People are in a perpetual search for the secret of becoming fluent in a language. Some start off by drilling massive amounts of vocabulary on a daily basis, using SRS of some kind, like Anki or Memrise. And this is a good start, but it will not make you fluent. After all, drilling doesn’t equal fluency.
Others take class, study for hours a week. They do their homework every day, yet they progress slowly or not at all. I’ve seen more than a few of these types. They are hard workers. But, eventually, they start to slack off, and slowly but surely they quit coming to class. They never become fluent.
Some even go on to pass tests, get high scores on the TOEIC. They drill and drill and get a good score. However, they aren’t fluent. Some people are not even close to being communicative. Or if they can speak, they talk like a machine or have the worst pronunciation I’ve ever heard.
So what is the real secret?
So if purely studying the language doesn’t do it and testing doesn’t do it. What does? Even if you practice a lot, it can still be quite difficult to become fluent.
And you’ve probably heard about the advice of making a lot of mistakes. The more mistakes you make the better you will become. And that is true for almost everything. The more you fail, the more you will succeed. The worst thing you can do to learn something new is to play it safe and do nothing.
But I know a lot of people that aren’t afraid of mistakes that still struggle with it. I had one student that made plenty of mistakes, but still stayed at the same level. Afraid to move up and try something new.
Practice alone will not make you fluent
Practice will make you pretty good and will even help you pass a few tests. You can stack up points with your favorite language learning tool, but that is not going to make you fluent. Stockpiling all those words and phrases is a good way to build up the dictionary in your head, but it won’t make you fluent.
There is one thing I find in common for all my higher level classes, and that is a strong, passionate desire to communicate. Everyone there, for better or worse, really wants to communicate something. And that is what is going to drive you to communicate well. That is what will give you the fire to study the grammar and use it.
It also doesn’t hurt if you really like people. If you like meeting new people, drinking with new people, partying with new people, etc… it will be incredibly easy for you to make friends and become fluent in a language.
If you are not interested in people (and that’s okay) then you will need to find something you want to communicate. You are not doomed but you will have a harder time. I think this can be a difficult hurdle for introverts to get over. I considered myself fairly introverted and it can be tough to jump into a conversation, but I do from time to time because I like people.
And realistically that is all you need to really accomplish anything. You need passion. If you want to start a business, if you want to write a book, if you want to become a world famous pianist you need to have a passion for what you are doing. So, if you haven’t discovered what you are passionate about when it comes to Japanese, it’s a good time to start.
Think of something you like to talk about. Do you like movies? Can you critique movies like nobody’s business? Are you a gamer? Can you talk at great length about different video games? Think about what you get lost in. That is your passion. For some people that is Japanese. So, you are all set. But, if it is something else, try to work that into your Japanese studying.
Without passion, it is hard to continue anything, no matter what goals you set. If you aren’t passionate about studying, or passionate about communicating with others or being able to experience the culture first-hand, it is going to be a tough road for you. And that is true for just about everything.