Studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N2 and N3 exams can be pretty exhausting. I lost track of the number of times that I drilled myself with the grammar books or free apps for studying Japanese to the point that the key sentences for understanding each grammar point became a mantra that I’d recite even in my sleep.
Zzzzzzz… その問題をめぐって賛否が分かれた. Zzzzzzz… “We are divided on things surrounding this issue.”
Luckily a lot of these grammar points aren’t necessarily found in seldom-used sentences like the one above.
Take, for example, two grammar points that I struggled with which were: ～得ない and ～たて.
These are often found in exam sentences like 現実では起こり得ない and 大学を出たてのお医者さん.
But how do you remember the meaning of sentences like this?
Overheard in Japan
If you’ve lived in Japan long enough you’ve probably heard the term あり得ない (Unbelievable!) overused to the point of redundancy.
So it isn’t too much of a leap from that to remembering that ～得ない means (Cannot be done) and therefore working out the meaning of 現実では起こり得ない (That couldn’t happen in reality).
Similarly, while learners may struggle with a tricky subject like 大学を出たてのお医者さん in a sentence, you probably wouldn’t if you remembered 焼きたてパン —the freshly baked bread that you come across every time you go to a bakery.
Immediately, the meaning of ～たて (Just done) reveals itself and you can work out that 大学を出たてのお医者さん is used to describe a doctor who is freshly graduated from college.
This is one of the interesting things about this kind of grammar; it’s all around us and by practicing it daily we can put ourselves on the road to mastery.
Concentrating on small talk
One of the best ways that learners can master JLPT grammar it is by talking about every Japanese elderly guy’s favorite small-talk topic: the weather.
Believe it or not, but this deceptively simple subject will help you master some of the trickiest grammar forms!
Some of the most obvious examples of this are the grammar forms ～のような, っぽい, and ～らしい that confuse so many learners.
But this doesn’t need to be the case. When chatting about the weather, you should slip in terms like
- 夏っぽい (It is very summery summer weather)
- 夏らしい (It is very summery weather except NOT in summer)
- 夏のような暑さが続く (Heat like that in summer is continuing)
… into your small talk to get daily exposure to the differences between these similar forms.
Even some of the trickier grammar points can be used to talk about the weather: 今夜から明日にかけて全般に曇りや雨の天気でしょう (It will probably be generally cloudy and rainy weather over tonight and tomorrow) is a great way to practice the tricky form, にかけて (spread over an area).
Similarly, listen out for phrases like１週間雨が降りつづくことになる (It has been raining for a week) to practice ことになる grammar (Something that I have no control over is happening).
Weather can also be used to practice the tricky AうちにB (Before A happens, do B) grammar.
Guys like me who value their beauty sleep will almost certainly never use the standard prep phrase 陽が昇らないうちに出発しよう (Let’s start before the sun rises).
But with the sort of baking hot summers that we get in Japan, 暑くならないうちに出かけよう (Let’s leave before it gets too hot) is definitely a useful phrase.
Finally, don’t forget to also add phrases like 雨はやむどころかいよいよひどくなった (Far from stopping, the rain increased) into your daily repertoire in order to practice the tricky どころか grammar (Far from ~).
Listen out for phrases that you hear at work
Regardless of whether you work in a コンビ二 (convenience store), 英会話教室 (English-language school), or 会社 (office) there are plenty of chances to practice the other N2 and N3 forms.
These simple meaningless phrases that you might mutter to your colleagues such as
- 諦めないで (Don’t give up!)
- 気にしないで (Don’t worry about it)
- やり過ぎないで (Don’t overdo it)
… offer a chance to practice the ないで (Don’t do~) and 過ぎない (Don’t do too much~) grammar forms daily.
ばかり (Just done) is another one that is used a lot in office chat.
仕上がったばかり (Just finished it) and 私は今着いたばかりだ (I just arrived now) are both useful daily phrases.
Simply the other use of ばっかり (Nothing but) can be practiced in forms like:
- 上司は帰国したばかりだ (The boss has just returned from abroad)
- 彼らは不平ばかり言う (They do nothing but moan about things)
- 言い訳ばかりするなよ (Don’t just keep making excuses!).
And hang on to phrases you use to complain about things
General grumblings can also be useful for practicing other forms such as がち (Have a tendency to do something).
- 彼は遅刻しがちだ (He is apt to be late)
- 彼はなまけがちである (He tends to be idle)
- 言い訳をしがちだ (Apt to make excuses).
This can be practicing with other terms for tendencies such as 最近風邪ぎみ and 最近太りぎみだ followed by the inevitable いけない advice form:
- 夜更かしはいけない (You must not stay up late)
- 食べすぎはいけない (You shouldn’t eat to excess).
A related form is ないではいられない (I cannot help but~) that appears in sentences like 私はその老人に同情しないではいられない (I cannot but feel sorry for the old man).
In addition, conflicts can be useful for practicing certain forms such as ~しかない found in:
- 謝るしかない (There is nothing to do but apologize)
- 待つしかない (I can only wait)
- 彼は怒るべきだ (He should be angry)
- 真実をいうべきだ (You should tell the truth)
- 君は謝罪すべきだ (You should apologize)
Hang in there!
Another common one that you will hear or use is the ～ば～ほど (The more ~ the better). This can be tricky to say, so it is always worth practicing.
You might have heard 早ければ早いほど良い with means “the sooner, the better.”
This can also be paired with ～ようになる to make sentences like すぐに出来るようになる (You will soon be able to do it) and 英語を話せるようになるだろう (You will be able to speak English).
Another thing you’ll soon be able to do? Pass the JLPT! While all of these won’t be useful every single day, these examples show that a lot of everyday phrases contain the kernels of the larger, more difficult ideas that come up in the test.
And as that other common phrase goes: “Every little helps!”