10+ Effective Ways to Get Japanese Speaking Practice (Even if You Study By Yourself!)

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Speaking is the ultimate goal of most language learners.

It’s one thing working through textbooks or watching anime in Japanese. But if you ever go to Japan, how will you order your lunch, buy a train ticket or make Japanese friends, if you can’t actually speak Japanese?

But speaking can definitely be the most nerve-wracking part of learning Japanese. And it’s one of the hardest things to practise – especially if you study by yourself! How can you get daily Japanese speaking practice if you don’t live in Japan?

Luckily, there are tons of excellent resources for Japanese speaking practice out there. From smart techniques to improve your Japanese speaking on your own, to free online pronunciation courses, to apps for finding a Japanese conversation partner anywhere in the world.

Whatever level you’re at, the tools on this page will help you speak better Japanese in no time!

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How to practise speaking Japanese by yourself

Shadowing

Shadowing is a popular language learning technique where basically you listen to an audio clip and try to repeat it as closely as possible to the original.

It is excellent for improving your intonation, pronunciation, speed, and general confidence speaking aloud! Shadowing would be my top recommendation for how to get Japanese speaking practice on your own.

If you are already fairly comfortable speaking Japanese, you can try shadowing any time with any Japanese audio resources, for example when you are watching TV or listening to a podcast. The idea is to try to repeat what you hear with as little delay as possible. It’s harder than it sounds!

For beginners, it’s best to ease into shadowing by using audio that has a transcript (or subtitles) so you can read along. This could be a dialogue in your textbook or online course, a scene from your favourite J-drama or anything really! 

A smiling Asian woman wearing headphones and looking at her laptop, practising shadowing

Here are the basic steps to start shadowing:

  • Choose the text to work on. This could just be one line when you’re starting out, and no more than a short paragraph.
  • Listen to the audio.
  • Read the script. Make sure you understand it all and look up any words you don’t know.
  • Listen to the audio while (silently) reading along with the script. Repeat several times if you need to get comfortable with the speed.
  • Play the audio again, and this time start reading aloud just after you’ve heard each word on the audio. You’ll be speaking with a 1-2 second delay and speaking over the audio.
  • Practice again and again. You’re trying to match the native speaker’s speed and intonation as closely as possible.
  • When you’re really feeling confident, try it without the script!

Here are some resources you can use for shadowing:

  • Dialogues in your textbook or online course – an ideal starting point. Modern online courses such as JapanesePod101 (my recommendation!) are especially great for this because you can replay the dialogue line by line while reading along.
  • Ganbatte Shadowing app (App Store/Google Play)  – an app dedicated to shadowing. They have sample texts from beginner to advanced level. You can see a waveform graph of your voice compared to the native speaker, which helps identify areas to work on.
  • FluentU – this app/website lets you watch authentic Japanese video content with dual-language subtitles (that you can toggle on and off) and interactive dictionary. It’s ideal for shadowing because you can replay line by line. And it’s way more interesting than textbook dialogues because you’re watching real Japanese content (movie clips, short films etc). Full review here.
  • TV Asahi News – For advanced learners. Short news clips which usually have the transcript in the article below. It’s not always a full/exact transcript though, so you might have to review a few articles to find one you can work with.
  • Netflix – or any streaming service that has content with both audio and subtitles in Japanese. I like the Ghibli movies for a slower option, and Terrace House for natural, casual conversation.
  • Shadowing: Let’s Speak Japanese book – this textbook and CD combo for beginner to intermediate learners takes a deep dive into the shadowing method, with specially written dialogues.
Shadowing: Let's Speak Japanese - Beginner to Intermediate (NEW EDITION 2022)
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02/18/2024 04:00 am GMT

Record yourself 

This is a simple technique you can use alongside shadowing, or as a separate exercise, to get some Japanese speaking practice and improve your accent and intonation. 

Yes, I know we all hate the sound of our own voices, but when you listen back to a recording you really do notice things that you don’t while you’re concentrating on speaking!

As with shadowing, it works best if you can find an audio clip with an accompanying script/subtitles. Listen to the original, then record yourself copying it out loud. (Most smartphones have built in voice recorder, or you can download an app.) 

Play back the recording and pay attention to the differences between your voice and the native speaker. Repeat until you can copy the original as closely as possible.

Online courses JapanesePod101 and Rocket Japanese have this functionality built in! You can even see a little sound wave graphic to see where your pitch differs from the native speaker.

JapanesePod101 screenshot of voice recorder function showing soundwave
Voice recorder function on JapanesePod101

Talk to yourself

Young woman with dark curly hair talking to herself in the mirror and smiling. Talking to yourself in Japanese is one way to get more speaking practice every day!

Some might say it’s the first sign of madness, but talking to yourself can also be the sign of a dedicated language learner!

Of course, talking with a Japanese friend or partner is ideal because you get input and feedback. But talking to yourself in Japanese can also be extremely valuable – and it’s a great way to get Japanese speaking practice on your own.

