Almost Level 60, advice for next steps

I’m very close to achieving level 60 and I would like the community’s advice on how best to use my study time to achieve my language goals.

MAIN GOAL: Be able to travel in Japan and be able handle all tourist related situations. Hotels, restaurants, cabs, trains, museums, shops, etc.

SECONDARY GOAL: Be able to converse with locals for a better cultural immersion experience.

My current study habits:

  • WaniKani to lvl 60 (almost)

  • Add 5 new vocab per day to my main Anki vocab deck. I pull words I encounter from a variety of sources and when I don’t have 5 new ones, I pull from the N5-N1 study guides. So far I’ve added all the N5 and N4 words as well as most of the N3 ones with a handful of N2, N1, and others thrown in as well.

  • Use Bunpro to study grammar. I have a decent understanding of N5 and N4 grammar points.

  • I use a core 10K Anki deck with only listening cards to help my listening abilities. I’m 66% of the way through it.

  • I have a language exchange partner but unfortunately I’m unable to listen and speak well enough to actually hold a conversion with her. So instead, we speak in english for half the time and I write out 10-15 Japanese sentences ahead of time using new vocab and grammar that I’m unsure of how to use. She then corrects them and I place the correct sentences into a new Anki deck with the English sentence on one side and I need to produce the Japanese sentence verbally.

  • I’ve done 3 book clubs here on the forums but am not currently participating in one.


I’ve been studying for about 2.5 years and I feel like while I’ve learned a ton, if I was to go to Japan today, I would still struggle immensely. I’m basing that on my failure attempting to speak with my language exchange partner. My pronunciation wasn’t the problem. I simply couldn’t process multiple sentence exchanges fast enough to keep up, and it was an extreme struggle to produce what I wanted to say.

So I’d love the community’s advice on how I can get better at speaking and listening to multiple sentence conversations. I’ve tried listening to Japanese podcasts but they move too quickly for me to keep up with and I’m quickly very lost.

Given it’s been 2.5 years, I think I need to change my study area of focus to achieve my goals. Maybe I just need to hire a tutor who can do dialogues with me fine tuned to my current level and I won’t feel bad for how simple they are because I’m paying them?

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Since your language goals are very much conversation focused, you should work on production and listening comprehension. I guess, writing is a good start, but trying to speak in Japanese, as hard as that is in the beginning, is probably more efficient since that means both training listening comprehension and production. You can even do scenarios for the situations you’re anticipating while traveling in Japan.

So, yeah, it sounds like you could benefit a lot from getting yourself a tutor. If you can afford taking some lessons I’d say go for it. :slight_smile:

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Something that tends to slow language learners down a LOT is that they cone up with what they want to say in English (or their native language) and then try to translate mentally and then speak it. Try in your daily life to just practice your brain going directly to Japanese. Like, instead of telling yourself, I need to call my mom just think お母さんに電話する必要があります. Another thing, try to make a daily journal, to do lists, etc in japenese. It will force you to use the language more in a variety of ways and create sentences.

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Can second what the others said. Knowing the Kanji is a good basis for finding your way around japan. What you need to work on is getting your knowledge (which seems to be quite good) into a usable state.

Try reading along to something you listen to, to get your mouth used to the motions. Try pushing yourself with your language partner. You just have to get your point across, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Try to get to a state where you don’t have to “translate” as much.

Btw it’s also extremely good practice to get used to ask for help in japanese when your lost. So as soon as you feel you lost the thread try to ask your partner to “slow down” or “explain in simple japanese please”. These are survival key phrases for your goal, and something you probably also do in your own language even though lost situations happen more rarely :smiley:

That sounds like you also need to work on being able to handle slightly unknown stuff. It feels uncomfortable but don’t get hung up on one sentence you don’t understand. Keep on concentrating on the next thing that flies your way and try to get an “overview” over what is happening. Listening to normal speed is essential to not have the same feelings in your first interactions in Japan (speaking from experience)

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I think mass immersion (just listening to interesting stuff all the time) would be the best option for you. You cannot structure all your learning of a language, just let it come at you and confuse you for the next 6 months + and slowly but surely things will fall into place.

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People there are generally WAY corteus and friendly. And in great cities like Tokyo and Osaka, like 50% of adults understand some english.

