Let me ask you something, how are your speaking skills with Japanese? Are they strong, or are they a little weak? Today I’m giving you a 5-Step process to use, so you can learn how to speak Japanese.
No matter where you are currently at (beginner, intermediate, advanced) there will be valuable information in this walk-through that you can start using right away in order to take your game to the next level.
Let’s start off right at the beginning as if today were the first day of your Japanese speaking journey, and then ramp it up from there to the point where you sound like a native speaker.
1. Learn The Sounds and How To Make Them
The first thing to do is to learn the Japanese sound system. Now luckily for native English speakers, there are a lot of sounds that are identical. This means that you can kind of take a shortcut, since you don’t need to re-learn those ones.
But there are a few sounds that are entirely new that you’ll have to pay close attention to in order to fully hear them and then make them yourself.
Finally, there are some sounds that are very close to English sounds, but still slightly different, and you’ll have to be vigilant to not get them confused and use the correct ones.
So how can you do this? There are three things that I recommend you do:
- Learn exactly what the sounds are (awareness).
- Practice the sounds and record yourself to make corrections.
- Listen to natives speaking a lot, both actively and passively.
Let me go into depth a little, on each of these three points so you know exactly how to proceed.
Recommendation #1, you can learn the Japanese sounds by taking the free course I have created. Click the link below to do so:
The main reason you want to go through a course is to gain awareness of exactly what sounds exist in Japanese. If your brain knows that a particular sound exists, then it will look for it and identify it when your ears hear it.
But if you brain doesn’t know about a sound, then even if it does hear it, it will typically either ignore it, or distort it to a sound that is pretty close to it, but still not quite the same.
We want to avoid this, and taking a little bit of time at the beginning can go a long ways towards success.
Recommendation #2, you want to practice speaking Japanese and making the sounds yourself so that you can train the muscles in your mouth and make speaking Japanese second nature. It’s kind of like when you learned to drive a car – at first it took all of you attention, but now you can do it without thinking.
The reason why you want to record yourself (and then compare it to a native recording) is because you don’t actually hear your own voice the same way that other people do. This is mostly due to the sound waves you create traveling through the bones in your skull and then into your ears when you speak.
When you listen to a native say a word, and then listen to you own recording of the same word, it becomes very obvious if you’ve nailed it, or if your pronunciation is still slightly off. This is the time to make those corrections.
Recommendation #3, you want to be both actively and passively listening to natives speaking Japanese a lot.
I mean A LOT!
This is so that you brain can begin to get familiar with how the Japanese language sounds and start distinguishing between where one word ends and the next one begins.
The main thing to keep in mind is that you are not listening for comprehension! Don’t worry about understanding anything at this point of the process. All you want to do is listen to the words and try to fully hear the sounds that are being made. The more you do this, the easier it will become.
2. Memorize Basic Phrases and Common Responses
Once you’ve gotten a firm foundation in the sounds of the language, it’s time to start using them and learning how to speak with them! This should be very exciting as you will now be able to communicate with Japanese natives.
So how should you go about it? Learn some words and grammar rules from a textbook? Absolutely not!
What you want to do is start learning and practicing common phrases that people use every day. What this will do for you is three things that are very powerful (and happen all at once):
- Learn extremely common words.
- Learn grammar implicitly.
- Gain the ability to communicate immediately
Think about some common phrases you use in English every single day, and their typical responses. Here are a few from my own life, and probably yours too (the responses are in italics):
- Good morning! Morning.
- How’s it going? Pretty good. How about you?
- Did you have a good weekend? Yeah it was nice, but I didn’t do much.
These are the types of things that you want to learn first since they are fairly simple to memorize, and yet you will still get lots of opportunities to use them. In other words, you only have to put in a small amount of work in order to receive a huge payout!
The primary question is “where can you find these useful phrases?” and what I highly recommend is that you pick up a good Japanese phrase book and start learning the phrases that are contained within it.
Not all phrases inside the books will be ones that you need to learn, for example the stuff when visiting doctors isn’t super useful right now, but daily greetings, asking about food or for directions, and talking about your hobbies are super powerful and should get your primary focus.
Be sure that you learn how to ask the other person questions as well, so that the conversation can have a nice back and forth rhythm to it. No body likes listening to a strainger monologue, am I right?!
The biggest challenge to asking other people questions is when they reply with a word or phrase that you don’t understand. But if you’ve already learned all of the sounds of Japanese, then you should be able to fully hear it and then repeat it back to the other person and ask them what it means.
Pro tip: learn how to ask what things mean in Japanese.
- What does that mean?
In addition to learning how to ask questions, be sure to study some of the typically responses so that you can understand natives when they reply to you. What I like to do is have “imaginary conversations” with myself by asking and answering questions in Japanese as if I were two seperate people.