A few benefits of talking to yourself in Japanese:

  • Get more comfortable speaking Japanese
  • Practise producing original sentences on demand
  • You’ll start to speak faster and more naturally
  • Practise vocabulary and grammatical structures
  • Identify new words/areas of language you need to work on (when you’re constantly thinking ‘how do I say that?’, make a note and look it up later!)
  • You can do it any time, anywhere, with no cost and no tools needed

Talking to yourself will be most effective if you can make it a regular habit, perhaps by tying it to part of your daily routine.

Narrate your actions as you’re cooking, cleaning or getting dressed in the morning. Talk about what you see around you as you drive to work. Run through your to-do list while you take your morning shower. Just get talking!

Read aloud

Portrait of young woman reading a yellow covered book in her kitchen. Reading aloud is one way to get Japanese speaking practise on your own

An easy way to get more Japanese speaking practice is by tying it to the rest of your studies. Whether you’re reading a passage in your textbook or writing a composition, be sure to read it out loud.

Every time you speak out loud in Japanese you are becoming more comfortable with the language. Reading aloud also helps new words and structures stick in your brain – especially if you’re an auditory learner.

Karaoke

A Japanese man wearing a suit holding a microphone in one hand and a beer in the other, singing karaoke. A Japanese woman, also in a suit, puts her fingers in her ears.

Not only is karaoke Japan’s national pastime, it’s also an awesome way to improve your Japanese speaking! 

By rehearsing a few Japanese karaoke tunes, you’ll improve your speed, intonation and accent – with the added bonus that it’s much easier to recall vocabulary and sentence structures when they’re set to music. 

Plus, the ability to belt out a karaoke song in fluent Japanese is an awesome party trick guaranteed to impress your friends! 

If you don’t already have a favourite Japanese song in mind, just head to YouTube and search カラオケ to get some ideas.

Here’s one classic to start you off: リンダ リンダ (Linda Linda) by The Blue Hearts!

Beginners might like to start with children’s songs, which tend to be slower and use simple vocabulary. The channel ボンボンアカデミー(Bom Bom Academy) is great because the songs all have the words onscreen in hiragana only.

If you really feel shy about singing, you can even just speak the lyrics along to the music for similar benefits. 

YouTube Japanese conversation practice videos

If you search on YouTube for ‘Japanese conversation practice’, you will find several videos which mimic a conversation by asking questions, giving you time to answer and then providing sample answers.

Here’s one led by adorable piece of sushi, Tanaka-san!

You can also use any interview or conversation style videos for speaking practice. Just pause the video after the interviewer asks the question, and answer it for yourself. Get your role-play on and pretend to be a celebrity. It’s great practice for responding to unexpected questions!

Audio lessons

Many Japanese audio courses and podcasts are designed to get you speaking. 

  • Pimsleur is the big daddy of the audio course world. They are a huge company in the language learning business who have perfected their methods over time. The course relies heavily on audio content. The focus is on getting you speaking, and the Pimsleur technique is said to be especially effective at fine-tuning your accent and intonation. You will be speaking out loud throughout each 30-minute audio lesson, by repeating what you hear, answering questions and participating in dialogues. (Full review.)
  • Michel Thomas. This course is like nothing else I’ve come across. It’s 100% audio (no reading or writing at all) and it works by getting you to build up sentences a little at a time from small building blocks, and showing you how to adapt that into new sentences. It is kind of limited in terms of vocabulary and grammatical explanations, but it’s unbelievably effective in getting you speaking confidently and constructing short sentences at the beginner level. (Full review.)
  • JapanesePod101 – this started as a podcast but now has a whole suite of tools on their website/app to teach reading, grammar and vocabulary alongside speaking and listening. The audio lessons are not as heavy on speaking as the above two courses, but the website/app has interactive features to help you improve your speaking and pronunciation by practising shadowing and recording your voice. (Full review.)
screenshot showing the Pimsleur Japanese app speak easy feature
A sample conversation on the Pimsleur app. You can listen and repeat line by line to review after each audio lesson.

Pronunciation study

Pronunciation, and its close cousin, pitch accent, typically aren’t given much time in standard Japanese courses. But it’s no good learning how to speak Japanese if nobody can understand you! Improving your pronunciation will help you speak Japanese more fluently, confidently and effectively. 

Luckily there are a couple of great online courses for self-learners to help you master your Japanese pronunciation:

Japanese Pronunciation for Communication course

A free online course offered by Waseda University, focusing on Japanese pronunciation, intonation and accent for effective communication.

Dogen’s pitch accent and pronunciation videos 

Dogen is an online Japanese teacher who specialises in the often-overlooked area of pitch accent. This is an area that you can easily study by yourself and it will make a big difference to your overall speaking. Start with his free playlist here, and if you want to go deeper, you can access his full Japanese Phonetics course on Patreon (paid resource). 

Find a language exchange partner for Japanese speaking practice

Two young students, one male one female, sitting at a desk covered in textbooks and pens, taking part in a language exchange. Finding a Japanese language exchange partner is one of the best ways to get Japanese conversation practice!

By far the best way to practise your Japanese speaking (in my opinion) is to meet real life Japanese people and just get chatting! 

Now, that’s easier said than done if you don’t live in Japan. But luckily, there’s a shortcut to making Japanese friends, and that’s looking for a language exchange partner. 