They will listen to you, talk slow and in a very simple fashion so… I bet you already can travel without worries :grin::wink::smiley:

And if you want to feel more “fluent”, just read lots of material: Manga, children books, some easy light novels, even instructions from your appliances is ok :rofl:

Don’t hesitate for a second. Your travel will be quite an experience :star_struck:

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Well, IP… It sounds like you know A LOT, but you need to shore up your listening comprehension…

I have gotten excellent improvement in my listening comprehension by listening to the audiobook of Harry Potter in Japanese just about every day this past year. (I fall asleep and wake up listening to it) After a few months, I felt a change in my brain where it started to try to listen to and parse every phoneme. Now, a year later, just listening, I can recognize what scene in the book it is, even for sections of the book that I haven’t read, yet!! (I don’t get it all, but…).

This improvement has transferred to other native material source comprehension and talking in person, as well… Although I still have difficulty making sentences. It’s also really good for those little phrases (例えば, 是非 etc)… It’s also really helped my katakana reading and speaking ability.

And it’s also kind of fun and painless.

For the painful part, I’m still laboriously reading through the digital Harry Potter book. But now I skip to scenes that I know will be interesting from listening to the audiobook. Next up for need is when Harry is on the first train to Hogwarts and the food trolley comes by with chocolate find and every flavor beans (about 4/5 of the way through the “Journey from Platform 9 3/4” chapter). Oh, and I can do fractions because of that chapter title “きゅう と よん ぶん の さん ばんせん から の たび.” It has a great rhythm! 「9 3/4 番線 から の 旅」

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It may sound funny, but I think what helped me quite a bit was reading books (not manga - I mean those text-only beasts). And here’s why:

  • In order to understand and to speak, you need quite a bit of vocabulary that appears in normal situations. This vocabulary can be mined from books (the more slice-of-life, the better usually)
  • In order to speak, you need a good grip on sentence structure as it is very different from English. Reading gives you a lot of exposure to that, and it does so in your pace. In listening, sentences will easily fly over your head if they are too complicated for what you can understand right now, but when you read, you can take your time and also reread a sentence often without needing to mess around with stopping and rewinding your audio stream.

Also I second everybody else’s advice on talking to yourself in your head whenever you see fit.

That would probably be of immense help to get you going with speaking. Teachers are usually very good at this.

I think you need not feel bad about this at all, no matter towards whom! Learning a new language is super difficult, and it takes a lot of courage to talk to people while knowing you will definitely make mistakes and struggle. Everybody started out the same.
And maybe you can even try to get your language partner to try to speak to you slowly and in simple sentences?

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I know my level looks low, but I was living in Japan for three years and am at N2 level with probably N1 listening skills. I went to language school for two years and they taught only in Japanese. For me, it was a really great way to start building my listening comprehension. As I improved, I could not understand much daily conversation or TV shows, but if I watched some video on YouTube of someone teaching grammar, I understood absolutely everything. It could be a great way to start and it’s also motivating to be able to “watch” something in Japanese.

I personally think listening comes first, then speaking. It also trains your ear to understand how to use intonation when speaking, which I find really important in Japanese. I can understand a lot more than I can speak, but over the last few months, I’ve gotten much better at closing that gap with regular italki lessons and meeting with a language exchange partner.

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Do you have any recommendations for text-only books based on my familiarity with N3 vocab and N4 grammar?

I think what you’re saying about handling unknown stuff is pretty important because even in my native language I won’t understand 100% of what everybody says.

I think where I get into trouble is when I recognize a word or phrase but I don’t immediately remember the meaning. When the meaning is completely unknown it’s easy for me to let it go and move on to concentrating on the next phrase. But when the word is familiar but I can’t quite recall the meaning right away, part of my brain can’t seem to help but try to figure it out on a parallel track.

While I think that eventually that’s kind of a superpower to be able to figure out part of a sentence while still paying attention to the next part of the sentence, at the moment I’m just not good enough to be able to understand the new part without close to 100% concentration. So I end up being bad at both and getting pretty lost.

Perhaps I should practice just letting go of trying to figure out what was said if I don’t get it immediately and simply focus 100% on trying to get each part as it’s spoken.

I’d be interested to hear what you think of this or any other tips for handling the “unknown”.

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I totally know what you mean. I struggle with the same thing while watching drama or youtube in japanese. When I snap out of it again I have to rewind 3-4 sentences which I totally glossed over thinking about that one “kind of familiar” word. In videos you might be able to do that but it totally kills any conversation.

