When to practice output & speaking

Hello, all!

TL;DR: At what point would you personally recommend beginning some form of live speaking/conversation practice?

I’ve been studying Japanese for about a year now, and while I’m certainly not at the point many others would be after a year, I’m definitely making progress and enjoying myself along the way. (I’m self-studying with a full-time job and definitely taking my time, as I’ve always been a little bit of a slower learner) :mask:

I’m about 3/4 through Genki I, though I definitely don’t know everything in it 100% down-pat yet. I do my best to go back and review weak points until I do. I also work on immersion as much as I can by watching YouTube videos, anime, movies, listening to Japanese podcasts, and playing games all in Japanese w/o subtitles.

However, I’m fully aware that pronunciation is a huge part of any language, and is especially important in Japanese regarding pitches and slang. I always considered signing up for a conversation tutor, but feel that I still don’t have enough of a solid grammar basis/practice listening for it to be worth while. I get the sensation many of my responses would be:

  • ゆっくり話してください。
  • すみません、わかりませんでした。 :skull:
  • 黒猫があります!

I would appreciate any advice/constructive criticism on when a good time to start conversation/pronunciation practice would be, where to do so (italki?), and what “levels” these tutors work with.

ありがとうございます!

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I relate to this too much :skull: (although in my case it would be a ginger cat :joy:).


I suggest HelloTalk!

Pros:

  • Free
  • Many, MANY people available whenever, wherever
  • It’s also great for doing more reading practice by reading others’ posts
  • Mainly used by younger people, so useful for slang/casual speech?

Cons:

  • Sometimes you can lose talking partners, as one of you (or both) loses interest/doesn’t know what to speak about anymore
  • They’re not all teachers, so perhaps they wouldn’t be able to explain to you in detail why you made a mistake, and why something is the way it is, like textbooks/qualified tutors would
  • It’s difficult to find someone that can accommodate a beginner, as both of you are there as language learners. So perhaps it’s better if you’re an intermediate speaker (although I’m not saying it’s not doable at all)
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That’s the discord link to the English-Japanese Language exchange. It’s quite a big discord and there’s constantly people in different voice channels chatting with one another. There’s beginning rooms and rooms for people who are more intermediate to advance. I don’t have the spoken grasp to actually join those yet but it’s a great server all around. It’s helped me a good bit during my studies.

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Do you also listen to Japanese music? That would give you a strong foundation in navigating around pitch and rhythm differences and kind of becoming less acoustically sensitive to them.

Anyhow, I think you already have a good hang of it so now would be a good time already :slight_smile: . You can also wait until you finish Genki 1 and 2 so that you have a strong grammar foundation and some thematic vocab under your belt to work with.

Practicing output and writing own sentences, and reading them aloud in different voices is also good practice.

I would say perhaps slang is not all that important to start with and as for pitch, it may come naturally unless you develop some bad habits.

I’m also not sure whether you’ve noticed, but the recordings on WaniKani are often overemphasized and when hearing these words in a natural conversation or news reports they do sound quite a bit differently.

My perspective might be biased, though, since I rely very heavily on phonetics when studying Japanese.

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Pitch accent isn’t as important as many people make it out to be. It’s like when you have an accent while speaking another language. Depending on how bad it is, it could mean that some words don’t get understood as easily, but for the most part, it’s fine.

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I think music is probably the worst way to try to learn pronunciation, pitch, and general sentence rhythm. Music often doesn’t match how words are said in regular conversation.

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@Brave-foot
Thanks for all of the info, I’ll look into HelloTalk!

@Baelavel
I actually already may be a member, if it’s the same discord I’m thinking of. I wasn’t sure if there was a minimum entry level for voice chat, so-to-speak…

@AndyMender
Thank you as well for the valuable input, I appreciate all these different views.

@Gorbit99
Interesting…here I was with cold sweats worrying about my terrible pitch. I definitely need to work on it, but I’m glad it’s not a end-all be-all.

@seanblue
I do listen to Japanese music pretty often, but I agree it perhaps shouldn’t be used to learn but moreso for immersion.

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That’s true, but as far as pronunciation goes… I don’t know about Japanese specifically, and I can’t cite the source because it’s been several years, but studies have found that people who learn languages using songs usually have better accents. Maybe this effect would be diminished in Japanese because of pitch accent, but at the least in terms of pronunciation, I think it’s helpful.

Also, I have a feeling @AndyMender’s point was that listening to music tends to require being a little more sensitive to pitch than one might be in other contexts, so it’s good practice even if there’s no reason pitch in a song would vary like in a conversation.

Other people are probably going to give you way better practical advice than me, because I haven’t had the chance to speak more than 10-20 min of Japanese in my entire life. Granted, I was complimented by a half-Japanese girl in France on my accent in one of those conversations, but I can’t be certain she wasn’t just being polite. Most of my output practice so far has been via text, with a friend who’s studying in Japan.

