How to Reach Advanced Level Japanese and Beyond

By Tyson Batino | Created June 21, 2020

This article focuses on helping you pass N2 and N1 and even beyond. This article is a part of our extensive series of 20 or more guides on how to learn Japanese.

The following article was written by Tyson Batino with support from Daniel Coleman. Tyson Batino passed N1 and is a successful entrepreneur in Japan.

Introduction

advanced level japanese

Welcome to the last chapter of our 3 part series taking newbies through the early aches and pains of a beginner level of Japanese up to an advanced level of Japanese. If you are reading this article, it means you have probably successfully navigated the waters of an intermediate level of Japanese and are ready to explore the deep and dark caves of advanced level Japanese. 

You are gonna hit some ups and downs on this journey, but at the end awaits a treasure that very few foreigners experience. Being able to fluently speak two languages that have nothing in common will make you a unique individual and hopefully open your mind.

Table of Contents
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    What is an advanced Japanese level

    The goal of this article is to help those who want to reach a near-native level of proficiency to speak, sound, and understand cultural cues like a Japanese person would. Using the Common European Framework scale, our goal for this article is to provide a study method that will help you go from a B2 / N2 level of Japanese up to a C1 / N1 level of Japanese and maybe even the unicorn C2 status.

    The Common European Framework for References of Language has provided clear guidelines on the difference between intermediate and advanced learners. An advanced level second language speaker is considered a proficient user of their second language. An intermediate level person is considered an independent user.

    C2 - the highest level a speaker can achieve is described as follows

    Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.

    C1 - the lower level in the advance spectrum is described as follows

    Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors

    B2 - this would probably be around an N2 to low N1 level of Japanese.

    Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

    Based on reading the Common European Frameworks guidelines a real advanced person at the C2 level is someone who is near a native level of speaking. The person may not understand some cultural references, but can operate with ease in every situation. They can also go head to head with a smart and highly educated native speaker in a debate without minimum disadvantages or delays in response. Someone at a C1 level can operate on a functional level but does not have the fluidity that someone at C2 has.

    I have several friends who are at a C2 level and they make your head spin with how good their Japanese is. They never lose a beat and can dominate conversations with people who are experts in their field. They throw natural expressions at the right time and the right way, and everyone is in awe because they speak like how a very educated Japanese person would in Japanese. The one thing all of them had in common was that there were ridiculously hard workers (doing 60+ hours a week) who succeeded in everything they touched due to sheer willpower. Borderline insanity at times, but nevertheless impressive for a western to achieve.

    Advanced Level Japanese Student Thinking

    Where does N1 stand on this scale

    My personal experience is that when I barely passed the N1 Japanese level at the age of 26, I was at a solid B2 level. My passive understanding of things was at a solid B2 level, which in my opinion means that you understand 70 - 80% of a conversation and understand the general gist, but you would miss several minor and sometimes big points and you would need to confirm with co-workers later if your understanding is correct. Additionally, my ability to create clear, well-structured, and detailed texts were definitely lacking.

    Based on my experience, people who get a near perfect score on the reading section are usually those who are at a C1 range and not B2. If you do not get a near perfect score on the reading section or are unable to explain the whole document and the main points to a friend with absolute confidence, you might be someone like me who could pass the N1 test, but was really at a B2 level of understanding. I share this because the spectrum of ability between different N1 speakers is much wider than the other levels of the JLPT test. Most N3 people are roughly around the same level, but N2 and N1 can be much more different. 

    In conclusion, my personal opinion is that N1 speakers are in the B2 to C1 range in general and a rare few make it to C2 because Japanese grammar is completely different from Latin language based grammar. To be able to understand solidly brings you to a C1 level, but being able to speak and write at a high level without an assistant is what makes someone C2.

    Is a C2 level Japanese speaker a Unicorn?

    Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.

    The C2 description above describes many of my successful Korean friends in business. Watching them speak Japanese and navigate through complex topics with such ease and fluency blows me away. I have seen a small amount of Westerners who have achieved a C2 level, but all of them have been highly logical thinkers and naturally highly intelligent, but more importantly are in the realm of the top 10 - 15% of the population in determination and hard working. This could be my bias, but most of my western friends including myself with high emotional intelligence seem to be stuck at a B2 - C1 level.

