You would love your Japanese to sound more natural. To do this you continually try to overcome that slow beginner Japanese. You want to kick ass. You want to talk like Abe Hiroshi (my hero) or Kitagawa Keiko (super popular and beautiful actress).
When you first start talking in Japanese it will be incredibly slow. It should be. This prevents you from making mistakes that stick with you. You will probably pause a lot, sound awkward, and take time to get to what you are actually saying.
The obvious goal is to talk faster. However this leads to a fatal error. People studying Japanese assume: If you can talk faster you sound more natural. But it is actually the opposite.
The problem starts when you first start studying Japanese. Everything sounds fast to you. You have a difficult time following the pace of a conversation. You have an even more difficult time talking at a normal pace. You watch Japanese videos and you notice that men talk fast and women talk faster. You begin to assume that to sound more natural, you must talk faster.
This is not completely wrong. If you are talking like わーーたーしはがーーくせいーでーーすー, you are probably talking too slow.
Japanese is not a fast language.
English is a very fast language. American English is even faster. However, your native language doesn’t sound fast to you.
Until your Japanese reaches a higher level, Japanese sounds very fast. The lower the level you are, the faster it sounds. As you improve, the language starts to sound slower. This is an illusion. You are merely able to keep up better.
It will be quite a shock when you’ve raised your Japanese to a considerable level, and then are told by a Japanese person, “Your Japanese is too fast. It doesn’t sound natural.” What?! I’ve worked so hard to improve the speed of my Japanese, and now you are telling me it sounds too fast!? You guys speak fast, I was just trying to match you.
What causes this crazy phenomenon?
You overcompensate with speed because it is an important goal to pick up the speed of your Japanese in the beginning. Unfortunately, this feeling tends to stay with you too long. You eventually stop noticing it, and it starts to feel natural to speak fast. You become more fluent, and it no longer feels fast, similar to the way that when you speak in your native language, it doesn’t feel fast.
Who does this affect?
You may be thinking that you only have to worry about this once your level rises. Since you are talking slow in the beginning levels, there is no fear of talking too fast. This is not true. Just because your overall Japanese is still sluggish doesn’t mean some phrases you’ve used over and over again are not. For example, you probably know introductions quite well. So you may end up introducing yourself in super fast Japanese, feeling proud that at least some things you can say very fast. Problem!
It affects higher levels more, since everything you say will be fast.
What do you do?
Slow down! Of course it isn’t that simple since you’ve already developed a habit. You’d think that slowing down from talking fast would be easier than speeding up when you talk slow, but it is not. You will have to make a conscious effort to slow down your pace.
Do not become an unnatural fluent Japanese speaker
You’ve put so much time and work into your Japanese. You’ve made it to the World Cup, don’t start playing with your hands. I’ve heard a number of fluent Japanese speakers who don’t have natural Japanese. I personally have dealt with this problem. In the about area of this website, notice I list myself as fluent (level 65+), but not as native (level 80+). One of the areas that I need to improve on is decreasing my talking speed.
Do not push this issue off. I think that if you keep this in mind as you progress from the beginning, you won’t have to deal with it later on like I and others have.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.