Calling all conversationally fluent people!

Hellloooo, I think I’ve found a topic for my debut in the community. Woot!

For those who can hold a good conversation in Japanese (or any new language for you), how did you get there? What did you do to get conversationally fluent and how long did it take?

I’ve been studying Japanese for two years, but my conversation skills are incredibly stunted. My comprehension is barely anything, and when I speak it’s kinda like ‘英語を習い。。。えと。。。はじめます。。えと。。。習いはじめた時and so on. I need to speak more, but I’m not sure how I should go about it.

Any tips?



How many hours are spent on the language daily those two years? Output is a different beast, it’ll come to you with some active training once you’re done comprehending.


It really depended on the time of year, when I had class, it was around 1-2 hours per day, but sometimes turned into a bit of a cram because I was focussed on my actual major at uni (which wasn’t Japanese heh). For the last two months, it’s been a solid at least 1.5hours a day with wanikani, bunpro, and chatting to people on language exchange apps.


No input other than that? Because when you’ve had enough input, you’ll know what to say, you might stumble on words but you don’t think in grammar structures and how to put the sentence together.

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I’ve started watching dramas and taking notes now that I have time to watch TV haha. When you say input, do you mean just audio/visual input, or is it including reading, textbooks etc?

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Just watching dramas, listening to music, watching japanese tv shows. and just shadowing or talking to the TV or myself (which I not only do in japanese :see_no_evil:)
and talking in my course or to my tandem partner (but that only for the last 2 years, and we most of the time speak german, since she needs german for finding a job here in germany and my japanese is just a hobby.)


I’m a bit of a special case and my experience is probably pretty useless for you, but maybe someone else will get a use out of it.

So I essentially got fluent by reading. Not watching shows, not listening to podcasts, and not talking to people really. for a little over 4 years straight, I studied reading for like 4 hours a day, and read a lot of books, VNs, and a handful of manga (only like 44 volumes so not enough to have much impact in the grand scheme of things, but it is mostly dialogue which is nice for outputting skills). So after about 6000 hours of that, I got to the point where I could think in japanese fine and write pages and pages of stuff in japanese, but I had issues with speaking in a pretty weird way.

After those 6000 hours I could count the amount of conversations I had had in japanese on one hand. Total time spent speaking in japanese was probably about 4 hours at best. 1-2 hours at worst maybe. Of nearly all the words I had learned, I had only ever said a handful of them so my mouth was literally not used to making the sounds. Furthermore, at the point I moved to japan, I was not only literate but intentionally learning difficult words that even most japanese people probably don’t know. These words left a much stronger impression in my mind and were things I had recently SRSed, so I ran into the issue of having them pop into my mind first over the natural and simpler way of saying the same idea. Getting around that and my mouths inability to produce the sounds fast enough wasn’t that bad.

So how I went on to fix these things and polish my potential into (more) fluid speech was pretty simple. I started making sounds more with my mouth, firstly. Just writing paragraphs of text and reading it aloud. Reading VNs aloud as well. Talking with actual people has probably been a minority of my output. Second, for correcting my light novel speak I just would write long paragraphs and have natives give me more natural ways to say things. The advantage of getting to this level of comprehension is that when you receive a correction its usually just like “ah yeah that sounds better now that I think about it” rather than “ok I’ll try to remember that” so its pretty easy to just incorporate that into your speech. And really thats it. From the start since moving here, I’ve only used japanese at my workplace with my coworkers and things went fine, but now its especially smooth comparatively. Honestly my issue is more listening than anything…and thats probably because of my massive lack of listening practice lol. And by practice, I mean listening to stuff in japanese like shows.

My tips to you are to understand that practicing speaking is just a way to actualize the potential you have built up through input and study. If you say that your comprehension is barely anything, does that mean your general comprehension of the language? Because if so, focus on building comprehension of the language first with input. Then focus on actualizing the potential you have built up with output practice. If you wanna speak, don’t wait for 6000 hours like I did, but input is whats going to build your foundation of comprehension. Think how much input children get before they even say a single freaking word, let alone a full sentence. Output is less about creating new sentences than it is about reusing patterns and sentences you’ve heard a million times and just replacing some words at best.


Well my listening and speaking skills, are also atrocious, so I can relate.

Lately I’m trying to focus a bit more on auditory input and I think I’m already starting to improve slightly.

The thing is, it’s kinda easy to trick yourself you know more Japanese than you do if you’re just good at reading. This is true in any language, but probably even more so in Japanese where it’s actually possible to be able to read a text without knowing how it’s pronounced.

You have to learn to associate the phonetic form of words with their meaning, and that takes time and practice. The association also needs to happen much faster than is necessary for writing because your brain can’t linger on any word for too long or it will miss the rest.

I think listening and relistening to the same material, maybe with the aid of a script, is helpful. Also shadowing to an extent. I’m doing some of that with the Genki material and occasionally with a podcast here and there.


