All of a sudden, I am getting the opportunity to use Japanese a bit more.
- My Cafetalk lesson with Makisan once a week.
- My language exchange with Takesan once a week.
- The new addition – Facetime with the Japanese family members of a guy I know.
I know a guy who is half Japanese and who speaks Japanese much better than I do (for now). A couple of weeks ago he called his cousin who lives in the U.S. and whose mother was visiting her from Japan, and handed me the phone. Since the mother does not speak any English, that was blatantly terrifying for me.
This week, we again had a Facetime exchange with his cousin, and she has expressed a willingness to do this again in the future. Next week, we will Facetime with his cousin and with his mother (as opposed to his cousin’s mother on the previous call) who is not only Japanese but is a Japanese language teacher in the U.S.!
Whew! These conversations are brief, maybe 10 minutes or so, but they do me a world of good. I am hearing native speakers and being forced to stretch the limits of the Japanese that I know.
Rule Number 1 for doing this sort of thing: You will make mistakes. Now get over it and start talking. The mistakes won’t kill you and you’ll learn from them. They may be embarrassing, but they shouldn’t be. You’re just learning. Mistakes are to be expected.
I think that the issue is this. Suppose that you play the guitar and are learning a new song. You can practice (and make all your mistakes) in private and then only play for someone else when you feel ready. You can polish the song for months if you want to before debuting it.
Language isn’t like that. You have to improvise. You have to respond in real time to who knows what, and that’s scary. But there’s no reason that it has to be, especially when you are talking with someone who knows that you are just learning the language.
When I am talking with Takesan, sometimes, in the middle of an English sentence, he will pause and say そっか、そっか、何だろ。。。which, no matter what the real translation is, comes out as “Um…let me think here…” and to me this is just natural.
I know that I do the same thing, because my daughter pointed it out to me. (My family is good at that sort of thing!) “You’ll be talking in Japanese and suddenly you stop and go ‘Umm…umm….”
In other words, Japanese people learning English have the same kind of pauses as we do when we are learning Japanese. So why worry? (And, yes, they make mistakes, too. Again, why worry?)
The problem is that the fear (the certainty!) of making a mistake can make you unwilling to trot out and use the Japanese that you do know, and not using it is the worst mistake you can make. If you don’t speak, you won’t learn anywhere near as quickly.
If you are lucky enough to have some around to talk to in Japanese, talk. If not, go online and find a language exchange partner.