Tips for being understandable in japanese

I speak casually through various apps and websites and i try my best to interact with japanese speaking people and i’ve come accross one disheartening roadblock. I can understand fairly well what the text/conversation is about however trying to express myself is a bit of a jubbled mess.
I’ve been told i sound ‘dramatic’ because of how i construct my sentences, or i use words that are considered quite old or sometimes i just get a blank stare and radio silence.
I’m trying to keep a diary that a teacher looks over and corrects but it does feel like we end up rewritting the whole thing.
I do feel like this post is more venting than searching for tips, but has anyone over come this roadblock and is there some excercise that i could add to my routine so i don’t sound so ‘dramatic’ :joy:
Thanks!

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I don’t talk to people in Japanese or my native language :>

You are deep in unchartered waters, brother.

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If you’re comfortable with it, it may of use to post some examples of sentences you’ve made that you think come off as dramatic. There might be a few common themes/grammar points/etc. that could be applicable and help you out instantly depending on what your examples sound like. I doubt they’re THAT dramatic, unless you’ve somehow managed to create genuinely dramatic prose hahaha which then is honestly impressive.

Either way, that’s the unfortunate growing pain of learning a language buuuut it really helps out when you have people/a community who are able to nicely point you in the right direction and help ya out!

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There’s a good output exercise I came across awhile back that seems like it may help you here. How I Got Fluent In French In 30 Days (Full 8-Hour Daily Routine) - YouTube
His study sessions are quite intense, but his technique for improving one’s speaking ability seems pretty effective. He has 4 speaking exercise variations. All of these exercises he says to do two 30 minute sessions, but obviously that isn’t going to be possible for everyone. Also, after “each study minute session” he says that you should go back and listen to the recording and write down any words you didn’t know how to say, or any sentences you didn’t know how to structure. I suggest watching the video for the most detail on how to do it if you’re interested since I’m just paraphrasing. Here are the exercises:

  1. Speak freely about any subject and record yourself. Do two 30-minute sessions.
  2. Tell a story from your life and record yourself. Do two 30-minute sessions.
  3. Read an article and after every 2 paragraphs summarize what you read. Record this entire exercise. Do two 30-minute sessions.
  4. Watch a video and take notes. Record yourself summarizing the video from your notes. Do two 30-minute sessions.

In terms of not wanting to sound too dramatic, I think exercises 3 and 4 would make the most sense because you’d most likely end up using similar vocab that was used in whatever it is you’re reading/watching.

Actually, this video here I think explains that process more in depth This One Exercise Made Me Fluent In French (In 30 Days!) - YouTube

Hopefully that helps!

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My 2 cent tips that has helps me and I try to do myself (mostly came from native speakers).

  1. Try to avoid literal translations from native language to Japanese: There are some 1:1 translations but it gets to a point where it sounds unnatural pretty quickly. It’s just a learning tool to start but you have to leave it behind (and a reason to lose English in our studies whenever possible).

  2. Say what you can say…keep it simple even if feels too simple or you know more words or complex ways. Conciseness whenever possible otherwise it may be ‘over-expressed’ or ‘dramatic’. Japanese doesn’t have the subject re-stated over and over like English…so if the topic is known, it doesn’t have to be reinforced constantly

  3. Pronounce slowly to keep clarity if you have to.

  4. Write down sentences before conversation practice for complex thoughts (new grammar points, things you want to say). Give the time to produce something more complex so you have it ready.

  5. Really grind the basics of grammar and vocab. The heart of conversation is really in the N5-N3 zone IMO…even just N5-N4 cover alot of ground. Basic stuff like conjugations and simple constructs in grammar need to be fairly solid for the quick pace.

  6. If you can’t directly say what you want, have the tool box to describe what you want to say for a creative solution. A native listener can fill the gaps to correct to get the idea across.

  7. Adjust your studies in favor of conversation. I have several decks or materials dedicated to help w/ my own conversation practice.

