Speaking Japanese is similar to playing a sport, especially for the process of being a good player and speaker. There are only three factors; Knowledge , Practice , and Experience . Suppose that people have read several how-to books on basketball and know the rules and the theories behind them, do you think they could sink a shot on the first try? Suppose that a basketball team has practiced shooting a lot, but has never experienced actually playing real games, do you think they could win their first one? This is applicable for languages as well.
Interactions with native speakers, Intensive and Extensive reading
However, the importance of the practice is often ignored in languages. As far as we know, a lot of people go straight into interactions with native speakers after acquiring some of the grammar and the vocabulary.
I think this explains the frustration many language learners feel!
Not that there is necessarily a problem in skipping Practice and going straight from Knowledge to Experience: many people will do that and turn out alright! Sure, they’ll make plenty of mistakes along the way, but they get over them mostly unharmed. For them, this approach might be intense, but it’s not overwhelming. My guess is that this is the case for those who are more extroverted, high-energy, and reasonably self-confident. These guys might enter a pool with a jump and lots of splashing!
But I guess that might not be the case for those who are more introverted, low-energy, not that self-confident, anxious, shy… For these folks (myself included), perhaps skipping Practice and trying to jump straight from Knowledge to Experience might feel overwhelming: too many mistakes, awkward silences and incomprehensible words all at once might lead to feelings of shame, anxiety, avoidance. We might do better by focusing on Practice as a way to gently ease into Experience. Like entering a pool by first dipping your toes and gradually getting used to the water, bit by bit.
In my opinion I feel that Experience is the best kind of Practice, especially in language learning.
For example, when interacting with natives I try my best to practice perfect pronunciation, using correct/new grammar, actively listening, vocabulary recognition and reproduction etc.
In addition, especially when interacting with people, you get instant feedback on whatever you’re practicing.
This works as well when reading longer novels for example, where you practice reading faster by solidifying the kanji/vocabulary you’re not so familiar with, practice following the story, practice understanding the core of the text through context etc.
I think that’s where the absolute best kind of practice comes from; from experiencing. Though I do understand that anxiousness, shyness etc. might affect one’s ability to experience using the language with natives
I guess another element with skipping practice could be that you’d actually miss out on error correction? In the sense that most people aren’t going to correct every single little mistake you make, and in many ways ‘practicing’ something incorrectly over and over again (without realising) will just solidify bad habits and cause issues down the line.
I can see that if you’d practiced with feedback (whether that’s someone checking your writing, or doing imitation work), you could build a more solid foundation which might make experiential learning more worthwhile (because people might correct your occasional mistakes).
While I definitely understand what people are saying about experience being the best practice, I know that personally I do not have the confidence to jump straight into that and “practice” (a chance to privately exercise the knowledge) would help ease me into “experience.” I have pretty intense anxiety about trying to speak a language that is not my first language in front of anyone, so for me a transitional step feels necessary.
When I was in college I practiced (studied) with a bunch of other LEARNERS. If we all agreed on something that was actually wrong, then there’s no one in the room to correct us and show us the right thing to say/the right way to say it/etc.
Setting up study groups with an exchange student or a professor/assistant did wonders for our studies. We asked questions and got constructive answers, we attempted pronunciation/grammar and were given productive feedback. I think the feedback loop is necessary.
You can shadow converse yourself to death, but never be sure about what you’re saying. This is largely where the favor for cultural/language immersion is coming from. The best way to solidify language is to surround yourself with it.
This is a nice way of putting it. Experience can be both the destination and the journey of language learning…
Indeed, especially during conversations, and with good reasons: to keep the conversation going without too many interruptions, to avoid overwhelming you with lots of corrections all at once.
This makes sense to me. Hopefully by dedicating some time to Practice, and then having some kind of feedback on your practice, you will become used to applying your knowledge, start figuring out some mistakes by yourself, and have other mistakes pointed out to you before they become bad habits. Then, when you get to Experience (for example, having a conversation with a native speaker in the “real world”, outside of a classroom environment), of course you might still get nervous and make some mistakes, but hopefully less so, and the whole exchange might be smoother.
