Speaking can be intimidating to a beginner Japanese learner, but it’s important to speak Japanese early on. Here’s why…
Why It’s Important to Speak Japanese Early On
To put it simply, speaking Japanese will help you learn the language faster.
When you learn a language you mostly learn through input; through reading textbooks or listening to lectures on YouTube or from your teacher. You are constantly inputting the language so you can better understand it. But understanding and using a language are two different things.
Input is important when you’re learning something new, but you also need output, such as writing and speaking.
When we learn something new, the neurons in our brain grow new connections and strengthen already established connections. But these neurons aren’t permanent. Our brains try to keep (what it considers) important information and clear out (what it thinks is) not important information. In other words, if we don’t use the pathways between our neurons, we lose them.
When we learn something new (normally through input) that information goes into our short-term memory. The connections start to form, but they’re not very strong. To strengthen those connections you need to use them. You need the output.
Of course, you can learn a language with only input. Reading is a great way to become fluent in a language, but you will probably struggle when it comes to outputting the language, such as with speaking or writing. That’s because the connection between the written word and your understanding of it is really strong, but the connection between meaning and speaking are really weak.
Speaking is a great way to practice your Japanese because you can’t look up what you want to say as you say it. As you’re trying to think of what to say you’re exercising your brain and reinforcing the pre-existing connections.
This means when you first start speaking you will make mistakes and be frustrated by your limited ability to speak or understand what’s being said. But that’s good! It’s okay to make mistakes and to struggle. It helps you strengthen those connections and learn new things.
So how does this all help you learn faster? Simple! The more you output the language, the faster those connections form. In other words, the more you speak, the better at Japanese you’ll get.
Input and Output and Rest
One caveat, it’s important to have balance and to rest. Your brain is like your body, it needs a balanced diet of learning to grow efficiently. You can’t just output all the time, you also need input. Speaking, listening, reading, and writing are all important skills and balancing their use gives you a well-rounded understanding of a language.
You also can’t just study for 5-hours straight, your brain can only take in so much new information. If your head starts to hurt rest. Sleep and rest are incredibly important for learning.
How to Practice Speaking as a Beginner
When you’re just starting out you might not be able to have a full conversation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start speaking.
Speaking is a gradual process. You normally start with word and phrase memorization before building up to simple sentences and then complex sentences.
When you’re learning from your textbook, or studying vocabulary or grammar, read aloud. Whether they’re example sentences or individual vocabulary, reading aloud will help you get used to how words are pronounced.
Shadowing is listening to someone say something then saying it back. You can say it as they say it, or after they’ve finished.
Shadowing is a great technique for improving your listening and speaking. Similar to reading aloud, it gets you familiar with pronunciation, and has the added benefit of hearing how native speakers pronounce the words.
You can even record yourself shadowing and then listen to yourself to see how and where you can improve your pronunciation.
Reading aloud and shadowing are half-input half-output methods that help strengthen your connections. But it’s better to come up with words and sentences yourself without relying on the crutch of your short-term memory, which is triggered when you read or hear something you’ve already learned.
Reviewing aloud is a great way to exercise your long-term memory. Look at the English meaning of a word or sentence and try to remember how to say it in Japanese. Say the answer out loud.
You can even do this with conjugations to help you remember tricky grammar patterns like the te-form or negative form.
Try preparing questions for yourself in Japanese on flashcards, and then practice how you’d answer those questions while speaking aloud. Come up with questions that are likely to come up in conversation or are related to what you’re learning like, “Where are you from?” “What food do you like?” “What are your hobbies?” etc.
The more you do this, the more comfortable you’ll be recalling that information, which will make speaking even easier.
Practice with a Teacher
If you’re nervous about speaking, then practice with a teacher. You might still be nervous, but teachers are used to working with beginners. They’re not expecting you to be perfect and can help support you and guide you when you make a mistake or misunderstand something.
You can also find a speaking partner, but it’s important to be aware that they’re not always trained teachers.
Whether a teacher or a speaking partner, it’s important to find someone who will have a conversation with you and let you try and speak for yourself. A teacher who lectures you, doesn’t give you many opportunities to speak, and/or finishes your sentences for you is not helpful.
Practice with People
Once you’ve practiced speaking by yourself or with a teacher, it’s time to put yourself out there and practice speaking with regular people. Try to find a club at school, or an online forum where people talk, or do a study abroad in Japan and do homestay.
Either way, exposing yourself to regular people and getting into situations where you have to speak early on in your studies is a great way to boost your Japanese skills and become even more comfortable speaking it.
And, hopefully, you’ll make some friends along the way!
Practice Speaking Early On
When I started learning Japanese I only spoke with my Japanese teachers. It was only when I was working on a farm in Japan, two years after I started, that I became more comfortable with speaking the language because I was forced to use it.
But even after that experience I was still nervous about making mistakes. My reluctance to speak Japanese means it’s still one of my weakest skills.
Even if you feel embarrassed or shy, speaking is a great way to boost your Japanese, and the earlier you get started, the better.
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