However, I’d just like to say that as long as you can find a conversation partner who’s capable of adapting to your level, I don’t think you’re ever too much of a beginner to start output practice. What I would recommend, however, is to do this with someone who’s willing to correct you or to suggest more natural/common alternatives when you say something strange. I really don’t think I would have progressed as quickly and worked out how to express myself without my friend’s help. The Discord server that @Baelavel shared above sounds good to me, particularly since there are rooms with beginners in mind. If you decide to look for teachers, then I’d suggest you try to find some with decent English so they’ll have an easier time giving you suggestions when you’re stuck, even if they’re not professionally trained. That’s basically just my two cents.

I’d say that you’re not that likely to pick up a lot of new words during conversation as a beginner though (unless you’re diligently taking notes), so I’d just keep in mind that conversation practice is more likely to just be a good way to cement what I already know, at least initially. Once you’re more comfortable and can easily notice new things on the fly, you might be able to pick up on them and ask your conversation partner questions.

PS: While you’re looking for more complete output practice options, you can probably start by writing sentences on the Japanese Sentence A Day thread on WK. Some people offer corrections for those once in a while. It might be better to just do that by regularly posting on a HelloTalk page though, because your followers will probably come by and correct you, and perhaps ask you to do the same on their pages in turn.

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In Japanese, I think the issue here is short versus long sounds. In music, short and long sounds are often ignored, so it’d be bad if people learned that by mistake.

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Ah. OK, fair point. I mean, I personally look up every single word I want to learn in a song, but if one doesn’t, I guess unintentional mistakes might be made.

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Yeah, probably as a starting, starting point music wouldn’t be the best reference, but it can also prepare you for understanding people who don’t always pronounce those long sounds as long as in study materials or pronunciation guides, and the length will differ from person to person. For me personally that was a great help and really helped me assimilate some phonetic aspects of Japanese.

For example, at some point I learned 飛行機 through WaniKani and when I heard it on the news later, it sounded nowhere near as perfect as in the WaniKani recording. And I’m personally very sensitive to these differences in Japanese, because sometimes they’re meaningful.

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Thank you for all of the advice, I seriously appreciate it!

This is one of my biggest concerns - I want people to be realistic with me even if it means not sparing my feelings. I’m sure it’s pointless though and I’ll just get 日本語上手ですね〜 as soon as I say おはよう :mask:

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I mean, hey, in my case, we’re talking about France, and French people are pretty direct, so maybe that counterbalanced things. (I believe one of her parents is French.) That aside, she specifically decided to comment on my accent instead of going with the generic「上手」, so there’s that much. But yeah, there’s no way to be completely certain. However…

Maybe we’re also subscribing a little too much to stereotypes here? What I’m saying is that, well, if you know you’re said something more complex than phrases basically any tourist would know, then perhaps some of the praise you get is genuine (e.g. when it’s about a particular aspect of your Japanese, as opposed to just a blanket statement about your Japanese). For what it’s worth, I’ve sent Tweets to Maggie Sensei (the one who has a blog about Japanese grammar) in Japanese to ask questions, and the other day, I left a comment about kanji usage on a recommended Tweet discussing a Kanken 1 kanji that that user had spotted on a school campus, and even though my account name and description very clearly aren’t Japanese (the fact that I say I’m Asian aside), I’ve never had a response start with「あ、日本語、上手ですね。」The conversations just continued normally.

Basically, I guess you just have to ask your interlocutors to be as frank with you as possible, and eventually, once you’ve progressed enough, you’ll start to know when you’ve crossed the polite 日本語上手 barrier, especially if people start being more specific with their comments. (As you’ve probably guessed by now, I don’t really talk a lot in Japanese, but I do write fairly frequently.)

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I recommend checking out this thread:

Improve your Conversational Skills with Asao Language School!

In short, it’s similar to italki, but works out to be a lot cheaper (particularly if you choose the First Craic option, which is 6€/month + GST). You can have unlimited one-on-one classes with Trainee Teachers (although now they’ve restricted it to 3 lessons max with the same teacher to give all the teachers an opportunity to give lessons). You can request ahead of time what you’d like to do in the lesson: review specific grammar, focus on a certain speech style (formal, casual, Osaka-ben, etc.), or just have a ‘free talk’ lesson where the teacher guides the conversation. I’ve had 3 lessons so far, all with different Trainee Teachers (I’m trying to find one I’d like to stick with and then upgrade to a higher Craic), and all have been very positive experiences.

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Like anything else, I think the sooner you begin and the more you practice “output” and speaking, the better.

One oddity of how the brain works is that production is utterly different than recognition. While reading and recognition are incredibly useful and important skills in their own right, most find production and speaking incredibly challenging and very different skills.

I like that you distinguished “output” (production) from speaking. Just recalling the word you want to say is difficult enough, pronouncing it correctly and confidently without awkward, painful pauses is a whole 'nother level.

It might be worth breaking it down a bit.

I think kamesame is wonderful to practice production. WK teaches you to go from written form to meaning or to reading, but kamesame will let you practice going in the other direction without the immediacy and pronunciation challenges of a conversation.

