Learning a new language is good way to make yourself feel … honestly, like an infant. I mean, it can make you feel as if you’ve only lived on this planet for 2 days and still eat liquidized bananas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’re having a conversation with someone in Japanese and you know exactly what to say in your head, but it comes out sounding more or less like “lsiguhligfhslejfaoifjwa?” That, or your tongue seems to instantaneously tie itself into a big knot and you feel like you’re tripping over nearly every word coming out of your mouth, making speaking both a humiliating and exhausting experience.
As you probably know already, learning Japanese (or any other language for that matter) requires a lot more than mere rote memorization of lines or grammar theory from a book. It demands not only mental training, but physical training as well, as you gain the muscle memory to produce new sounds. Here, I’m going to present you with some great ways to improve both the speed and pronunciation of your speech in Japanese, and I promise, you won’t be bored.
Tongue twisters are something you probably won’t come across in your Japanese classroom. In fact, it’s likely that you won’t even hear them in everyday Japanese conversation. Sometimes it seems that people forget about their existence entirely, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t useful and extremely fun.
Japanese has many tongue twisters for you to give a try. Below, I’ve listed some of the most popular ones, and a few favorites.
とうきょう とっきょ きょかきょく
なまむぎ なまごめ なまたまご
うらのたけがき だれ たけ たてかけた
かえる ぴょこぴょこ み ぴょこぴょこ あわせて ぴょこぴょこ む ぴょこぴょこ
Honestly, I believe tongue twisters have significantly helped me improve my Japanese pronunciation by forcing me to practice making difficult to make sounds. Not only can tongue twisters helped you build muscle memory, they can also give you a fun activity to do with your Japanese friends and classmates.
At first when you do them, they’ll surely be difficult. Start off slow and do one part at a time. Then, begin to combine them together until you can say the whole thing at once at a moderate pace. From there, speed them up until they sound fluent. With tongue twister practice, you’ll make yourself able to say the more difficult pronunciations in Japanese. If you can do a lot of the difficult stuff, the normal stuff becomes easy peazy lemon squeezy. Give it a shot! If you like it, you can find more Japanese tongue twisters here.
Voice shadowing? What’s that? Only one of the most useful things you can do for yourself in terms of language learning. That’s what.
Voice shadowing refers to the listening to and simultaneous mimicking of a foreign language. This can be really helpful if you want to improve your pronunciation because it trains your brain to mimic native speakers.
Voice shadowing can be done in the following steps:
- Step 1: Listen to a clip of your foreign language of choice (in this case Japanese) from any source, whether it be a recorded book, TV show, movie, or even a real person (if they have the patience).
- Step 2: Do it again.
- Step 3: Do it again and then again, again.
- Step 4: Slowly, begin to repeat after the recording, doing so in small parts.
- Step 5: Do it again.
- Step 6: Once you get good enough, try speaking in time with the recording, doing your best to mimic exactly what you hear. This will train you to speak more like a native.
- Step 7: DO IT AGAIN.
Voice shadowing is a lot like learning a song, except, this song is teaching you the melodies heard in conversations and everyday speech. Tricksy. The best part is, you can turn your habit of watching your favorite shows every day into learning a useful skill! The only down side to this is that it takes a lot of time, and that means that it will take longer to get to the end of Naruto. In fact, you might die before you get to the end of that series.
Also, make sure to pick sources that are sensible to mimic so you don’t end up sounding like Kermit the frog in the end. The following would be a bad example of mimicking a TV show, that is, if you want to learn Japanese:
Your Japanese friends will be so overwhelmed, they won’t know what to say.
Karaoke / Singing
Singing!? That’s everyone’s favorite thing, right? No? Well, even if it’s not, singing songs in a foreign language can help you speak said language. If you have a thing for Japanese music and you want to boost your speed and pronunciation, use your voice to your advantage and sing, sing, sing.
In Japan, singing karaoke is a popular activity to do with friends, but even if you don’t have karaoke near you, you can practice on your own or with friends at home. Check out these Youtubers who are willing to share their talents with the world:
This girl practices rap songs in Japanese. I haven’t tried this myself, but it seems particularly good if you want to speak faster Japanese, yo. Honestly, I’m pretty amazed.
The next video went viral in Japan a while ago just because the amount of passion this guy has is hilarious. I’m pretty sure he can’t understand Japanese based upon the video, but even so, his pronunciation isn’t bad, perhaps because he is able to mimic the sounds through song. Just imagine how good you would be if you knew Japanese and sang this passionately.
Seriously, this shows the true powers of music.
Story Telling / Acting
Story telling is an important part of every culture and language. An important part of good story telling is the expression of a range of emotions, characters, and situations through language and voice. I mean, how exciting was that monotone story your 7th grade history teacher told about something you can’t even remember? I’m sorry, I want it to be exciting, too, but it just can’t be without the right voice.
Practicing story telling is beneficial for a number of reasons, other than it being seriously entertaining. First of all, telling stories gives you the chance to practice a wide range of language through different characters as you give your story life. Your pronunciation, speed, and quality of speech should change, so in other words, it offers you the opportunity to give your vocal chords more exercise and might even broaden your everyday speech capabilities. In many ways, it is similar to voice shadowing and also has many of the same benefits.
The Japanese art of story telling is called rakugo 落語 shown above), and involves a lone story teller on stage who usually depicts a long, comical story. One of the most famous stories, and personally my favorite, is called Jugemu 寿限無. This story is often used for training rakugo artists because the humor in it involves the repetition of a boy’s name which happens to be very, very long and very hard to say. Below is a non-Japanese named Katsura Sunshine doing his Jugemu performance:
Personally I’ve tried memorizing this myself and I’ve got to say rakugo is one of the funnest things to learn if you want to invest the time into improving your voice in Japanese.
Talking to Yourself
So, you’re walking down the road home from school or work when you realize that you are talking to yourself in Japanese and it doesn’t even make any sense. “Dear, Jimmy! I must be crazy!” you might be thinking, “I better call the doctor!” But wait, hold the phone, and let me reassure you that this is 125% normal. In fact, talking to yourself has a name in linguistics, it’s called “private speech.” Sounds much less crazy now, right?
Private speech happens in many different ways, whether it be talking under your breath in class, or reciting a grocery list, but private speech in any form has one thing in common: it is necessary for language learning. In fact, it is impossible to internalize a language without first externalizing through speech. So, the more you talk to yourself, the better. Who cares if people think you are a nutcase as long as you can learn Japanese, right? That being said, it is pretty sad to call ただいま when no one is home to answer you.
Remember to Forgive Yourself
The most important thing to remember when practicing your Japanese speech is to forgive yourself and try your best! If at first you don’t succeed, although it is eternally frustrating, try, try again. You might have to practice pronunciation for a week, a month, a year, but all of a sudden it will happen without you realizing it.
Keeping Japanese fun for yourself is essential if you really want to learn the language, so when it comes to speech, relax, sit back, and try a million tongue twisters! If you have the ability to do so, we’d love to see how fast you can do them. Or, let us know what has helped you improve your Japanese fluency. Hit us up on twitter!