    Personally, my Japanese has not improved and has stayed relatively the same 12 years later. However, what has changed is my level of business and life experience. Both factors have helped me to improve my ability to explain things in a simple way in both Japanese and English. Experience talking to a lot of Japanese people has also helped me intuitively understand what people want to communicate. 

    I share this because one potentially more effective approach to improving your Japanese as someone with high empathy and emotional intelligence would be to improve the way you think and organize complex thoughts in your own native language. This approach has helped me to break down complex topics and explain to Japanese subordinates or co-workers, more so than improving my knowledge of Japanese vocabulary and grammar. This is especially useful when explaining a foreign concept.

    Although I am too occupied with building up BFF Tokyo and my two other businesses, I feel that if I were to start learning Japanese again, I would approach it in a more logical manner designed with increasing my understanding of Japanese from 80% understanding of all conversations to a solid 95%. This would involve applying methods that give me immediate feedback if I understand something or not. I would avoid passively consuming content in Japanese because this would not have a major impact on increasing your understanding rate.

    In conclusion, it will take thousands and thousands of hours to get yourself to an advanced level of Japanese. However, to make it to the highest level of C2, you will have to approach things from a more logical perspective and ensure you have a constant feedback loop to make sure you really understand exactly what was said 95 - 100% and do not need to confirm with others. My personal opinion is that if you are a more feelings based person than a logical type, than you will struggle to reach a C2 level of Japanese and get stuck around B2 - C1.

    Should I even try to get N1?

    Having N1 is great for bragging rights and getting respect from both foreigners and Japanese. You also need it to get into a certain field like medicine, health, translation or law where N1 is needed to even get in the door. My N1 certificate is a badge of my 3 years of masochism and endless grinding similar to someone climbing a mountain like Mt. Everest or completing a spartan race. All situations involve a lot of training and effort, but not necessarily practical from an efficiency point of view.

    The major downside of trying to pass N1 is you will have to learn a lot of impractical Japanese that you will not use after passing the test - I have personally forgotten 90% of the grammar section because I do not read novels. Your speaking and writing skills will also be lacking since you have been overly focused on reading and listening. The N1 test is great for those who are interested in Japanese literature and have a deep love of Japanese culture, but I would consider it inefficient for learning the Japanese needed for business. Regardless, we will cover some techniques on how to pass N2 and N1 below.

    Am I ready for the N2 or N1 examination?

    Not sure, but you can purchase the official N1 test preparation book with tests from previous years to practice on the official website or on marugoto online to see if you should go for N1 or N2. If you would like to have a quick check to see if you are ready, you can see some official JLPT sample questions on the JLPT official website

    Benefits of Advanced Level Japanese

    Benefits of Advanced Level Japanese

    Benefit 1 : Start a Career or a Business

    Depending on your field of expertise, you can work across many sectors such as, healthcare, pharmaceutical, legislation, technological, education, financial, business and translation/interpreting in Japan. There are many opportunities and we recommend checking out the list of job boards in Tokyo in our Guide to Full-Time Jobs or career cross for bilingual positions.

    If your Japanese level is around a C2 level, many high profile companies would be very interested in hiring you and for good money. The main reason most companies do not hire foreigners for senior positions is because their Japanese is stuck at a B2 or low C1 level. The great wall of B2 and C1 which I described above is also why companies tend to hire Japanese with English skills as opposed to foreigners with Japanese skills. 

    You need to achieve that level of fluency where you are a near equal and not a liability - even my foreign CEO friends in Japan tend to hire Japanese with English abilities over foreigners. Additionally, there are not enough C2 level foreigners around. Uber language skills combined with corporate level experience will make you a popular person at the American Chamber of Commerce. These unicorns can command high salaries from western companies who want to bring a foreigner to make sure the Japan Branch follows HQ policies and not steal the sushi while being able to manage the Japanese staff and understand them without a hired Japanese henchmen to explain everything to you, which leaves you liable to manipulation.

    Translation and Interpretation

    Do you know the difference between the two? Most people are usually very good at one but not the other. However, you do find people who can do both. Translation refers to the translation of written words into another language, while interpretation is interpreting the spoken words of someone in another language. This is why you hear the term simultaneous interpretation but not simultaneous translation.

