I feel like the more I study Japanese, the less I know. My goal is to be able to keep up a simple conversation in Japanese and understand what’s going on around me by the time I go to Japan next year in August. After that, I would like to possibly study in a Japanese university to get my master’s degree after I finish my 4 years of university in Canada, and then possibly work in Japan.

I’ve been studying Japanese for 4 months, which granted, isn’t a lot. However, I’m very intensive with my Japanese studies, I study for up to 5-6 hours on weekends and 2-3 on weekdays, with no break days.

Despite this, I feel like I’m honestly understanding less and less. My speaking skills are close to none, however my grammar and reading (especially reading) are quite good, as I can read most NHK News Easy articles and understand around 60% of what I’m reading.

I understand that I need to start speaking, as that is what will propel me forwards, but I literally have no idea how to do so.

I use HiNative to text with natives from Japan, and usually I’m able to convey my message well, however quite slowly. I’m very reluctant to try calling anyone though, because I genuinely know that I won’t be able to say a thing, and I will understand little. I also don’t have any Japanese friends to talk to IRL, so I can’t really use them to help me.

What can I do to progress from this wall that I’ve hit? How can I start working on speaking instead of simply reading and grammar?

Sorry for the long-ish post, honestly quite frustrated right now. Hopefully someone can help


I would imagine there are some Japanese foreign students on campus (?) - could you get in contact with them for language exchange? It is daunting at first, but it gets easier very quickly if you find the right person where your personalities/interests mesh - allow yourself time to find the right one(s) and don’t be hard on yourself if it doesn’t work out with the first one, two, several.

With both my Japanese and Francophone friends we would each speak each other’s language - made for some interesting looks from people overhearing us, but that way both of you are practising what is often the hardest part of language production.

If you really do feel tongue-tied, you could try shadowing first, listening and speaking out loud to Japanese - just type shadowing into the forum search engine and you’ll find a fair few posts about it including recommended apps, etc.

Best of luck and hope you have a great time in August!


Well, you do know that it hasn’t yet been a long time since you’ve been studying, so that’s good. I can’t encourage you elaborately but keep going. I began in my homecountry and that was about 4 years ago yet I stutter if I’m ordering simple food and prefer to nod my head at the conbini :expressionless::roll_eyes: :woman_facepalming:t6:
Anyway, I have improved. Much more so than if I were back home. I don’t speak regularly but I take it seriously (when I can) and if I quiz myself and get lower than expected, I feel grrrrr! But I keep going, keep moving.

The few Japanese language partners I speak to, met me on conversation exchange. com. Maybe you can try there but it can be a hit or miss as well. If it doesn’t work out, find another like yourself who is trying as well. Any small amount of encouragement can sweeten the labor. Practise shadowing.

All the best!


You’re working so hard! Kudos to your work ethic, that’s amazing.
I would say to try and use a website like italki or cafetalk to find a teacher who is offering just conversation topics who can guide your speaking through each session.


It would be nice to find a professional because depending on your goals and preferences, you might get a little frustrated if practice sessions are not structured or planned even a little. This is so the exchange doesn’t derail or hit a wall and you get some quality feedback as well as make progress. But just maybe. If you’re a free spiriter then this isn’t so relevant

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I’m not 100% clear on what you’re studying, are you studying Japanese at university? or are you using self study methods?
If you’re self studying, speaking is one of the hardest skills to develop. You grammatical knowledge and comprehension skills can become very strong, however, without someone to converse with it can be very difficult to improve in your speaking. You can’t speak with yourself. As mentioned above, if practice in speaking is what you want, you need to find someone to do it with.
Maybe advertise on your school notice boards, look online, or find a local japanese teacher who can help you with conversation practice.
In my opionion, as a Japanese teacher, the only way to get better at speaking is to do it. Don’t worry if your speaking ability isn’t as strong as your reading from the start, you will struggle to recall language elements at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will become.


The thing I learned the hard way about speaking is that you have to just do it. Even if you think you won’t understand much, you have to make yourself do it from the get-go. Even just reading sentences out loud from what you’re reading helps your brain to form connections between the written and verbal language. If you’re worried about your listening comprehension in conversations, I’d suggest practicing with some textbook exercises (if you happen to have Genki or similar, since most come with CDs for that purpose) or watching some kids’ anime where the dialogue is fairly simple. The more you do it, the more you’ll be able to understand, and the better you’ll be able to respond in conversations. Listening comprehension and speaking go hand in hand, in my opinion, and both are very difficult to improve when you’re first starting out. But I’d encourage you to try calling some people on HiNative. You don’t have to understand everything, and you don’t always have to know what to say. Even just simple xはyです sentences can be incredibly useful building blocks, and if you’ve been texting, then I think you can probably ask your partner to speak very slowly and simply. Don’t give up! I know how frustrating it can be. Five years in and over a year’s worth of time spent living in Japan later and I still have to think about what I’m going to say before I say it, but it’s gotten easier. 頑張れ!


Thanks a lot for the reply. I’m not trying to make excuses or anything, but the problem I see when calling someone over HiNative and speaking in xはyです sentences is that you really can’t form a conversation with this. Sure, maybe you can make the conversation last 30-60 seconds with this, but after that, what will the conversation turn into?

I really should just try and get into it, but I still feel like I need to know more before I start anything.

I don’t remember who it was, but I watched some recordings that someone made of his language exchange skype calls. His method was to have written down a list questions in Japanese beforehand. That way he can practice listening as the native was answering, and he tried to make follow-up comments or queries. If he didn’t know what to say - next question.