3. Create Scripts for Your Reoccurring Conversations
Beyond learning simple phrases that you’ll use every day, the next step in speaking Japanese is to create some scripts for yourself that you can fall back onto when you need to talk about a reoccurring topic.
So for example, when you first introduce yourself to someone, you typically say the same things every time. Things like:
- Your name
- Where your from
- What your occupation is
- How long you’ve been studying Japanese
You could create one brief script that covers all of these topics as your 自己紹介 (self-introduction), and then you could also create several that go into much more detailed for each topic.
This is a trick that a lot of people use in order to go from speaking no Japanese, to being able to hold a five to fifteen minute conversion with only a few weeks worth of practice.
Now, it’s true that the conversation will mostly be one sided, since you’ll be doing all of the talking, but it’s still a powerful way to boost your speaking abilities rapidly.
As it turns out, I’m currently working on a course that teaches this exact thing. It’s going to explain in detail the best way to create and use these types of Japanese scrips, and it’s also going to provide plenty of script templates as well.
In addition, there will be audio of natives speaking the basic script, so that you can hear how it would naturally sound, and then there will be fill in the blank version of the scripts so that you can personalize it to yourself easily.
The first one is in the works right now, so you should see it very soon.
4. Practice Fast Japanese and Speaking on the Spot
If you’ve been listening to a lot of natives speaking, and practiced speaking yourself in that way, then you should be getting pretty good at the normal pace of Japanese conversations.
It’s important to work on bringing your level up to this “fast Japanese” pace since it’s how the language is used in real life. Go ahead and practice doing this for the phrases you learned in Step-2 and the scripts you used in Step-3.
Once you’ve done that, you’ll need to start speaking with actual Japanese people and get used to the free flow of an unscripted conversation.
Usually what will happen is that you will start off with your basic phrases such as “hello” and “how are you” and then you’ll move on to either one of your scripts about yourself, or you’ll ask the other person to talk about themselves.
But then what?
Then WHAT! (panic!)
Really it’s anyone’s guess, and that’s both the magic and the fear of unscripted conversations with someone you’ve only just met.
But if you’ve followed this process so far, then you should be pretty good at hearing what the other person is saying, and then asking for clarifications on the words that you don’t know yet.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that it’s perfectly okay to make mistakes and struggle through the conversation. After all, it takes a lot of speaking practice to become good at speaking, and if it’s worth becoming really good at speaking Japanese, then it’s worth going through the un-fun process of sucking at it at first.
Always keep in mind that the point of speaking is communication, and not performance.
5. Observe and Mimic How Natives Communicate
So once you’ve gotten fairly comfortable with speaking Japanese, the question usually turns to “what should I work on next?”
There are a couple of simple answers such as:
- Learn more grammar patterns
- Increase your known vocabulary
And both of these things will allow you to speak more and understand more in Japanese. But there’s something else that you can also start to work on that will begin to make you sound more like a native.
Instead of studying the specific words that natives use to talk to one another, start focusing on how they communicate.
In order to do this well, you’ll need to study the culture of Japanese and learn why they are much more indirect in conversation than most other parts of the world.
In America for example, if your friend invites you to go see a movie and you don’t want to go, it is perfectly acceptable to say something along the lines of “No, but thank you for asking.” It’s polite and direct. In fact, it’s too direct for the Japanese!
Japanese people are much more likely to say something like:
- Hmm, tonight? That might be a little difficult…
This is how Japanese people say “no” when turning down an invitation to go do something.
As you can see, it might be a little difficult for a native American to understand since they haven’t actually said yes or no at this point, and instead it just seems like they’re thinking about it. However, a native Japanese person would instantly know that this is an unequivocal “no.”
You could think of it as a sort of “social intelligence” for the situation you’re in at any given moment. They good news is that if you don’t have much of a sense for it right now, you can work on it in order to become better.
This method of indirectly communicating is something that is taught to Japanese people through both their culture and their upbringing. And here’s the key point: if you want to communicate like a native does, then you’ll need to learn how to understand and use it yourself.
As a final thought on Step-5, you want to become a mimic and simply observe Japanese people, and then do exactly what they do. This is known as the “modeling” form of learning and it is something that every child does when growing up.
It will also allow you to pick up on all those fillers that Japanese people use a lot when speaking naturally:
- あのぅ… Uh…
- なんか… Like…
- よし！ Alright!
- ちょっと！Hey, wait!
This final step is perhaps the hardest in the entire process since just knowing a lot of words isn’t enough. I would say that it might not be necessary unless you desire to attain a native-like command of spoken Japanese.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide.
Start Now and Never Stop
So there you go, I’ve given you a 5-Step process that you can use to go from a complete beginner in Japanese, to the point where you are speaking like a native.
The amount of time it will take will depend on how many hours per day you can devote to it, but if you get started now then you should be able to have your first conversation in as little as a month.
What are your tips and advice for speaking Japanese? Or do you have any specific questions for me on this particular topic? Let me know with a comment down below!