Disclaimer: I speak fluent Japanese and scored really well on the real EJU, and N1 practice tests. I lived in Japan, and am currently stuck in the US due to the dumb virus, so I’ve now brought it arrrrouuund town finding ways to practice when there’s no one to practice with.
Go on YouTube, find videos where people are speaking Japanese, whether it’s streamers, news, whatever. And just imitate them. Just copy what they say.
I had European friends who speak PERFECT English, and when I asked them how they practice, they all said they just watched and copied American/British YouTubers.
It’s kind of fun to try out different speaking styles and stuff. And when you’ve practiced saying something a lot, it’ll be easier to pull it out in conversation!
I used to teach kids, and I will say that most of language acquisition is just listening to other people and copying them. Little kids always repeat what their older siblings say. Kids without siblings repeat what they hear on tv or from their friends. That’s how you get your native language. It’s how you can get your second language.
I like to look up videos about stuff I’m particularly interested in, too, so I learn vocab and phrases related to my own interests. I really like space, so I watch videos from JAXA (the Japanese space agency.) You can also practice listening and writing by listening and trying to transcribe what they say.
Transcription is a great way to practice listening and writing at the same time. You can just listen to a YouTube video, song, podcast etc. and try to write down what they say.
Or you can look up the lyrics to a song you like and go line by line, and look up words until you understand the whole song. You’ll learn lots of uncommon words and phrasing that way.
If you find audio of speaking you like, just listen to it over and over, all the time. I used to listen to interviews of artists I liked and even though it just sounded like a flurry of words at first, after listening to something multiple times you’ll be able to understand so much better. And then when you listen to something new, you’ll recognize grammar patterns and phrases that you are now really familiar with. It trains your ears really well.
It’s hard to practice when you’re alone. I really empathize with that. I’m having to do that now.
But I know plenty of people who had to study alone and ended up sounding really natural, just because they found ways to make it fun. It’s honestly SO satisfying to say a whole string of things you’ve memorized, and once you’ve memorized it, it’s yours. And you can be confident that it’s natural. And before long, you’ll realize you’ve been watching something in Japanese and forgot to put on the subtitles. (first time I realized I was doing that I was shocked.)
As for book studying, I like the Try! N4 etc. books for grammar. The Kanzen master books are great and very thorough if you’re intending to take the JLPT further. (I’m gonna take N1 next.) For Kanji, honestly just writing and transcribing will be more memorable practice, as well as reading novels and just learning as you go. I don’t like kanji books much because I forget it all/go on auto-pilot.
Just make sure that books are supplementary, and not everything in your studies. You’ll end up hating studying if you make it boring. Learn some songs. Memorize videos. Pretend you’re a news anchor. Make a fake podcast. Pretend you’re a YouTuber in Japanese.
Good luck with your studies!! I