Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Japanese teleprompter following you around?
If you ever forgot how to say the word you’re looking for or were unsure how to connect your thoughts, there it would be, feeding you perfect Japanese speech.
Unfortunately, this little fantasy is… just a fantasy. There’s no magic teleprompter, no cheat sheet for learning a language.
What does that leave us with?
Practice, practice, practice.
Whether you’re just starting out in your Japanese studies or a seasoned student looking to cross the fluency threshold, it takes a concerted effort to get your speaking skills where you need them to be.
But here’s the good news: there’s a number of ways you can incorporate Japanese conversation into your everyday life, no matter where you are and no matter what your proficiency level is.
It won’t always be easy, but it will be effective, rewarding and confidence-boosting. So get ready to get speaking!
Why Is It Important to Get Japanese Speaking Practice?
It’s all too common for students of Japanese who haven’t been to Japan in a while, or who haven’t had a chance to go yet, to be much more confident in the written than the spoken word.
Once you have a basic grasp of the language, it’s relatively easy to crack open your favorite novel (or manga!), to write an email or to post on social media. But it’s not always so easy to find someone to engage with in a dialogue—or to get up the courage to do so.
But for all the challenges that may be involved in finding chances to converse, it’s a very rewarding (and important!) part of your Japanese studies. The parts of your brain that process speech and oral comprehension are different from those that process reading and writing, so speaking truly is something you need to focus on deliberately. It won’t just come naturally as you’re working through your textbook or writing out characters.
By finding opportunities to speak Japanese every day, you can make sure that you’re able to reach or retain a high standard of fluency. Of course, you might think that it’s easier said than done—if so, good news! With a bit of careful planning, you can still have an active Japanese-speaking life, no matter where you are in the world from Australia to Zimbabwe.
Just remember that speaking skills are only one aspect of Japanese learning. For a well-rounded language-learning experience, you’ll also need to learn vocab and grammar, listening and writing skills! So, in addition to the practice tips below, use FluentU to get yourself comfortable listening to native Japanese speakers.
The FluentU app has a broad range of contemporary videos—just take a look at one small sample:
You’ll get reading practice too, as every video is subtitled. FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive captions. These interactive captions will show you the definition of a word (and simultaneously pause the video) whenever you hover your mouse over it.
All definitions have multiple in-context usage examples, and they’re written for Japanese learners like you. You’ll also find audio pronunciations, synonyms, helpful images and more. Tap again to add words you’d like to review later to your running vocab list.
And that’s not all. FluentU also lets you learn Japanese even better by turning your selected videos into personalized language lessons. You’ll go through exercises that show the video clips as the prompts, multimedia flashcards, quizzes and fun activities like “fill in the blank.”
The best part?
Every time you use FluentU, the site keeps track of the grammar and vocab you’ve learned and the words you struggle with, personalizing video suggestions and learning sessions based on your unique set of knowledge.
It’ll then recommend the natural next step in the progression of your learning. You’re delivered a 100% personalized experience.
5 Easy Ways to Practice Speaking Japanese Every Day
1. Do a Language Exchange, or Two or Three
If you live in a reasonably sized city, it should be easy for you to find Japanese speakers who are interested in a language exchange. As the name implies, a language exchange involves a native speaker helping you with Japanese, in exchange for you helping him or her with your native language. It’s a straightforward, affordable way to practice real-life Japanese conversation.
If you’re already quite advanced, you might be able to offer tutoring services for your native language with Japanese as the language of instruction (you could charge for this, or think of it as an opportunity to practice Japanese while paying it forward… or you could do what this author did, and combine both models by getting paid in coffee and/or ramen).
Check Craigslist (the “Community” section is where language exchanges usually get posted) or your local online classifieds equivalent for language exchange opportunities. You can also put up a notice on the bulletin board at your local university, ESL school or Japanese restaurant.
Common sense safety measures apply here—don’t agree to meet a stranger in a dark alley in the dead of night, language exchange partner or not—but as long as you take the normal precautions this can be a fun way to study and make new friends.
If you’re living in a smaller community, you’re still bound to have some native Japanese speakers living there; you might just have to look harder. But if you don’t find anyone, don’t panic. You can organize conversations online using services such as LingQ, an engaging language learning app that also has a community with language exchange options.