Yes, that’s exactly the point, a way to ease into it, for those of us who would appreciate a somewhat smoother transition!
Yeah, I think that some Practice by yourself is OK, but staying in it for too long wouldn’t be helpful, eventually you benefit from having some sort of feedback on your Practice (someone to review your writing/speaking, recording audio of your own pronunciation and using that to compare to native audio) and moving on to Experience.
That sounds interesting, I guess it’s about time to check the book clubs!
Others who are way lower level than me in WK have passed N1. I have failed for the fourth time.
My spoken Japanese is pretty bad and I have no confidence there. But, as this post is saying all I do is study and never “practice” and have no “experience” with actually using the language.
I have lived in Japan for 3 years but I fear I am falling into the trap of 90% of foreigners who somehow can’t get over the hump. Now that I live in Tokyo, its even more of a possibility, as my office uses English and so many people speak English here.
I remember seeing some of your previous posts, but I don’t remember if we ever talked about practicing with input. (I do assume others have, though, so sorry about just repeating things)
Reading is definitely the easiest skill to practice. You can go at the pace you want, check a dictionary or grammar resource any time you feel like it, take a break if you need it, etc.
I started reading manga around the time I was N4 level and kept reading those a lot until I could switch to novels. By that time I was almost N1 and just reading more got me over the edge.
Also, around N3/2 my understanding was good enough to start watching stuff like let’s plays on YouTube. That also tremendously helped for the listening section.
In both cases, that’s easy practice and you should see really dramatic results if you’ve never done it.
Once you can understand enough input, then you can focus on output. After all, there’s no point being good at talking if you can’t understand the answer.
Lately I have pretty much turned into “practice” and “experience” all my japanese related activities. I was somewhat fed up with the whole “studying japanese” routine first and then even with the seemingly innocent SRS apps that I started to add-up to my daily activities along the way. The whole learning routine had the potential to be prolonged for so long, and with my somewhat uncertain goals with the language it was becoming a dreaded thought, so I decided to let all that accumulated “wisdom” settle and changed the approach.
That been said, it hasn’t been easier to make this change in practices, though It has been a much needed change in pace. Here are some points I’ve bumped in with during these last months.
First, I started practicing japanese calligraphy, since it has been the one activities that really drawed my attention and has the upside of been a great excuse for keeping me immersed in the language, as the resources available are almost all in japanese (or chinese ). Now I’m getting to a point where I have read and watched a good amount of resources and it’s becoming a matter of practice and practice for me to get any good at it… so I’m not reading in japanese nearly as much as in those first months, which has no effect in how my characters are turning, but probably is making my japanese reach a plateau.
As for japanese media, I’ve come to terms with japanese shows. There’re some good ones and ton of crap also. That’s specially true if I take anime out of the equation, which in my case ain’t such a big part of what draw me into learning japanese in the first place (though I’ve found good shows there too). I think I’ve watched a fair amount of shows because they were within my level of understanding and not much more… Heck I left the last season of GoT unseen for so long because I was too “busy” watching some J-Drama …
Saner thoughts have prevailed now… I binge watched GoT last week and now I found myself a good JDrama to watch, knowing that when the next GoT comes most japanese shows stand no chance .
A great tool has been pairing Netflix with plugins and apps to allow a quick look up of the subs on the go (in my case Voracious) and that way just be able to watch anything in japanese, regardless of level, kind of the best compromise I have reached between learning and enjoying actually.
As for reading, I’ve learned a lesson too. I was too concerned, probably from my first graded readers days, with gradually increasing the “difficulty” of my books as I got better. Well It turned reading those Shodo books taught me otherwise. If I really care and like what I’m reading I don’t care much for the struggle that is the constant look up of unknown words and even kanji (Shodo books seem specially hard in the amount of uncommon kanji ) while reading. And that’s not even considering how much easier it is when using ebooks.
