Speaking Japanese can be particularly frustrating for all levels if you don’t practice it. But it often feels like a catch 22. You don’t feel good enough to speak it, so you never practice, which means you don’t feel good enough to speak it! So how do you improve speaking fluently?
These are tips and tricks that you can do without a speaking partner to help you get more confident with speaking Japanese fluently.
Say Everything You Read Outloud
I’ve touched on this in more detail in A Simple Way to Start Speaking Japanese but you should read everything out loud.
This is certainly a great technique for brand new beginners, but it’s a good habit for higher levels too!
Whether you’re drilling vocabulary, or grammar, or reading a text, say what you’re learning aloud.
This gets your mouth used to saying the thing’s your learning.
Sometimes your brain can wonder while you do this, so be sure to bring it back and focus on what you’re learning!
One of the best techniques you can use to improve your speaking is shadowing.
Shadowing is when you listen to someone talk and say exactly what they say after they say it.
This isn’t when they’ve stopped talking, but WHILE they’re talking. So you have to speak and listen and repeat all at the same time.
Sounds tricky, but it’s surprisingly not when you start!
Start by practicing just 5 minutes and day, then work your way up to 10 minutes. Regular short practice WILL help you improve in the long run.
You don’t need to do anything longer than 5-10 minutes. If you’re at a more advanced level try doing it for 10-15 minutes. But you DO need to practice everyday.
Here are some tricks with shadowing:
- Do NOT pause/rewind what you’re shadowing – go through to the end, even if you stumble or make a mistake.
- You do NOT need to understand what they’re saying.
- You do NOT need to memorize what is being said.
- Speak loudly and clearly – don’t mumble and don’t “say it in your head” it doesn’t work otherwise.
- If you don’t understand a word just try and make the sound phonetically.
- Keep going even if you stumble!
- Don’t shadow for more than 5-15 minutes at a time. – You begin to get tired, lose focus and make mistakes. (This happens with interpreters who only for about 15 minutes at a time)
- Shadow for at least one 5-10 minute session A DAY. – Practice makes perfect and the more frequently you do it, the better you get. (Doesn’t have to be for that long either!)
The aim of this exercise is to:
- Get your brain and your mouth used to speaking Japanese.
- Get your brain used to listening to Japanese.
- Boosts your confidence. – When you shadow loudly and clearly you’re actually giving yourself a confidence boost and getting comfortable with speaking.
The more you practice the better you’ll get at not only shadowing, but speaking. Your brain and mouth will be used to making the sounds.
As you practice more you’ll also find yourself understanding what’s being said by others more.
Practicing in short regular bursts (5-15 minute sessions) is key to getting good. And longer and you can fry your brain. But if you only do it once a week you won’t improve AT ALL!
Also, it’s surprisingly fun!
BONUS: Record yourself shadowing! Listen to the audio using headphones and record yourself speaking.
This will make you more conscious of how you’re speaking and will force you to speak clearly and keep up with the audio.
It’s also a good way to keep track of how much you’re improving!
Where to Get Videos / Audio to Practice With
The key to shadowing regularly is to make it fun. Pick a topic that interests you and look it up on YouTube!
Here are some suggestions:
Audio the comes with textbooks – especially conversations.
Intermediate & Advanced
TED Talks in Japanese – These are GREAT to shadow because they’re short, interesting and have people speaking naturally (unlike the news).
JapaneseLevelUP has a great list of TED Talks to get you started!
YouTube – YouTube in general is great because you have SO many Japanese people with channels about all kinds of things.
I’ve recently gotten into maesaquTV who talks about manga and gives reviews and recommendations. (He talks very fast with lots of natural keigo.)
Podcast & Radio Addict – A great app for Android that you can use to get access to a TON of Japanese podcasts, radio, news and audio dramas.
What I do is look at the trending Japanese podcasts to find some unique things.
I also search for オーディオドラマ to find some great short audio stories.
(You will need to change the language settings to 日本語 to access them.)
NHK 動画ニュース一覧 – Find out about news in Japan while also practicing speaking.
NHK News Podcast – This is incredibly hard to shadow but good practice for JLPT N1.
The aim of these exercises is NOT to memorize phrases nor understand everything someone is saying.
So you should NOT stop and rewind audio tracks or video. Just keep going, even if you make a mistake and falter and pause. Doesn’t matter.
This is because you can’t pause a conversation and you’ll get too used to being able to stop and rewind if you’re not careful.
Pick something fun and have fun with it! It will be incredibly difficult at first but your speaking and listening will improve greatly!