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Need tips for Learning Japanese (Tokyo) - 1 month studying already

Jon Patrick

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I am a Japanese Language student here in Tokyo. It's my first time posting here and I am really really looking for ways to improve my Japanese as effective as possible. I sometimes get triggered or easily panic every time I hear something I really don't understand, or if I want to say something, but cannot properly say it because I do not know the word for it in Japanese, or I do not know how to construct the sentence well.

I've been studying Japanese for about a month now here in Japan using a book called Minna no Nihongo book since our school provided that book for us. I am around lesson 18 right now and we're in the ~koto ga arimasu lesson. We usually just read aloud what's written already in the book and practice by pairs as well. It's true that I've been learning new patterns and words, but when it comes to creating my own sentences from my own experiences (not from the books), it's very hard to come up with my own answers.

Also, I find that it's very difficult to understand when Japanese people talk because the pace is sometimes too fast especially when my boss in my part-time job is talking to me, 90% of the time I rely on gestures (because he also uses words which I do not know or haven't studied yet). What's even harder is that when he asks me a question, I usually get nervous, mumble and have a hard time answering. It's also becoming hard for me because it is hard to find work given that I currently know a small amount of Japanese vocabulary and pattern.

I tried searching the internet for ways to improve Japanese especially on listening and speaking. One suggestion was to watch Doraemon in Japanese audio. Problem with that is I almost cannot understand anything the characters are saying. Another suggestion was to read from the website NHK news for beginners, which is like a website with news articles with text-to-speech function that lets you adjust the speed, but again, I can't understand any of it.

Do any of you have any tips/resources which can help me improve both reading, listening and speaking? I honestly do not know how listening to Doraemon and not even understanding even 10% of the episode helps. I was thinking maybe I could use another book called Genki on the weekends but I'm afraid that learning from different books at the same time would actual hinder my learning curve.
 

Majestic

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You cannot master Japanese after a month of studying. It took me a year before I was barely conversational.

Hint 1.
Try not to worry about phrases and expressions for now, and memorize things that will allow you to expand your range of basic communication: nouns and verbs. And adjectives. If you learn a new noun and verb once a day, you will have a pretty good arsenal of words to use in a very short time. These words will help you hear better, and they will lead you to understand more and more.

Hint 2.
Don't get triggered because you can't say exactly what you want to say. Being proficient at this level takes years, if not decades. I still can't say exactly what I want to say...several times every day. If you beat yourself up over this, you will never progress. Everyone one knows beginners have only a rudimentary grasp of language, and nobody expects you to be completely fluent. Or, if they do, the problem is with them rather than you.

Hint 3
If you must use a video as a learning tool, try to find something where kids are speaking to each other, and you can follow along to subtitles in Japanese. I'm thinking of something like Totoro (if you can find a version that has Japanese subtitles). The point is to be able to use the subtitles to reinforce what you are hearing in the audio. If you can find Doraemon with subtitles, that will work fine. You wont have 100% comprehension because you don't have the 3 or 4 years that would be required for you to have 100% (or near 100%) comprehension.

But here too, be realistic in your goals. If learning Japanese was as easy as watching one episode of Doraemon, the world would be full of fluent Japanese speakers.

Hint 4
Simple Japanese is good Japanese. If someone comes up to you and says "Atsui desu ne", all you have to do is answer, "Hai, atsui desu" or "So desu ne, Atsui desu". You don't need to use that as a launching platform for you to then discuss in length about the atmospheric conditions in your home town. In English, we tend to dislike the cliche, and we value witty replies or comebacks, and this becomes heavy baggage we carry with us on our journey to Japan. Somebody says to us "Atsui desu ne", because it is a polite form of greeting, and in our mind we have a desire to grab that and try to form a comical observation about it, or to do anything but reply with an obvious comment - but it just doesn't work. Simple is OK.
 
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Mmn... let's see... How about I tell you my philosophy when it comes to acquiring a language? Keeping in mind, of course, that I'm not exactly fluent in Japanese, though it's a lot better than it was when I first joined this forum. 😅 Anyway, hopefully this might help you out a little bit.

I think the most important thing to consider is that your goal shouldn't be to learn all words or grammar or whatever, and you're never going to understand 100% of everything everybody says. The most important thing, when it comes to language acquisition, is that you're able to use the language to communicate with people effectively, and you should get better and better over time.

Just to give an example, suppose someone said this to you without you knowing what "hyperkalemia" is:

"My doctor says I have hyperkalemia, so I need to watch my diet more closely now."

In such a circumstance, you wouldn't consider that to be a failure on your part to comprehend what the speaker is trying to say, right? In fact, you probably wouldn't even bother trying to learn what hyperkalemia is; you can tell from the surrounding context that it's some sort of problem with the person's diet, and if you're really observant you might even notice that the "hyper" prefix means that they're getting too much of something.

