Getting out of the output rut

I still have a long way to go before I can call myself “fluent” in Japanese, by any definition. While there are many areas in which I can smoothly follow along with no issue, every time I crack a book that deals with an unfamiliar domain or subject, it hits me all over again just how extensive my English vocabulary actually is, and how lacking my Japanese vocabulary is in comparison. But my “input fluency” is far and away better than my “output fluency”, and this is a point that I’ve been struggling with for some time now.

The underlying idea of extensive reading is that after enough exposure to native material, you’ll not only become able to intuitively understand your target language, but you will also reach a point where you can suddenly start to produce it as well. It’s taken a long time, but I do feel like I’ve started to see the fruits of my labor in this respect. I’m able to communicate effectively with people online (albeit still with some difficulty and a lot of uncertainty). However, I’m keenly aware of the fact that if I were to have a face-to-face conversation, in real time and without the benefit of a sentence bank, I would be floundering. I’d like to fix that.

As I see it, there are three problems here:

  • A lack of the vocabulary required to say what I mean,
  • A lack of familiarity with certain idiomatic sentence structures, and
  • A lack of confidence, which makes me unlikely to even try.

The first two problems can be addressed by more input, and I spend concentrated time every day reading and listening to Japanese material for this very reason. As a practical example, my grasp on polite language — not just the nuts and bolts of 丁寧語 itself, but also the “social dance” that is so often used — skyrocketed when I started reading 京都寺町三条のホームズ, a series in which the two main characters speak politely (but not stiffly) to each other 100% of the time.

The third problem is much more insidious. As much as I try not to be, I’m very much a perfectionist. I try to know as much as possible about a given topic before getting my hands dirty. I know full well that it’s impossible to be an expert before you even start, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.

In this specific context, my introversion is a big factor of course; it takes effort for me to put myself in an unfamiliar social setting to begin with, let alone one where I know for a fact that I’m hopelessly out of my depth.

Of course, I’m not going to get good at Japanese pronunciation without being bad at it for a while first. In order to get some practice and hopefully pull myself up by my bootstraps a bit, I’ve decided to start harmonizing.

It’s been a long time since I had any kind of SRS habit, and as I mention in the video, this is not really SRS by the typical definition. With Japan’s borders still closed and no indication that they’ll be open anytime soon, I’ve set a long-term goal of 14 months to finish this entire deck. Starting today, I’ll be aiming for 13 new sentences per day, finishing the deck by December 31st, 2022. Is this a silly goal? would I be better off blundering my way through actual conversation through voice calls? Very likely, and of course I’ll be reevaluating this as I progress. For now I’d just like to have something set down that I can work towards. We’ll see what happens!