    You do not need a degree to do translation / interpreting. A certificate of some sort may help but finding a company who will get your foot in the door is important. Translators and interpreters of Japanese and English are always needed since Japanese companies would rather want to communicate and conduct business in Japanese. Not sure what the going rate is but I hear of people garnering salaries of 5 - 10 million yen a year with several years of experience.

    Start a Successful Business

    Did you know that one of the leading finance apps in Japan was created by three white dudes? I have met the CEO of moneytree, who is originally from Australia, and the dude has really great Japanese skills and talks real smoothly. Most Japanese think the company was created by Japanese since everything is in Japanese, but nope it was created by Japanese speaking foreigners. Another Japanese company, Make Leaps was started by an Australian white dude who speaks great Japanese. They are a leading provider of invoicing software to businesses and freelancers in Japan. 

    Not to toot my horn too much, but I am doing decently well in Japan as a business man despite being from America. I founded BFF Tokyo as a hobby project, I also founded the well known English school chain One Coin English, which has 11 locations in Tokyo and 200 employees and Japan Switch, which provides very affordable morning Japanese lessons. Maybe you could create the fourth company by a Westerner that has a big impact on Japan.

    Benefit 2 : Becoming a More Dynamic Person

    The second benefit is becoming a more dynamic person. Anyone can learn another Latin based language and have a fun and sometimes deep cultural experience. However, learning an exotic language like Japanese, Arabic, or Hindi puts you in a whole new world that has little in common with your native language and culture. When you truly understand how Japanese people or another ancient culture sees the world and understand its poetry and the words they use to describe nature and other phenomenons, it can be a mind blowing experience.

    People with an N2 level of Japanese are still a long way from having that deep profound experience of understanding Japanese culture both logically and internally. Even having an N1 level of Japanese does not guarantee this connection if you are too technical and mechanical in your thinking. The reason most foreigners never truly understand is because they try to understand Japan through the goggles of their native language and concepts.

    With a deep level of advanced level Japanese and observation skills, you start to notice the cultural symphony under people’s actions and thinking. You start to notice how Japan in its own unique way values the individual and in other cases does not value the individual compared to a Western lens. You start to notice behaviors that from a Western lens are outdated but may alternatively be more advanced looking at things from a social cohesion and social order standpoint. I am not going to go into specifics but all I can say is the west could learn a lot about order and unity from the Japanese.

    One big learning example from my American lens, was I had an under performing staff member who was beyond redemption and everyone knew it. For me, the obvious answer was to let the person go, but my Japanese partners explain that it was not about the person, but the impact it would have on the team and the precedent it would send. They were right in the long run and things worked out. Not as fast as I would have liked it too, but things worked out naturally and the team harmony was preserved. Anyhow, I sometimes find listening to both Japanese and westerners as having a limited view of life because they only know one way.

    Experience Japanese Culture

    If you have advanced Japanese you can stop watching well-intention but narrow focused documentaries because you can never get the full spectrum of an issue or story in 60 - 90 minutes. Instead, you can now dive deep and speak to Japanese monks and fortune tellers and get your fortune told in Japanese. You can also talk to Japanese protesters and learn why they are protesting or eat ramen with a gangster and talk about gangster philosophy and their concept of honor. Japan has a lot of funky and interesting people and the more esoteric you go the more interesting.

    If you want to learn more about Japanese culture, we recommend our BFF Tokyo guide on How to Make Japanese Friends. Even advanced ninjas like you will learn something. The article was created by talking to many foreigners who connect well with Japanese culture and people.

    Advanced Japanese Study Method

    Intermediate level Japanese study method

    Improving as a beginner is challenging because your speaking and listening skills are low and it is tough to remain motivated. Improving from low intermediate to high intermediate is challenging because of the overwhelming amount of new words you need to study. Improving as an advanced student can be challenging because your focus is on increasing the accuracy of understanding. Many people plateau around the intermediate level because they are comfortable with being good enough.

