I think a lot of my students know already, but my hobby is learning Japanese! I lived in Japan for two years, and I think one of my biggest regrets is not learning how to speak Japanese fluently. I remember, when I first went to Japan, I thought it would be easy to learn the language because I had been to other places before, and I had quickly learned the local language. For example, when I was 17, I went to Quebec for six weeks, and by the end of six weeks, I couldn't stop speaking French!
Why, then, can't I speak Japanese? I think the main reason why I didn't learn how to speak Japanese while I was in Japan is because most of my friends spoke English. I had a lot of American friends, and naturally we spoke English together. Also, I only spoke English with my Japanese friends as well! As a result, after two years, I hardly spoke any Japanese. In contrast, whenever I go to Quebec, I speak French all the time. In fact, I even speak French with a lot of my English speaking friends. When I lived in Quebec the first time, I went to college for a six week French program, and we were forbidden from speaking English. As you can imagine, I soon learned how to at least communicate.
Anyway, now that I am finished my PhD, I really want to work on my Japanese again. I go to Japanese school every Friday night for two hours, and I have a Japanese tutor who comes to my house for two hours a week. On top of all of that, my friends and I have have just started a new activity. Once a week, we meet in a cafe and we only speak Japanese for half an hour. We call it Nihongo Half Hour. I came up with the idea because I'm always telling my students they need to practice speaking their English more. However, they always complain that they don't have any native English speaking friends to practice with. No problem! Practice with each other!! Anyway, I decided to talk my own language learning advice to heart, and now we are doing Nihongo Half Hour. It's hard! Our conversations are really basic - mostly we just talk about our hobbies and food, but for 30 minutes, it's nothing but Japanese. After the 30 minutes are over, I think some of us are relieved! However, we do it, and I think we are getting more fluent in Japanese. I totally recommend my students do the same thing in English. I hope they can find a coffee shop that they like, and time themselves for 30 minutes so that they only speak English for half an hour. If I can do it in Japanese my English speaking friends, they can do it in English with their non-native English speaking friends!