So I now have no shame in picking a novel because seems interesting and then left it unfinished if goes the other way.
Before turning this into a longer wall of text , basically I just wanted to transmit that this “getting real experiences” thing is great, but making them a routine is like anything else, you stick to what you actually like; so finding that one thing that you like to a craving point (in japanese) is the best resource you’ll get.
I definitely know how you feel, and it makes sense as a way to start I think. That said, mirroring what others above also mentioned: see if you can make sure that it’s really a step towards where you want to be heading. For example, if you are worried about hopping straight into a full conversation (which is really intimidating at first!), then maybe practice some set phrases as a start, so you have something to fall back on. For example, you’ll often be asked things like “Why are you studying Japanese?”. If you already have an answer semi-prepared, that hopefully reduces the anxiety of trying to think of one on the spot.
I think it’s important to practice with experience in mind, whatever that experience may be (taking the JLPT, having a full conversation with a native speaker, finding a job in Japan, whatever!). But the experience part is really a necessary part of that feedback loop, as it will inform you what to practice more of.
Recently I’ve realized in conversations that I get super tripped up on certain combinations of sounds (looking at you 遠慮（えんりょ）。。。）、but I wouldn’t think of practicing that in particular without failing spectacularly hard at it in real time
Yes, I think having answers “semi-prepared” would be helpful to me if I were attempting conversations. Anything I can plan out in advance will make me more comfortable with trying to actually do something.
To be honest, I’m nowhere near a level either in terms of ability or mental preparation where I would have an actual conversation in Japanese. I don’t have a lot of time to seriously dedicate to it and I have no important goals that I am trying to reach, so for me it’s just about doing something that is interesting to me and maybe that exercises my mind a little more than other things I might be doing otherwise. I am actually trying to make some progress and begin picking up some grammar/etc, but I’m trying not to put any pressure on myself. So I would say maybe one day I’ll be willing to push myself into practicing speaking, but probably not soon. Now that I think about it, that probably means that my goals are pretty different from a lot of other people on here.
Back when I was in middle and high school, I took French language classes for a while and was reasonably comfortable with it. Near the end of high school, though, it got to a point where I think my sort of performance anxiety about speaking French actually got worse. It seems counter-intuitive to me because I should have been more used to it at that point, but I would blush very intensely and easily every time I was expected to say anything in French, which didn’t happen for the previous 4 or 5 years that I’d been studying it. It also doesn’t really matter whether I’m speaking to somebody who grew up speaking French, someone at about my level, or even someone who knows none at all (and therefore shouldn’t necessarily be able to judge my ability). All of this is just to say that speaking any language that is new to me is a major hurdle for me personally. It probably has less to do with my ability and more to do with the anxiety I have about it, even though my ability is also low.
Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful response! I hope to one day be at a place where I will practice speaking with people.
This is what i’ve been trying to figure out–the practice component and how to schedule it appropriately.
I definitely have social anxiety with my 2nd mother tongue so I really don’t practice it much (so im not like, super fluent despite being about to read and write it) and I live in an area where that language is spoken (sometimes almost exclusively) so I have a lot of experience with it…
But a lot of the japanese practice groups around here require you to be at an N3 level.
Unless I’m taking Japanese 1 or Elementary Japanese at the community college, a university or a language program–finding people to practice with and get feedback with is kinda hard. I think this is the case for most people, but I live where there are 2 official Japantown’s in the US–so I didn’t think finding people to practice with would be this hard.
So, i’ve been looking at how I want to use the language until I know enough to practice it at that level. I think for some japanese language learners, their goals totally dictate whether they will follow the theory-practice-experience path or just go straight from theory to experience.
Since I really want to write a lot in japanese (especially creative writing & haiku), I’ve had to look at how I want to make time to practice writing.