A language exchange is when you help someone with your native language in exchange for them helping you with theirs. So perhaps you go for coffee with a Japanese person and spend an hour chatting in Japanese, and an hour chatting in English.

You can also do language exchanges online, so luckily you can find Japanese language exchange partners wherever you live in the world.

In-person language exchanges

  • Conversation Exchange – search for in-person or online partners.
  • My Language Exchange – similar to above, you can find in-person or online exchanges.
  • Meetup – a large an active website for finding meetups of all kinds, not specifically for language exchanges – but you will find many language exchange groups and Japanese cultural activities if you live in a large city.
  • Amikumu – an app to connect with local language partners nearby.
  • Contact local universities, colleges or language schools. They often have a directory of people looking for language exchanges. Alternatively, you could put a notice on a notice board (perhaps in the EFL department).
  • If there are any Japanese community hubs such as Japanese shops, restaurants or cultural centres near you, they may have a notice board where you can find out about local Japanese events, or even pin up your own advert for language exchange. 

Apps and websites to find language partners online

  • Tandem – app and website to find language exchange partners. You can chat and send corrections through the app. Chat via text, voice or video call. Note: if you specifically want to practise your Japanese speaking, be sure to check that your potential partners are comfortable with video/voice calls, as many people prefer just to text. 
  • HelloTalk – similar to Tandem
  • iTalki – mostly for finding paid tutors but you can also find language exchange partners in the ‘Community’ section.
  • Language Exchange subreddit – a pretty active forum where you can post looking for an exchange partner, or search to see if any Japanese speakers have posted recently.  
  • Bilingua – uses an algorithm similar to dating sites to match potential partners based on interests. Provides suggested topics and questions to help the conversation along.
  • Mixxer – a free website offered by Dickinson College where you can find language partners to chat with via Skype, Zoom etc, and also post your writing samples for feedback.
Screenshot of the homepage of language exchange app HelloTalk

Now, I’ve done a lot of language exchanges in my time and some have been more successful than others! To help you get the most out of your language exchange, here are some quick tips:

  • Discuss your expectations upfront. Perhaps you are looking for general conversation, but your partner wants you to help with their homework or work through a textbook? Do you want your partner to correct every mistake or just let you talk freely?
  • Agree how long you will chat in each language and perhaps set a timer. In a good exchange, both partners get equal time speaking their target language.
  • Prepare a list of conversation topics/questions in case the conversation dries up. 

Hire a Japanese tutor

If you have the cash to spare, by far the most effective way to improve your Japanese speaking is to hire a tutor for Japanese conversation practice. There are many websites where you can find tutors online for lessons via Zoom, Facetime or your platform of choice.

And it’s probably more affordable than you think – most tutors charge less for general conversation practice than for textbook-based lessons or exam prep. You can find conversation lessons with native tutors from as little as $4.

italki

italki
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Find native Japanese tutors for 1-on-1 private online lessons or conversation practice.

Pros:
  • 100s of teachers to choose from, with various specialisms and price ranges
  • Easy online scheduling to suit you
  • $10 free credit with our link
Cons:
  • No free trial
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italki is the biggest and probably the best hub to find a Japanese tutor online. At the time of writing there are over 1,100 Japanese tutors to pick from! 

You can search by specialism such as conversation, business Japanese, JLPT prep, and so on. There are two types of teacher: ‘Professional Teacher’ (who have to submit proof of their qualifications and experience) and ‘Community Tutors’ (anyone can apply). If you only need Japanese conversation practice, I recommend going with a Community Tutor as they tend to be cheaper!

Tutors set their own prices and pick their own hours, so you are bound to find someone to suit you. 

It’s very easy to use. You can see tutors’ availability based on your own timezone, and you can book a session instantly online. Each teacher has a short video introduction uploaded, so you can get an idea of their speaking style before you book.

Screenshot from the website italki, showing two different online Japanese tutors available to book for Japanese conversation practice

Prices generally start from around $10 per hour, but most offer greatly reduced rates for trial lessons. 

There is no obligation to book more than one lesson, so you can try several tutors until you find one you click with – or even just book a one-off session as a refresher.

Here are some other sites for finding Japanese teachers online. Please note I don’t have experience with these myself:

  • JapaTalk – specialised in Japanese and hires native Japanese speakers only. Very affordable  – the average lesson price is apparently 500 yen (around $4)!
  • Preply – similar to italki

How do you get your Japanese speaking practice?

Which of these resources have you found helpful? Do you know any other ways to get Japanese speaking and conversation practice? Please share your tips in the comments below to help out other learners!

Related posts

While you’re here, check out my other posts full of free and affordable resources to learn Japanese:

Here's how to get effective Japanese speaking practice - even if you study alone! From websites and apps to affordable private tutors and free language exchanges, you'll be speaking Japanese in no time.

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Rebecca Shiraishi-Miles

Rebecca is the founder of Team Japanese. She spent two years teaching English in Ehime, Japan. Now back in the UK, she spends her time blogging, self-studying Japanese and wrangling a very genki toddler.

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