The Winner’s Guide to Online Japanese Lessons
You’re a winner.
You know you need take your Japanese to the next level.
And since you’re a winner, you already know that you need some help from native speakers to do that.
So what’s keeping you from fitting online Japanese lessons into your schedule?
I can think of a whole list of things. For one, there’s that pile of laundry that’s been building in the bedroom (I think it’s grown legs by now)—and have you seen that cute cat video on YouTube?
If you’re like me—swamped with schoolwork and on a seven-ramen diet (ramen, seven days a week)—then turn back now because after reading this article, you’ll discover that there’s no excuse not jump on the online lesson bandwagon.
The Winner’s Guide to Online Japanese Lessons
The Best Websites for Japanese Lessons
Is it your dream to learn foreign languages from actual native speakers? If this is your ideal way of learning new languages, then Verbling might be for you.
Verbling is all about online language learning. You’ll be able to explore hundreds upon hundreds of language teachers and find exactly the one who’s right for you. When you search, you’ll get to search based on prices, availability and even the other languages they speak—so if your native language is Chinese or Spanish, you might be able to find a Japanese teacher to teach you in that language.
You can take the plunge and explore Verbling's entire language learning community through their forums and postings.
Plus, the technology here makes accessing tutoring sessions extra smooth! You don’t need Skype or another third-party program. It’s all here!
CafeTalk is an online tutoring service that offers students a wide variety of language, culture and lifestyle lessons, including Japanese classes. Since almost anyone can sign up to tutor on CafeTalk, there’s never a shortage of language teachers. While that also means that your language instructor might not be a certified teacher, CafeTalk does screen its applicants and offers transparency so students may see which teachers are popular and offer quality lessons.
Each tutor on CafeTalk offers different lessons like “Casual Conversation Practice,” or “JLPT Prep.” The lessons are fully customizable to each student. Students can interact privately with their teachers through a private messaging system before and after lessons, and teachers can submit lesson material as well.
The lessons themselves are one-to-one and are held on Skype, which means you can take a class on your phone, tablet, and/or computer! After the lessons, you can rate the quality of your class for others to see!
What’s great about CafeTalk is its flexibility. CafeTalk allows its teachers to create their own lessons, schedules and prices, which means there should be a teacher that can meet your requirements whether you’re on a tight budget, or can only squeeze in a class at 2AM.
If you’re ever feeling unmotivated, you can even take a Japanese cooking lesson (try taking one in Japanese!) or an 生け花 (いけばな, flower arrangement) class!
Another popular online language-learning service is italki. The online service combines a lot of amazing (and free) features for language learners. One of the most noteworthy is italki’s “Community”. Users can write journals in the language they’re learning, and have their sentences corrected by native speakers.
Students have the choice to take an informal lesson (with screened tutors), or a lesson with a professional language teacher. Lesson material, schedules, and prices vary from teacher to teacher, but each lesson can be customized to meet individual student’s needs.
Just like CafeTalk, students and teachers will meet on Skype for lessons (which means if you have a smart phone, you could essentially take a 30-minute lesson in your break room!). You can also interact with your teacher through a private messaging system before and after lessons.
After each lesson, a student can write a review of their teacher for other students to see, and a teacher can evaluate a student and recommend what to work on for the next lesson.
Fuji Online School offers professional, one-on-one online lessons for Japanese learners. All of Fuji’s classes are run by professionally certified teachers, and students can browse teacher profiles and select which instructor they’d like to have a class with.
Fuji Online School has a fixed fee, and follows its own curriculum. Each course (except for advanced lessons) requires a textbook. Since each lesson is one-on-one, there’s room for flexibility. Fuji hosts classes at set times, so make sure to check their timetable to see if they meet your schedule.
What stands out about Fuji is its virtual chatroom, where students can (at designated times) chat with teachers about any given topic. You can also talk with fellow students, even when a teacher is unavailable. It’s a great way to exercise your language skills (or not) without the pressure of being in a class setting. Formal lessons with your teacher, however, will be hosted on Skype.
Japanese Live offers two kinds of online classes: Japanese Language Lessons, and Japanese Culture Classes. Courses are predetermined, but there are a ton of language classes to choose from including “Manga/Anime Expressions,” “Contemporary Entertainment,” “Traditional Arts” and “Social Life.” Japanese Live tries to cater to every student, so if they don’t offer a course you’d like, simply contact them and see what can be done.
Lessons are one-to-one with a professional teacher. Students can select their teacher before meeting on Skype. Japanese Live’s teachers are available at all different times of the day, so your timezone shouldn’t be a problem. Most of the teachers on Japanese Live are at least bilingual, and all of Japanese Live’s teachers have over 400 hours of language teacher training.
