Finding English-Speaking Friends
If you are really serious about becoming a good English speaker you will want to meet people you can speak to in English. Here are some ideas.
1. Where to Go
There are clubs like the Sophia English-Speaking Club, whose main purpose is to speak English, and clubs like the International Students Exchange Club, which involve the use of English as a by-product. There are chances to act plays in English, conduct debates in English and so on.
The British Council
Take the west exit from Iidabashi station, and go in the Yotsuya-Shinjuku direction for about two hundred metres. The British Council is on your right; you can see it clearly from the JR line if you approach Iidabashi from Yotsuya. As well as being a language school, the British Council has a library and a lot of English language materials. It is also a place where people interested in English often gather. Membership costs 4000 yen a year, and gives special privileges, but non-members can enter and use the library, etc.
International Coffee Shops, etc.
There are some very useful English-language publications that advertise events and places in Tokyo for foreigners. The Tokyo Journal and the Hiragana Times are two of the best. From these you can get information about coffee shops and other venues where Japanese people who want to meet foreigners go to meet foreigners who want to meet Japanese people(if you see what I mean!).
2. How to Go
Meeting people is a social activity. It is important to approach it with the right attitude. No one likes to feel used, and if someone came up to me for no other reason than to get a bit of free English-language practice I would feel a little bit irritated. As in all social encounters, put the other person first and do a bit of give and take. For example, if the other person wants to speak in Japanese, let them - and be so kind as to answer in Japanese, too; perhaps they came to Japan to study Japanese culture, not to speak English! If you put friendship first and language practice second you will be more likely to get both.
Another important point is that you don't need a native speaker to be able to practise English. Students are often surprised to find that it is sometimes easier to strike up an English-language friendship with someone from China, or Germany, or some other non-English speaking country. It is even possible to come to an agreement with a Japanese friend to speak English together from time to time (once a week, perhaps, over lunch).
Occasionally students say, 'I want to practise with a native speaker because I want to learn correct English,' but in the end that is just an excuse. I learned French by practising with other English people, so I know it can be done! Also, English is more important in the world as a second language than as a native tongue. Germans communicate with French people using English; India (which has over a hundred native languages) uses English to communicate between different language groups; members of two Asian countries are more likely to communicate in English than in one of their own languages, etc. And if you do hear a non-native speaker use some English that you are not sure about, you can always use a dictionary, or ask your teacher.
3. Talk to Yourself!
It may seem strange, but if you really want to practise English 24 hours a day, you don't really need to meet anyone - except yourself!! Try talking to yourself in English when you are on the train, or in the bath, or cooking a meal, or shopping. You don't have to talk out loud; just talk to yourself inside your head. Or you can imagine you are talking to another person, telling that person what you are doing, what you are thinking about, what your plans are, etc. No one can stop you from thinking in English, and if you really want to be good at the language, that is what you need to do! If you frequently think in English, then when you try to speak the words will come naturally. If you never think in English you will never be a fluent English speaker. You will know when this is starting to work when you have your first dream in English!
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