I am not fluent at all but I did make some progress lately and starts to speak more smoothly. And I also had to learn English (I am French) so I guess those tips for English will work as well as Japanese.
Basically, for me, listening and speaking are to build up what you already know. Your speech will never become smooth if you lack grammar or vocab because you will have to think about what you want ot say and how to say it.
Well, everything is said here :

I totally, completely agree with that. You need some knowledge to speak. However, when you get some basis, you should start speaking because it will help to consolidate the knoledge you already have. If you have a friend or a teacher for casual, simple conversations you should try that.

If you already have some knowledge and want to improve your speaking flow, reading a text out loud is the best practice. First, read and understand the next. You will never be able to read it out loud if you don´t understand the general idea of the text. Then, read it out loud and record yourself. Check if you are satiesfied and do it again until you are happy with your flow. That way the word that are in your mind will come faster to your mouth.


I learned how to speak Japanese while living in Japan and since daily life isn’t the most organised study schedule I mostly learned by going through genki 1 & 2 with a native speaker who didn’t speak any English. I think genki is good for that kind of approach because most of the activities are (or can be made into) speaking exercises with various prompts and topics built into them already.


This is going to be me someday. I find it nearly impossible to motivate myself to watch something in Japanese. I don’t know why.

But reading takes no motivation because I actually want to do it. Rationally, this makes no sense to me, because reading takes so much more brain power. Yet I read every morning and night with no hesitation.


Took me about a year and a half to get to a daily conversation point. 3 years now and I can kind of hold complex conversations about technology and stuff, but I lack a lot of vocabulary which causes me to still struggle. Total hours of study is around 3,000 I guess? I am not that good at language learning.
In the other language I know I am native-like I suppose? Can read anything you throw at me and hold conversations with ease about any subject in the same way I would in my native language. I make mistakes sometimes, mainly with pronunciation but they tend to be minor issues. I cannot tell you how long it took me because I learned it on and off since I was a kid :stuck_out_tongue: So a VERY long time I guess?

In both cases, after learning grammar I expanded my vocabulary. Obviously I’m not there yet with Japanese, but at some point the real problem is the lack of vocabulary. That one seems to take a long time to learn, though you can grind it through videogames and stuff. Using the language every day is an absolute necessity.


I don’t mean to sound presumptuous, but that sounds so much like me. It’s so relatable. :rofl: I’m probably not at 6000 hours yet, but having way more input than output, learning rare words just because I want to and being able to write fairly easily but not really speak? Very much my life too.

I guess the main differences for me are that

  1. most of my input is from anime, and the rest of it is all over the place: I read a lot of dictionary entries, articles and studies on grammar and usage and the occasional news article, and I watch VTuber streams. I personally think that streams are relatively helpful for conversational Japanese because they allow me to see how people speak to each other in a fairly natural way, particularly when more than one streamer is present, though of course, speech tics may occasionally be present if they’re part of the streamers’ personae. That aside, I also need to remember that what I hear may only be appropriate for informal conversations, and I may have to convert what I hear into a more polite form afterwards.
  2. I started practising output fairly early on because I have a fluent friend studying in Japan, and I send him messages in Japanese rather often. That also helps me to improve because he can tell me if I’ve made a mistake or if I’m saying something in an unnatural way, particularly since he (unlike me) regularly has to have conversations with Japanese people. However, all this only happens over text, so it doesn’t help me much with speaking.

Am I conversationally fluent, at the end of the day? Uh… not exactly, because I know there are still plenty of words I get stuck on, or which I’m left searching for in my head. I find that it’s still easier for things to flow when I’m writing, and honestly, words need to come a lot faster when you’re in the middle of a conversation than when you’re writing, even if you’re doing so via a messaging app. There’s a lot less pressure too. However, I managed to carry on with two Japanese teachers for 5-10 minutes the other day while understanding almost everything and getting my own thoughts across, so I guess I’m on my way there.

I’m not sure about a ‘good’ conversation in the sense that I still occasionally need to find other ways to phrase my thoughts because I get stuck, but I guess my results so far have been decent, though I’m far from being completely comfortable. To sum up, particularly if conversation is your concern, I’d say you need

  • Plenty of input and listening practice – this is more for the sake of getting used to how phrases and sentences are formed, and listening practice helps you to understand conversations at their normal speed
  • Vocabulary – this is something you can (and perhaps should?) build using input, because honestly, memorising a list of new words without having a sense of how they’re used in reality is quite pointless, if you ask me. It’s much better if you’ve seen words being used and understand them before studying them.
  • Grammatical knowledge – you can build this through input, but you can also use textbooks and services like Bunpro to fast-track yourself to the point where you have enough knowledge to form basic sentences. However, in my opinion, you shouldn’t expect to be able to use grammatical structures fluently by memorising translations off sites like JLPT Sensei. Always understand first. That’s what I believe.

The last thing you need, once you have enough knowledge to form a few sentences (you don’t need a lot, just some – I was already writing messages to my friend when I was about 50% of the way through my first textbook, which had probably got me to around an N3 when I reached the end of it), practise as much as you can. However, I’d really suggest that you get people to correct you, or that you imitate common patterns very closely initially, because otherwise, you’ll end up producing a lot of stuff that makes no sense. This is not meant to instil a fear of output practice in you, quite the contrary; what I’m suggesting is that it’s far more productive when you have someone to tell you if you’re successfully communicating. I would not have progressed as quickly without my friend’s advice and corrections. You can make use of the grammar and language question threads to check if what you’re saying is natural.

