I ended up having a conversation via Skype with a very nice Japanese lady yesterday. I wasn’t actually expecting it at the time, so I was utterly unprepared to suddenly be attempting to speak Japanese. It was kind of like being tossed into a pool filled with ice water!
I know a guy who wants to improve his Japanese ahead of a planned trip to Japan. He had a prewritten dialogue that he wanted me to read one half of. Now, foolish me, I assumed that he would be reading the other half. Nope. He actually just wanted to listen, so he put me on Skype with his mother, who is Japanese.
She spoke Japanese about 99% of the time, resorting to English once or twice to help me out when I was completely lost. I spoke Japanese maybe 60-70% of the time, which is still pretty good, I think, since the conversation ended up lasting nearly 45 minutes.
We never did actually get around to the dialogue.
Instead, we spoke about movies, concerts, Japanese slang, geography, and a whether Japanese adjectives and casual forms are かんたん (her position) or 難しい (my position). It was a very good experience, although my brain felt kind of flabby afterwards.
You know, if you had asked me back when I started learning the language how many opportunities I figured I would have to practice speaking Japanese, I would have put the number at something lower than 1, but a surprising number of opportunities began to pop up once I started looking.
I’m guessing that you can find opportunities to practice, too, if you really look.
Mind you, if you actually live in Japan, you won’t have to look too hard!
Trying to speak Japanese to a native speaker is absolutely terrifying. That’s okay. Here’s the most important fact for getting over the terror: You will screw up. Accept it, get over, and talk.
Every opportunity to use Japanese is an opportunity to get better. Go ahead. Make mistakes. It won’t actually hurt you any. Find the opportunities and embrace them.