Everything I say is wrong...?

I have a bad habit of assuming everything I say is ungrammatical or unnatural, especially if it fits in “too well” with English. I assume nothing collocates similarly or can be used the same way to sound natural, so I look for ways to say something that my mental grammar finds more “Japanese,” only to later find out my first hunch was fine after reading native material.

For example, maybe I’ll want to say a word in Japanese like “scientific” and my first hunch might be 科学的(かがくてき), but my mind goes “No, that’s too easy. I’ll sound like Google Translate. It has to be something else.” But then it turns out that that is a natural way to express it after all.

This leads to a lot of hesitation when I’m speaking because I have the (wrong) inclination to always want to be correct and natural. It’s hard to let go of.

I’m not crazy, right? Does this get any better?

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it’ll get better with practice. one way you can try is to think in japanese. form a sentence directly in japanese and not something translated from english. kinda like a sentence builder

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I have something of a mental grammar built up in Japanese and can speak conversationally. It’s just something that hasn’t gone away from when I was a beginner, where I say things that come to my head in Japanese but immediately think “ugh, that wasn’t right,” so maybe hesitation wasn’t the right word (hesitation is there for stuff like writing). Might be a personality issue or something.

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Always when you speak to a Japanese-speaking person in Japanese, consider how grateful they are that they are not having to say their ideas in English!!

You can tell by comparing our levels that no matter what you think about the sentences that you can string together, they are waaaay better than the sentence that I am trying to speak. However, when I was over there (particularly when I was off the beaten track), people were VERY HAPPY that I was understanding ANYTHING they were saying in Japanese. OMG, this one hotel where I needed to use the laundry room… They actually spoke essentially NO English, and we actually did best writing to each other (because 9 months ago, my pronunciation was far FAR worse than now; and vocabulary even less). She was VERY GLAD that I knew my floor numbers and “elevator” and “laundry/washing machine”. Many switch into “teacher mode” with me. Sigh. But I am grateful and try to absorb the knowledge.

You have spent countless hours learning a language that many travelers just don’t bother to learn. I wouldn’t recommend that you muzzle yourself, or talk down about your skills.

Don’t be a “hater” (下手). (ha ha … My favorite dumb pun!)

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I experience a similar issue but I do believe that a lot of input mixed with a bit of output is the way to get through this sort of issue. After all, if you had heard 科学的 somewhere before trying to make your statement you wouldn’t have been as insecure in the first place perhaps. I am also very much focused on sounding “natural” (which will take many many years) but I feel myself slowly letting go of the constant fear of uttering something unnatural. If you stay aware and keep actively listening for how things are naturally expressed it will come with time I guess.

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At least you don’t forget words or can’t remember a word till you read it.
Cough me cough

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The most important thing is to speak. It’s hard to step over one’s pride and talk ungramatically but that’s fine. In most cases your native speaker listener will understand and some will even help you out if you’re struggling to express something.

Just be enthusiastic and give it your best effort. People will appreciate it more than you keeping silent because you’re not 100% sure how to express some idea.

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Personally I wouldn’t worry about it as long as you try to follow Japanese sentence structure. If you find that you’re trying to shoehorn a sentence into Japanese while still having words appear in the same order as in English, then yes, there’s probably a problem. However, for everything else, as long as you’re using a good dictionary (or vocabulary source) to pick up the words you need, you’ll probably be OK. Only major exception: you’re trying to translate an English word that has 5 different translations. In that case, you might have to stare at example sentences for a bit lest you use something with the wrong nuance. Also, fairly technical words like ‘scientific’ usually translate quite easily and accurately. It’s words describing vague sensations that are harder to capture, because Japanese uses tons of onomatopoeia. However, you can also take comfort in the fact that for every quintessentially Japanese expression you might need, there’s probably something else written with words that are easier to decipher (like a very standard adjective or a kanji compound).

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How often are you talking with a Japanese person?

Just go with your first instinct and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. When I was talking to a Japanese friend about the coronavirus, I needed a word for “mortality rate” and just said 死亡数しぼうすう . I was convinced it was wrong, but it was good enough to get my point across.

Immediately after I wanted to look up how to actually say it and it turned out my first guess was correct. But even if it hadn’t been, it kept the conversation going. All of this is to say, sometimes it helps not to think too hard. The way your Japanese becomes more natural is through lots of input and getting a “feel” for it. When unsure, trust your feeling first, check later.

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I think 死亡率 is a more common way of saying it. Or at least the one that I have heard people say.

https://www.weblio.jp/content/死亡率

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I was about to say the same thing, but technically speaking, both can be used, they just have slightly different meanings: 死亡数 would be the number of deaths. 死亡率 would be the rate of death. My dictionary says that 死亡率 is usually expressed as ‘deaths per 1000 people per year’.

EDIT: Oh wait, you linked to Weblio, which means the definition you saw is the same as mine. (I have an offline version of the same dictionary.) I didn’t need to quote that bit of the definition then.

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Hah! Yes, exactly this.

I’ve found that sentence is perfectly, absolutely, inarguably, infuriatingly true for so many things: learning Japanese, learning to play guitar, learning to play Go, learning to program, learning to use a new piece of software, … the list goes on.

It does, however, beg the question of “how to practice.”

The wonderful thing about Japanese is that we now have such great tools (like WK!) to help us practice.

While WK is fantastic to practice recognition, it’s not as helpful with production. Lots of reading does help with production (writing and speaking) to some extent, but I suspect it’s more efficient to expressly focus on the latter as well.

I believe you’re talking about phrases you’ve not yet studied, but you still might find kamesame useful if you want to practice production.

(Disclaimer: I’ve not been using it myself lately, as I’ve been much more focused on learning to read kanji first, but what little time I’ve spent on kamesame has impressed me greatly).

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