Although classes come at a fixed rate using a ticket system (where a student buys tickets, and exchanges the tickets for classes), however tickets can be used interchangeably for Japanese language lessons and culture classes.
Although it’s not a platform that allows you to have online classes with professional teachers, FluentU can also provide you with some native-level language lessons.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
3 Ways to Find the Perfect Teacher
1. Think About How You’ll Communicate
If you’re a beginner then it’s especially important to determine if you’ll be able to communicate efficiently with your teacher before your lesson. Can they explain how to conjugate adjectives in your native language? Will you be able to ask questions about the new vocabulary introduced?
Likewise, if you can communicate well in Japanese then a tutor who only speaks Japanese might be just what you need to stay motivated and prevent yourself from switching into your native language when constructing challenging sentence structures.
2. Consider Gender, Age and Hobbies
“Oh my gosh—that show was so funny! I can’t even!”
I nearly cringed when these words came out of my boyfriend’s mouth. He had been learning English from me, and as a consequence, he picked up some of my not-so-admirable speech patterns. As language learners, we mimic others to learn. Your teacher will absolutely influence the way you talk.
Japanese has many forms of formality, which will affect how you’ll address a person, or even your word choice. Similarly, guys and girls tend to use very distinct and very different speech patterns in conversation. Keeping levels of politeness and speech patterns in mind can help you choose an appropriate tutor. My tutor (who’s the same age but a different gender) speaks casually to me, but uses a very different speech pattern. This is great practice when I want to exercise my informal conversation skills, but it makes it difficult to learn how someone of my gender might phrase something.
Another way to help narrow down your choice of tutors is to consider your learning objective. If you’re going to be using lots of Japanese for, let’s say, work, then find a tutor who will teach you work-appropriate lingo (normal-polite and humble speech). You don’t want to greet your boss with, “Whazzup?” on your first day at the office, right?
If age and gender don’t matter to you, then look for hobbies or other factors about your tutor that interest you. Maybe you both share a love of instagraming Sunday brunch, or there might be the possibility that you and your tutor share the same fandom. Perhaps you’re interested in moving to Kobe and—what a coincidence—your tutor lives in Kobe!
Remember, tutors can teach you more than just a language. They’re your portal into different cultures as well!
3. Read Peer Reviews
Teachers are people too! Like everyone else, they have their strengths and weaknesses. One of the most important things to look for in a teacher is for someone who will make you feel relaxed during your lessons. Some of us might want a teacher who can introduce a lot of new grammar in a way that’s easy to remember, while others might prefer a teacher who’ll correct any grammar mistakes. How can you tell that your tutor is going to do these things?
Until you meet the teacher yourself, you can’t fully judge how well you’ll get along or the quality of their lesson, but you can help narrow your selection of teachers with peer reviews. Both CafeTalk and iTalki offer peer-written reviews about teachers by their previous students. Many of these will judge things like if the teacher can explain difficult concepts, if they were easy to get along with, and how good a follow-up lesson was.
How to Choose the Right Lesson
All lessons look good, don’t they? How are you going to decide between learning slang in the Osaka-dialect, or practicing advanced sentence patterns?
Here’s the good news: Your first lesson with your tutor will usually be a trial lesson, which will help determine what kind of lesson you should focus on in the future. It’s also a tutor’s job to look for the strengths and weaknesses of their students, so after your first lesson together, your tutor will be able to suggest a promising lesson to choose for next time.
You can also take a moment to focus on your objective. What are you planning to use Japanese for and why? What are your strengths (e.g., using colloquial expressions flawlessly) and your weaknesses (e.g., conjugating verbs)? Then, try and identify which learning style works best for you, and which lessons are designed to support that learning style.
Pay attention during your first lesson or trial lesson. Are you struggling with pronunciation, or do you keep using the wrong particle? These factors will help you select your next lesson as well. Maybe you thought you needed those anime-related vocabulary classes, when you’re really boost your conversation skills by practicing essential grammar.
5 Techniques to Ace Your Self-introduction
As mentioned before, most lessons will start with a trial or introduction lesson. This is a great way to introduce yourself, get to know a bit about your teacher, and get a sample of the lesson style and material that your teacher has to offer.
To ease into conversation and avoid any awkward silences, try the following techniques:
- Introduce Yourself
- Discuss Hobbies and Interests
- Get Acquainted with Your Teacher
- Embrace Ice Breakers
- Express Your Goals
1. Introduce Yourself
A self-introduction is called a 自己紹介 (じこしょうかい). There’s no shame in preparing for your self-introduction before your lesson. In fact, I highly encourage practicing your 自己紹介 before you meet with your teacher so that you can your humble-brag like a pro.
Here’s an outline of a typical 自己紹介:
Hello (This is like saying, “This is the first time,” as in, “This is the first time we’re meeting.”)
