Hi everyone. I just got back from my Japanese church party. We had tea and are cookies and it was a really good time. However, even after 7 years (2.5 of them studying seriously) I struggle with being nervous when I speak sometimes. A lot of the time it seems to be when I’m speaking to native speakers. It’s almost like, the Japanese comes flying at me so fast I just can’t keep up. I practice listening to Japanese every day. I do wanikani 6 days a week. I read NHK Easy often. My Japanese grammar lessons are entirely in Japanese and I can understand about 85% of everything the guy says. That’s the same with listening to a sermon at church I get 85% of it.
I guess what I’m trying to ask is, does anyone have any tips for feeling more confident? I guess I don’t want to make mistakes and I don’t want to talk so slow that it’s hard to understand. How do I improve my conversation? Any tips would be appreciated. Thank you!
Bluntly, just get over it. Decide that not making mistakes isn’t important to you. Then make those mistakes. A lot.
Mistakes are not the end of the world. You’re not in charge of anything important enough that saying the wrong thing will make people hate you or get other people killed. Clearly you are a learner and everyone around you understands that.
I wouldn’t feel bad … I live in Australia over a decade (originally from USA) I often hear accelerated speech with variety of aus accents and I can’t understand a word they are saying. No kidding. Part of it is me filtering the sounds out – I really don’t want to hear other peoples conversations. But my point is listening and understanding is challenging.
One thing my sensei does is force us to read out loud at what he calls native speed. Of course I am laughing because I call it shinkansen speed. It’s crazy fast and I literally try to speak as fast as humanly possible when he requires us to do this. I am also smiling a lot because me and the other student are trying to talk like the writing equivalent of scribbling !! But – heres the deal for me – it helps. I feel better about speaking quickly and listening to others speaking quickly. Sometimes it becomes a hack job and you just start over. No big deal. Eventually you get a little more used to it … slowly.
You know, there is a lot of good sense in that. “Just get over it.” Thanks for the reply!
I don’t know what doing 2.5 years of studying seriously entails, but wanikani is mostly there to help with reading and nhk easy might help with listening to a specific type of conversation.
In other words, my expectation is that you will stumble from time to time and you should be proud of hitting what you feel like is 85% in the first place. If those years were study… well, I wouldn’t expect a 7 year child to have a decent conversation with me even if they grew up in the right kind of environment. Try not to pressure yourself over this and if anyone else is, they’re kind of a jerk yo. If the anxiety is getting disruptive you should probably talk to someone or look into specific techniques to deal with. I did a bit of teletherapy last year and I found it a huge help for learning to handle irrational things that “just deal with it” wasn’t quite enough for.
I had a lot of anxiety with speaking Japanese, and I still do a bit, but a big step for me about a year ago was just to accept that I will make mistakes, and people really don’t care. They are just happy that you are trying your best.
Practically speaking, I also speak to myself for 10 to 30 minutes a day in my apartment. I set a timer and just talk about anything: my day, my favourite foods, a manga I am reading at the moment. I’ll often pick topics that come up a lot in real life conversation so that I can practice for when those topics come up again.
A conversation partner, whether via language exchange or if you pay for them is a huge help as well.
Thanks for the reply! At church, I get called on to read my Bible out loud a lot. I think I’m going to give it a try… reading out loud and faster in native speed more often.
Thanks for the reply. Ive never looked at it like that. That makes a lot of sense. Thank you!
Thanks for the reply. This is really encouraging, knowing someone who struggled with it like me made some serious improvements. I’m going to try to talk to myself more in Japanese, thats something I lack. I appreciate it!
My breakthrough came when a Japanese friend ended up spending two weeks at my parent’s place at the start of his Working Holiday in Canada. For those two weeks I was the only one he could really talk to (my parents don’t speak English either) so I was forced to get over my perfectionism and use those toddler words and that horrible grammar. We managed to play long games of Enter the Gungeon together so I guess I was good enough lol.
Japanese people know a lot of English words from high school so if your vocabulary fails you mid-sentence you can usually get away with plugging English words inside Japanese grammar
In my example I meant reading aloud in Japanese at super-sonic native speed, not english.
