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Sunday, Dec. 5, 1999


Born to fail the Japanese proficiency test

Today at this very moment, while you are reading this newspaper, myself, as well as thousands of other foreigners in Japan, are failing the Japanese Proficiency Test.

I am taking the test to remind myself that I just may be able to pass it -- in another 20 years. Maybe. The Japanese Proficiency test is given once a year in various cities throughout Japan and has four parts: listening, reading, word usage and "kanji," and grammar. It takes all day to take the entire test.

Although I've never met a Westerner who has passed level one, the highest level of the test, I've heard that a small, elite group of such people does exist. I imagine these people are also rocket scientists. If you've ever wondered if you have what it takes to be a rocket scientist or to pass level one of the Japanese Proficiency Test, take the following practice test.

Listening: "A tape is played of a man and a woman talking. They are buying a gift for a friend at a department store. Which present do they finally decide to buy?"

Woman: "These vases look nice." Man: "Yes, they do. Which one do you think is best?" Woman: "How about the long, cylindrical one?" Man: "That's too boring. How about the elliptical one with the amoeba print?" Woman: "Hmmm. But that one over there is interesting with the Pakistani-Canadian-psuedo-Russian influence." Man: "Hmmm, how about something theme-oriented, such as that cowboy hat-shaped vase." Woman: "That's nice, but it's too expensive." Question: Which vase does the couple decide to buy? a. The square one. b. The one that looks like the Titanic. c. The one with the erotic elephants. d. The Hello Kitty-Mickey Mouse wedding anniversary special edition.

Reading: Biologists have discovered a type of pest that lives on macrobiotic, lymphatic mind-altering chocolate. These insects, some of which can live more than 500 years, produce chocolate from their own stomach juices and use mental telepathy to receive survival information from the leader of their colony, who lives in China. They are also said to enjoy watching CNN, which has led some experts to suspect that the insects may be spies. Despite their appetite for chocolate, these insects appear to enjoy excellent dental health. One reason could be that mind-altering chocolate differs from regular chocolate in that it is made from the insect's stomach juices and contains no sugar. The insects still enjoy delicious taste however, accompanied by the benefit of a heightened mental awareness.

Question: What is the main theme of this passage? a. A rock 'n roll group called the Mind-Altering Chocolates. b. CNN international news correspondents. c. American Association of Retired Insects. d. Dr. Atkin's new diet revolution.

Word usage: You are sending a gift box of fruit to a professor who has helped you get a job. Which is the proper thing to say?

a. I'm giving you this terrible gift, but. b. Perhaps you think it rude of me to give you such a terrible, horrible gift, but. . . c. I am sorry for being so rude and giving you such a terrible, horrible, disgusting gift, but. . . d. There's no excuse for me.

Kanji: Choose the correct kanji for the following hiragana reading. The kanji all look alike except for their radicals, small characters to the left of the major character that are meant to confuse you. Any other time you'd instinctively know the answer. But tests are made to confuse you, so now you are confused. You've narrowed it down to two of the four. But which of the two is correct, the tree radical or the person radical? I think it was the tree. No, I'm sure it's the person. No, perhaps the tree. No, no, the person. Tree, person, tree, person, eeny-meeny-miny-mo. Choose the hiragana reading of the kanji used in the sentences. Eeny-meeny-miny-mo.

Grammar: This section requires you to actually know the difference between "wa" and "ga," "de" and "dewa" rather than randomly inserting them into your speech as you normally do. Eeny-meeny-miny-mo.

Oh well, so much for becoming a rocket scientist. At least not for another 20 years.

Visit the Japan Lite home page at www.amychavez.com or e-mail comments to: amychavez@mailexcite.com

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