First experience of talking to a Japanese person since I started studying

I’ve just had the most unexpected first conversation in Japanese. After staying in Thailand for 2 months (and studying Japanese all by myself for a few hours every day) I have to leave the country because my visa is about to expire.

So on an old noisy train from Bangkok all the way to the Lao border I suddenly notice that the young guy sitting next to me is reading a book with columns upon columns of text. Chinese? I squint and see hiragana mixed in.

At that point the overthinking starts: would it be rude to say something, as it would mean I peeked into his book? And, if he’s also going to the Lao border, it means we have 2 more hours on this train together, so am I ready to switch from sitting peacefully next to a complete stranger to talking for 2 hours in a language that so far I had literally only ever conversed in with myself?

My heart is beating and the aircon is freezing, so I get up to put a jacket on and go to the toilet. When I get back, I have to bother him to get to my seat and he’s just reading the book again, so - it’s now or never - I say すみません。

Turns out he’s been studying politics and economy (for these two words we had to switch to English) in Bangkok for 6 months, he’s travelling to some remote area of Thailand for a trip, and his favourite thing about Thailand is the food (really? I would choose Japanese food any day)

I surprised myself the most by being mostly understandable. I could find the right words to say the very simple things I was trying to say. What I couldn’t retrieve from my brain is the grammar. When having to think fast, the convoluted way that Japanese sentences are built was just too hard for me to use with such time pressure. I think this is the main difference between speaking and writing: I could write these sentences with all the から and ので and ことがあります and all the long noun phrases in which the core noun comes last, but it would have taken me at least 10 seconds per sentence. But the good thing is that he understood me nonetheless (or at least pretended to understand). I understood him much less, but that’s mostly because of the noisy train (and his mask, of course). So I didn’t really bother asking him more about himself, because I would have to ask him to repeat 3 times anyway - not an ideal environment.

So here’s the story of my first Japanese conversation. I asked him how I should wish him good luck in his studies, so (if I understood him right) this is to all of you - 頑張って!

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Well done on taking that leap to talk to someone in Japanese. Talking using more difficult grammar points does get easier with practice as all things do so you will get there.

Are you doing any talking practice? I myself do iTalki lessons which help loads but I also found the Pimsleur’s audio CDs to be a massive help in talking practice when I did them a couple years ago as it forces you to do 30 mins of talking and recalling on command.

頑張って

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Thank you! It must get easier because Japanese grammar is such a major mental switch.

I haven’t been doing any talking practice because being able to speak is actually just a side effect of my learning goals. It’s a very nice skill to have, but I started studying Japanese in order to be able to read books one day, so I’m investing most of my time into grammar and reading.

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That’s really impressive, and cool, being able to go beyond the いいお天気ですね in such a short time, and doing so without speaking practice. Your hard work really paid off. You probably can’t wait to go back to Japan now ね٩(^‿^)۶

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Don’t worry, the same thing happened to me in reverse: I was on a train in Canada, reading a Japanese book on my iPad, and when I wanted to get up to get something from my suitcase, I put the iPad on the seat next to me, the screen stayed on and the guy sitting across from me looked at it and started talking to me in Japanese :rofl: (I had of course noticed him before but was not sure whether he was Japanese or Chinese, so I basically ignored him.)

Very brave of you to talk to him! It’s always nice to have these little encounters in unexpected places. :blush:

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I’ve studied Japanese on and off for years since minoring in it at college and also thought it was really difficult to figure out the grammar. Recently I found Cure Dolly on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/@organicjapanesewithcuredol49/videos Some people hate the way she speaks, but the way she explains the grammar just clicks for me! She makes it feel like playing with legos. Things fit together and actually start making sense.

Also, congratulations on your first conversation! It’s such a rush! You think it’s exciting when you go up a level in WaniKani. But, that’s nothing compared to when you can actually have a conversation with someone in the language. You might be able to fake or cheat the computer, but someone either understands what you are trying to say, or they don’t and it sounds to me like you passed! Congratulations again and enjoy!

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Thanks! It was a rush indeed!
I love Cure Dolly’s grammar introduction, she was actually one of the reasons I decided to study Japanese. I watched the first few videos from the basic grammar playlist and it was so intriguing that I wanted to know more.

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