Help with building conversation skills

i feel as if i’ve asked this question sooo many times on here but you know the saying “third times the charm.” LOL i’m on level 6 on WaniKani and well learning all this kanji is great without a doubt–but along with kanji knowing how to hold conversations with other Japanese speakers is really important to me but unfortunately I can’t really hold or speak actual sentences which is a bummer especially because i see so many people on here that can, maybe that’s just my insecure high school brain haha… i’ve always watched anime and i listen to many Japanese artists and sometimes i can decipher some words here and there but nothing really sticks. i guess my main problem is that i just can’t converse like how i do in english and by this i mean basic conversations like telling someone about my day etc and i don’t really know what else to do. i’ve tried genki which kind of worked for awhile but i began running into issues with many of the activities as i had no one to practice with which i kind of gave up on, i’ve recently started to listening to Nihongo con teppei and just like music i can kind of get a gist of what he’s saying and i really enjoy the podcast i just can only understand so much. lastly i’ve tried hello talk and i’ve even made an actual friend and she taught me how to say “i went to school today” which was nice! i’m rambling I’m sorry LOL but does anyone have any more tips that could help me actually build coversation skills :slight_smile:


I feel like I need to start this by mentioning conversing is a goal I’m personally comfortable putting off for the far future so I haven’t actually had experience building it myself, heh. Nonetheless…

It’s very natural for you to be able to recognize and understand more than you can produce from your own head. That’s just a natural product of how memory works in all fields. So while it’s probably frustrating that you can’t, it is so, so normal at this stage.

But what this also means is a degree of understanding has to come first. You don’t have to have a fluent reading and listening level, far from it, but when you mention having not stuck with Genki – if it was me, I’d do your best to at least have around an N4 knowledge (Genki 2 equivalent, but there are many other routes if Genki isn’t working for you) before thinking too much about doing your own speaking. Everything up to that level in the vocab and grammar is extremely common stuff that you really have to know to understand much of anything.

If speaking is a major goal of yours though, I don’t see why you can’t start practicing once you’re around that point. If it’s feasible for you, iTalki is probably your best bet – there you can find a native tutor to help you practice speaking and (when you find a suitable one) work with you in any way that suits you. That of course will cost money, however.


The most important points for this, in my opinion, are these:

  • Recognition is not the same as production, so you need to practice it separately.
  • You’ll need a decent amount of grammar knowledge and vocab to hold a conversation.
  • You must be willing to, “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”

One thing I like to do is try to talk to myself in Japanese. Like narrating my day; asking myself what I’m looking for, etc. Just as a way to think about how such conversations might go. It doesn’t have to be out loud, but if you care about pitch accent, I’d suggest doing so, assuming you wouldn’t freak anyone out. :wink:


If you didn’t like or couldn’t stick with Genki, you might like to check out the beginner Tobira book. ( I personally despise Genki—can’t stand it, get demotived whenever I look at, etc. But, I’m loving this beginners Tobira book—actually trying hard to not speed so fast through it that I don’t learn. :sweat_smile:


Just a few days ago In a different thread somebody was looking for study buddies for Genki - maybe that might help you along a bit?


If you want to build conversation skills, the best way is to start speaking! There are several ways, from setting up chats with people online, hiring a tutor, etc One relatively easy way is to try Pimsleur; your local library almost certainly has copies of it you can use.

Pimsleur has lots of shortcomings, but it’s pretty good at building your listening skills and speech production skills. And that’s a problem many people have with learning a language. You can learn grammar later. Start speaking immediately.


My suggestion would be to just look at a couple of sentences and translate them. It might sound weird, considering speaking is about forming your own creative sentences, but here is the thing: When you speak, what you actually do is take a creative thought, and then translate it into your target language. Even in your native language, you’re actually just translating your thoughts. It’s just that you’re so quick at it that you don’t even notice what is going on in your head. And if you practice that in Japanese, you’ll get quicker and quicker, until you eventually reach that same point.

This is a fantastic preparation for an actual conversation, because unlike in a real-time conversation, you are under no pressure to form your sentences and you have the time to look up words you don’t know. You’ll gradually build confidence like this, and then you’re free to jump into actual conversations via apps like HelloTalk as soon as you feel like confident enough!

