As a Japanese language student, you may have learnt over a thousand Kanji characters or you could maybe write an academic essay entirely in Japanese. However, when it comes to having normal conversations with Japanese locals here in Japan, you get it all messed up! That is a very common problem amongst us, Japanese language students. We can read, write and listen well in Japanese but we just can’t speak the language in a smooth manner, without accidentally having grammatical mistakes or even worse, making use of the wrong words in a particular sentence. That is why we as international students come here to Japan: To practice the language.
Of course, immersing yourself in the home country of the language you have been learning is the best possible option that anyone could ever think of. However, what matters most is still your attitude towards learning and making use of this language to improve yourself. So it doesn’t really matter if you live in Japan for 10 years but you don’t practice the language daily. Practice makes perfect. So you would have to put in effort if you want to see improvements in your speaking ability.
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. Here are 3 ways that I think can benefit you as a Japanese language international student.
3 Ways for Daily Conversational Japanese
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.
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. 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.