  8. I find remote conversation to be a bit easier than face to face…share screen, write out thoughts, dictionary look up if forgot the word you want. Bridges the gap easier

  9. Like @josh mention, recording is a good one (even if not fun to listen) and having your basic life story memorized like a script is pretty essential when meeting new people.

  10. Make mistakes, they will happen…there is no shame in doing so. At least find a teacher/partner you are comfortable making mistakes in front of but they should be giving feedback when wrong.

That’s all I got. While I can hold a conversation and been practicing it for a while, I’m not where I want to be yet so not pretending to be an expert (I should be following my own advice :slight_smile: ). And I don’t live in Japan but still get to talk regularly enough…and there are always good and bad days. Best of luck!

This appears to be common issue when students can understand more than they can say and general frustration of not being able sound like what they want (also related to tip 1 & 2). In community classes, this would always come up. There is this terrible advice floating around that you can’t start speaking until you have x amount study hours…it is bs, anyone can start at any point.

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I agree with # 1, 2, 5 :+1:
Maybe also use the shadowing technique to practice saying things in a “Japanese way”.

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I’m not sure what your feelings are on pitch accent, but I use OJAD every day to practice speaking and make flash cards. It’s difficult/impossible to remember pitch accent consciously while you’re speaking with a native speaker, but it can be a good way to feel more confident and gain an intuition that can help to tell near-homophones apart.

Yeah, this is one piece of advice that I wish I’d never encountered or tried. I didn’t do any output practice the entire time I was using WaniKani and that was a real blunder. Actually using words is the best leech-breaker I’ve ever done.

The main proponent of that advice is someone who I strongly suspect of peddling pseudoscience and exaggerating his own proficiency. Plus he looks like the guy who doxxed me when I was 17. That’s a coincidence but it just makes me hate him more!

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This is going to sound stupid but my biggest advice is to just practice. Keep speaking. The only way to get good at speaking a language is to be bad at it.

When I first got here people had such a hard time understanding me. I didn’t really consciously change much; I just just working through my workbooks, studying vocabulary, and speaking to people when possible. I can have conversations now although some topics get kind of confusing (e.g. really specific topics in kyudo with my teacher).

I feel like, especially for Japanese for some reason, there’s a lot of “DO THIS AND GET GOOD QUICK” schemes that resemble fad diets. Just study, be patient, and be consistent. Success will come naturally.

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I’m no expert when it comes to this, as I too have a ways to go when it come to speaking. But I have heard in an interview with a highly skilled Japanese learner who knew a lot of vocabulary, but didn’t know how to sound natural.

For example, when he was leaving he would say 帰宅します instead of 帰ります. Both mean the same thing, but the latter is used in daily conversation. In essence, he was creating his own way of speaking Japanese instead of mimicking native Japanese speakers. It’s actually quite good that you’re getting good feedback from speakers, it shows they care about you progressing.

People seem to think I sound natural, and that just comes from mimicking native speakers. It really is that simple in concept, but hard to execute for some. Some immersion might help. A little more input that you can then practice when you output.

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Il do that on purpose in english since its more fun to roleplay a little. But i guess I m just a bit wierd when it comes to this. xD

maybe you could increase the exposure of native japanese interactions.

personally i would try to find a japanese stream either on twitchs or somewhere else.
with multiple people interacting.
and pay attention to the choices of words they pick.

to make a switch from textbook language to well actual native interaction

personally i have a completely different issue with liking japanese music
and well that isn’t exactly pronounced the same way as spoken japanese.
so i’ve found that i had to be carefull there.

i also like japanese podcasts with more than 1 person simply for the same reason
native interactions.

either way best of luck.

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While I don’t necessarily agree with speaking only after you have x amount of study hours, I think the intention of this advice was precisely to avoid the problem that OP has right now. He is speaking his own version of Japanese because he hasn’t familiarized himself enough with how to express what he wants to express in natural Japanese.

