What I Discovered about Japanese Speaking: Part 3

You have faithfully consulted your dictionary.  You wrote a list, made some flashcards, practiced them on the bus.  You now are ready to use that amazing word you found in your dictionary search.  The moment comes, and you drop the word like a proud champion.  One of three things happens:

Your listener stops and looks at you funny

What happened?  Just like English there are many words that we have, that can be used in situations, but your average speaker will not use them. If you are going to use a dictionary try and look for one that indicates whether a word is a common word or not.  If yours doesn’t indicate this, you have know way of knowing if the word you use is one of those rare literary words.  Another resource you could use is Google.  Google it and see what sites use the words, and under which contexts.

Another thing that could happen when you use the word is:

Your listener begins to laugh

Often words may mean what you intend to say, but only very figuratively.  Much like English sometimes words aren’t used simply because they sound funny, or are innuendos that sound funny to native speakers.  Once again consult Google to see how the word is used and under what context.

The last thing that could happen:

Your listener understands you and the conversation continues

You were lucky enough to find a word and use it in the right context.  What you should be doing in this situation is jotting a note somewhere about the word you used, under which context, and that it worked out fine.  Keep using the word and see if you have continued success with it.

The tool you can use to make notes about the words you know or don’t know is really simple: A small coil notepad.  Having one of these around will leave you well-equipped to make notes on things you observe about the language you are learning, when you are learning them.  You will be learning so many things, that you may not be able to recall all the juicy points later.  Having you quick notes to refer to will save you a world of hassle.  My last tip, make this note brief enough so that you can continue your conversation, but detailed enough so that you know what it means later.

Have any of you had situations like described above when you were learning Japanese, or any language for that matter.  Let me know in the comments below, tweet me @ctriff, or message me on google+.


What I Discovered about Japanese Speaking Part 2

ImageYesterday I talked a bit about some of the frustrations language learners can have when learning a language    From finally letting go of trying to understand everything, to ending the worry of not knowing every word before you speak and just speak using a strategy of using simple sentences to describe complex subjects when you don’t know complex vocabulary.

Today I will continue with some more tips.  First one is:

Learn using a task you do every day

The idea behind this is that you have some tasks you need to do everyday without fail.  For me when I was in Japan it was getting up and ordering coffee and breakfast. I got real good at ordering coffee and asking for the specific number of milk and sugars I wanted.  As well I could say I would like the order for take out or eat-in.  The reason why this became easy was it was the same language I needed to use every day, and the Japanese I heard was the same every day.  Which leads me to my second point:

You must practice doing a target task consistently to remember it

If you have to do the same thing all the time, you will become familiar with the words used when doing that thing.  The people speaking to you will use the same general vocabulary, and you will use the same general responses.  This will make you very comfortable speaking the language, and moreover will help solidify the basic grammar and vocabulary for more complex subjects later.  Which brings me to my last point:

Break your learning goals down into smaller tasks

Instead of trying to “learn Japanese” break this down into “learn how to ask and give directions in Japanese”.  If you can modularize your learning, you can break it down into chunks that can be achieved in smaller timeframes.  Moreover when you see positive results from achieving these smaller goals, it will give you more confidence to tackle the next level of difficulty in your study.

This is the same as endurance running.  It is unwise to set out and run a marathon your first run.  Instead to keep committed and motivated most runners learn to run a much shorter distance, and start slowly building up their distance over time. Runners who try to add too much new distance too soon, find themselves out of running with an injury.  This is a perfect metaphor for learning Japanese, or any subject for that matter:

Ramp up the difficulty, but slowly to avoid frustration (or in the case of running, injury)

Any new skill takes time and practice to get good at. It is hard to keep motivated when we measure our ability against the big goal of mastery of the whole subject. Through breaking down the large goal into its smaller component goals, it is easier to focus our time, energy, and motivation into the smaller more immediately achievable tasks. This way it is easier to stay motivated and less frustrated with our progress.

I will have more tips on language learning in this series of posts.  If you have any comments or suggestions on what you have found helpful with learning a language, or any other subject for that matter feel free to leave a comment below or tweet it to me @ctriff on twitter.

What I Discovered about Japanese Speaking

Karaoke bar in Takao, Japan
Karaoke bar in Motohachiojimachi

This post is going to be specific to those who want to learn to communicate using spoken language, and the tips here may not be appropriate for those learning to translate or write formal documents.

Well, I have a confession to make. I’ve always been better at reading Japanese than I have been speaking Japanese. Books and written language are patient. They will let you take your time to consult a dictionary and look up Kanji. Written also doesn’t particularly care if you respond at all to it. But here I was in Japan, being confronted by spoken Japanese, spoken by real people, expecting real responses right now.

It made me nervous. As I mentioned in the previous post, people have a tendency to speak consistently all the time to most people. Us non-native Japanese did not grow up speaking and hearing Japanese, so there are a lot of sounds and colloquialisms that are alien to our ears. Not to mention the heaps of vocabulary that is still unfamiliar to us.

There is also another challenge facing learners. Most course study revolves around the study of books and written tests. Of course there are oral components, but these often make up a smaller ratio of the work done in many courses. When we are in real situations, we may hear a lot of words that our eyes may know, but our ears do not.

So how do we deal with this challenges. Well the first and most important step is this:

It is fine to not understand everything!

Many language learners will get frustrated with their abilities because they want to understand everything they hear. When we don’t, it is easy to feel that it is a futile battle learning a language. But really, it is okay to not understand everything. One of the first phrases you should learn in any language is “I’m sorry could you repeat that?” or “Could you say that again slowly?”. This should be followed by “I don’t understand”.

Next important thing that a language learner needs to come to grips with:

Your language will not be perfect all the time.

This is particularly important for those who have learned in a classroom situation. Yes it is important in some situations to use the correct language, grammar, and politeness. But for the average person, they will be in casual situations, and the people they will be speaking to will not be using that language that was learned in the classroom.

Which leads to my last important point for today:

Stop worrying, just speak

If you think too much about the correct grammar, correct uses of words, etc.. it will increase your anxiety when speaking. Stop worrying about translating what your thinking. The best thing you can learn to do in a foreign language, is get good at describing complex ideas using longer simple sentences. For example if you don’t know a word like “library”, you can instead say “I went to the place with lots of books”. Using this strategy will enable you to take part in far more conversations.

I still have a lot more to say about what I discovered about learning Japanese when I was in Japan, but that will be the subject of future posts.

Feel free to leave a comment below about what you have found helpful when faced with learning a foreign language, and tips you have about overcoming speaking anxiety.