Why I’m still not very good at speaking in Japanese

I’ve been living here for three years now. My speaking isn’t too bad actually but I’ve noticed a few blocks that are stopping me from being even better. Maybe other 2nd language learners have experienced similar things. There’s more to speaking a second language than just going ahead and speaking it. A couple of factors going in to make me either incomprehensible or dead quiet.

Starting with incomprehensibility; sometimes I get really excited about a topic and want to join the conversation. If i haven’t thought about it before I go in i found I end up spitting out a mixed mess of words and grammar points that don’t mean anything put together. A really good listener will figure out pretty quickly want I’m actually wanting to say. I’ll either slow down gather my thoughts and repeat myself in a very slow and deliberate manner or keep on trying in my eclectic excited way eventually giving up with frustration. Think before I speak. Put the words together like lego blocks and I can get what I’m trying to say out.

The other point which will make me incomprehensible is getting my particles mixed up or not making the subject clear. In fact I’d say 100% of my troubles lie here. At least making the subject clear is a pretty easy thing to fix. Particles though are very complicated. I’m starting to get my head around a lot of them but it requires deep concentration to get it right. Also more study.

Onto why I’m sometimes dead quiet. This one I just picked up today and inspired me to write this blog. While sitting around with the other teachers I realised I wasn’t speaking because I felt it was too troublesome for them to try and understand what I wanted to talk about. To anyone not learning another language this may seem a really bizarre thought. It is a thought that crosses my mind when it debate whether or not to join in a conversation. It’s also a little silly. Next time I think this I’m going to remind myself of all the times I’ve had great conversations with people trying to communicate with me in English when they aren’t particularly proficient. There can be real joy in trying to understand people.

Another reason I’m dead quiet is a feeling of being overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s easier just to zone out then try and follow a conversation. It’s definitely not a good practice especially for my listening skills. The key to follow conversations is that you don’t need to know everything that’s being said. You just need to pick up on keywords. Usually topics change quickly throughout a conversation anyway so it’s important not to think of a conversation as having a starting point and an ending point. It’s ok to jump in halfway through a conversation on a topic you know about. If it’s a topic you don’t know anything about then you can just wait till it changes.

The third reason that I’m aware of is not really knowing what to talk about. The key here is to try and think about what you can say and go from there. Don’t worry about weird questions. They can often get the best conversations. Not only that but there is always the question ‘What’s such and such . . . ‘ People love explaining stuff. Adults do anyway. Kids and teenagers do as well but they aren’t so good at it.

So to conclude, here’s a to do list for improving my speaking:

1. slow down and piece it together.

2. it’s better to have a conversation then not.

3. Just ask anything, doesn’t matter what it is.

4. Conversations can be jumped in on

5. communication is getting someone to understand you and you to understand them. It doesn’t matter if the process takes a little longer.

There were probably other lessons to take. Perhaps I’ll write a more comprehensive one another day.

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