The point being, you don't have to understand everything. You just have to understand enough. And of course, how much is enough is going to vary from context to context.

So when it comes to learning Japanese, what you need to do is put yourself in a context where you don't need to know too much, but can get exposure to the language. E.g. for my level, I'm able to read Death Note; I can't understand 100% of everything, but I don't have to; as long as I can understand enough of it to enjoy the story, that's what matters, right? And boy, do I enjoy the story! 😄 I'm not sure whether I regret not reading it sooner, or whether I'm glad I didn't read it sooner since I'm able to read the Japanese version instead of an English translation. But that's just a little aside.

Anyway, I would imagine it must be a lot easier to get access to Japanese media in Japan.

So when it comes to reading, or watching TV, or whatever, this is an important thing to note: don't look anything up as a general rule. If you don't understand a word, skip it and try to figure it out from context. If this is giving you problems, pick something easier. The main reason you should be reading or watching anything should be to enjoy what you're reading or watching, and learning new words and language structures is a secondary benefit.

Also, skip English subtitles when it comes to TV and movies. Japanese subtitles are a great idea if they're an option, however.

When it comes to talking to people, listen more than you speak. Listening helps your language comprehension; speaking does not do so very much if at all.

And lastly, I'd like to address how to work textbooks and classes into this. Textbooks are undoubtedly an important tool for learning, but keep in mind that learning isn't your end goal; language acquisition is. The only reason to learn Japanese via a class or textbook is to help you accomplish this goal more efficiently. So for example, you mentioned the ~ことがあります expression. The reason for learning that isn't because you need to learn it, it's because doing so immediately helps you comprehend what your coworker meant when he said 「旅行したことはないんです」 (for example), and that can solidify your understanding of it faster than simple repetition would.

There's someone I kind of know (though not very well) who seems to be very studious, but all that studying has unfortunately failed to make him even decent when it comes to actually using the language; I hear a lot of "americanisms" as I'd like to call them, and he seems to have trouble comprehending even relatively simple sentences. Of course I don't know what's going on in this person's brain, but if I had to guess, I would suppose that he's probably put too much emphasis on both the theory of how grammar should work and trying to learn everything that's thrown at him, even when it's not really necessary in the moment, and the end result as far as use of Japanese goes is a mess. Trying to talk with him is honestly like being in a remedial language arts class.

And just to assure you I'm not just picking on an anonymous other person, I'll also say that I used to do exactly what I'm supposing this other person might be doing, so it's certainly possible I'm simply projecting. 😅 I have lots of members from here to thank for bailing me out of that one. But specifically in my case, I had way too much of a habit of trying to use broken Japanese, when I should have taken more time listening to get a feel about how these things work. And I wasn't even guided by a textbook, so there's that too. But really, while the textbook helped (just GENKI; I don't think I'll be interested in any additional textbooks after I'm done with it, even if I indeed ever finish), I think what helped me even more was that I stopped trying to talk at the Japanese conversation group I now go to every month, and I started listening, and I stopped getting all worked up about trying to learn everything. Because at the end of the day, the goal isn't simply to learn the technicalities of how Japanese works; it's to acquire it as a second language so you can really use it in a useful manner.

And so you can read Death Note, of course.
 

Jon Patrick

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Jon,

Have you mastered Hiragana and Katakana?

Mastered, not so much. I mean sometimes I do forget some of the letters like when I'm writing something, I'm like... "what is *me* again in katakana???" I get those sometimes but when I'm reading it's fine.
 

Jon Patrick

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You cannot master Japanese after a month of studying. It took me a year before I was barely conversational.

Hint 1.
Try not to worry about phrases and expressions for now, and memorize things that will allow you to expand your range of basic communication: nouns and verbs. And adjectives. If you learn a new noun and verb once a day, you will have a pretty good arsenal of words to use in a very short time. These words will help you hear better, and they will lead you to understand more and more.

Hint 2.
Don't get triggered because you can't say exactly what you want to say. Being proficient at this level takes years, if not decades. I still can't say exactly what I want to say...several times every day. If you beat yourself up over this, you will never progress. Everyone one knows beginners have only a rudimentary grasp of language, and nobody expects you to be completely fluent. Or, if they do, the problem is with them rather than you.

Hint 3
If you must use a video as a learning tool, try to find something where kids are speaking to each other, and you can follow along to subtitles in Japanese. I'm thinking of something like Totoro (if you can find a version that has Japanese subtitles). The point is to be able to use the subtitles to reinforce what you are hearing in the audio. If you can find Doraemon with subtitles, that will work fine. You wont have 100% comprehension because you don't have the 3 or 4 years that would be required for you to have 100% (or near 100%) comprehension.

