One of the biggest mistakes you can make when learning Japanese is to be afraid of making mistakes. I know what you are thinking. Don’t I want my Japanese to be as good as possible? Yes, you do. However, like anything, proficiency comes with lots and lots of practice. And when you practice you are bound to make mistakes. This is actually a good thing though, since you will tend not to forget the Japanese words when you use them wrong.
During my time as a study abroad student at Waseda University, fear of making mistakes was one of the biggest reason that held people back from really improving their Japanese. The people who were really able to improve their Japanese werent necessarily the people who were naturally good at language. Instead, they were the people who weren’t afraid to meet new people, start up a conversations, and were willing to be misunderstood. They tried to use the things they learned in class, and when they made mistakes they would laugh along with everyone else and then remember it for next time.
The best way to learn Japanese is to learn the most common Japanese words and phrases, and use them over and over again. Practicing while speaking is kind of like “on the job training”. It allows you to get practice while actually exercising the skills you are trying to learn. The problem is that many people avoid situations where they will have the chance to speak Japanese because they are afraid of either making mistakes or being unable to communicate. I have been in both situations.
The reality is that the fear of these things is usually much worse than the actual situation itself. I have made my share of mistakes, and some have been so weird that it has certainly caused everyone to laugh. The thing to realize is that they aren’t laughing at you, but at the way the words or sentence you created may have sounded. Not too mention it is unlikely you make that mistake twice (a quick way to learn).
The fear of not being able to communicate is also usually not as bad as it seems. The truth is that as long as you are trying hard to communicate, then most people will appreciate your effort and do their best to help you out. I have found that most people in Japan really appreciate that you are tying to learn their culture and language. Though you may feel bad that you can’t communicate as well as you like, they probably very happy that you are trying.
For me these issues came later. In the beginning I would try to speak as much as possible and wasn’t really worried about making mistakes. It wasn’t until I had a better grasp of the language that I started to limit my speaking because I was afraid to make mistakes. I started working in Japan and many of the people who I worked with had spent much more time in Japan than I had. They also spoke Japanese much better. I was intimidated and so didn’t speak Japanese as much. All of a sudden, my improvement in Japanese decreased. I wasn’t learning as many Japanese words and wasn’t getting as much practice. What I finally came to realize was that my peers weren’t judging me at all. They knew the time and practice it took them to learn and were more than glad to help me.
So learn lots of Japanese words and phrases and use them as often as possible. Don’t worry about making mistakes. We all do as we learn and it is actually an important part of the learning process. We didn’t learn to walk the first time we stood up and it’s no different with learning Japanese. Engage yourself in Japanese conversations and make lots of mistakes. Your Japanese will improve much faster this way and pretty soon you will be making fewer and fewer mistakes. You will also have to great times and a few laughs along the way. Ganbare!!!