“Are you fluent?” is possibly the question most dreaded by all language learners. What degree of proficiency even counts as “fluent,” anyway?
Being able to have a conversation? Being able to write 2000+ kanji characters? Never having to use a dictionary? It’s terrifying to even contemplate describing oneself as “fluent” without looking obnoxious. Even worse is the nagging self-doubt—will I ever actually reach “fluency”?
The path to being fluent looks rocky and difficult from the outset, with so many obstacles that this shining goal may seem almost impossible to reach. I don’t know about getting you to one hundred percent native-like, but what I can do is help you get from elementary level to a level that you can be proud of, and one that won’t make you want to cry when people ask that dreaded fluency question.
Japanese is described as one of the most difficult languages to learn. Unlike arguably easier languages for native English speakers, such as French, German and Spanish, Japanese requires several years of constant dedication. Studying the traditional way—with textbooks, CDs, and perhaps a teacher—is only a small part of reaching beyond beginner and lower-elementary level.
Here are six great ways that you can step up your Japanese ability every day and get closer to that goal, that magic word, “fluency. “ Living in the country of your target language is important, of course, but not necessary. If you’re not living in Japan right now, don’t despair. The first steps to fluency are possible if you know where to look.
What will help you learning Japanese
Study Japanese every day
I know I just said that traditional studying methods are only a small part of it, but they’re an essential part nonetheless. Grab a few recommended textbooks and knuckle down for at least twenty minutes a day (ideally an hour or two, but twenty minutes is better than nothing).
Attend a class
Studying alone can be jarring, and difficult to keep dedicated to, especially if you have a busy lifestyle. Joining a class can help you: Brush up your grammar and vocabulary. Get help on areas you’re struggling with. Bump up your study hours and keep up your motivation.
Read Japanese as much as possible
It can be so easy to forget kanji right after learning it if you don’t practice as much as possible. Here are some great sources for reading Japanese, which is arguably one of the best ways to reinforce kanji knowledge.
Listen to Japanese every day
Reading and writing alone won’t get you far past the elementary level. A very important thing to do while learning Japanese is to listen to it. This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people focus only on textbooks for years, then feel like a deer in the headlights when it comes to having a conversation. After all, you learned your first language by listening and speaking before you went anywhere near reading and writing, right? The same goes for the Japanese.
Join a club
With any hobby or discipline, surrounding yourself with people who are working towards the same goal is extremely useful and makes the endeavor a lot easier. As well as joining a class (or alternatively, if classes near you are expensive), why not join a language club!
Practice conversation every day
Lastly, and by far most importantly, make sure you actually speak Japanese! Every day, if possible.