But here too, be realistic in your goals. If learning Japanese was as easy as watching one episode of Doraemon, the world would be full of fluent Japanese speakers.

Hint 4
Simple Japanese is good Japanese. If someone comes up to you and says "Atsui desu ne", all you have to do is answer, "Hai, atsui desu" or "So desu ne, Atsui desu". You don't need to use that as a launching platform for you to then discuss in length about the atmospheric conditions in your home town. In English, we tend to dislike the cliche, and we value witty replies or comebacks, and this becomes heavy baggage we carry with us on our journey to Japan. Somebody says to us "Atsui desu ne", because it is a polite form of greeting, and in our mind we have a desire to grab that and try to form a comical observation about it, or to do anything but reply with an obvious comment - but it just doesn't work. Simple is OK.

Thank you for your detailed answer. I'm really not trying to master it in a year, my goal is to achieve at least simple basic conversation in about 6 months so I can get better jobs along the way. With your hint 3, I really want to use videos as learning tools to improve my listening skills as well. The problem with Doraemon is that I really can't understand 80~90% of the vocabulary they're using. Does that mean I should stick to books in the mean time to improve my vocabulary pool first, then watch Doraemon?
 

Jon Patrick

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Mmn... let's see... How about I tell you my philosophy when it comes to acquiring a language? Keeping in mind, of course, that I'm not exactly fluent in Japanese, though it's a lot better than it was when I first joined this forum. 😅 Anyway, hopefully this might help you out a little bit.

I think the most important thing to consider is that your goal shouldn't be to learn all words or grammar or whatever, and you're never going to understand 100% of everything everybody says. The most important thing, when it comes to language acquisition, is that you're able to use the language to communicate with people effectively, and you should get better and better over time.

Just to give an example, suppose someone said this to you without you knowing what "hyperkalemia" is:

"My doctor says I have hyperkalemia, so I need to watch my diet more closely now."

In such a circumstance, you wouldn't consider that to be a failure on your part to comprehend what the speaker is trying to say, right? In fact, you probably wouldn't even bother trying to learn what hyperkalemia is; you can tell from the surrounding context that it's some sort of problem with the person's diet, and if you're really observant you might even notice that the "hyper" prefix means that they're getting too much of something.

The point being, you don't have to understand everything. You just have to understand enough. And of course, how much is enough is going to vary from context to context.

So when it comes to learning Japanese, what you need to do is put yourself in a context where you don't need to know too much, but can get exposure to the language. E.g. for my level, I'm able to read Death Note; I can't understand 100% of everything, but I don't have to; as long as I can understand enough of it to enjoy the story, that's what matters, right? And boy, do I enjoy the story! 😄 I'm not sure whether I regret not reading it sooner, or whether I'm glad I didn't read it sooner since I'm able to read the Japanese version instead of an English translation. But that's just a little aside.

Anyway, I would imagine it must be a lot easier to get access to Japanese media in Japan.

So when it comes to reading, or watching TV, or whatever, this is an important thing to note: don't look anything up as a general rule. If you don't understand a word, skip it and try to figure it out from context. If this is giving you problems, pick something easier. The main reason you should be reading or watching anything should be to enjoy what you're reading or watching, and learning new words and language structures is a secondary benefit.

Also, skip English subtitles when it comes to TV and movies. Japanese subtitles are a great idea if they're an option, however.

When it comes to talking to people, listen more than you speak. Listening helps your language comprehension; speaking does not do so very much if at all.

And lastly, I'd like to address how to work textbooks and classes into this. Textbooks are undoubtedly an important tool for learning, but keep in mind that learning isn't your end goal; language acquisition is. The only reason to learn Japanese via a class or textbook is to help you accomplish this goal more efficiently. So for example, you mentioned the ~ことがあります expression. The reason for learning that isn't because you need to learn it, it's because doing so immediately helps you comprehend what your coworker meant when he said 「旅行したことはないんです」 (for example), and that can solidify your understanding of it faster than simple repetition would.

There's someone I kind of know (though not very well) who seems to be very studious, but all that studying has unfortunately failed to make him even decent when it comes to actually using the language; I hear a lot of "americanisms" as I'd like to call them, and he seems to have trouble comprehending even relatively simple sentences. Of course I don't know what's going on in this person's brain, but if I had to guess, I would suppose that he's probably put too much emphasis on both the theory of how grammar should work and trying to learn everything that's thrown at him, even when it's not really necessary in the moment, and the end result as far as use of Japanese goes is a mess. Trying to talk with him is honestly like being in a remedial language arts class.