Speaking early is more effective, provided that you have someone native who is there to correct you all the time. This is commonly a SO which is why having a target language SO usually leads to significant improvements “without studying”. The people who came up with this advice and those that agree with it likely did not have this opportunity. They overcame the barrier by studying, immersing, shadowing X number of hours leading them to the conclusion that is it better to do all that first before “wasting time” speaking.

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OP could comment best, but sounds like the opposite issue because they stated they comprehend fairly well both for text and listening so tells me there has already been a fair number of input hours practiced in regards to listening and reading. The impression I got was their comprehension was outpacing their spoken and with that, you get broad knowledge base of what the language should sound like but without a basis for real time conversation experience to produce it…so overly complex grammar constructs or a knowledge base of words which may not even be used much in conversation may be an indicator. Much like one could conceivably pass N1 without the ability to ask where the nearest bathroom is, it’s just a different skillset that requires it’s own practice.

With the resources today, it’s not hard to find a native conversation partner/tutor/teacher for an immediate feedback loop for either writing or speaking, so I have put this as antiquated. But I would not make a claim one approach is better than the other, there are a myriad of factors and circumstances at play here including personality types. But if conversation is an early motivator, I think it can be done and with good habits from the start if preferred.

Speaking from the SO experience side, hard to say what is best honestly. I started much more in ‘survivor mode’ for better or worse…basic conversation trumps knowing the joyo kanji for instance. So I guess from that perspective, necessity of need can produce progress quickly but probably more early frustration. Better reading ability does translate to more vocab knowledge no doubt…that would have been nice to have for a balanced approach. An in-house correction loop on what is natural or not is helpful no doubt but I can see how each couple has a different dynamic for what works. Having a SO as a walking dictionary or in-house teacher does not necessarily work out well either. Definitely no substitute for the personal work that goes into language learning, much like how a personal trainer or therapist can’t do the work for you. But I found conversation to be an early motivator to grind studies, I imagine some others may feel similarly…would be a shame to discourage this.

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I agree and what OP is missing are the output study hours of intentional practice for writing and speaking. Getting a native conversation partner/tutor/teacher like you mentioned would be one way to get this practice, but to be clear I would differentiate this from speaking in causal conversation. Speaking to a native casually in real time can be a great motivator and should not be discouraged. But, I think it is important for learners to be aware that outside of certain environments, repeated “making mistakes” will not lead to significant improvement.

I should clarify that “speaking early” was referring to casual conversation or just going out there to use it in the wild. Having a native provide correction for naturalness in real time for the specific TPO (time, place, occasion as the Japanese like to say) gives the learner a much deeper connection. It is very difficult to simulate this.

As long as the learner only asks How and What and not Why, they will always be able to reap the benefits.

Everybody including natives need to study the language. The gains made “without studying” are often in naturalness of word selection and confidence that what is being expressed will be understood by natives.

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I actually meant it’s not necessarily healthy for relationships (language, good for learner yes :slight_smile: ). The teacher/student vs. spouse/SO…well, it’s just not the same and I’ll leave it at that since relationship dynamics vary quite a bit.

I wouldn’t expect too much correction going out in the wild unless one has solid skillset already to understand corrections in Japanese but an expectation from strangers to give feedback…no, I would not expect this. For one, its work and an inconvenience on their end and no one wants to assume someone wants feedback either. Mistakes in the wild can have direct consequences too. Casual conversation is actually pretty easy to find via italki or other platforms. Or working on specific skillsets such as formal business setting can be done too, many teacher offer these packages if that is your goal. Obviously these are feedback settings as well where paying for the service of correction. There will be no perfect TPO without actually living in Japan of course, but one can certainly start practice speaking at any point and have plenty of feedback for an array of circumstances so many can work on their conversation target language without having to live in the country itself, this is certainly do-able.

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