The next question would be where to find an abundance of sentence suitable for you to practice this. Did Genki perhaps provide a lot of English sentences that accompany your current grammatical level?


Wasabi has a whole section call instantaneous composition that has simple sentences (each section is for a given grammar point) to practice speaking from an English “trigger”. You can do written or aural. I find it really helpful to go through and speak them out loud on occasion.


I did the same aswell and it worked like a charm. Until the voices answered.


My personal opinion is that you should look for a language exchange app or Discord server, or that you should try looking for practice partners via Twitter. (#langtwt is a place to start.) However, just be aware that you’ll need to find Japanese people or more advanced learners who are willing to correct you, or at least to give you a correct equivalent immediately so you get a sense for what you should have said. Some people (very seriously) manage to work out how to get a ton of things across just by watching and imitating anime, but grammatically the result is usually horrible even though you’ll have an idea of what they’re saying. The point is really to practise expressing what you intend to say in Japanese so you get your expressive abilities flowing. You need to be able to access your memories in an active context (i.e. without any visual or auditory triggers).

Other alternatives include writing stuff on a HelloTalk page and waiting for feedback, or writing sentences on the forums here. The issue is that not everyone is going to be willing to point out mistakes or able to explain them (and believe me, correcting mistakes can be tiring), so you should probably also just keep studying grammar and immersing yourself in examples of correct speech so you can pick up good sentences you can reuse.


Firstly, recognize that learning to converse in a foreign language is a major undertaking. While its never too early to start, take it easy on yourself and realize that even with constant practice it will take years to really be able to say anything you want.

My strongest advice is to keep the conversation flowing. Nod along whether or not you fully understand what’s being said. When the conversation comes back to you, say something even if it creates a rather jarring transition. It’s okay to steer the conversation back toward things you do know how to say when it starts to veer in other directions. The longer you’re able to keep a conversation flowing the more confident you’ll become. Try to find A way to say whatever it is you want to say, no matter how roundabout.

You’ll make lots of mistakes. You’ll often be misunderstood or not understood at all. Deal with it. Just keep practicing: have informal conversations as often as possible and just accept that you won’t understand everything nor always be understood.

These prior replies are also relevant:


Well you answered your own question…

Do more hello talk
Do Wanikani every day
Pick a grammar resource (Japanese from Zero is a good choice for beginners)

This is what I have done and I have noticed my improvement over the last year. I know it will probably
take me 10 (or more) to be fluent but what is important is learning some Japanese every day.


Just one more thing about Twitter: if you dare to take the plunge, and you feel like you know enough to make a few sentences about something you care about… you can try following language learners on Twitter and joining or even creating Twitter Spaces. I just joined one and spent 1hr 30min in there. I think the last 30 min or so was entirely in Japanese, because there was only me and two Japanese guys in there. We were talking about English grammar and usage, and grammar is something I read a lot about and explain quite often, even in Japanese, so I could kinda manage. Honestly, however, I was struggling to say exactly what I wanted because I couldn’t find the words I knew even though I always recognised them when the Japanese guys used them. However, it was a good experience overall, really. It was a nice chat.

You don’t have to do what I did in terms of subject-matter, of course, but these sorts of moments are really valuable, because they make us realise what we know well and what we don’t. Even just a simple talk about how your day went is an opportunity to get familiar with Japanese words. That’s how I see it, and if my experience with French is any indicator, if you have a decent foundation in basic vocabulary and grammar, once you speak enough, you’ll have an ‘aha!’ moment in which your knowledge will suddenly start flowing much more fluidly. That’s how you become fluent in conversation. Once stringing together basic sentences live becomes natural for you, you’ll be able to use new words you learn to express yourself much more easily. That’s why practice is important: you might know some of the hardest words in the Japanese language, but believe me, if you’ve never said them even once, they’ll feel weird coming out of your mouth.


Pre-COVID, there was a Japanese Language Meetup in my city. We would meet at a Japanese restaurant, practice reading/grammar, and practice conversing. We were at all different levels, but it was a fun group!