And just to assure you I'm not just picking on an anonymous other person, I'll also say that I used to do exactly what I'm supposing this other person might be doing, so it's certainly possible I'm simply projecting. 😅 I have lots of members from here to thank for bailing me out of that one. But specifically in my case, I had way too much of a habit of trying to use broken Japanese, when I should have taken more time listening to get a feel about how these things work. And I wasn't even guided by a textbook, so there's that too. But really, while the textbook helped (just GENKI; I don't think I'll be interested in any additional textbooks after I'm done with it, even if I indeed ever finish), I think what helped me even more was that I stopped trying to talk at the Japanese conversation group I now go to every month, and I started listening, and I stopped getting all worked up about trying to learn everything. Because at the end of the day, the goal isn't simply to learn the technicalities of how Japanese works; it's to acquire it as a second language so you can really use it in a useful manner.

And so you can read Death Note, of course.

Wow, thank you for sharing some examples with me. I also do know this 1 girl who is kind of like a textbook rubber. She memorizes all the vocabularies in the Minna no Nihongo textbook but she can barely form sentences, or at least has a hard time saying things she wants to say given the fact that she studied 8 months before coming here to Tokyo. As for me, what I try to do is learn the sentence and create personal answers using new patterns which I've learned from the class inside my head.

I also have a bad habit, like when I'm hearing basic sentences, I avoid translating them to English anymore, but when I want to say something, that's the time I usually break it down to English first then turn it into Japanese in my head.

As for your advice with the Deathnote series, yes I do think it's a great idea as long as you understand the general context of each conversation, but yeah my problem is similar with Doraemon, that 80-90% of the vocabularies used are not familiar to me yet, so I really can't understand most of it. Does that mean that I should stick to learning more vocabs more, increasing my vocabulary pool then start hitting Deathnote again? Also, in your personal opinion, do you think reading Genki and Minna no Nihongo at the same time would hinder one's learning curve? Because while I appreciate Minna no Nihongo being straight-forward, Genki has much more details if I am not mistaken.
 

Buntaro

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Jon,

Sorry, I am not familiar with either of the textbooks you mentioned.

By the way, can you write "McDonald's" in Katakana without too much difficulty? How about "global citizen"? How about "Westin Hotel"? If you have not absolutely mastered Hiragana and Katakana, then mastering these two (writing as well as reading) must be the highest priority for you, and everything else must take a lower priority.

In my opinion, the following is the best way to work on both listening and speaking. (In my opinion, these activities will give you better listening practice than, say, listening to Doraemon.)

Here is my method for the beginning level. Work with a partner. Write out simple dialogues based on a grammar point. Write out everything in question-and-answer form. (At the beginning level, focus more on grammar. At the intermediate level, focus more on vocabulary on specific topics.)

Write the dialogues out in English, then work together to write them out in Japanese.

Both of you take turns reading a dialogue while both of you look at the written-out dialogue. Then, both of you do the dialogue again, but this time you (the teacher) look at the page while she (the student) does not look at the page.

Each time, you ask her the question, she answers, then she asks you back the same question. The pattern is, ask a question she will answer with a yes, then ask her a question she will answer with a no, then ask her a question she will answer with a wh- word (who, what, why, etc.)

The goal is for her to be able to ask and answer the questions without looking at them written on paper. Then, changes roles, with you as the student and her as the teacher.

Here are some examples for questions and answers at the beginning level. (Forgive me, the examples are in Chinese, but right now I am working with Chinese students.)

Start with very short sentences:

Do you study? 你学习吗? Ní xuéxí ma?
Yes, I do. 是的,我学习。 Shì de, wǒ xuéxí.
No, I don’t 不,我不学习。 Bù, wǒ bù xuéxí.
Do you walk? 你走路吗? Ní zǒulù ma?
Yes, I do. 是的,我走路。 Shì de, wǒ zǒulù.
No, I don’t 不,我不走路。 Bù, wǒ bù zǒulù.
Do you run? 你跑步吗? Nǐ pǎobù ma?
Yes, I do. 是的,我跑步。 Shì de, wǒ pǎobù.
No, I don’t 不,我不跑步。 Bù, wǒ bù pǎobù.
Do you teach? 你教吗? Nǐ jiào ma?
Do you cook? 你烹饪吗? Nǐ pēngrèn ma?
Do you smoke? 你抽烟吗? Nǐ chōuyān ma?

Add direct objects.

