Mark Smith's Japanese language is excellent. He has lived in Japan for 12 years and his family are Japanese.
My story is very different. I learnt Japanese at high school for 5 years. I'll admit that wasn't really a very productive time.
I then spent 4 years learning Japanese at University. My overwhelming memory of those classses is one of fear. I know I'm not alone in that feeling. Sure part of that was age and inexperience, but when I look back, fundamentally I was afraid of looking stupid.
I have an intermediate understanding of the textbook formal Japanese I've been taught over the years.
We all know we need to speak Japanese to learn Japanese. So in the years since I have always taken the opportunity to speak to Japanese people in Japan, Japanese friends who visit New Zealand, or even random Japanese people on the chairlift at the ski field!
I've always been keen to improve my Japanese language skills, but have always struggled to find out how.
So where can you find Japanese language exchange?
- Advertise in the paper. It can be such a hassle arranging to meet up with a stranger to have a stilted and awkward conversation. Particularly if they just want to improve their English. Never mind filtering out the people who are looking for more than language exchange SJF SWM!
- Pen Pals. Essentially no better than a textbook without the explanatory notes!
- Formal lessons. If this is a class, then you end up practicing Japanese with other students, not native speakers!
- Japanese shops, taxis and cafes. Good luck!
- Online language sites or audio tapes. These can be ok. But eventually the downloaded audio files get stale and boring. They aren't conversations, they are speeches.
What about a Japanese language exchange program?
I'm thrilled to be involved with the Blackbelt Japanese project. I find the engine so exciting, I feel like I'm chatting to a real Japanese speaker through Skype or instant messaging. I get to try conversations again and again. I get to vary the path the conversation takes as I get more confident and natural with my replies.
This is the best, most natural language exchange I've ever come across.
I don't feel stupid.
I don't feel afraid.
I don't feel awkward.
I feel motivated and keen to practice Japanese!
(Andrew is one of the Surefire Design partners and one of the key people behind Blackbelt Japanese).