    Although we do not specifically cover how to pass the N2 and N1 levels of the Japanese language proficiency test, the methods here will help you improve your Japanese language skills at the core and naturally help you pass the test. These ideas will not help for the vocabulary and grammar section, but will help you dominate the listening and reading portions of the exam.

    Improve Your Listening

    Before we jump into my tips, here is a reminder of what a solid advance student can do.

    C2 - the highest level a speaker can achieve is described as follows

    Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.

    C1 - the lower level in the advance spectrum is described as follows

    Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors

    Choose a Japanese Language Role Model and Listen a lot

    An advanced learner should start to develop more personality than the generic speak before your think foreigner persona which is famous in Japan or if you are gonna do it, at least do it in a Japanese way. You can do this by finding a Japanese role model of the same gender to emulate, so you can learn the gender based nuances of speech in Japanese. I chose the actor Kimura Takuya as the person I emulate since I have a low voice, don’t show my emotions that much, and am a little bit arrogant - a characteristic he is well-known for. 

    You will have to listen to the person over and over again, but it is not any different than how an actor or actress approaches playing the role of person in a biographical movie. Japanese people would be really impressed with your mannerisms and if you are a person with many causes, Japanese people may be inclined to take your opinion more seriously than the foreigner type above. You often hear a Japanese person listening to a foreigner spout off their seemingly expert opinion (based on tone) on the streets. What the foreigner does not know is that the person is getting a free English lesson, so they do not mind listening. Plus, they can ask you follow up questions and you would be more than glad to answer.

    Intermediate Learner

    An intermediate learner should probably listen to everyday conversations or listen to topics you know a lot about in your native language. The key is to choose predictable situations where you can make up for what you do not understand through context. The second point is to find something you understand around 60 - 75%, so it is enough to understand, but not so easy that you do not challenge yourself. You can then learn the words you do not know and gradually build up your arsenal. 

    Challenge yourself with movies

    For an advanced learner, you should be challenging yourself by watching a movie. People on podcasts and variety shows tend to use words around an N2 level and are great for intermediate students, but movies will use a lot of natural expressions that people use at a fast pace. Additionally with variety shows and podcasts, they talk about the same topic for more than 10 minutes so you can understand the gist even though you may not have understood what was said in the moment. However with movies, if you don’t understand something the first time you hear it, you do not get a second chance to catch up.

    I have mixed feelings about music. Singers use unnatural pronunciations and I cannot even understand songs in my native language. I feel music is good for maintaining motivation and having a crush definitely helps increase your desire to study more consistently, but on the other hand is that it is not a practical learning method.

    High pitched vs low pitched voices

    I would also advise advanced learners to listen to more content from men. Women normally speak with a higher pitched voice than men and are therefore easier to hear. Intermediate students should stick to listening to men with higher pitched voices and women to make sure you maintain the 50 - 70% range of understanding when watching content. Your ear is probably not ready to hear a man with a low pitched voice. 

    Since advanced students will enter the workforce and men over 40 and especially in their 50s are notorious for speaking in what sounds like grunts or very short sentences, now is a good time to practice watching Japanese gangster movies. Additionally if you enter a Japanese company, your boss may be one of those types, so start practicing and improving your Japanese ear now, so you can save yourself from a rude awakening later. Deal with it now and avoid the typical whining you hear from N2 and N1 level foreigners who complain about how their boss speaks - note : I am super guilty for being one of them in my mid twenties haha.

    Increase the speed of the audio

    One technique I used to prepare for the JLPT N2 and N1 listening section was to listen to the JLPT listening section audio tracks at 1.25 to 1.3 times the normal speed. When my brain adjusted to listening to things at that speed, I found that I had more time to process what was said when listening at the normal speed. This helped me to score around a 90% on the listening section on N1 even though my listening kinda stinks.

    YouTube has the change audio speed feature built into the normal viewer and you do not need to buy a third party software to achieve this. I personally use Itunes and listen to podcasts in Japanese and you can adjust the speed easily. One thing to note is that the faster you increase the speed, the more unnatural the speaker sounds. Going past 1.4% is not the best pronunciation practice, but great for challenging your brain to process things quickly.