Really you have to fight that urge (takes more effort in the beginning). You can’t shut it off, cause that’s how brains work. But you have to trust that, since you heard it somewhere before, your brain will figure it out later with the context. And keep on concentrating on the big picture. Single words are mostly irrelevant in conversations. I could nuke one word from every sentence in this paragraph and you would probably still understand it.

If that is not the case you will realize it later during the conversation. Awkward looks at your answers or the overview you built doesn’t fit with what was said. Then you have an opportunity to learn because the partner will rephrase it or you have a chance to naturally ask questions. Maybe incorporating YOUR understanding into your questions. These things might feel bad but they are also an essential part of learning. We learn best if we fail at something with strong feelings, you will never forget it again! And honestly you might have a fun time too. Misunderstandings aren’t all bad!
It’s best if you can do that with someone you feel comfortable with. If that is your language partner that would be dope. But if you feel more comfortable “embarrasing” yourself in front of a paid tutor than that is totally fine too.

PS.: And don’t forget to keep up the input. The better/more you know your vocabulary, the less you will encounter these “almost” knowns.

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At that level I’d say you can read about anything that the Beginner Japanese Book Club // Now Reading: Death Note read over time, namely

  • Kiki’s Delivery Service (some complained that the language is a bit flowery)
  • The Girl who Leapt through Time (the writing style of the author is not very good, but if you read it from a learner’s perspective, it should be ok)
  • The Mysterious Sweet Shop (I found it to be quite heavy wrt onomatopoeia but otherwise nice)
  • Mysterious Town behind the Mist (starts off with a bit of dialect, but this gets better in the later chapters)

On top of these, the Beginner book club will start a new book called “Night Café” in about 6 weeks. I only checked the first page but I thought it’s quite a nice and easy read.

With the book clubs, you have the advantage that there are usually lots of questions and answers, and you can even ask further questions even though the clubs are finished. There are usually still people around who will be happy to help you out. And of course, reading a book with an ongoing book club is even more fun.

By the way, do you know the 📚📚 Read every day challenge - Winter 2022 ☃❄ ? It’s a nice place where people discuss what they read and how they liked it and stuff, it’s great to get some inspiration there! The current challenge ends on Feb 28th, but you can still hop in if you like. Also, the next challenge is supposed to start on April 1st.

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Those look great and I’ll definitely check them out. However when I did the book clubs, I often struggled with the dialogue as people would have dialects, or do puns, or do jokes, or abbreviate their speech, or speak in a stylized fashion and I’d end up spending a ton of time on those portions of it.

I’m wondering if a non fiction book with no dialogue would be easier?

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Are you by any chance talking about reading manga? That’s very very different from reading books, really! (And one reason why I generally don’t recommend starting with manga tbh…)
Hmmm, so thinking about those books I listed above, as I said the Mysterious Town behind the Mist contains some dialect, but for the others I cannot recall anything like that. You can always have a look at the books and read a few pages, either in their nominations post (there is a list at the top of the Beginner Book Club) or e.g. on the Bookwalker website or on other similar sites. That should help you get an idea at least.

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The good news is that you’re already passed your first goal, so congrats on that (and the impending level 60). On my first trip to Japan I was amazed at how much I could communicate well enough just by knowing a decent amount of kanji and having a few thousand words under my belt. Even if you don’t speak in complete sentences, just throwing out the correct words will get you pretty far.

Like everyone else is saying, your second goal is going to need heavy practice with both listening comprehension and generating your own sentences. Jumping right in and challenging yourself to speak with your conversation partner or a tutor would be best, so long as you are okay in that kind of environment. Personally I’m a pretty shy person and I have a hard time when I don’t have a decent level of competency, so I would do some more self-study first, although that is a slower path.

One resource I would recommend at your level is Satori Reader. Read through the easy version of a story to help reinforce the grammar rules, then try the SFX-only versions after, and eventually you’ll be able to pick up the whole story from listening only. As you become more comfortable with listening and also with grammar in general from reading, then you can start to put a heavier focus on generating your own sentences.

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Also… There are a few people who like to meet together on discord and stream anime, play video games, read Satori Reader etc together and discuss vocabulary and grammar over on Alex’ Learn Japanese Pod discord server. Of you have time, please come say “hi”.

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