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Speaking Japanese

Input is the core of getting good at speaking a foreign language. Output is just the icing on the cake.

When it comes to learning a foreign language, we usually think, “Oh if I speak it a lot, I will get good!”. Unfortunately, this is in fact false. Immersion (input) is how you get good at Japanese. In other words, listening and reading native content in Japanese. Natural phrasing comes with thousands of hours of input (specifically listening!). But you still have a “ceiling” you need to reach, you can do that with speaking practice. You need to input so that you already know what’s correct before speaking, because you have heard it in your input, so you will know exactly what natural thing to say before you have a conversation. With more input, your output ceiling rises, meaning you have higher output capacity. So speaking as a total beginner is pointless, your output ceiling is extremely low, so no amount of speaking practice can help you improve speaking. With a couple hundred hours more of input, your output ceiling will rise. Then you can practice speaking to hit your ceiling. You may know when you’ve hit your ceiling when you try to say something but don’t know how to express it naturally so you resort to translating from English to Japanese in your head using the grammar structures you memorized. When this happens it is clear you need more input. In other words if you can't think of how to express your thoughts, you need more input. After you feel confident again, you can go back to outputting.

Another reason why it is bad to output early is that you don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong, and a native speaker won’t inform you. So you could be making big mistakes but not realising. Maybe you don't like making mistakes.

But here’s why it may not be a good idea talking to natives.

  1. If you expect to be corrected, then you're out of luck. Natives will not correct you. It is impolite to correct someone’s speech, as they could take offense to it. It is not an exclusively Japanese thing. I tend to notice unnatural phrasing in non-English natives but I do not correct them, as I could come off as a “grammar n#zi”. I’m sure Japanese people would feel the same about correcting your Japanese too.
  2. Most native speakers on HelloTalk and similar apps don’t want to practice Japanese. They want to practice English with you. So they are stalling any chance of you ever practicing.
  3. When you do not have a decent grasp of the Japanese spoken language (e.g. understand most anime) and try to speak, it will be mistake-ridden and extremely frustrating to speak. It will be much more motivating to just immerse.
  4. Even if you ask them to correct you, they will not.

Here’s why it may be a good idea talking to natives

  1. It is fun. There is no denying outputting is fun when you are able to do it correctly. In my case when I output naturally and my Japanese friends understand exactly what I want to say, that’s a motivation boost for me. And hey, if you want to speak, then do it! There is no one stopping you. 🙂
  2. It's better than speaking to learners, for sure.

What if I make a mistake?

Get over it and move on. It’s not a big deal. As long as you are immersing everyday it is no big deal! Can I talk to other learners? Using Japanese regularly, regardless of who you are using it to talk to is essential in expanding your active vocabularly. As long as you are immersing, there is no harm in talking to other learners.

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Have fun immersing!

Extra Note: Reading overload

I spoke quite a lot about how you shouldn't read until you got a lot of listening immersion. This is because it is to ensure you get a good accent in the end. The reason why you should listen to Japanese first is to build a model of how Japanese sounds in your head, to get you used to how Japanese sounds, for example how Japanese "ra ri ru re ro" sounds are much different than the English sounds. If you read without this knowledge, you may end up speaking with a foreign accent. Foreign accents happen when you think a sound in the target language is the same as a similar sounding sound in your native because you haven't listened long enough. It is almost impossible to read a language without applying any phonetic component to it, so even if you read in your head, you may still get this problem. Of course, if you don't care about accent, and would be fine with a gaijin accent, then you don't really need to listen. If you don't listen at all but just learn how to read that's fine if you still want to watch anime with subtitles, and just want to play VNs or whatever. Methods of approaching Japanese are never one-size-fits-all. But, I think it will really hurt your ego if you can read chuuni visual novels but can't understand anime, and you may not be motivated to start mass listening late because it's like, "Why would I listen, I don't understand it. I can play so much cool VNs in Japanese so I'd rather just do that". That's why I encourage listening right from the beginning. I hope you understand.