So, I’ve been studying Japanese since approximately 2001 and unfortunately can really not call myself more than conversationally fluent.
Lately it is difficult remembering kanji and I haven’t really spoken to anyone in Japanese since my friend Naomi was visiting – and at that point we were speaking an interesting half-Japanese, half-English hybrid.
Here’s kind of an example of how Alex and I sometimes talk to each other:
“I think if I were in Japan for six months my *nihongo would be pretty **jyouzu. ***Ne?”
***Don’t you think so?
Which is most likely true. Part of the problem is that I am extremely comfortable being informal in Japanese – sometimes extremely informal – since my friends and I joke around a lot.
Also, most of my friends live in the Kansai region, so I tend to throw in メッチャ instead of とても which means there is about a 50/50 chance of me saying something in colloquial Kansai-ben mixed with standard Tokyo-ben which just sounds totally weird.
Another thing about my awesome version of Japanese is that I try to speak at a normal rate and do not like to speak slowly at all or even think about what I am saying if it means that I have to speak slowly. Which means that whichever verb form pops into my head first is the one that I will likely use.
Approximate translation of what this probably sounds like to the cultured speaker of Japanese:
Teacher: Miss Nancy, are you faring well today?
Me: Hell yeah, I’m doing just fine! How ’bout you?
But sometimes I have the opposite problem, of being perhaps too formal, like when I order at McDonald’s at the airport.
Me: Pardon me…Won’t you please give me the cheeseburger meal?
Cashier: Okay. That’ll be 500 yen.
I can’t win! It’s because I can think about what I’m going to order for five minutes and then plan what I am going to say accordingly… but when people ask me things conversationally I just say whatever comes to mind.