji aren't really the problem. There's a whole lot of grammar out there.
I started out with lofty aspirations. After coming here with practically no Japanese, I had made big strides, and was able to understand people at work and generally make myself undestood. Let's be realistic here though -- I am nowhere near to actually speaking Japanese, but I've come a long way from stepping of the plane and not understanding anything around me. The wonders of immersion. I figured if I kept up what I was doing, I could write this exam, and feel really good about reaching this level after a year and a half of Japanese study.
I wasn't planning for it to be something that I ended up cramming for. That makes it feel like Japanese High School and University Entrance Exams. The reason that high school students at hundreds of schools in Japan weren't taught required subjects, and now face not being able to finish high school. The things that Japanese students commit suicide over if they aren't being bullied, and the generally accepted reason (at least in the ALT community) for the lack of communicative English in Japanese schools. Students are too busy studying for these exams to have time to practice speaking English. It would detract from studying English!
So, now I feel like I've stepped into that world. Instead of learning the language, I'm cramming away. I know that in the long run, this test doesn't really mean anything, but that doesn't mean I'm not disappointed in myself for treating it like an entrance exam.
Back to cramming.