Kickstart Your Japanese

How to Speak Without Fear

A writer learns to write by writing. An athlete becomes great by putting in the hours on the field. If you want to get great at speaking you need to… spend hours speaking.

In the last post we looked in detail about gathering materials and resources that match your interests. That was all about helping you to get as much language input as possible.

Of course, this is only half the equation, and in this post we’re going to look at output. The opportunity for output, usually speaking, is where you get to apply what you’ve learnt, experiment with different ways of communicating, make mistakes, learn from them, and generally take ownership of the language.

No-one starts off great.

A writer learns to write by writing. An athlete becomes great by putting in the hours on the field. If you want to get great at speaking you need to… spend hours speaking.

Speaking Japanese in Japan

The problem is that for a lot of people it isn’t easy to speak in Japan. Aside from working in an English-speaking environment, Japan is not a society where casual conversation flows naturally, particularly amongst strangers. Locals are not always willing to work through communication difficulties with a foreigner, often preferring to switch to English or just end the conversation.

All this does not make for a “safe” environment for you to practice.

You need a way to practise speaking Japanese on a regular basis where you’re comfortable enough to push yourself and take risks without fear of embarrassment or getting shut down.

The solution: language exchanges.

Language Exchanges

You know what this is – you meet with a Japanese speaker and practise each other’s language. Done regularly, it’s the perfect way to practise speaking. No more stressing about getting people to speak Japanese with you at work. Instead, find someone who you can spend dedicated speaking time with on a regular basis.

Starting to do language exchanges on a regular basis was the single biggest factor in my Japanese getting better during my time in Japan. I’d studied quite a lot – this was the opportunity to actually start using everything I’d learnt.
 
Getting language exchanges right, though, is not always easy. In fact, you may have tried it before and it didn’t work out. Maybe your language partner spoke English all the time. Maybe you didn’t have anything to talk about.

If this is the case, I’d encourage you to try again. Here is my best advice for making it work.

Making Language Exchanges Work

  1. When you first meet let your partner know how you’d like the exchange to work: 1 hour speaking in each language is good.
  2. The 1-hour period dedicated to Japanese should be just that: an intense no-English period during which you stretch yourself to get your message across in Japanese and keep going despite the difficulty.
  3. Your partner needs to let you speak and not interrupt with corrections every 5 seconds. They are not there to teach, but to promote conversation, suggest alternative ways to say things and answer your questions. You may need to tell them this early on.

It’s not always easy to find a language partner who is able to do all these things, and you will know in your gut if the relationship with them is going to work out.

If it’s not right, move on and look for other people. In my experience, I’ve probably had to meet 10 people in order to find the one that’s just right. When you find that person who knows exactly how to listen, maintain the conversation, let you speak and feed in bits and pieces of new language, it’s fantastic.

Where To Find A Language Partner

Consistency Is King

What matters next is regularity. Doing language exchanges three times a week will bring you improvements in your ability to communicate that you won’t believe.
In this article we’ve looked at creating the right environment for you to practise speaking. The next step will be to start engineering your life to a point where your Japanese will start to literally learn itself!