Do you usually practise out loud when you study Japanese?
If you want to get to speak more natural Japanese, it's very important to get into the habit of speaking out loud as you practise. However, that isn't to say that you should just read aloud a textbook, or practice conversation, and just leave it at that.
First, you should listen to an example very carefully. Pay attention not only to the pronunciation, but also to things like the tempo of the spoken language, intonation, accents and pauses.
Next, it's important that you have a listen to your own spoken Japanese. When you say something, listen carefully to your own voice and check where it differs from the model conversation.
Here at NIHONGO e な we introduce lots of websites where you can do conversation practice. In this article we'll look at how to use the site "Real World" Japanese (Introduction article) in order to practise how to speak Japanese more naturally. ("Real World" Japanese is part of Online Japanese (Introduction article))
In "Real World" Japanese, you'll find various conversations and different situations.
First, choose the situation you find most familiar.
As an example, we'll try choosing scene 01, about going to a Japanese friend's house for a meal.
Try listening to the conversation from start to finish.
Now, try practising.
Listen a number of times over, until you can remember the conversation.
When you have memorised the lines, stop the audio and repeat the lines, or try speaking along with the audio as it plays.
Did you notice all the different aspects of the speech? Short sounds, long sounds, gaps between sentences, intonation - these are all important things to note. Listen to your own way of speaking and check how you sound... Why not record your own speech and play it back - you'll be able to hear clearly just how you compare to the model example!
Since the conversations are short, they're easy to remember.
Once you finish steps ①～③, hide the script display and try speaking alongside the Japanese audio again.
You'll be performing both roles, so try and step into character for both!
How did you find it?
If you found it easy, try choosing some longer scenes, and practice to your heart's content.
So you don't forget the conversation you went to all that trouble to memorise, why not keep practising to yourself whenever you can find the time - in the shower, in the toilet, or when you're tucked up in bed!
We have another "e! Kore" article along similar lines, called Conversation practice you can do alone: Lang Media/Japanese in Japan.
Also, to help you further develop a natural communication-style, there are websites out there where you can practice 'aizuchi' (short responses during a conversation to show that you are listening to your partner). Try taking a look at Aizuchi (back-channeling): A key to smooth conversation (Introduction article)!