When it comes to learning a foreign or second language, we all have our strengths and weaknesses: some are great at reading, some have impeccable listening skills, and others excel at speaking like a native. If you’re learning Japanese but struggling to speak with confidence, you’re not alone. Speaking Japanese may be the most important skill for living, socializing, and working in Japan, yet for many, it can also be the most challenging language skill to master. If this sounds like you, here are seven tips to try to improve your speaking skills fast:
1. Book Private Classes With a Teacher or Tutor
While studying alone or taking group classes can teach you the fundamentals you need, to get the most speaking and conversation practice, one-on-one lessons are best. Private lessons can be taken with a professional teacher or a native tutor, and these days there are countless apps and websites offering such lessons, allowing you to study online from the comfort of your own home. Try websites like Italki or JapaTalk to get real speaking and conversation practice with real people, and many lessons are only a few hundred yen each!
2. Speak As You Study
When studying with a textbook, flashcards, or whatever other study tools you like, be sure to read what you’re learning out loud. Read your book aloud, say the vocabulary on your flashcards, and mouth the answers when taking written tests. Also, when you can, choose apps that have natural sounding recordings of real people (no computer-generated voices!) or textbooks that come with CDs that you can listen to and repeat. All of this practice helps to improve your mouth’s muscle memory, which will make speaking Japanese in the real world much smoother.
3. Try Language Exchange
Having a language exchange partner can be a great way to practice speaking Japanese with a native Japanese speaker looking to also learn your language. This way, you can help each other reach your language goals. It’s key to make sure that your language levels are similar, and make sure your expectations are understood. For example, do you expect to meet every week, or less regularly? Do you want to keep your meetings formal or friendly? Look for language exchange partners online or through a language school, and remember that it’s okay if you find yourself stumbling through conversations together. The main point is to practice communicating, even if it feels a little awkward or challenging at times.
4. Start a YouTube Channel
You may or may not have dreams of becoming a big YouTuber, but either way, starting a YouTube channel can be a great way to start actively speaking Japanese. Start filming and recording yourself practicing the Japanese you’ve learned, and then watch or listen back to see where you may still need to improve. Post your videos to get feedback from others who know and speak Japanese, too. This is a simple way to get over your fears of speaking Japanese in public, while creating an opportunity for yourself to speak Japanese even without a conversation partner.
5. Volunteer or Work in Japanese
Depending on your professional goals and schedule, you may want to try working in an environment that requires Japanese. If you’re still a beginner, you don’t have to work in an intense, all-Japanese office to have this experience. Try volunteering or working a part-time job where some basic Japanese will be needed. If you’re not currently in Japan, find a local Japanese or Asian market to work at. Earning money and getting better at Japanese: win-win!
6. Listen and Learn From TV
If Netflix binges are your guilty pleasure, this tip is for you! Tune in to Japanese television and movies that offer natural-sounding Japanese—that means anime is out! Watch with the subtitles on (there are also apps and online extensions that allow you to simultaneously watch in both Japanese subtitles and your native language subtitles), and pause and repeat useful phrases and words. Start with our Netflix series recommendations here.
7. Be Prepared to Make Mistakes When Speaking Japanese
It’s relatively easy to hide or correct mistakes when reading, writing, or listening to Japanese. However, when speaking, mistakes are inevitable and unavoidable. That’s why it’s key to embrace making mistakes and understand that mistakes are part of making progress! In fact, you’re much more likely to remember the correct word or grammar after making a mistake and having it corrected. This can feel embarrassing, but take it as part of the language learning journey. The more mistakes you make, the better you’ll get at speaking Japanese!