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.
When I arrived in Japan on my working holiday they had just recently changed the procedures for foreign registration in Japan.
As far as I understand, before you had to present yourself to immigration authorities within 90 days of arriving in Japan and apply for a foreign registration card. Under the new system a new residence card was issued to me right at the airport using the information provided when I did my visa application at the Japanese consulate back home.
Next one needs to register where they are staying at their local town office. You will need to bring the following items:
Your residence card
Proof of your address (usually a lease agreement with the address indicated.)
First find the form for indicating moving in. If you need help ask one of the attendants who are usually around to help people with form completion. Be warned that not all offices have English speaking staff on hand. So use plain but soft English when asking questions. Phrases like “before address”, “now address”.
I found when someone spoke to me in quick Japanese, the faster and more words they used, the less likely I was to understand. If you can avoid doing this to Japanese people in English, the more likely they will be able to help you.
Next after your form is complete, most offices will give you a number that will be called when you can go up to the counter to have your paperwork processed. They will take your passport and make a photocopy of it. Next they will take your residence card and write in the address of where you are staying on the back. They will stamp this with the city seal stamp.
Next you may be offered to join the national health insurance program. There are some people who report that if you are staying only 6 months you do not qualify. I was told under a new set of rules I do, so you may or may not be able to register. I booked health insurance from back home before leaving to avoid any headaches.
Sometimes you can find the most random things by just walking around and paying attention to the things people put out in front of their houses. I noticed this guy when I was walking around the side-street areas in Sumida-Ku, Tokyo. It gives me some ideas on some photo walks I would like to do in the future.
Hey everyone. If you have been reading the news, Tokyo had a massive dump of snow on Feb 14. I got a few pictures of it check them out. Does snow fall where you live? How does it impact transportation?
One thing that a lot of people comment on when they come to Tokyo is the concept of personal space. While the less busy parts of Tokyo certainly won’t present any challenges, its the more busy spaces like rush hour on major trains and stations, and the busy travel times of the year that can pose some challenges for the uninitiated.
First you should get used to people in Tokyo essentially cutting you off when walking. Tokyo is a busy place, and there are a lot of people in a hurry to go places. Some will step quickly in front of you in a crowd if they sense there is an opening to be had to get them to their destination faster. Generally traffic sticks to the left, and some stations even have floor guides indicating which side of the hall people should be walking (it can change depending on the station). But also keep in mind that there are people who will walk on whatever side they wish.
Second you should get used to bicycles going past you without ringing their bell. There are a lot of bicycles in Tokyo. They can be found on both the road and sidewalk. In a whole week, I only ever heard a bicycle bell once. Another thing that may come as a surprise back home, is that people wearing bicycle helmets is almost unheard of.
If you are here during the new years and want to visit shrines and temples, know that it will be extremely crowded. Often the police help with crowd control. Pay very attention for children. I have walked around several places where children, like back home, don’t think about people tripping over them. They will start, stop, dart, turn a hard 90 without even looking to see if anyone is coming. This can make it particularly tricky in places where it is crowded, and they are below your field of vision (think about those 2 foot nothing 4 to 5 year olds who have the tendency to run even when its a couple of feet.
Lastly with this in mind treat walking like any other activity requiring attention. Pay constant attention for obstacles that may need special consideration. Also get used to be bumped every now and than. Some foreigners say you will quickly get over apologizing to everyone you bump into in Tokyo. Me I recommend doing whatever you yourself are comfortable doing. A quick “gomenasai” or “sumimasen” doesn’t take any time. Just make it quick and keep walking. Stopping to apologize could really cause you more issues as a lot of spaces are crowded and people around you expect the flow to keep moving.
If you have experience in Japan with busy streets, or any tips for handling busy and crowded spaces feel free to share them in the comments below.