【For Foreigners Working in Japan】How to Improve Your Japanese Speaking

Japanese speaking is a very important skill for foreigners working in Japan. Because in many companies except for foreign-affiliated companies and a few others, their official language is Japanese. Even in jobs you do not deal with Japanese people outside the company such as software engineering, minimal Japanese is needed for the internal communication. You may think that living in Japan will automatically improve your Japanese speaking skills, but some jobs do not have many chances to speak Japanese. In this article, we will introduce three methods to improve your Japanese speaking (conversation) skills that you can use in Japanese business scenes.

1. Shadowing

Not all the foreigners living in Japan can speak with Japanese people on a regular basis. Therefore, it is important to practice speaking on your own. As the first step to practice speaking on your own, we recommend “shadowing”. Shadowing is a form of training in which you imitate and recite the Japanese voice after listening. When it comes to speaking, shadowing is especially an effective way to train your intonation and pronunciation. In addition, shadowing is useful for improving your listening skills and increasing your vocabulary.

Detailed methods are as follows.

  1. Try to vocalize at almost the same time as you hear the audio without looking at the text. You need to speak as soon as possible, and the maximum delay should be about 0.2 seconds. Try to speak with the same pronunciation and intonation as the audio data. If this is difficult, you can start your practice by pausing at each sentence.
  2. If there are words that you don’t understand, check them with the text.
  3. Play the same audio data and practice 3 to 5 times.。

Voice data for shadowing can be obtained from any materials such as Japanese textbooks, movies and dramas, and Japanese news. Movies and dramas are especially recommended because their conversations are close to those in real life, so why not choose a movie or a drama you like and practice it. You can also find free shadowing audio clips on YouTube, so you can easily try.

2. Answering the question on the Japanese question list

In shadowing, you can acquire Japanese way of speaking and intonation. However, since they are just impersonations, you cannot expect to improve your ability to establish your own sentences. To be able to speak Japanese on various occasions flexibly depending on the situation, it is recommended to think and speak out your own answer by using a Japanese question list.

Detailed methods are as follows.

  1. Choose any question from the question list, speak it out loud, and record your answer. It is important to answer and express in Japanese on the spot, not preparing in advance.
  2. If you cannot answer properly, it is possible that you have tasks either 1) you can answer in your native language but cannot express well in Japanese or 2) you cannot express well even in your native language in the first place. As a solution, look up Japanese expressions in case (1) and conduct self-analysis in case (2).
  3. Check your recorded answers and take notes on any phrases and pronunciations that seem unnatural. If you have friends or Japanese teachers who can support you, ask them to point out the mistakes in the recording.
  4. Repeat 1 to 3 and improve your answers.

If you want to improve your speaking skills for job-seeking, career change, or business scenes, try practicing with a list of interview questions. You can also refer to mock Japanese interview videos for foreigners that are uploaded on YouTube.

If you want to improve your speaking skills not only in business scenes but also in your personal life, we recommend question lists related to life and living.

3. Create occasions to speak Japanese

Speaking by yourself can establish the basics of your speaking. However, in order to improve more natural speaking skills, it is also important to find someone to speak with and learn through actual experiences.

As a first step, you can join meals or drinks with your Japanese colleagues to increase your chances of chatting in Japanese. If you cannot drink alcohol, you don’t need to worry because in Japan, a drinking party is a place where you can chat over a meal. Drinking parties will give you a chance not only to speak while not being able to speak at work, but also to communicate with colleagues from other divisions, if the drinking party is cross divisional. In addition, there will be no effect on your work if you cannot speak well at a drinking party. You can rather think that you will have a chance to learn Japanese, so try to increase your chance of conversation.

Secondly, speak as much as possible at the meetings and briefings. It is recommended that you become a meeting facilitator, who is in charge of the meeting. Facilitators tend to use standardized phrases, so you can do preparation,  such as thinking of questions you are going to ask. In addition, it can be a good practice for you as you will need to be flexible and adoptable during the meeting. If you feel awkward speaking in front of your client, practice at an internal meeting first.

For those who just began their work in Japan, there are not so many chances to give presentations in Japanese at work. Therefore, if you have a chance to give a presentation, you need to prepare thoroughly and ask your colleagues to listen to your presentation and give you feedback before the actual presentation. It is recommended that you utilize your chance of presentation by asking feedback from your colleagues after the actual presentation is over.

It is also important to create an environment where you can speak with Japanese people outside of work, because you can learn words and phrases spoken by Japanese people whose backgrounds are totally different from those of your colleagues. For example, there are various ways to do this such as living in a shared house with Japanese, making Japanese friends in restaurants in your neighborhood, participating in international communication events, and making friends of mutual interests through SNS. It will also be effective to have one-on-one Japanese lessons outside of your work.


To improve your Japanese speaking skills, you need to approach from various perspectives other than pronunciation such as intonation, fluency and grammar. In addition, there are differences between speaking in business scenes and in personal situations, and between speaking to an elder person and to a junior person. You need a long period of training to acquire the native-like pronunciations and intonations. To achieve this goal, you can start by improving your proper grammar usage and fluency which make it easier to see the result and increase your motivation. Improve your speaking skills by using the practice methods introduced in this article.

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