LingQ is particularly cool because not only can you find Japanese speakers to chat with, you can also take advantage of their learning tools and track your progress as you go. It’s like a leveled-up language exchange. Learn more about what's available here.
2. Find a Japanese Roommate
Living with a Japanese speaker means you’ll have opportunities to speak Japanese every single day. Hang around with your roommate and their friends enough and you’ll be getting Japanese immersion without even going out the door.
If your roommate isn’t fluent in your native language, you can even incorporate a language exchange element by agreeing to speak, say, English at breakfast, Japanese at dinner, etc. (With any luck, they’ll even help you up your game when it comes to Japanese cooking!)
Your city may have Japanese-language classifieds where people seek accommodation. Otherwise, go to the places you’d usually look for roommates and see if any Japanese speakers are searching. You can also tell your local university that you’d welcome Japanese exchange students to your apartment for a semester or more.
3. Check Out What’s Already Happening in Your Community
There may already be a thriving Japanese community in your city, with plenty of cultural festivals, meetups and more where you can practice speaking the language.
Meetup and Facebook are great places to search for existing Japanese language and culture groups. Your local Japanese consulate can also probably point you in the right direction, and may host 会話 (かいわ, conversation groups) of their own. Local universities and cultural institutions are also great options for events in or about the Japanese language.
You might be surprised how much is already on offer, making it easy to meet new Japanese friends so that you can broaden your social circle and become more fluent at the same time.
4. Practice with Some Study Buddies
You don’t necessarily have to only practice your speaking with people who are native in Japanese. As long as they’re of a similar or higher proficiency level than you, you can still enjoy valuable Japanese language practice.
Whether you’re introducing each other to your favorite Japanese songs at karaoke night, role-playing conversations or using verbal games to reinforce your Japanese studies, practicing with someone else is like going to the gym with a buddy. Even though neither of you is likely to become the next Hulk Hogan (perhaps fortunately), you’re both more likely to stay the course.
Again, Meetup and Facebook are great places to meet people, as are Japanese language courses. You can catch up with your classmates for extracurricular language practice. Your Japanese and theirs might not be perfect, and you’ll sometimes make mistakes, but the benefit to your fluency that those practice sessions offer shouldn’t be underestimated.
Plus, if you’re hitting a roadblock in pronunciation, comprehension or any other language skill, a fellow learner can offer study tips and tools that worked for him or her.
You could also use resources like Reddit’s /r/LearnJapanese or the JapanesePod101 forum to find potential study buddies who are local or who could reach you on Skype, or even just offer advice about how they found other learners to practice with.
5. Talk to Yourself
This may seem awkward, and you probably shouldn’t do it on the bus or in the middle of the grocery store, but talking to yourself in Japanese can be an entertaining exercise and effective language study tool.
Whether it’s difficult for you to meet native Japanese speakers for conversation or you just want an added language boost in your downtime, talking to yourself doesn’t have to make you feel like you’re a living personification of the #foreveralone meme.
The most productive way to go about this is to think of an everyday topic and record yourself talking about it. Then listen to the recording and see what grammar or pronunciation errors you can catch, and re-record without them.
It doesn’t quite matter what you’re talking about, as long as you’re using words and expressions you’re likely to need in real-life situations.
You could do a short recap of your day before going to sleep, or talk out your opinion on something from the news. You could pretend to tell that annoying person at work what you think of them (might as well get it out of your system, anyway!). You could role-play both characters in an 愛の告白 (あいの こくはく, confession of love), or act like your grandmother watching “Days of Our Lives” by yelling advice to ドラマ (どらま, drama) characters making bad life decisions.
You could also engage in an Alice in Wonderland-esque dialogue with your cat, or tell your 抱き枕 (だきまくら, body pillow) how much it means to you. It’s okay, we won’t tell.
As the expression goes, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. It’s important to make speaking a regular part of your Japanese practice, lest you reach native-level written fluency while hardly being able to say “this is a pen” when faced with an actual conversation.
Even if you’re shy about using your Japanese language skills out loud, you’d be surprised how quickly that anxiety dissipates when you give yourself a chance. You’ll feel more confident, grow your comfort zone, meet new friends who share your interests and passions and become proud of everything you’ve achieved.
With a little bit of strategy, research and self-confidence, your Japanese can become better than ever by mastering speaking.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.