At this point, I think I really want to make little worksheets for myself to practice certain grammar points i’ve learned and to self-generate sentences. (I already have a practice for recognition.) Right now, my goal is to really begin to think in japanese. There are a lot of conversations I do want to have in japanese and there are things I want to talk about now. But I know I need to be able to think in & recall japanese a lot more than I can right now.
Getting to level 10 in WK was really helpful in the sense that now I have enough theory in place to practice what i’ve learned. Because I know what I need to improve on based on my past experiences learning language and through stats/etc, I can tailor my practice so that I can have a better language learning & usage experience.
I just make sure to push myself so that its just frustrating enough for me to want to learn more to keep expanding my knowledge.
“…skipping Practice and trying to jump straight from Knowledge to Experience might feel overwhelming: too many mistakes, awkward silences and incomprehensible words all at once might lead to feelings of shame, anxiety, avoidance.”
Thank you for this thread. It makes me feel a lot better to read that other people have had the same struggles I have.
I had my first lesson with a native speaker on Preply last week and it was so demoralizing that I got depressed and didn’t study Japanese for 2 straight days (after months of daily study). After ruminating on it I realized I had a spent a lot of time practicing recall for vocabulary, but virtually no recall exercises for grammar. Consequently I could understand what we were discussing and I recognized particles and sentence patterns, but as soon as I was on the spot and had to reply with my own sentences I struggled, made tons of mistakes, or drew a blank.
I have this problem too. I’m around N2 level. When it comes to reading things I do just fine, listening is okay-ish, but I have a real struggle with putting phrases together. So I can follow a conversation but when it comes time to participate in it myself, I draw a blank. I wish I could recall the article but I remember looking into ways to improve this and found that all those textbook exercises can actually help. The way I see it, my ability to speak is dependent on my ability to recall relevant sentence patterns and pair them with the correct (or at least close enough) vocab. I know a lot of vocab but and I can recognize a lot of grammar, but I’ve had little practice in the act of combining the two.
I was frustrated after an iTalki lesson where I felt I seriously struggled to explain myself so I tried going back to Genki and doing the verbal partner exercises by myself and found that the conversation flowed so naturally. I wasn’t just repeating back the same phrases, I was elaborating on the core structures, adding extra clauses and follow-up sentences. It was like something just sorta…clicked once I knew what the base structure of the sentence was. Now I’m going through a Tobira grammar exercise workbook which involves a lot of sentence writing to practice using the various structures. I’m noticing that while it’s somewhat of a challenge still, the more I do it, the easier it’s starting to become. It feels like the practice really can help, especially for those of us who tend to feel overwhelmed from social interaction.
If this thread was able to help in any way, I’m glad. I think this issue is actually quite common, and that the usual advice (“just keep speaking”, “book more conversation lessons”, “attend a language exchange group”; that is, just keep going straight from Knowledge to Experience), although not bad at all, might not be enough to solve the issue for many of us.
This makes sense. I imagine that, as riya described, textbook exercises could be helpful to strengthen the ability to recall different grammar points and sentence patterns.
Also, I wonder how simply imagining a conversation in your own mind could affect the next lesson. Perhaps you could remember the last lesson, think of some of the questions the teacher asked, and try recreating that conversation by answering them in your own mind (or even out loud if possible). Before a new lesson, you could try to imagine what kinds of questions the teacher might ask (considering the lesson plan or topics related to those you discussed during the previous lesson) and try answering them.
That’s so nice! That feeling when things finally click is so cool! As you said, the challenge might still be there (there’s no magical solution, after all), but at least things become a little bit smoother.
Yes! I think that many people can just study some grammar and vocab then go straight to a conversation (going straight from Knowledge to Experience) and it can go perfectly fine for them, they learn on the go. Perhaps they might even learn better that way, with the direct and intense stimulation of a real conversation experience. No wonder this approach is often recommended. While that might work well, I also think that many people, especially those of us who are more reserved , would benefit from having a little bit of Practice, either before moving on to Experience, or interspersed with it.