Most people find speaking to be the hardest practice to get, especially when you don’t live in Japan. There is also an issue that if you speak too much in the beginning when your Japanese is still improving, you reinforce errors that go uncorrected.
The idea of reading out loud is nothing new. You’ve probably tried it before with textbooks and listening tapes, and it brought back dull memories of elementary school and junior high. However, I find that if you slightly tune your mindset, you can make it quite an enjoyable experience. And since you are reading, rather than formulating your own speaking, for the most part, you are reinforcing natural Japanese.
Pretend you are acting out the characters
You’ve gotta put emotion into it and put yourself into the characters. Try to pick actors that you’ve seen off of movies or TV shows that you think might be a good match for the characters, and then mimic their speaking style. This is one of the reasons why I like characters in books that speak in Osaka dialect. It gives me a chance to act out some of my favorite crazy comedians.
Things to watch out for
– If you don’t know how to pronounce a word or kanji, don’t read it out loud. Just skip it. Depending on your level, you may be doing this a lot. Surprisingly, skipping doesn’t get in the way of having fun.
– Choose books with more dialogue and less description. While I usually read out loud all the text in between dialogue to keep the flow, pretending it is a narrative, books that have too much description tend to make reading out loud boring. This is good news for manga fans, because as you probably already know, manga contains zero description.
– Make it a habit. When you first start, you’ll tend to want to switch back to just reading in your head. It takes a few days/weeks to get into the habit of it feeling natural and comfortable to be reading out loud. Don’t give up until you get to that point.
– While this method works well, it only does so in short spurts. Reading out loud is tiring after a while. Regardless if you are enjoying it at first, in 30-40 minutes you will have probably tired yourself out.
And who knows, you may enjoy it so much and get so good at it that you will one day be auditioning for a role in a Japanese movie (I would like credit for this).