Do you eat vegetables? 你吃蔬菜吗? Nǐ chī shūcài ma?
Yes, I do. 是的,我吃蔬菜 。 Shì de, wǒ chī shūcài.
Do you eat cabbage? 你吃卷心菜吗? Nǐ chī juǎnxīncài ma?
Yes, I do. 是的,我吃卷心菜。 Shì de, wǒ chī juǎnxīncài.
Do you eat spinach? 你吃菠菜吗? Nǐ chī bōcài ma?
No, I don’t. 不,我不吃菠菜。 Bù, wǒ bù chī bōcài.
What kind of vegetables do you eat? 你吃什么种类的蔬菜? Nǐ chī shénme zhǒnglèi de shūcài?
I eat lettuce, cabbage, and celery. 我吃卷心菜,卷心菜和芹菜。
Wǒ chī juǎnxīncài, juǎnxīncài hé qíncài.

Slowly add dialogs with indirect objects, prepositional phrases, multiple prepositional phrases, it-for-to sentences, present perfect, subjunctive mood, on and on, until ending up with very complicated questions and answers.

At the lower intermediate level, you can also start doing short, two-minute speeches. Start with the topic Self-Introduction. All 'speeches' are followed with a question-and-answer period which hopefully can be expanded into a discussion. Both of you can also make such speeches, which makes for good listening practice for the other person.

Google Translate is a huge help in preparing these dialogs.

Remember: Get to the point where you can ask and answer the questions at a moderate speed (one word per second) without looking at the paper. (Do not strive for fast speaking ability.)

Intermediate level

Focus more on topics and the vocabulary related to a specific topic. My list of intermediate-level topics:

