In a change to my initial plan to wait a month before uploading conversations, here is my 10-day update – a video entirely in Japanese, and absolutely and utterly non-scripted (apart from the intro). I simply messaged my Facebook page, targetting just those in Japan, Junpei offered to let me record a chat with him (he’s Japanese but has an English school in Japan, La Pacifica), and I told him to keep it simple, and that rule number one was: No English whatsoever, and he stuck to it!
And that’s what I had to work with. That is in fact how I have been doing every single one of my Skype sessions since day four (as mentioned in my day 5 summary) and on a daily basis, I am not allowed to utter a single word in English, but I have to fill up a 30 or 60 minute long slot with something. And of course, the teacher or language exchange partner, has to also keep in my target language too.
As you can see, it wasn’t pretty. We didn’t debate Kantian epistemology, we just talked about very basic stuff. Sometimes I understood what he said, and most times I didn’t have a clue. And yet we had a sort-of conversation for over ten minutes.
So, how do you do it?
How can you have a live conversation with someone when you are so new to a language? It’s very easy actually: just look up everything you don’t know in a dictionary!
Yes, seriously – it’s that simple. When I didn’t know a word, I pulled up the dictionary (I have been using http://jisho.org since Google Translate is so bad for Japanese), found the translation and then said it. When the person I’m speaking to said something I didn’t understand, I told him to write it out (in Kana) and then I copied and pasted the word I didn’t understand to my dictionary.
As you can see in the video, this takes time, and slows the conversation down, but 10 days ago I couldn’t even have said more than just the Konnichiwa, so I think this is an acceptable limitation considering!
This way, I can use my “training wheels” that help me do way more than I should be able to do with my limited range of vocabulary, but I can still keep the conversation 100% in Japanese.
As well as this, I had some words that I hadn’t learned well enough yet prepared in advance in a text document. I wrote about this in detail when describing how I got into speaking Polish over Skype just one hour into studying it.
Another important aspect: Contextese and keeping the conversation flowing
This method isn’t perfect. For instance, Japanese has a very different grammar to most languages that I’m used to, so I couldn’t make very complex sentences, but I’ve tried to absorb as many sentence structures as I can to get the gist of as part of my studying between spoken sessions. Even so, I have found that a patient speaker does indeed understand me if I speak a Tarzan-like collection of words together. It ain’t pretty, but it’s understandable.
In this video when I said a sentence that was quite messed up, Junpei still got the gist and repeated the sentence back to me correctly so I learned from my mistake.
The next ingredient is of course context. “Contextese” is a means to communicate in itself. So rather than have him write absolutely everything out to me, I listened for the one or two words that I did understand in a given utterance, and guessed what he was likely to be saying. You can see at the end for instance, we talk about “Manga”, and that word is in fact the only one I understood in his question, but I managed to extrapolate correctly (based on the context) what the question was likely to be.
There were indeed issues though – for instance, he said “Could you say that again?” at the start, and I didn’t understand (My “How are you?” was very unclear, which is why he asked), and my lack of vocabulary also seeped into my lack of familiarity, and the word “Why”, which I do know, was misunderstood because I wasn’t confident about its pronunciation. The thing is – moments like this in which you are put on the spot, make sure you’ll definitely remember the word next time
But when these miscommunications happened, did the world end? Did Junpei get so insulted that he closed the Skype conversation immediately and told the world how rude this Benny Lewis character is for his misuse of Japanese formal words? Did the Japanese government officially forbid me from ever speaking Japanese in the rest of my life for so boldly using it “before I was ready”?
No, of course not. Mistakes aren’t the end of the world. We laughed off mistakes and kept the conversation flowing. Mistakes happen, so you just learn to deal with it as best as you can, and move on.
I hope this video reminds you that it’s never too early to speak. All this practice helps me get the mistakes “out of my system” so that I speak much better later. I’ll get back to scripted videos for the next weeks, but in about a month will have another recorded Skype session and I am sure you will see a major improvement
Let me know your thoughts, and how your own X-in-3-months/+1 mission is going!
How to keep the conversation in your target language, even as an absolute beginner [Video of Benny Skyping in Japanese] is a post from: Fluent in 3 months. Click through to the site to subscribe to the Language Hacking League e-mail list (on the top right) for way more tips sent directly to your inbox!
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