    Confirm your listening accuracy

    Now that you are moving from intermediate to advanced, your goal is to achieve 90% understanding. I recommend putting yourself in a situation where you can confirm what was said in Japanese matches your interpretation English. You can do this through watching something like Terrace House with subtitles and you watch 5 minutes in Japanese and re-watch in English for 5 minutes. You then reflect on how much you understood and what areas you did not understand. 

    For those who have more time to invest, I recommend listening two times in Japanese and then listening in English. If you are more hard core than this and serious about improving, I would mark an X for each sentence you did not understand and subtract 10% for each sentence you did not understand. You would then make a spreadsheet and keep track of how well your understanding is from month to month. This method is for those who really want to reach the top 20% of N1 level westerners.

    FluentU and some of the other YouTube video Japanese study applications also offer a good collection of videos that have subtitles in English. The NetFlix language studying extension for Google Chrome will allow you to practice this method.

    If you are looking for more listening resources, don't miss out our ultimate guide to improving your Japanese listening. We've prepared guides on how to improve your test-taking listening skills and daily listening skills.

    Improve your Speaking

    Before we jump into my tips, here is a reminder of what a solid advance student can do. My apologies for being redundant, but through repetition you will remember. If you can remember the difference by the end of this article, I have done my job right.

    C2 - the highest level a speaker can achieve is described as follows

    Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.

    C1 - the lower level in the advance spectrum is described as follows

    Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors

    What is Advanced Level Speaking?

    A lot of intermediate Japanese language students think they are tough because they can go from random pub to pub and speak to people with no problems. You can bring them to a party and they can mingle with people no problem. People who can do this are pretty cool, but if you want to make it to the pro leagues you are going to have to elevate your level language to be able to persuade, deescalate, and conquer in real-time Japanese language combat.

    Here are some things that advanced level Japanese speakers can do much better than an intermediate speaker.

    1 : Being able to have a discussion where all the participants are Japanese and no one is simplifying their communication for you. Also having the ability to respond to sudden, unexpected, but complicated questions that involves explaining in a timeline or layered format with a multitude of actions or reasons, and be easy to understand at the same time. Here is a great interview example from 東洋経済 a famous magazine on business and society in Japan that is an example of what I mean.

    Native and smart : 酒を飲む人の心理を、酒を飲まない武田さんに、酒をやめた僕が説明してみるとね(笑)、人間には「自分を乗り越えたい」という気持ちがあると思うんです。酒を飲んで陶然とする、その感じによって、我慢できない日常を乗り越えられたような気持ちになるからじゃないかと。

    シャイな人が人前でパフォーマンスしなきゃならないとする。そのときに一杯飲むことで萎縮や緊張から解放されて、しらふだったらできないことができるようになる。対人的な話とは別に、抑制やタガを外したいという気持ちがあるわけですね。武田さんは、自動車は運転されますか?

    I created an intermediate level for your reference and in this example they explained their opinion well, but there was a lot of information that was lacking. They were focusing so hard on how to speak in Japanese that they were unable to have the perspective of explaining things thoroughly.

    Intermediate : なぜ私は酒をのまないね。酒の味が好きですが、体に悪いと思います。また、私がお酒を飲むと、もっとたくさんお酒を飲んでしまいます。止められないですね。だから、私は酒を飲まないです。

    2 : Being able to counter someone's opinion by restating their opinion accurately and then sharing your arguments on why you disagree with each section of the statement and then asking them their thoughts on your counter. Here is a short but complex example from twitter that provides an excellent counter opinion example in less than 180 words from Ayabot.

    私は年齢を隠さない。女性に年齢を聞くのは失礼だと言う人が多いが、私はそうは思わない。30歳の人が30年間懸命に生きてきて、40歳の人が40年間懸命に生きてきて、その歳月を聞くことのどこが失礼なのか

    3 : Another example of advanced Japanese is to be able to provide instructions on something somewhat complex like how to set up a bank account or how to set up a signature in your email software. The challenge is not only having the vocabulary to explain the process, but being able to visualize the process in your head step by step in Japanese.

    An intermediate level speaker can explain the basics like how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because you can easily substitute words you do not know and can visualize the situation because it is something you do often.  However, an advanced student can explain something more complicated that they may have only done once to someone who has not done it before using the right terminology without pause or having to confirm with the person if they understand or not.