Self-intro
Family
Friends
My house/apartment/dorm room
My dream house
Shopping
Cooking
Eating out
Getting sick
Getting injured
Hanging out – free time
Typical day, typical weekend
Chores, cleaning, laundry, etc.
Sports, doing and watching
Exercising
Music – listening and playing
Watching movies
Watching TV
Traveling in Japan
Traveling to foreign countries
Transportation (bus, train, etc.)
Car
Money
Weather
Pets
Animals
National holidays
My life story (includes high school life)
College life
Studying English
Work
My life plan
My career
Fashion
Getting my hair cut/done
Generation gap
Japanese culture
- Food
- Language
- Chinese characters
- radicals
- Japanese art and paintings
- Japanese ‘dance’ and stage
- Kabuki,
- Rakugo, etc.
- Japanese music
- Karaoke, Enka, etc.
- Games – Shogi, cards, Igo, etc.
- Japanese history
Pollution
- Air pollution
- Bus exhaust
- Water pollution
- Supermarket plastic bags – good or bad?
My hometown’s environment
Religion
- Shintoism
- Buddhism (Zen, etc.)
- Christianity, etc., as they are practiced in Japan

~~~~~

You also need to start creating vocabulary lists on each of the above topics. Here is an example list. (Once again, I apologize for this being in Chinese.)

Listening to Music:

like 喜欢 xǐ huān
music 音乐 yīn yuè
I like music. 我喜欢音乐。 Wǒ xǐhuān yīnyuè.
listen to music 听音乐 tīng yīn yuè
like to listen to music 喜欢听音乐 xǐhuān tīng yīnyuè
what kind of 什么样的 shén me yàng de
what kind of music 什么样的音乐 shén me yàng de yīn yuè
What kind of music do you listen to? 你听什么样的音乐? Nǐ tīng shénme yàng de yīnyuè?
pop music 流行音乐 liú xíng yīn yuè
rock 摇滚乐 yáo gǔn yuè
rock music 摇滚乐 yáo gǔn yuè
light rock 轻摇滚 qīng yáo gǔn
hard rock 硬石 yìng shí
punk rock 朋克摇滚 péng kè yáo gǔn
country music 乡村音乐 xiāng cūn yīn yuè
classical music 古典音乐 gǔ diǎn yīn yuè
traditional music 传统音乐 chuán tǒng
Hawaiian music 夏威夷音乐 Xià wēi yí

An example of intermediate-level questions and answers

Sports

[x] Do you like sports? 你喜欢运动吗? Nǐ xǐhuan yùndòng ma?
Do you mean play sports or watch sports? 你意思是做运动或是观看运动项目?
Nǐ yìsi shì zuò yùndòng huò shì guānkàn yùndòng xiàngmù?
I mean play sports. Do you like to play sports? 我意思是做运动。你喜欢做运动吗?
Wǒ yìsi shì zuò yùndòng. Nǐ xǐhuān zuò yùndòng ma?
Yes, I do. 是的,我喜欢做运动。 Shì de, wǒ xǐhuān zuò yùndòng.
I’m too old to play sports. 我太老了,不能体育运动。 Wǒ tài lǎo le, bùnéng tǐyù yùndòng.
I have a physical limitation. 我是生理缺陷。 Wǒ shì shēnglǐ quēxiàn.
I like to go jogging. 我喜欢慢跑。 Wǒ xǐhuān mànpǎo.
I go running. 我跑步。 Wǒ pǎobù.
Who do you go running with? 你和谁一起跑步? Nǐ hé shéi yīqǐ pǎobù?
I go running by myself. 我独自跑步。 Wǒ dúzì pǎobù.
Do you go running when you have a cold? 你感冒的时候跑步吗? Nǐ gǎnmào de shíhòu pǎobù ma?
No, I don’t. 不,我你感冒的时候不跑步。 Bù, wǒ nǐ gǎnmào de shíhòu bù pǎobù.
不,我你感冒的时候没有跑步。 Bù, wǒ nǐ gǎnmào de shíhòu méiyǒu pǎobù.
Why not? 为什么不? Wèi shéme bù?
(Why don’t you go running when you have a cold?) 为什么你感冒的时候不跑步?
Wèishéme nǐ gǎnmào de shíhòu bù pǎobù?
You shouldn’t exercise when you are sick. 你不应该在生病的时候锻炼。
Nǐ bù yìnggāi zài shēngbìng de shíhòu duànliàn.
Because you shouldn’t exercise when you are sick. 因为你不应该在生病的时候锻炼。
Yīnwèi nǐ bù yìnggāi zài shēngbìng de shíhòu duànliàn.
 
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Oh, Death Note was just an example (and the last sentence in my post was a joke). It's what happens to work for me at my level; what's going to work for you is likely to be different, probably something geared for much younger people. I'm sure a native Japanese person who was raised on what would suit you can probably suggest something better than I could. But the key point is it has to be something that you understand well enough to get the gist of, and most importantly, it needs to be something you like. So you probably want to look for stuff that's more or less a Japanese equivalent of stuff like Arthur, Captain Underpants, Disney movies, etc. I think I get the impression that Hayao Miyazaki's films are examples of stuff at this sort of level, e.g.:

千と千尋の神隠し(せんとちひろのかみかくし) (Spirited Away)
魔女の宅急便(まじょのてっきゅうびん) (Kiki's Delivery Service)
崖の上のポニョ(がけのうえのポニョ) (Ponyo)

But again, that's based on what I've heard from others, not personal experience. The only one of these I remember seeing is Ponyo; it was a long time ago (like, around 10 years ago before the English version was out... God I feel old), and unfortunately I was watching it with subtitles at the time.
 

Nisseki

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Hello Jon,

I hope you are well.

I was in the same boat as you when I was learning Japanese so I completely understand what you are going through.

Language learning is a skill, and just like any skill it just takes practice and the more you practice the better you will get at it.

Considering you are going through a textbook already and picking up grammar. I recommend studying vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary outside of lessons. Don't worry about getting the grammar wrong when speaking. A Japanese person may understand the gist of what you are trying to say.

But just like yourself, what screwed me up when speaking was not knowing the words or I didn't know the words they were saying.

Regards to the girl, I was like her too. I studied some beginner Japanese before I went to Japan and I struggled with the basics in my Japanese lessons with a native speaker. It was actually my first time speaking in Japanese.

You need to get out of your comfort zone and just speak to someone, and listen.

I wish you good luck.
 
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For what it's worth, I'd like to say I disagree with the suggestion to "get out of your comfort zone" when it comes to speaking. Instead I would suggest that doing so only hampers your learning because it gets you into the habit of saying clunky and unnatural things, and then it becomes that much harder to get it right later on. I say this from personal experience; going out of my comfort zone with speaking is exactly what I used to do, and it's exactly why my Japanese used to suck so much. As I said, it's only when I stopped doing this thanks to some scolding on this forum that it started to get better, and even then reversing the damage took months.

Instead, I would propose that while you should leave your comfort zone when it comes to listening (e.g. by reading things you don't fully understand), when it comes to speaking, you should stay strictly within your comfort zone of what you know.

So for example, suppose someone brings up American food, and the only thing you can confidently say is 「ハンバーガーおいしいね!」. In that case, that's what you say. Of course, you could try to bring up that you used to go to a really nice American-style restaurant back home and wish you could find another restaurant like it where you are now. But I would say, you shouldn't. It's not necessary (there's nothing wrong with just saying that hamburgers are delicious), and you're probably going to screw it up and form bad habits.
 