It could be a nice way to force some structure in the beginning, even if that means it’s not a very natural flow to early exchanges. Or indeed someone more professional on iTalki, who might have a structure in mind for beginner speakers, and that can give some additional instructions in English to help you get started.

Keep at it, I’m sure you’ll find your way! :muscle:


Honestly, if you don’t have a Japanese teacher or some other person fluent in Japanese to teach you how to begin conversations, it’s going to be really difficult to bridge that gap.

There’s nothing like having conversations with someone who is just there to teach you how to do it. I would encourage you to find someone, and spend at least 1-2 hours a week just talking. Conversation classes are not hard to find. If you’re that dedicated to your studies, but you aren’t satisfied with what you have, then you should change what you’re doing. I for one have no touble speaking with other people, and in Japan I got myself into a lot of trouble just by sounding like I knew something, and then not having enough understanding to reply afterwards. However, I can’t read much. So instead of doing what I was doing, which was mostly listening to/speaking out loud, and taking ordinary private classes, I began WaniKani and Memrise and whatever other Kanji app there is to improve on what I really want, which is to be able to read fluently.

If you want to communicate verbally, focus your studies on that. Just be careful not to burn out: 5-6 hours a day is a lot of time, and you do not want to be frustrated to the point where your exhaustion makes you give up.


True on the burn out. While I get frustrated and give up in 1 sec, within the same sec I get over it and begin studying as happy as a lark. Not every one is like that so please be careful of your routine, @DD_Owl

studying Japanese at Uni, we meet for an hour 5 days a week, and the entire class time is basically just having conversations while learning the new grammar and vocab. The final for the second semester was to give a 10 minute presentation about a subject (which I chose to talk about family).
Granted, I’ve completed two semester so I should feel a bit more confident with conversation than someone who has only been doing a self study for 4 months, but if you can, try and take a class.

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I feel like this is a good sign. Around the same level you’re at right now I was thinking the same thing, but honestly it’s one of the best signs of progress. It’s a bit of a trite example, but I think this is the right place to bring up Socrates’ all too famous quote:

“I neither know nor think that I know.”

In learning more of the language, you also learn about all the possible things that could be learned (and of course that you don’t know them). And that causes a bit of despair, but it’s a hurdle you must get over. If your goal is to be conversational by August of next year, I actually think that’s quite a modest goal.
To combat frustration, I think it’s a good idea to simply try something new in terms of resources and get some new sort of exposure to Japanese in anyway you can. It really helps to add a new dimenson to your study and makes perservering much easier, which is the real objective.


And I understand your point. My college professors had us do bi-monthly Skype exchanges with Japanese native speakers who were also learning English. I didn’t see the point at first because I didn’t know how to converse as well as I do in English, but after two or three semesters, I looked back at where I had started with xはyです sentences and realized that we’d been just building on the same basic grammar the whole time. Speaking is something you have to start from the ground and work up with, and even if it’s frustrating and you don’t think it will be fruitful, any and all practice you can achieve is useful. Even if you’re only exchanging questions and answers like 出身はどこですか? and 好きな食べ物は何ですか? at first, it’s exactly the same way we teach Japanese kids to speak English in Japan. It seems too simple, and in part you’re right. But the more you try, the more I think you might be surprised when you realize just how much you can say!


If you are at a university in Canada there are almost certainly Japanese students (although most likely postgrad). At the University here in the UK where I was working (until last week) the Language Centre matched up people looking for language exchange partners and found five Japanese willing to do so (although only two really worked). Maybe you have something similar? If not perhaps you can figure out how to find people another way eg do you have a Japanese society? Any Japanese food stores? Kendo/Kyuudo/other Japanese activity clubs?

As others have said there is no substitute for speaking and using the language.

Also - give yourself a break. You have only be doing it for four months. I have been studying fairly intensively for almost two years and my Japanese is pretty poor. I still can’t follow anime and can easily get lost when trying to converse. However I have made massive improvements. Just stick with it and eventually you will get there (at least that is what I tell myself!!)


It sounds like you’ve made great progress in 4 months. I don’t have much to add, just that I think you’re doing better than you may think you are. :slight_smile:

Also, considering your current goals, it might be a good time for you to back off on some of your existing routine to make time for practice in those areas you want to improve in. For example you’ve learned a lot of kanji in a short amount of time, which is great, and I totally understand the desire to keep pushing forward there … but for the amount of hours you’re already spending studying, piling more on top of that for listening and speaking practice is probably going to burn you out. Maybe ease up (not necessarily stop) kanji/vocab/grammar points for a bit while you let what you’ve learned internalize as you spend more time using it for its intended purpose (communication!)


Same thing was with me when I learned English. I was fluently reading anything, but speaking skills was terrible. The only thing helped when I had a business trip to Canada 20 years ago I did not use any translator. So I started to speak English just in 3 weeks.
I am sure you need something similar for your Japanese.


Yeah, an experience like that would be difficult, but also very beneficial. Just wondering, what is your native language?

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I am Russian.

I’m not progressing as fast as I would want, but I’ve studied a bit longer (4 years) so I guess I’m a bit farther than you are, so this is my experience:
It honestly stays the same. Even if you improve a lot, if you tend to focus on what you cannot do, you will always feel like this. My tip is to keep track of what you can and cannot do, then if you look back on your progress monthly, you will realize that you definitely are making progress, just in small steps.

I often feel the same as you, periodically even, but after a month or so I feel motivated again (in the sense that I acknowledge my progress and what I don’t know, and start tackling it one by one again)