I’m currently living in Japan, and I have very very little Japanese ability (I only started studying about a year ago, and started in on Wanikani seriously in January). Let me tell you, people are THRILLED when I make any attempt to converse in Japanese. Even a simple “おはようございます” often gets a “日本語上手!!!” (which honestly is frustrating, since I am obviously not jouzu at nihongo yet, but I digress). I may sound like a 2 year old child in Japanese, but it doesn’t matter. As long as you can get your point across, even if it’s slow or clunky, you’re doing it! You’re speaking Japanese! And I’m sure the people you’re speaking to are excited about that, and that they’re excited to be able to talk to you in their native language.
Remember that you’re essentially back to being a child, learning to converse in this new language. You’re allowed to—and expected to—make mistakes, the same way that a 2 year old makes mistakes when first learning to speak. The point of a language is to be able to make yourself understood, so no matter what, as long as you keep trying, you’re good!! Don’t worry too much
This has made me feel much better. Thank you a bunch.
I totally totally get what you feel like. I have been on and off studying Japanese for 4 years now and for 1 year having a private 1-1 lesson each week. I still made very elementary mistakes. Recently I booked myself conversation lessons on italki. Each time before the lesson I feel so nervous that I didn’t say a lot and struggle during the lesson. Reflecting on this, I treated each lesson as a test on my ability instead of a time to improve and learn which was very foolish of me. Now after 10 lessons I finally got more relax and ask/talk more.
Re your worry about talking too slowly, I actually think as long as one talks clearly, slowly is fine. I find when I listen to someone who speaks slowly, they can usually capture my attention, granted it was something interesting they were saying ;).
Enjoy the journey.
Do you mean to read a Japanese translation of the bible? It’s tough to read in my native language, I can imagine it’s very challenging in Japanese
From my experience I felt uncomfortable speaking until I became much better at it. But the way to become better is to keep speaking. You should also try to fill in your grammar/vocab gaps. If you notice you’re missing words to say something try asking the people you’re talking to. You should also learn to explain/describe a thing you are missing a word for. I think reading Japanese to Japanese dictionary is very helpful to learn this.
I don’t think anyone can give you a magic incantation to get over being nervous or make you feel more confident.
Only you can help you here.
To me, it sounds like you are already doing everything you can to get better at Japanese. Maybe an approach you can take is, if there is someone in the group you struggle to understand, ask them for 1 on 1 time during the week. Either on a call, at local restaurant, bar, izakaya, etc where you commit to 100% Japanese time with the person.
The only thing we can do for you is say, “you ARE doing AWESOME. You are practicing. You are learning. You are stepping out there and you are speaking Japanese.”
You can do it, because you can do it! (Bob Ross-ism)
Seconding a lot of the things here and throwing in my experience! I also had a lot of anxiety about speaking, especially to native speakers. Several months ago I started booking myself tutoring sessions on italki, and I complete one session every week with my tutor. We communicate exclusively in Japanese. For maybe the first five or six lessons I would freak out and prepare a lot beforehand, and then during the lessons I would struggle and blank and try and construct everything perfectly before letting a sentence out, which either slowed me down or shut me up. Because of that, I never took any risks and it was hard to have a flowing conversation.
But I’m on my 16th or 17th lesson now, and speaking confidence is my number one area of improvement (not to mention I’m a lot better at listening). I definitely make tons of mistakes speaking, pronounce things weird, and respond to things in a way far from native. But I’ve found myself not thinking about it any more, and just throwing myself into trying to communicate what I want to communicate. My tutor and I now get to have lots of interesting tangential discussions about healthcare, lizard species, surfing, the 17 year cicada, peanut butter and jelly, the different regions in the Japanese or American natural landscape, etc. I often have to look up a word or ask my tutor to explain a word I don’t understand. I am undoubtedly a very clunky speaker. But I think forcing myself 45min-1hr of conversation a week has really helped me shed the mental load of being anxious about it all the time. And that’s really exciting, because each time we practice I’ve started to solidify more natural responses.
So all that to say, I really recommend finding a tutor or using italki! While it might feel really uncomfortable for the first several sessions, and it can get really easy at first to over-analyze your speaking performance and feel upset, I’ve found that just continuing to sign up and show up every week has done wonders in removing that block.