Nisseki

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ハンバーガーおいしいね!

This is definitely something I would say (because they are delicious), even though this sentence is missing a particle between hamburger and delicious.

Don't be afraid to make mistakes, you will learn from them.
 
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I don't believe the lack of a particle in that sentence is a mistake. I believe adding a particle would give the sentence an incorrect nuance for that context. Correct me if I'm wrong.
 

Toritoribe

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I don't believe the lack of a particle in that sentence is a mistake. I believe adding a particle would give the sentence an incorrect nuance for that context. Correct me if I'm wrong.
Yes, your understanding is totally correct.👍 "No particle" is the best choice and the most common way to say it, since が or は unnecessarily emphasizes or gives a contrastive nuance to ハンバーガー, just like その服、かわいいね in the following thread.
 

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Ah I see! I sometimes used to omit particles such as wa and ga on purpose when speaking as it was easier to say like the example sentence above. But I never knew about that, thank you both.
 

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Wow thank you guys for the active responses! Right now I am strictly expanding my vocabulary. Sometimes I talk a staff in school in Japanese, As much as possible, I try to think inside my head how to construct it in nihongo properly and if it's exactly what I meant in the first place. If I really can't translate it due to limited knowledge, then I just say it in English because sometimes it's too hard.

Now I'm just wondering what is the best approach, either to stay in your comfort zone until you're pretty sure of what you're going to say is correct both in context and grammatical structure,

OR just try to speak even if you're not sure, then learn from your mistakes as long as you keep on speaking to improve one's skills.

Both approaches make sense, but I really don't know which is effective on my end though :))
 

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Hey Jon,

Whatever works for you, I wish you all the best in your studies.

When I saw your thread, I had to join because you remind me when I was young and came to Japan with no Japanese and I worked for a hospital as a medical assistant. I nearly gave up because it was so hard.

I was very shy when I started, and because I stayed in my comfort zone too much and sticking to only what I knew, it stopped me from learning new things. After work I used to go home and stayed in my apartment, watch English videos on YouTube.

But what changed my life from being shy was I started to go out more and speak to people. And the more I spoke and listen, I learnt new things and I saw patterns.

My biggest regret is that if I studied more harder and practice more, I would have been more better in Japanese but I still learnt a lot which was enough to communicate with colleagues on work tasks, made friends and get by with daily life.
 

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I would add here that even if you don't understand almost anything when you're listening to Japanese in a show or in person it does help you get used to listening to Japanese. I personally found it motivating when I was watching an anime and I would finally hear something that I did understand. Getting used to listening takes a long time so if you start now when you don't understand much it will help you listen when you understand more.
 
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I'd also like to add something, regarding learning from mistakes.

In my experience, people (including myself) are generally hesitant to correct foreign language learners on their mistakes. Think about it: suppose someone said this to you:

"I find the apple and they not good."

Obviously a broken sentence, right? But you almost certainly wouldn't say that out loud because you can understand what the speaker means. This, in turn, means that the speaker is likely to continue to use that same broken English. It's only going to be through consistent repetition of correct versions over a long period of time that they will eventually see that they're speaking wrong and correct it. For many such speakers, this will simply never happen, because at some point your habits can become so ingrained that you have to consciously know about the problem to fix it.

That's why I think it's much easier to prevent yourself from having broken Japanese in the first place, rather than try to get it corrected later on.
 

Nisseki

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Hi Julie,

I hope you're well.

How I learnt from mistakes when I was speaking in Japanese was the feedback I got from the listener such as facial expressions, body language and the more obvious reaction: "What?".

Learners are going to make mistakes and some learners who lack confidence have the fear of making mistakes, like I did.
 
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I would counter that the only mistakes that are going to be corrected are those that are especially bad, particularly those that cause confusion or offense.

I would also counter that in your native language, you don't generally learn from your own mistakes. Rather, you learn from others, either by imitating them or (less often) by finding that you don't want to imitate them. In fact, contrary to what you say, those who make mistakes as native speakers often keep those mistakes, and if the mistake becomes popular enough, the actual definition of the word changes to the mistaken use. Consider the term "decimate", for example, which originally meant "to kill 10% of (a military unit)" (hence the "decim" prefix), but nowadays this definition is largely obsolete; people misused the word so much that it now pretty much universally means "to cause great damage or harm to".

When it's your own native language, because everyone does it and the mistakes are fueled and supported by the culture around you, this isn't a problem; your mistakes, collectively, only serve to change the language.

But when it comes to a second language, you are necessarily learning the language in a different manner and a different cultural environment than native speakers are, and thus your mistakes will never be any more than just that: mistakes. And more likely than not, they will be mistakes that native speakers would never make. And yet, just as with the mistakes of a native speaker, you will never notice those mistakes and therefore will never correct them, because they're not so horrid that they hamper understanding. They just become a gaijin quirk.