    Another point to add is that the verb in Japanese comes at the end of the sentence and not the beginning like in English. When listening in English, you know exactly what action the person is taking from the beginning and the conversation is easy to follow for us even if the person has an accent. However in Japanese, you may often feel like you are playing catch up because you are trying to process what you are listening to and when you hear the verb you have to reprocess everything in combination with that verb and still be able to respond in real time. An advanced learner can better anticipate where a conversation is going before the verb pops out at the end.

    To close this section, I use the analogy of graduating from self-introductions because people get trapped into thinking their Japanese is satisfactory even though all they can do is self-introductions or talk about cultural differences and traveling. Being an advanced speaker involves being able to debate with someone, change someone’s mind, and explaining something complex that the person has to learn from zero to understand.

    How to Challenge Your Advanced Japanese Speaking Skills

    Challenge 1 : Ask questions at seminars

    Attend a seminar in Japanese and ask the speaker an intelligent question. If you do a good job, you will impress the crowd and the speaker will be able to give a good answer because they understand exactly what you want to ask. Being able to ask a question concisely in 15 seconds or less is really hard and I am unable to do it consistently. I make up for this by writing down my question first and reading it off the paper.

    Challenge 2 : Serve as a moderator for a discussion in Japanese

    An intermediate level student can interview people in Japanese. However, a real advanced level Japanese speaker can moderate a discussion between many people. During an interview, you can get away with asking questions and changing the subject when you do not understand. However, when moderating a discussion, it is pretty obvious when you do not understand because your change of direction will confuse the audience if you derange a topic prematurely. You also have to understand the arguments of both sides and consolidate all of the points discussed at the end.

    Challenge 3 : Ask people if they know how to do something and then explain if they do not

    This is a silly challenge that I came up with while writing this article but makes perfect sense in hindsight. Make a list of things that would be somewhat easy to explain in English but challenging to explain in Japanese. Ask your friends if they know how to do that thing and explain to them in Japanese if they do not. Get the person to explain how to do it back to you at the end.

    Challenge 4 : Explain a foreign movie to a Japanese person

    This is a tough challenge. Explain the story line of a famous foreign movie that is not well-known to Japanese people. This is a good challenge because your Japanese friend will not have any context on the movie and some of the situations in it. Your ability to explain using references that Japanese people can understand would be a signal that you are advanced and not an intermediate level speaker. 

    Some good examples of challenging foreign movies to explain are because you have to explain concepts that are foreign to Japanese people.

    1. Shawshank Redemption
    2. How to kill a mockingbird
    3. Baseketball from the creators of South Park
    4. Dodge ball

    Example of a reference to use with Japanese.

    I like to use the analogy of the flood and building a boat when explaining to friends who never seem to move forward in life. A metaphorical flood is going to strike you emotionally every 5 to 10 years (getting fired, getting dumped or divorced, or having a family member pass away) and if you do not develop strong mental foundations, financial savings, and physical health, you are going to get swept away when it comes or you will not see it coming in advance. When explaining this to Japanese, I substitute flood with earthquake because that is something they understand because they do not get the biblical reference.

    Challenge 5 : Learn to speak a Japanese dialect fluently

    This is an obvious example, but you rarely meet a foreigner who can speak a dialect fluently. You do meet some people and it is funny to see, but also impressive at the same time. You do make Japanese people from other prefectures feel uncomfortable, but will get you free beers at the local pub.

    Summary

    In summary there are a ton of challenges you can come up with to put yourself in situations you are not comfortable with in speaking Japanese. Your ability to adapt in real time with multiple native speakers talking at the same time will push your Japanese to an advanced level. Additionally, your ability to understand how Japanese people think and provide references they connect with will help you talk about complex subjects and be on the same page even though you come from different cultural backgrounds.

    If you want some suggestions on how to practice Japanese conversation by yourself, check out our article on Japanese speaking.

    Improving Your Pronunciation

    I am not going to go deep into pronunciation as we cover this topic in our intermediate guide to learning Japanese. However, here is a one minute TL DR version for you here.

    A person with advanced Japanese with poor pronunciation is seen as less fluent than a foreigner with intermediate Japanese with great pronunciation and natural Japanese. Great pronunciation is harder to achieve than advanced Japanese because you have to be super focused on one thing - unless you are one of the unicorns who naturally pick up pronunciation.

