I have been living in Japan for 11 years and my mastery of the language is quite bad. I cannot hold a conversation and don't understand much of what I hear. So what has gone wrong and how can we fix it?
Learning Japanese takes a great deal of effort for an English speaker since it is one of the most different languages to English. The way to say things is back to front compared to English and Japanese words (using Kanji) have no relation to English.
The Kanji writing system uses 1000's of complex characters that convey meaning rather than the sounds of words. And the many loan words taken from English are constructed from Japanese syllables that change the pronunciation to a unique version of English only used by Japanese people.
Unless Japanese people have studied or travelled overseas, they do not easily understand English speakers saying the loan words unless they are pronounced in the Japanese style. Even your name is converted to Japanese sounding syllables.
Learning loan words is fairly easy as long as you remember that they are based on American English. But writing a name is difficult because the correct combination of Katakana writing is needed. And the most difficult part is matching a compound Katakana sound to the way a Japanese person interprets the sound of a name.
So for loan words I think that it's not worth the effort of mastering how to write them in Japanese, but being able to write your own name is useful. And of course getting familiar with common loan words is useful. For European people we need to remember the American version of things like trousers, aubergine, courgette etc.
Another difficulty in mastering Japanese is people either use casual language or very polite language so they don't use words that you learn in a beginners class. This is how it has gone wrong for me I think since I am always at the beginner level or book 1 of a course.
I think that the way forward is to collect together stock sentences that fit common situations. Then practice and review them regularly until it becomes effortless to use them in everyday situations. Then, gradually fill in the gaps with extra vocabulary etc.
To make this process most efficient, prepare in advance for likely situations that you expect to encounter in the near future. This saves wasting time learning things that you are unlikely to use.
So, I think by writing this post I have developed an idea for a good strategy to get out of the fumbling beginner zone of mastering Japanese.