JLPT BC 37 | How to Get over the Fear of Speaking

Japanese Ondoku Practice


This time between when you took the test and when you get the results back can be absolutely agonizing.  You are not quite sure how well you did, what you did well in, and what you didn’t do well in.  So, at least for me, it is easy to get a bit lazy especially with the infamous hot and humid summers that we in Japan have come to love.

But, this is a perfect time to patch up holes in your Japanese, review some of that grammar you didn’t quite get right and go back over those books again.  If you come back to some of your grammar, reading, listening, or vocabulary books after an absence of a few months, you’ll be surprised how the hardly look familiar at all anymore.   I’m currently going back through an old reading book and it’s like I never saw it before, so it’s good review.

I am also during this season going to get into more natural and fun studying methods like I mentioned a few weeks ago.  Still need to decide on the drama I’m going to watch though, does anyone have any suggestions?

How to Get over the Fear of Speaking

Lalophobia is a pretty big word, but it is the Mr. Smarty Pants way of saying ‘fear of speaking’, which is a common issue among first time language learners.  I know I definitely had it when I first started speaking and using Japanese.  For some reason, I was deathly afraid that if I said the wrong words I might get arrested or something.  Actually I don’t know what I thought, I just knew that I was afraid of speaking.

And as most people by now know, one of the best ways to learn a language is by using it, preferably by speaking it.  Some people will tell you to just go out and speak!  But, what if you aren’t the gregarious type that can strike up a conversation with any passerby? What if, even in your own native language, you get some jitters speaking to strangers?

I know I’m not the most outgoing guy in the world.  I wouldn’t say I’m shut-in either, but maybe somewhere in between.  And, it was a bit difficult for me at first to strike up conversations with shopkeepers, or to even just ask for some ketchup at McDonald’s (Shouldn’t they know by now to give all foreigners ketchup for their fries?).

I was also stuck with common misconception of “I’m not good enough to speak yet.”  I thought “I’ll study really hard, and then magically one day in the future, I will be an amazing speaker, just, magically.”  Well, that day never came even after a few straight months of hardcore book studying.

One Way that I used to Get Over my Fear of Speaking

To get over this seemingly overwhelming fear of speaking, I started doing rapid ondoku (reading aloud in Japanese).  There are a lot of ways of doing ondoku, but I had a really simple method that got me confidently speaking quickly.

First, I listened to the dialog that I wanted to practice.  I paid attention to the intonation and the emotion and their voices as they were performing the dialog.  Then, I tried to read the dialog out loud (all parts of the conversation) as fast as I could with correct pronunciation.  I also timed myself when I read the dialog out loud.  I then tried to read the dialog out loud faster and faster.  I kept trying to increase my speaking speed to the point that I was faster than the CD or Mp3.

I found this to be both challenging and also a big confidence builder.  Mostly because I didn’t have to think about the words coming out of my mouth.  The whole thing just became automatic.  So when I went to talk to people in Japanese afterwards, the words just rolled off my tongue some much more easily.

The words that I wanted to say stopped getting stuck in my throat, they just came out.  It’s like I broke off that little part of my brain that kept saying “Wait! Are you sure that’s correct?”.  It was incredibly liberating and helped me improve my Japanese by leaps and bounds.

It also eliminates what I like to call ‘William Shatner disease’.  William Shatner has a very unique way of speaking that involves a lot of dramatic pauses in his speech.  Although this is useful sometimes, sometimes it’s more useful to just say what you want to say smoothly before the other person falls asleep.

How about you?

So, I encourage you to give it a try and tell me what you think.  I’d interested to hear how it worked out for you.  Leave me a comment below with the details.

P.S. Do you think this is the best Japanese studying tip ever?  Sign up for the newsletter for all the latest tips and tricks.

P.S.S.  Do you think my voice is funny? Go tell iTunes about it.  Or if you have comments or suggestions for the podcast, by all means let me know in the comments below or contact me and let me know what I can do to improve the show.  Thanks!

Music by Kevin MacLeod, photo by JRosenfield

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Mio August 16, 2011, 6:41 pm

    Just stumbled upon this site and i love it already. 🙂

    You’re right, it’s hard to strike up a conversation with just anybody (posting this comment is hard for me already). I tend to doubt myself when talking to other people. I keep checking my grammar in my head over and over until i get so confused and end up using sign language. 🙁

    • Mac August 17, 2011, 12:38 am

      Haha, that’s so true. I don’t what it is about talking in another language that’s so scary, but something holds you back. Recently, I’ve just gone into things with the mindset of I have to do this, and what’s the worst that could possibly happen? My wife is Japanese, so it would be really easy for me to just ask her to do everything for me, but I’m trying to do everything myself these days.

      Thanks for the kind words!

Leave a Comment

JLPT Boot Camp - The Ultimate Study Guide to passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test