Speaking and Thinking Speed (Fluency?)

As someone thats still in the beginner level Im always wondering when and how Ill eventually be able to assemble sentences randomly from my head with speed without having to sit and think of words and patterns to use like its some chore every time I want to speak a Japanese sentence.

I mean I know a lot of random words and enough grammar to say a very basic sentence but if someone asks me to say something in Japanese I couldnt just say something off the top of my head. I would have to stop and think hard of what words to use and what the pattern would be etc.

So my question is have any of you had experience with a breakthrough point where you noticed that sentences and words flowed out of you where you didnt have to stop and think so much? Is it a fluency thing and when and how did that breakthrough occur? Just curious for motivation moving forward.

Any time you learn a task, initially your brain has to work super hard with each part of it occupying your short term memory. Remember learning to write in kindergarten? Holding the pencil, making the shape, staying on the line, what letter comes next… These are all laborious tasks for little kids. Then you do it 10000 times and you write like an adult.

Basically you need to practice speaking. A lot. You’ll get better gradually. And one day it’ll flow.


Not to crush your hopes, but for me it took at least six months of studying the language almost daily, before I could even create simple questions or replies at anything close to a natural speed.

Compared to French which I also studied, I felt comfortable in under a month making simple questions and answers. I imagine it is because the grammar is significantly different from English and Romance languages.

But everybody is different and maybe you will be luckier or find it easier than I did!

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I’ve had that experience twice. I learned German in school, ages 12-16 or so, including spending a month in Germany. But we learned German from English, and the entire time I was learning it I would mentally build a sentence in English, translate it painfully, check it, and then produce it. Then I quit using German, thinking about it, etc.

I learned French primarily here in France, 30 hours of lessons in the US, 60 hours here, and then telling my colleagues “speak French to me!” At first, I went through the same build-translate-check-speak process, and then something clicked. Since I moved here in 1999, I have no idea when it happened, or how, it just did. Today, sure, I have issues where I don’t have a word, and my verb conjugation sometimes needs help, but I can have a conversation in French without thinking in English.

Shortly after I moved here, I started traveling to Germany several times a year. By the time I moved to Germany in 2003, I was quicker at the build-translate-check-speak process, and by the time I moved back from Germany in 2005 I was at the same stage with German as I am with French. Today, it takes me a couple hours to make the speaking-without-thinking switch between languages when I travel.

So what does all that show? Immersion is good; daily use without immersion is good. Using the language is good. As other replies have said, practice practice practice! You will get there!

No breakthrough point, but now and then I do notice some changes in my speech / ability. Generally, however, I would say I tend to notice these changes after they’ve already occurred. I remember asking a question on here about a year or so ago about how to use さ in sentences. I heard it all the time but couldn’t quite get when I should use it. These days I use it all the time without thinking, but the weird thing is, I never made any conscious decision to do so, and I don’t remember starting to do it, it’s just something I do now. Same with other little speech ticks, like なんか or stressing particles when thinking.

Basically, don’t try to force yourself. Just keep doing what you can and one day you’ll look back and be like: wow, I just said something off the top of my head that I didn’t even understand 6 months ago. (If you’re looking for motivation, try recording yourself now and then don’t listen to it for 6 months, record yourself again and listen to both.)