Last night I had my first-ever proper Japanese conversation practice session with a couple of members from the 日本語と英語 discord server (one native speaker, one fellow learner). It was a lot of fun and I feel encouraged by the outcome; I’ve often felt like all the input I’m getting was doing a great job of helping me develop strong comprehension skills, but not making a huge difference for my production ability. After this practice session, I feel more like my conversation ability is trapped in my head and just needs a little help getting out, like a rusty faucet that needs some encouragement before it can be turned on and off easily.
The biggest thing I noticed is that I rarely had to think hard about the words I wanted to use, but when it did happen it was like my whole brain had shut down. Since we were trading off languages, I was able to fall back on English to keep the conversation going, but I would obviously prefer to move past that.
Since I’ve never really had a proper conversation before, this was also the first time that my typical speech mannerisms had a chance to manifest in Japanese, which was pretty interesting. In English I tend to say stuff like “I guess” (when describing my opinions), and in Japanese I found myself using かな at the end of a lot of my sentences.
One moment I thought was kind of funny was when we were talking about another member of the server and I was asked for my opinion; my answer of 悪いやつじゃないと思う got a laugh out of our native friend and a response of “you’re talking just like a Japanese person!” Just a fun reminder that there’s more to language than just grammar and vocabulary.
Numbers have always been a pain point. More audio immersion would probably be a big help in this regard. At one point I was trying to report on the temperature (-5c) and accidentally said マイナスごじゅう instead of マイナスごど, which got a very surprised reaction. I feel like I made a similar mistake a little later, forgetting to use 回, and then again using ～人目 instead of ～番目 when describing my siblings.
On a number of occasions I found myself suddenly using polite forms (ですます, or saying はい instead of うん or そう) just for one sentence in the middle of a casual conversation. I’m not sure why certain phrases seemed to come out naturally in polite mode but it’s something I want to work on of course.
One more thing that sticks in my mind as a bit of a “regret” is that there were some words I used where I feel like a similar but subtly different word would have been a better fit. As one example in particular, I was asked “why take two trips to Japan instead of staying the whole time” and my answer was 仕事があるから. I feel like 仕事があるし would have been a more natural response in this case, but I thought of it just a moment too late. On another occasion, I was asked if I had heard of something, and I said 知らない at the same time as our native friend said 分からない. Obviously her response would have been more natural.
The last thing I’d like to work on is also a bit of a curiosity. I occasionally found myself code-switching back to English, but only for specific words. One repeat offender was that I would intend to say けど at the end of a sentence, but it would somehow become the English word “though” on its way out of my mouth; another was that I would occasionally just add “so…” at the end, but not with any particular Japanese word in mind, just an example of English brain taking over.
All in all, I feel like it went pretty well and I’m excited for the next one.