How do I speak better with my Japanese friend?

Hello. I’ve organized and am really happy about meeting with a Japanese student at my university on a weekly basis to speak with. Now I’ve met with him, and realize that my ability to speak is just…
*waits 5 seconds
… awful.

It’s kind of like that. His English isn’t too good, although it’s better than my Japanese. That being said he has mostly been helping with my Japanese, which I’m pretty thankful for.

My goal at the very moment is trying to be better with speaking and listening to get ready for a summer language program in Japan next summer where I’m also looking to try to do a home-stay for that time.

So I’m trying to become better at speaking and also just in general want to be able to become better friends and speak more with him. Right now, I’m trying to think of and write down specific topics to talk about. (Seem like a good recommendation I’ve heard.) Other than that, I don’t have too many ideas. Does anybody have any specific insight? Experience?

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Honestly, you just need to speak. You might suck and feel embarrassed at first (I’ve been there too), but it gets easier. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes, it’s how you learn!

I’ve heard good things about italki, where you can practice speaking with a tutor. Also try to learn phrases having to do with the topics you want to talk about, not just words. Reading aloud is great too, you can do that by yourself and it’ll help get your mouth used to the language!

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Japanese can get you super far with really simple concepts, since the language is really descriptive and helpful.

If you don’t mind me asking, how far are you with your grammar studies?

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I’ve read most of Tae Kim’s grammar guide. I’m pretty sure I understand most of the simple and common grammar points easily.

Then I’d recommend just keeping it simple and using fairly simple grammar points.
They cover a lot of “use cases” over other, more advanced grammar points. I know it might sound like I’m oversimplifying, but there’s no point in being able to use 受身形 if you can’t properly use ~て形, and so on.

So just study a little before talking to your language partner, pick some grammar points and make sure you use them. Slowly but surely you’ll talk more and more as time passes.

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Just to add to this, don’t forget that the person you are practicing with took many years of learning and practicing before they became proficient themselves. They weren’t born with a perfect command of the language. This doesn’t always help when you feel like you are floundering in the moment, but just keep pushing through. You will for sure get better.

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This short video explains the phenomenon quite well:

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I’ve read, while I was trying to hunt down good learning resources, that when you speak out loud to a Japanese-speaker, they are completely fine with you making mistakes, because they assume that you want the help. It helps if you preface it with a request to please help you out if you’re getting something wrong, though, because they’re also generally too polite to go ahead and do the correcting.

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Like it was said above you really just need to do it. I have been living in Japan for a year and every time we go out drinking I hear people tell me that my speaking is suddenly really good. The reason being that when I drink I feel less embarrassed about making mistakes and just go for it.

I’m not telling you to go to your conversations drunk, but go in with a “I’m gunna say it even if it’s wrong mentality” usually I get corrected but then I know the right way to say it after.

One more thing that I have found extremely helpful in conversations is, if you don’t know a word or phrase, talk around it using words like, 事 / 物 / 方 these words (all used for thing or type) will give the Japanese listener an idea of what you are trying to say even if you don’t know the exact word.

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Shadowing can help a lot early on since it gets your mouth used to speaking Japanese sounds and words. I’ve used this book and liked it. You can also shadow any other Japanese material you may have - just pause the video after a Japanese line and repeat it until it feels natural.

Writing down specific conversation topics like you said is a good idea. When you’re alone you can also play out hypothetical conversations with your friend and try to figure out how you would ask X question, or how you would answer Y question. If you’re unsure, then you can always look up the vocabulary needed to do so and have it in mind for when the conversation may actually happen.

I think both of those things would allow you to gain some additional practice and boost your confidence so you can continue talking to your friend and improve along the way.

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Oooh, thanks for that link. Will definitely add that to my wishlist of future books to buy.

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I’ve seen video before, but now I trully understand the struggle

I often try to speak the words I’m reading out loud and I think I can do that pretty fast, but if repeating the words I’m hearing is that much better then I’ll try that.

I’ll try to think of some expressions using those and focus on thinking about concepts that way. I’ve tried to avoid generalizing a lot, but I guess the speech practice is more important than being concise, which I’ve probably been trying to do too much.

Something I’ve noticed about myself is that I keep creating an expectation to be super concise and give lots of information. This is what I do in English because of philosophy and it feels natural. I think this expectation may be causing me to feel stuck more often, as that’s something I physically can’t do in Japanese yet.

Welp I’ll keep thinking and progressing for now. Try to think of some good topics and use some of your guys’ advice.

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Reading aloud does definitely help, but shadowing native speakers can help you pick up on other things that can help make your speaking sound more native. Like mimicking their pitch accent, use of nasal Gs, devoicing, etc. Those will be things you can’t just easily pick up from most written works.

Edit to add:
Not that you necessarily need to do all these things perfectly when you are first starting, but it can help get you on the right track and it gets you exposure to real-world pronunciation when you do more and more conversation. That way you don’t get confused if they pronounce words 右 and 下げる in a manner that is consistent with standard Japanese, but not the way you would expect had you never heard a native say them.

When it comes to those linguistic things, I’ve actually studied pretty well into that through Dogen’s Patreon series on Japanese phonology. Forvo.com has been pretty helpful as well. Despite having zero speaking practice, I’m kind of proud for my ability to naturally use a lot of those things. It definitely has also been very helpful to the listening.

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Yea generalization is your friend in Japanese. There are times that being concise is helpful but, I have found that not to be the case with most native speakers of Japanese. It is a language that when spoken relies heavily on context clues.

For example in a casual setting saying “家族は?” can mean “hows your family?” “where’s your family?” “Is your family included?” and many more.

specifics are not your enemy but sometimes they can slow down your understanding and pose potential road blocks to communicating fluently

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