    Learn Pronunciation with Dogan

    Everyone here probably already knows him and if you don't you should. If you want to learn Japanese pronunciation, learn from the great white YouTube sensei himself. This guy is legit and should be your main source to learn how to do Japanese pronunciation.

    Practicing Pronunciation with Siri

    Practicing your pronunciation with Siri is a good way to see how good or how bad your Japanese pronunciation is. Your IPHONE has a voice to text feature where you speak in Japanese to it and it writes what you say in Japanese. My smartphone typing skills suck in Japanese and I always use the voice to text feature. Luckily my pronunciation is decent enough where the software understands 70 - 75% of what I say, which is only 10% lower than my 85% batting average with English.

    Try speaking to it slowly and see how much of your pronunciation it understands. If you have a high percentage of around 70% and higher, consider testing your katakana pronunciation skills. Most foreigners can communicate to Japanese using non katakana words, but these pronunciation skills fly out the window when you have to use katakana words and we all know why they suck.

    More than One Japanese Accent

    This is a Japanese dude making fun of the accents from the 47 prefectures of Japan. He is definitely not a pro and it is 50% a joke, but is somewhat interesting to see if you are bored. You definitely will not find much content on accents from the different dialects of Japan in one video.

    Improving Your Reading

    I do not need to explain how reading is beneficial if you are at an advanced level. However, for some of you newbies who sneaked into the club here is the low down. 

    Reading is the best way to develop your vocabulary as an intermediate and advanced level student. Beginner students need to focus on flashcards to learn vocabulary, but once you know 1200 kanji characters, your vocabulary is going to skyrocket. The main reason for that is repetition because you see the same kanji over and over again and you will develop a strong visual image of what the kanji represents. 

    Additionally, once you encounter a new word where you already know both kanji, you will automatically know what it means and you can visualize and use that word again in the future like osmosis. You will also frequently encounter words where you know one kanji and not the other and you will have a vague image of the meaning. You won’t learn the world as fast as the other case, but you will still learn it multiple times faster than the foreigner who can only speak Japanese. Moral of the story, foreigners who can’t read Kanji simply have limited vocabularies to those who do.

    What kind of books should I read?

    If you are at an intermediate level and trying to make the step up to advance, I would recommend reading content for 6th grade Japanese students. There are several newspapers designed for elementary school students. If you are at an advanced level then newspapers would be the way to go. If you want to take that even one step higher, I would recommend magazines like Newton or some of the many interesting business and economic magazines like President, Toyou Keizai, and Nikkei Trendy.

    For high intermediate students, I would also recommend self-help books in Japanese because the language is meant for the average Japanese person and they won’t go too metaphorical or use too many special phrases. You can also learn practical Japanese through authors such as the queen of clean Marie Kondo. Here are some additional self-help books to consider. These have also been translated into English, so you know the content is suitable for a Western audience.

    Do you remember that crappy website called BuzzFeed. The good news is that they have an equally crappy Japanese version called BuzzJeed. Lose hours of your precious life and soul diving into drivel and IQ decreasing content. However, they will expose you to a wide variety of content that would not find anywhere else and expand your Japanese abilities and knowledge of trends while being massively entertaining. 

    Watch this video to learn how to read high level books.

    How to Challenge Your Reading

    The major difference between an intermediate student and an advanced student is the accuracy of their understanding. How you improve your reading to advance level is to constantly take JLPT N2 or N1 practice tests and check what percentage of the conversation and how many questions you got right. Most people never confirm and keep a record of how much they understand and end up overestimating their ability or fall into the trap of not improving. To be an advanced level Japanese user, you really need to understand 90 - 95% solidly and within one to two reads.

    Improve Your Reading Accuracy

    Use a side by side reader program. Simply read a section in Japanese and think of how you would translate it to English and then look at the English. Next, confirm the accuracy of your translation. The app BEELING does just that and we have not tested the Japanese language features on it, but it might be worth checking out.

    Similar to the app IBC対訳ライブラリー is a publisher who creates book that are both in English and Japanese. The left page is in English and the right page is a Japanese translation. The books cost around 1300 yen and can be a great practice for improving your reading accuracy.

