How to become fluent in Japanese? Is living in Japan the quickest way to start speaking Japanese?
Can you become fluent without living there?
These are the things people ask me all the time.
Many articles are written about this topic, but I wanted to share my personal thoughts on this as an experienced Japanese language tutor.
First and foremost, I believe that learning a foreign language should be fun. When you are having fun learning something, that process becomes so much more productive and efficient. Making time to study Japanese is going to be part of your daily life. This is an obvious argument. You want to do what you like more! So it is important that you choose the right tutor who can make your lessons fun. Also try to find the learning materials which contain pictures/images and activities. So the first thing you need to do is to find the right teacher/tutor who meets your needs. Secondly get some books/audios that you can have fun with!
I know some people who managed to become fluent in Japanese without taking Japanese classes. But structured learning environment is usually the key to successfully master a foreign language. There are many websites claiming that you can learn Japanese effortlessly. But there is no such thing as an effortless method to become fluent in another language. You are going to have to put some time to review what you learn each time so the information will be stored in your long-term memory! It is easy to get caught up being busy so attending a class in local community college or language school will help you have basic guidelines that you need to efficiently learn Japanese language. It’s no fun having to take quizzes, midterms etc..but these things usually give a pretty good structure.
While taking Japanese class, it helps to have a personal tutor who can help you practice what you learn and review your homework. Most importantly you can practice your conversational skills. This part is a little difficult to get in a classroom setting because instructors are usually busy with many other students so if you can get your own personal tutor that you can meet regularly, it would be a big plus. I am a personal tutor. I usually work with my students in a one-on-one setting. But over time it becomes more difficult to maintain the structure even though I personally want to. Tutors can’t formally give you grades and the deadlines that you have to meet to turn in your homework. It sounds all scary, doesn’t it? But it really isn’t. Your private Japanese tutor can assist you with your Japanese course that you are taking, so essentially you aren’t on your own.
I think these are very basic methods that almost guarantee your mastery. Unfortunately there are too many lies these internet-based companies put out there to deceive you. Words that you need to watch out for are “learn Japanese effortlessly”, “start speaking Japanese fast just after one lesson”.
I am sorry but I have never met anybody who starts speaking Japanese after one lesson. So be careful with these false advertisements. There is no easy way out to accomplish anything. Well, learning Japanese isn’t that difficult and it is fun if you are interested in learning and have the right people helping you. We are going to have to put sometime learning any subjects. It doesn’t have to be reading a boring textbook at your desk. So you have to be creative to make your learning fun and exciting.
So can you become fluent in Japanese without living in Japan? It depends on how you define “fluent”. You can certainly get to a point where you can communicate in Japanese without living there. And also you can master grammar, vocabulary and all that without living there. Actually it is better to build a solid foundation before moving to Japan. Some people tell me that the best way to learn is to just move to Japan and start making Japanese friends. Sure. But it is still necessary for you to make time to learn. When you live in Japan, you can definitely learn certain nuances and expressions which cannot be found in textbooks. Also you have a lot more opportunities to communicate in Japanese. So from that point, you are on your way becoming really fluent.
But the pitfall of just moving to Japan without actually learning basic grammar is that you will continue to make similar grammatical errors repeatedly. I personally know some people who have lived in Japan for over twenty years without learning grammar. Apparently they became conversationally fluent, but they make very basic errors in almost every sentence. Just like English, Japanese language has specific grammatical structures and rules which aren’t too difficult to build up.
So I generally recommend people to learn Japanese on your own (attend local school, get tutor) for a year before moving to Japan. Japanese people don’t speak English very well in general. So it would be easier if you have some basic understandings of Japanese language and culture before even going there. Living in a foreign country is different from visiting, and it can be a little stressful unless you already have family members or friends.
These methods which help you master Japanese might sound too tedious or obvious to you, but these are the things which have helped many of my students actually become conversationally fluent in this unique language. And I am going to say this repeatedly. There is no such thing as an effortless learning.
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