I can further drive the point home with a common example of a "Japanism", as I'd like to call it, that I've seen a lot in English. It usually goes something like this:

"Is it that you don't like apples?"

You can catch that, right? It's the "Is it that...?" formation. This is something that doesn't sound incorrect, per se, but it doesn't sound 100% natural, either. I suspect it's an attempt by many Japanese people to translate the の in something like this:

「リンゴは好きじゃないの?」

But in English, you don't tend to differentiate between an explanatory mode and a report mode. The most typical way you would say that is just:

"Do you not like apples?"

And yet, would you correct anyone saying it using the "Is it that..." construction I mentioned above? I wouldn't. And so anyone who has gotten into the habit of using that Japanism is going to be stuck with it and never even know there's anything off about it (unless they see this post, of course).

So in summary, I would argue that you're not going to learn much from your mistakes because you're really not going to get much feedback. Add to that the fact that it's hard to change habits, and starting off with broken Japanese and trying to fix it later is going to be much harder than starting with good Japanese from the start.

As such, as hinted at above, I would suggest that imitation of native speakers is what you should use as your primary source of improving your Japanese, followed by learning via a textbook/class/etc. What I mean is, pay attention to what native speakers are saying in what contexts, and when you notice and understand a pattern, copy it. Use learning, via something like a textbook, only to accelerate your ability to understand why native speakers are saying what they are saying. Obviously this won't lead to perfect results, but I propose that it will lead to better results, especially in the long-term.
 
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Nisseki

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All good points but going back to what you said earlier when people don't correct them which can happen depending on the person. I think this can be avoided by surrounding yourself with friends who can help. For me, it was my teacher, Head nurse, doctors and girlfriend. They didn't speak English which helped me push myself in learning which also helped me gain confidence and I wasn't afraid to speak anymore.

Well anyway, once again Jon good luck and don't give up! It may seem hard at times but if you stick with it you'll be fine. The immersion will do wonder for your language skills. :)
 
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I think this can be avoided by surrounding yourself with friends who can help.
I dunno, I think when someone is a friend I'm even less likely to point out mistakes to them.

I recently got into language exchanges (which I must say are very very helpful if you otherwise lack access to native speakers), and nowadays I'm in contact with two people I'd say I'm very good friends with considering one of them is on the opposite end of the country and the other is on the opposite end of the planet. One of these people (the one who lives in Japan) has made his fair share of mistakes while speaking in English, but I've corrected him a grand total of three times; the first two times were early on because he had specifically asked me to correct mistakes, and once was when it was something I figured would be really likely to be misunderstood by many native speakers. If it hadn't been for the fact that he had asked me to correct his English, I wouldn't have done so at all.

Why? Because nitpicking little mistakes in someone's grammar is not what friends do. Besides, I like talking to him and would like to keep doing so, not scare him off by correcting him all the time on little mistakes that he makes when he speaks in English. I'm sure he and that other friend I mentioned are probably acting in the same way; neither of them have ever corrected my Japanese.

A teacher might be a different story, assuming of course you're talking about your Japanese class teacher. They could affect the same sort of change that strangers on the Internet did for me here. However, I would argue that it's specifically because a teacher is not your friend that they can be comfortable doing so, and someone experienced in teaching Japanese will more likely than not have ways to nudge you into improving your Japanese skill without scaring you away from the subject entirely. Even so, it's a slow process that involves breaking already-formed bad habits, and it's only going to work for as long as you're in said teacher's class.

So what I would suggest, instead, is that you go to your teacher or tutor for advice on how to say whatever meaning you want to say, rather than taking shots in the dark. That will give them a chance to thoroughly explain any important nuances and if they have the time, maybe you can even ask them to help you practice a little bit. In this way you'll be able to get it right the first time, meaning you won't have bad habits to break, as long as you don't start extrapolating (which I would suggest you shouldn't do; those "Americanisms" I was talking about were almost certainly caused by such extrapolation, e.g. misusing 全然 in a positive construction). Even so, I would argue that this should be your last resort.
 

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I always try to correct my friend's mistakes in English. Even if they're not mistakes and it's just not something that sounds native I will correct them to something more native. I ask my Japanese friends to do the same for me and they do quite often. Most of my Japanese friends I've met through a meetup specifically focused on language and culture though. So we go in with the expectation of trying to learn a foreign language and being corrected.
 
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How often do you find mistakes? I'd think that would make a huge difference.

Let's remember we're talking about someone who, as far as we can tell, is at a very low beginner level. This is someone who, according to him, struggles to express basic ideas and follow along with what people are saying. I don't know how advanced your Japanese is, but I assume it's probably well above that level, no? I'm not arguing against fluent second-language-learners taking risks and checking for reactions. I'm arguing against doing that too much, if at all, while you're still at a beginner or even intermediate level. Like all things in life there's of course a spectrum here and context matters.
 
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