    Note : If you find that despite knowing a majority of the words, your translation accuracy is only 70 - 80% correct, you may have a grammar awareness issue. I would recommend working with a teacher to improve your understanding of Japanese particles and verbs and that would probably be the quickest way to improve as opposed to just reading more things for countless hours.

    Improve your Reading Speed

    The second way to develop advanced reading skills is to increase your reading speed. The easiest way to do this is a mock N1 test. Can you complete the reading section in the time allotted?

    One technique I used to pass N1 was to take a practice test with a timer that beeps once my time is up. Seeing how far away I was from completing the task when the timer beeped showed me that I had poor reading technique. I then learned techniques like not reading the word out loud in your head or reading the questions before reading the text. The moral of this story is that if you are evaluating your abilities, you are more likely to seek solutions to improve.

    Check out the articles below for more ideas on improving your Japanese reading speed.

    5 Techniques To Speed Up Your Japanese Reading

    Breaking the Japanese Reading Speed Limit

    Increase your Kanji Knowledge

    The more Kanji you know, the less likely you will stop in the middle of a sentence trying to figure out what it means. The more Kanji you know the greater your accuracy of understanding the text as well. Check out more detailed tips and resources for learning kanji in our guide on learning Japanese kanji. However, do note that the more Kanji you are able to read, the more likely you will try to read and remember each character one by one and this takes too much time. Your eyes need to fly by the kanji characters like an airplane and not like a 120 dollar drone to pass JLPT N1.

    My method for the JLPT reading part

    If the above tips and resources are not enough for you, we've also created a guide to improve Japanese reading where we share additional free Japanese study apps and resources for reading based on JLPT levels. Also, don't miss out the useful tips we came up with to help you learn Japanese in an enjoyable and efficient way.

    Improving Your Writing

    Considering I have N1 and cannot even remember to write all katakana characters shows you how seriously I considered learning to write Japanese. For those seriously investing in writing, don’t do it - but please know that I am biased. Writing has actual benefits and demerits, so consider yourself warned.

    The most important thing for you to know is that writing is the most difficult skill to maintain in your Japanese repertoire. Imagine how many times a day you need to write in Japanese? You really need to go out of your way to write things in Japanese because it is more convenient and time effective to type in digitally than writing on paper. If you do not double love writing in Japanese, you will forget how to write in Japanese Kanji. It happens to Japanese all the time and your rate of kanji decay will be much faster than theirs.

    Although I smashed on writing Japanese above, learning how to write will impress Japanese people because they expect even less foreigners to be able to write than are able to speak and use chopsticks. Writing may also give you a spiritual connection to Japan and you can understand the strokes and rhythms and dive deep into the words through your mouth, ears, eyes, and hands.

    ※ Friendly Reminder : You will have to learn writing if you want to work or you are working for an old school Japanese company.

    Methods 

    Checking your written work is free and easy to do. I would suggest using either HiNative or LangCorrect. Both apps are great for those who would like to ask questions about anything related to your target language to native speakers.

    Improving Your Grammar and Vocabulary

    You are welcome to check out our other articles on both topics. If you have made it to N2 level Japanese, you are doing something right in learning Japanese grammar and vocabulary. For you advanced Japanese users, the only tip I would give is to learn Japanese expressions and yojijyukugo which we cover below.

    Other suggestions

    If you want to sound more like a native Japanese person, then you should have a look at this website called Japonia.club. Here you can learn extra stuff about the language and culture. For example they have a section called Learn Yoji-jiyukugo where you can learn four-kanji-character idioms. This is perfect for you to immerse yourself even more into the language.

    Final Remarks

    According to google, only 1% of people make it this far in the article. Congratulations on reading the whole article and pat yourself on the back. Your next step is to write down what you learned and make sure to incorporate some of the tips into your daily habits and routines. 

    We have many more articles on how to learn Japanese at BFF Tokyo and we highly recommend you check them out. We also feature Japanese journeys of foreigners who have achieved a high level of Japanese fluency and an article on using a Japanese language coach - a foreigner who coaches you on how to learn the language but doesn’t teach you the language like a teacher does.

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