Older learners - success stories with speaking?

There is a great current post that discusses being a Japanese learner who is older - in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond - but I am wondering specifically if any older people here have succeeded in achieving conversational fluency? I am in my 50s and feel like I have made a lot of progress in kanji, reading, grammar and listening comprehension, but I still have a long way to go in being able to speak. I know about all of the resources online like iTalki, etc., and I will probably use them more in the future, but have any of you older people had success with making actual friends in Japan, or had success in some other way, like talking in a business situation? If so, I would love to hear your story!


I’m not in that age range, but I’m just commenting to follow because I’d love to hear these stories, too!


Well, I qualify in one sense (I turned 60 in May). But while I didn’t learn how to read the language until recently, I’ve been speaking it (poorly) and making friends in Japan since ~1976. I suspect you’re looking for stories from someone who’s only recently made strides speaking.

But I do have some thoughts.

Production is a different skill, but learning that skill is no different: practice, practice, practice.

Remember that the goal is communication. In the end it doesn’t matter much if you say things weirdly or make a lot of mistakes, as long as you can make yourself roughly understood. Smiles, nodding, hand waving and friendly humor go a long long way (think: Roberto Benigni). Eventually you’ll make fewer mistakes. Until then, find your inner child and just accept that you WILL make a lot of mistakes (kids don’t worry about that, neither should you in the beginning).

One thing I learned early on was trying to keep a conversation going no matter what. Derailling a conversation to stop and understand something fully is almost always worse than just moving on to the next tropic in friendly chats. God knows I’ve made plenty of jarring transitions in my conversations, merely because I had no idea what was just said.

Making friends is mostly finding common interests and surrounding yourself with as many people as possible that meet your criteria. For Japanese, this is easiest if you are in Japan, of course. But even if not, seek out places where you are more likely to find them.

Find out if there are any Japanese employers in your area with lots of expats. Look for Japanese grocery stores, Buddhist Churches, Japanese entertainment events (movies, art, music). Find the closest Japan town or location with a sizeable Japanese population. You might be surprised what’s in your hometown.

From your icon, it appears you’ve an interest in music of some sort. Try to find Japanese natives with the same interest.

When you find a friend, they’re as likely to be as interested in English conversation as you are in Japanese. Exchanging, say, 30 minutes in each language once or twice a week might work. It’s a lot easier to ask for something if you offer something in exchange, even if it’s just English conversation.

Just go easy on yourself. Neither finding friends nor speaking Japanese is a quick or simple process.

Good luck!


Thank you for the in-depth and helpful advice! Yes, I am interested in music and have made some online friends through posting some cover songs of Japanese artists on YouTube - most of that conversing has been via email.

Your advice about not getting hung up on making mistakes definitely lines up with my speaking experiences so far - I was lucky enough to live near a Japanese-speaking MeetUp during the pandemic lockdown. Unfortunately, the native speaking organizer of that group moved away, so I guess the priority for me is to locate some new people to practice talking to.

Again, I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience with me! It does get difficult and you are right that the process is not quick or simple.


I can’t answer your question directly because although I’m in my 50s, I’ve been speaking Japanese pretty much daily for the last 25 years both at home and at work. No matter what age, I don’t think it’s possible to become conversational without immersion or a lot of practice. It sounds like you have the foundation you need but you just need to find/make opportunities to converse. Just like you found/made opportunities to learn the kanji and grammar. The good news is that it’s a lot easier to find opportunities to speak now even if you physically live nowhere near any Japanese communities.


I’m older and just joined. Although my primary goal is aural and textual understanding, I want to be able to speak at at least a decent level eventually. I plan to use a tutor/partner on italki once I get some better fundamentals of grammar/vocab down.


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