For quite a while now, I've been thinking about how I can go from intermediate to fluent. As is quite common for learners like me, speaking skills lag way behind. Nobody knows how much actual knowledge I have in my head, so they can only evaluate my Japanese by listening to me speak.
Some people are quite lenient. They recognize that I have a high degree of understanding. Other people seem to think that my speaking skill is the mirror image of my knowledge of the language. And I've always known that if I could speak as well I understand, then things would be alright.
I now know without a doubt what I can do to bring my speaking ability up. I need to stop using English as my thinking language and start using only Japanese to think. I once tried to do this about 4 or 5 years ago but I was so limited that I couldn't complete my thoughts and it hurt to not be able to think. But now I have sufficient knowledge and I need to put it into practice. Once I get used to thinking in Japanese and make it a natural habit that I don't have to force upon myself, then I will really be able to speak the language.
About 3 years ago, I met a Chinese guy at a volunteer Japanese class. We were working with the same tutor that day. I was still studying for Level 2 of the JLPT. He had already passed it and was studying for Level 1. He had been in Japan for a year longer than I. His Japanese ability was unbelievable. His pronunciation sounded native-like. He spoke so easily. We were asked what language we usually think in. His answer was "Japanese."