Japanese belongs to the Japonica language family. It is spoken as a first language by 122 million and as a second language by over 1 million people in Japan. The number of Japanese speakers worldwide is estimated at close to 123 million people. There have been numerous attempts to establish a genetic relationship between Japanese and other languages and language families. The most popular theory is that Japanese, like Korean, is a member of the Altaic language family. This suggests that Japanese and Korean are related, although extremely remotely. It’s all too common for students of Japanese who haven’t been to Japan in a while, or who haven’t had a chance to go yet, to be much more confident in the written than the spoken word. Once you have a basic grasp of the language, it’s relatively easy to crack open your favorite novel, write an email, or post on social media. But it’s not always so easy to find someone to engage within a dialogue—or to get up the courage to do so.
By finding opportunities to speak Japanese every day, you can make sure that you’re able to reach or retain a high standard of fluency. Of course, you might think that it’s easier said than done—if so, good news! With a bit of careful planning, you can still have an active Japanese-speaking life. Just remember that speaking skills are only one aspect of Japanese learning. For a well-rounded language-learning experience, you’ll also need to learn vocab and grammar, listening, and writing skills!
Must-know tips and tricks
Practice with Some Study Buddies
You don’t necessarily have to only practice speaking with people who are native in Japanese. As long as they’re of a similar or higher proficiency level than you, you can still enjoy valuable Japanese language practice. Whether you’re introducing each other to your favorite Japanese songs at karaoke night, role-playing conversations or using verbal games to reinforce your Japanese studies, practicing with someone else is like going to the gym with a buddy.
Prioritize grammar over vocabulary
All of the Japanese students around me had to memorize copious amounts of English vocabulary in order to pass the frequent tests they were given. They were mostly hard-working students that were good at remembering what was required of them, but they still had trouble with some major grammatical concepts. They also use relatively simple grammar, but these basic grammatical foundations are what allow so much information to be presented with so few words.
Study less & practice more
The best way to improve your speaking skills in any language is to practice speaking. Studying has its benefits and is necessary to help you learn new expressions and understand important concepts, but for every new word or sentence pattern you learn, you won’t fully appreciate and understand it until you’ve heard it multiple times in the wild and used it yourself. As long as you’re prepared to return the favor and help them with their English, there’s no reason you can’t find a Japanese-speaking buddy for free. It’s just a matter of going outside and making friends with non-English-speaking Japanese people and talking with them regularly.