Unfortunately, COVID happened, and we never transitioned to a Zoom/etc video chat group. The Japanese restaurant we met at also closed.

Check to see if there is one around you!


I think this question demonstrates a classic and common misunderstanding about what actually ARE conversation skills.

A person can be a native speaker in a language but still be a terrible conversationalist because they are shy, or introverted, or weird and creepy, or BOOOOORRRRRIIIIINNNGGGGG.

No amount of study/practice in second language acquisition is going to overcome the previous examples, except the part where you get out and do a LOT of talking.

If you want to start outputting in your language before you have acquired much of it, then you need to be willing to misunderstand, and to be misunderstood. You need to make egregiously cringy mistakes, frequently and often. And you need to have the tenacity to keep getting back up and preparing for another day of making mistakes in front of people.

Also, Japanese people don’t bite. In fact, the worse you sound, the better they will say you are! It’s an inverse relationship. Don’t worry! You are jouzu! :smiley:

“When you fall off the horse, you get back up and you EAT THAT HORSE!” - Goku, Team Four Star


1st step: Choose a textbook (or equivalent app) to accompany you along your WK journey.

In my case it was Minna no Nihongo. But I’ve heard also Genki and/or Bunpro are great alternatives.

Combining some method for grammar plus WK for learning kanji and increasing your vocabulary will give you impressive results.

2nd step: Consume “real” japanese readings. You’ve got several alternatives to start with: Satori Reader (app), NHK news, children books or some easy manga. I bet this can be done after 6 months of serious study.

This way you will grow a “feeling” for key sentences and structures in japanese, so your understanding and speaking skills are going to build more naturally over time.

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It’s funny how that works isn’t it? The worse you are, the more compliments you get. When you can speak reasonably well no one seems to acknowledge your progress. I find the lack of compliments a compliment in itself! My suggestion for the original poster is to pay some of the community tutors on Italki or similar websites and spend a couple of hours a week with a native speaker. Try and pick some topic to speak about beforehand and spend a little time picking up common vocabulary that you are likely to encounter when discussing the topic. I spend an hour a week on average with my Italki tutor and we have debates around a whole range of topics and it is really fun.

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This is absolutely the hardest thing to learn, because it can be so uncomfortable. I face the challenge by giving myself deliberate, actually-said-outloud-sometimes peptalks. I’m out here. I’m doing it. I will improve because I’m out here, and I’m doing it.


It really comes down to immersive practice, as much as possible. I also second what others said regarding holding a conversation in your head. Consider what you might want to say and how to say it. If you realize that you don’t know how to say it, that’s a clue to go learn the necessary grammar and vocabulary to be able to say what you want to say. Like if you see somebody writing with a nice pen. You probably know how to say “that’s a pen.” But maybe you want to say “That’s a really nice looking pen that seems to write easily. Where did you buy it?”
Also, you can narrate your life. Again, that will give you clues of what you can’t say. Start simple and move on gradually. Like if you want to go to the bathroom you can say “I’m going to the bathroom.”
And then later as you get more “advanced” you can move up to things like “I better go to the bathroom right away before I explode.” (Again, this is silently in your head. No need to verbalize these things. :grinning: )

Also focus on learning example sentences that cover grammar patterns so that you can easily use them at will. I ran into this channel recently which could be helpful for learning some of these patterns.


I won’t have much helpful stuff to say here as I’ve only just started conversation practice myself, if you can call it that. I’ve been talking to a Japanese friend and there are points where I’ll realise that the next thing I want to say, I might be able to say in Japanese, so I try - and she’ll correct me. It feels pretty good, despite being able to say so little!

However it’s still not conversation, where she talks to me in Japanese and I talk back in Japanese - and I really need to start that. However I’m a bit stuck on what to talk about :sweat_smile: I still don’t know a lot, which doesn’t help. I have a book on Japanese conversation shadowing, in increasing levels of advancement, though the majority of them are statement and response until late in the book, so I don’t know how much it’ll help. Another thing I’ve thought of is planning out potential conversations.

I’m planning on talking to someone I met on italki next weekend, so I’m going to spend this week preparing and see how that goes. Already nervous!