Speaking Practice Tips for the Shy and Socially Anxious

Hello again!
I’m sorry if this is a redundant post thats been asked ten million times before, but I’d like some advice for speaking practice. Specifically what are good ways to practice when you’re shy and socially anxious :cold_sweat: I want to be able to eventually get the confidence and courage to sign up for weekly tutoring at my local international center because I know talking to native speakers will help me the most. However, I’m still building up the nerve and truthfully my life is kind of busy right now anyway. That said, I still want to know what are helpful things I can do to practice getting me to actually speak out loud.
Thanks!!

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Talk to yourself. Like seriously, just attempt to have a conversation with yourself in Japanese and keep it going as long as possible. Do it where no one can hear you or disturb you so you don’t worry about getting overheard and looking like a weirdo. Start with basic questions like, “Where are you from? What food do you like?” etc.

If it’s hard for you to visualize the flow of the conversation, start brainstorming in your native language first and translate if you must. But better than imagining all the details out and translating word for word, try picturing a basic outline instead and use the vocab you already know to lead the conversation.

For example, if you don’t know the grammar for “I have been to Japan” don’t try to force yourself to translate it. Think of another way to express the same idea like “I went to Japan 3 years ago.”

Eventually you’ll get used to speaking so you don’t have to translate first to talk. But first, you need to engage your muscle memory to get used to speaking a different language so you can Eventually speak it naturally.

Try this app called Hello Talk. It’s essentially a culture/language exchange app used worldwide. You indicate which country you’re interested in, and you’ll see “Memories” posted on people’s walls in that country. There is the option to record your voice and upload it. You can ask a native speaker for corrections or feedback and many will help you out. If you’re feeling really comfortable, you can also do voice calls with specific members so both of you can practice.

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From my experience with French (not Japanese), having an online personal sessions with a native teacher helped me a lot. There are many teachers or natives that offer online speaking sessions. I myself used italki but there are many other platforms like that.

The pro:

  1. You can take all your time to think of things that you want to say. Unlike native friends or language exchange buddy, teachers can tolerate you when you use a few seconds to come up with a sentence (for every sentences). This will surely happen when you first start. They will also guide you on what to say if you can’t come up with an answer. After a while, you will accumulate your basic conversation collection to use with other people.

  2. They have done this thousands of times and know how to lead the conversation. I have social anxiety and in extra of being a beginner on the language, I also don’t know what to talk about. Having someone just ask me about the things that are in my language level encouraged me to talk a lot.

  3. The fact that it’s online. You can book when ever you want. You don’t have to worry about many other things like “are they gonna see me shaking”, “do I smell bad”, “do I look awkward”, “am I being rude or inappropriate”, etc. You can also change the teacher and don’t have to worry that you will see them ever again.

If you have some budget, I really recommend this approach. It doesn’t have to be long. You can have a few sessions. After you have the I-can-speak-with-my-teacher badge under your belt, you can move on to your local international center.

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I’d second the “talk to yourself” approach. I’ve never used the service, but others have also recommended italki (note that it’s a paid service, however).

Like anything, speaking is almost entirely just a matter of practice. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

There are several aspects to speaking:

  1. Production vs. recall. Wanikani focuses on recall and recognition, not production. It shows you characters and quizzes you on the meaning and reading. Production is the other way around: you want to go from a meaning (what you want to say) to the reading. It’s the same as writing vs. reading: more reading and immersion definitely helps, but if you want to get good at writing you’ll need to actually write.

  2. Shyness and fear of mistakes. This also succumbs to practice and repetition. Once you make a few mistakes in a conversation and realize the world didn’t end it gets easier.

  3. Pronunciation. Learning to hear the differences in Japanese pronunciation is the first step to being able to reproduce them on your own. Can you hear the difference between おばさん and おばあさん? Between きて and きって? Unsurprisingly, this also succumbs to practice and repetition.

Some specific advice:

  • I’ve started practicing production using the self-study quiz for new items in my review queue (stuff in SRS stages 1-2). It can be configured to display the meaning of an item and quiz you on how you would say it in Japanese (you reply with the hiragana). Limiting yourself to just items in SRS stages 1 and 2 lets you practice without getting too bogged down with synonyms and homonyms (you’ll know which specific term they are after because you’ve seen it recently). There are also things like kamesame and kaniwani focused specifically on production.

  • Enable “autoplay audio in lessons/reviews” in your settings (wear headphones if you’re worried about annoying others nearby). The more you can immerse yourself in proper pronunciation, the more you’ll be able to speak things correctly. Try to imitate the sounds as you hear them (subvocalizing is fine, you don’t really need to say them aloud but that’s even better if you’re alone).

  • Really focus on “hearing” the words as you respond during the reviews (before the audio autoplays). Imagine yourself saying the word aloud (or, better, actually say it aloud if you can).

  • If you’re fortunate enough to live someplace with a reasonably large Japanese community, look for someplace nearby where native Japanese speakers are likely to be found: Japanese grocery stores, bookstores, kendo/karate/aikido/judo dojo, Buddhist churches, etc. If they have a bulletin board, put up a notice offering English conversation practice in exchange for Japanese conversation practice.

Where there’s will, there’s a way.

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In support of speaking to yourself, I keep circling back to this method I read about on wasabi-jpn.com:

It’s a method of repeating out loud several set phrases until you’re able to reproduce them instinctually. There’s audio files in a linked article. I put them on my phone and play while I do chores like washing the dishes.

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