[FWIW, I still don’t use anything but WK a the moment, except for Japanese email with friends, family, and occasionally for work. I’ve postponed spending time with kamesame, bunpro, etc., until I get a bit further along in WK. I already speak conversational Japanese, though, albeit poorly, and I don’t want to spend more than an hour or so each day studying.]

For speaking, I believe it’s incredibly important to first spend as much time as possible hearing native Japanese in any form. Movies, news programs, and TV shows with subtitles are great for this.

Repetition (immersion) is key. You want to immerse yourself in the cadence and sound of the language (comprehension will come with time).

Your “mind’s ear” likely needs training. I think many going through their WK reviews don’t “hear” the words correctly. You must effortlessly distinguish between 切って、来て、and 聞いて. You must hear the difference between 富士山 and 藤井さん. And so on.

You’ll also surprise yourself how often you fail to recognize a word you actually know. Once you realize it, you’ll notice yourself hearing that word all over the place. It may trigger something that lets you start hearing other words, too.

That said, it’s never too early to attempt real conversation and speaking. Like any skill, it gets easier with practice. I’m continually blown away by the resources available today on the internet, both free and paid.

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Wow, thank you for all of the information - much appreciated!

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Personally, I think it’s never too soon to start with output. In my experience teaching English, students who get a lot of speaking practice upfront tend to be more comfortable with the language and overall progress faster. (just make sure to balance with sufficient input, obvs)

If you have the funds, working with a tutor though something like iTalki can be a great resource. Their whole job is to have very basic conversations with learners, so they’ll know how to talk at a level you’ll understand and help you improve. A good tutor will tailor the conversation to be at your level, regardless of where you are. In my experience, most tutors on iTalki are used to working with beginners, so you really should have your pick of litter.

Another useful thing is talking to yourself. Literally just narrate the banality of your existence. “I wash the apple. I cut the apple. I eat the apple.” level stuff if that’s where you need to start. It’ll get your mouth and brain used to outputting sentences without the added pressure of having to respond to another person.

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I think it would depend on your strengths and weaknesses. You really need to assess yours. Output first or later? The debate would always be there from both sides as they are different persons with different strengths and weaknesses.

I will output maybe later when I got into the advanced level as I was never good at speaking. I realized this when learning English as my third language. My listening comprehension is good, but I suck at writing and speaking, so now I capitalize on those and exploit my ear first before anything else. Sometimes I also do shadowing with the help of the iKnow feature and shadowing book. For immersion, I watch at least 1 episode of drama every day - preferably slice-of-life. I’m not too fond of anime as the spoken language is often exaggerated.

Getting far with your strength as fast as you can is, I think, the most underrated thing as we always strive for balance. But balance is rarely can be achieved.

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I always considered signing up for a conversation tutor, but feel that I still don’t have enough of a solid grammar basis/practice listening for it to be worth while.

(I will reply in clever Brave-foot’s style!)

I suggest Second Life!

Pros:

  • Free

  • Same native Japanese volunteer teacher weekly (Yoshi-san) who could track your progress if you come by consistently every weekend. Another native Japanese who owns Nihongo Tea Room (where our class is at) in Second Life comes by quite often as well. She’s the perfect assistant to Yoshi-san because her English is superb and she translates a lot of our queries to Yoshi-san when things get too confusing.

  • Uses Genki 1 textbook. We’re in Chapter 12 now but going at it VERY slowly because us learners still need to revise many previous grammars. If you’re 3/4 way through the textbook, I think you will catch up just fine. Most of us are still rusty when it comes to speaking Japanese too and there was someone who just started Chapter 3 that joined occasionally.

  • Beginner-friendly and a good start for both casual and formal conversations. Before class starts (better to arrive 5-10 minutes before 10pm JST), we always have small casual chat to catch up with latest news and ask each other how we’re all doing in the past week.

  • If pronunciation and Pitch Accent are among your main concerns, this free class will be useful since the two native Japanese speakers there corrects me quite often on them. Sometimes when we do Amenbo No Uta practice in class, I usually could read it smoothly enough but it’s during Dialogue reading practice and casual conversations the Pitch Accent mistakes stood out the most. This thread have a good list for Pitch Accent references too.

Cons:

  • If it’s your first time using Second Life, it might be a bit confusing in the beginning. But over time you’ll be fine especially since Second Life has an older demographic. I’m almost 40 and one of our classmates is a 60+ years old grandma. But don’t fret, we do have younger classmates in their mid 20s too.

  • If your Second Life account is less than 2 weeks old, you aren’t able to enter the class easily because there’s a 2 weeks old account rule to prevent trolls from coming over to Nihongo Tea Room. But if you are coming by this Saturday, just IM me there (Haruka Flores) and I’ll help get your name in the safelist. So I suggest just try making an account as soon as you can, then get comfortable with the controls first elsewhere in Second Life before starting class this weekend.

  • Maybe time and day won’t be convenient for you as it’s on Saturday 10 PM Japan time.

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I think it’s also noteworthy that in songs sometimes vowels that would normally be pronounced as diphthongs are sometimes pronounced separately. Like if the verb ending ~たい is in a song, it might be sung as た・い rather than like the combined sound it is in speech.

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