That aside, well… practise, practise, practise. That’s really about it. Once you reach the level where you can consistently form coherent sentences, you should be able to start picking up new words from input with the help of the dictionary, and you’ll have a better idea of what’s natural even without being corrected or evaluated all the time. I may not be all the way there in Japanese yet, but I’m still speaking from experience: I’m doing a master’s degree in France now, entirely in French, and I started learning it when I was 13. I reached the C2 level 5-6 years after starting. (I was slower back when I didn’t know how I learn languages most efficiently.) It’s basically always the same thing: build enough of a base, then accumulate knowledge and broaden your experience with input while getting more expressive through output. Eventually, you’ll be fluent.


I wouldn’t call myself ‘conversionally fluent’, but I have no problem understanding pretty much everything and keeping a conversation; fumbling my way through in a way that is not uncomfortable for either parties :smiley:. I still have miles to go, but feel pretty at ease having the language as Japanese.

I feel like I just listened to a ton of podcasts and then throwing myself out there (lived in Japan for a while and in my home country meet Japanese students) quickly started putting the pieces in place. The listening part is the most important, since how can you reply to something you don’t understand? Comprehension is where all conversation starts, in my opinion.


I’ve recently started taking classes on iTalki.
I do two hours of conversation training per week and I feel that it has improved my speaking- and listening skills significantly after only a couple on months.

I really recommend the website.
It may take a while to find a teacher you’re comfortable around. So don’t hesitate to try out multiple teachers and dropping the ones you feel are not helping you progress.


I can second this, iTalki is amazing, especially if you find a tutor you click with. I used to due some grammar with tutors , but now just do conversation practice. I was already decent at talking smoothly in Japanese before starting iTalki, however, it has definitely helped me improve and gives me a chance to use new grammar and words in a real setting without any risk as the tutor is there to correct you and help you learn.

I also think learning to talk is largely a mindset thing. Compared to writing, talking is much faster paced, as such I tend not to worry about being “right” all the time and just be “right enough” so that my point gets across. Eventually after a lot of experience that “right enough” starts to be less on the side of wrong and closer to right.


I found it is the most difficult part to really accept the fact that the verb is the main part of a conversation. Being a German native I had the same problem as you describe in the OT, I would start a sentence and then get stuck at the verb and usually Japanese people loose patience at that point.

It took me some years to speak and it was frustrating.

My tip is:
Try to train conjugating verbs aloud or in your head several times a day. Like: 行きたかった、行きたくなかった、行かなければならない etc. If you are able to link that with what you think without time delay you can speak.

Rather than trying to translate from English it is a good idea to have a stock of short phrases you can use in conversations. Japanese conversations are not so much about the content but rather to create a certain rhythm and feeling of belonging to a group. Sounds weird but I tested that and it’s true. It’s more like playing an instrument in a band, you shouldn’t target to be the solo artist but rather something like the one who sometimes shakes a rattle in the beginning. :joy:

Eg you can use a lot of 本当 and そうですね in different intonations to already create a quite balanced chat.


Ngl that sounds really fun to me.

Then again, I’m not particularly interested in output. I have had some experience with learning languages and in my estimation, output is way easier than input, once you’ve had enough input. This is probably due to the fact that if you understand a lot, when you say things the wrong way, you can spot it on your own. You hear yourself and think “lolno”.

Then again, that does depend on the level of output you’re aiming for. Academic dissertations and daily conversation are nowhere near the same thing.


Im obviously not fluent in japanese but I consider myself pretty fluent in english, so hopefully it still helps?

But basically what I did was never shut the fuck up. First step is that I’d sing music and read shit out loud all the goddamn time LOL. Sometimes my throat got tired to so i continued without speaking but overall I just spoke what I was consuming. At first I just tried to get words right, but then I tried to match my speaking to my reading speed (or close. I trip up on reading out loud even in my mother language because I lose threads too fast)

Then I took classes and started voice chatting with my friends. This helped me process faster speakers and accents more clearly, and give faster output.

Basically, I recommend just starting to read stuff youre looking at out loud + taking classes that make you speak in japanese or speaking with friends


This is gonna be a revolutionary idea, but I got to conversational fluency through conversation (no, really :sweat_smile:).

After about 1 year of self-study through Tofugu and Anki I was maybe around N5/N4 level grammatically but I couldn’t really speak. What I did was I found a Japanese native tutor in my city and I scheduled weekly sessions with him. 2 per week in the first years, then I lowered it to once a week (which I’m still doing after more than 7 years).

So how did this help, exactly? He doesn’t speak Romanian, and barely knows a bit of English, so from day one I was forced to speak to him only in Japanese. After about 1 1/2 year of this, suddenly I felt a switch flip inside my head, and I could start speaking without having to translate things inside my head first.

Having consistent, constant, and quality conversation practice with a teacher who can tell you when you make a mistake and correct you is the way I got there. Without that kind of input, I think it’d be a lot harder to get to conversational fluency.