Sounding more natural when speaking Japanese
There are many parts of sounding natural when speaking Japanese, but usually the most important thing is word choice and phrasing your ideas in a natural way.
This can be practiced simply by hitting the Study Now button with NativShark, along with using extra time study time copying the audio in Dialogues, reviews, etc. every now and then.
What is speaking naturally?
I know when I (Ty) hear the phrase “speaking naturally”, it’s 99.9% of the time followed by a discussion on pitch accent* and how to learn that.
*Pitch accent is basically how your voice(pitch) moves up and down when speaking Japanese. This is different from English, which has a stress accent that effects the volume(stress) of your voice instead of the pitch.
While practicing pitch accent is definitely a part of sounding more natural, there is something that is much more valuable than this:
Think about someone you know who speaks English as a second language.
Maybe they’ve lived surrounded by English for a long time and all of their ideas are very well-expressed, and the way they phrase them is very natural. There’s no weirdness to their grammar, and they even use slang when appropriate.
Now, stop and think about their accent.
If they’re strong enough of a speaker, you might not have deeply considered their accent before, beyond noticing that it isn’t the same as yours.
Now, if they’re clearly a beginner and can’t form fully functional sentences or get their idea across consistently, you might have struggled to understand exactly what they were getting at. Perhaps at that point you also thought about their accent, but the confusing sentences they were saying were more likely at the forefront of your mind.
That’s because having good phrasing and word choice which is appropriate for the situation gives you the ability to communicate clearly because you’re speaking in a way that is easy to understand.
It’s the key to sounding more natural.
Pitch accent and pronunciation
We definitely aren’t saying that you shouldn’t focus to your heart’s content on pitch accent and pronunciation. These can be helpful to increasing how natural you sound as well. In fact, we do cover these topics throughout NativShark.
But to give my own experience, I recently met someone who has lived in Japan for 14 years and his Japanese was awesome.
Even though I think my pitch accent was “better” than his, he had me beat in naturally phrasing his ideas. Because of this, he was able to communicate more effectively with the Japanese people around us.
And because he was more easily and readily understood, I would argue that his Japanese was more natural than mine.
Anyway, now that we know the key factors to help us speak more naturally…
How do I speak more naturally?
There’s plenty of methods. The widest method is “get more exposure to natural Japanese in context”.
NativShark has you covered with this aspect, but it will always be a good thing to dive into native materials and find speaking partners to help this along as well.
A more narrow method could be shadowing (listening, repeating, and trying to copy the audio) in NativShark.
Because the sentence comes from NativShark, you will know what context the sentence is natural in, and our native speakers are instructed to say it how they would in real life. So you have the natural phrasing, the pitch accent, and the pronunciation in there in one nice bundle.
You can shadow however often you feel like it. If you have extra study time, maybe go through a few Dialogues and just try to copy them.
If you find yourself struggling to copy the speed, intonation, pronunciation, or anything else that the speaker is saying, I find it very helpful to get my phone out, record myself*, and listen back. It helps me more easily recognize where I’m going wrong and where I can start to adjust.
*Recording makes a surprising amount of different so I really recommend trying it at least once. But doing it every day will probably cause burnout so be sure to go at your own pace^^
If you don’t feel like recording and trying to copy, that’s okay too. Being exposed to natural Japanese will help you either way so feel free to mix and match, and keep in mind that all of this will come with time, consistency, and a bit of attention and awareness mixed in every now and then.