Usually with a tutor, the choice to introduce just your first name or full name is yours.
Alternatively, you can introduce yourself with a nickname: ニコと呼んでください（にこ と よんでく ださい）which is more like “Please call me Niko.”
I’m from Canada
This should only be used to refer to the place you were born in, or your hometown—not where you’re currently living. If you’re living outside of your hometown/home country, then use:
今、シチリアに住んでいます（いま、しちりあ に すんで います）
I live in Sicily
今、メインと言う所に住んでいます（いま、めいん と いうところ に すんで います）
I live in a place called Maine
You could continue talking about the place you’re living in, or introduce something new about yourself like your occupation:
旅行代理店で働いています（りょこうだいりてん で はたらいています）
I work at a travel agency
政治学を学んでいます（せいじがく を まなんでいます）
I study political science
You might be asked why you’re studying Japanese if you don’t mention why early on.
日本に行く予定です（にほん に いく よてい です）
I plan to go to Japan
アニメを字幕なしで見たいです（あにめ を じまく なしで みたい です）
I want to watch anime without subtitles
日本語能力試験の準備をしています（にほんごのうりょくしけん の じゅんびを して います）
I’m preparing for the JLPT
Finally, you can end your self-introduction with:
(This means along the lines of, “Please take care of me,” or, “Please treat me well.”)
2. Discuss Hobbies and Interests
It’s best to research the exact way to express your special interests like “taking photos,” or “killing it in karaoke,” for your online class.
Below are some popular hobbies (趣味, しゅみ) that you can introduce. Just state your hobby and add …が好きです (…がすきです).
テレビを見るのが好きです（てれび を みるのがすきです）
映画を観るの（えいが を みる の）
音楽を聞くの（おんがく を きく の）
Listen to Music
ビデオゲームをすること（びでおげーむ を する こと）
Play Video Games
スポーツをするの（すぽーつ を する の）
料理をするの（りょうり を する の）
ファンフィクションを書くの（ふぁんふぃくしょん を かく の）
Write Fan Fictions
Whoops! How did that last one get in there…?
3. Get Acquainted with Your Teacher
After you give your self introduction, and ask your teacher about themselves (definitely do this!), you can keep the conversation going by asking your teacher about the local specialty (名物 – めいぶつ) or notable attractions (観光名所 – かんこうめいしょ) in their area.
Every prefecture in Japan has a local specialty, and most cities and even sub-wards are known for something like a famous cuisine. Some cities are even equipped with their own Kit-Kat bar flavors (Shinshu has apple-chocolate flavor!). Be sure to ask your teacher about their city’s local specialty:
先生の町の名物は何ですか（せんせいのまちの めいぶつは なんですか）
What’s your town’s local specialty?
先生の地域に観光名所がありますか（せんせいの ちいきに かんこうめいしょ が ありますか）
Do you have any tourist attractions in your area?
Note that these questions replace the pronoun “you” with “先生 (せんせい).” Once your teacher introduces themselves, use their name instead of “you” when addressing them. For more examples on how to address yourself, your teacher, and anyone else you’ll encounter, read here.
4. Embrace Ice Breakers
Oh no. It’s come to that point in the conversation where you’re staring nervously at your webcam, and your teacher isn’t saying anything. You’ve already chatted about your hometowns, and you both agreed that new drama series is hilarious. What now?
Deep breath, you got this. Since you and your tutor are probably from two different places, why not take the opportunity to talk about travel?
どこを旅行したいですか（どこを りょこう したい ですか）
Where do you want to travel to?
先生はこれまでにタイへ行ったことがありますか（せんせいは これまでに たいへ いったことがありますか）
Have you been to Thailand before?
日本で、どんな面白い場所に行ったことがありますか（にほんで、どんなおもしろい ばしょに いったことがありますか）
What interesting places have you been to in Japan?
アメリカのどに行きましたか（あめりか の どこに いきましたか）
Where in America did you go to?
東京では何をしたいですか（とうきょう では なにを したい です か）
What do you want to do in Tokyo?
京都で面白い所が、あったら是非教えてください（きょうと で おもしろい ところ が あったら ぜひ おしえて ください）
If you know any interesting places in Kyoto, please tell me.
It beats talking about the weather, right?
5. Express Your Goals
All of us will have different goals when learning Japanese. You may have expressed your long-term goal (like fluency) to your teacher during your self-introduction, or before your online lesson together. Now is a good time to reiterate what you’re expecting to get from each lesson, or what you’d really like to concentrate on during your studies.
This will help you refocus on your learning objective, and concentrate on the quality of the lesson. It will also help your teacher create an efficient lesson plan that will bring you closer to your goals with each class.
The Trick to Getting the Most out of Your Class
Be involved with your lesson. Breathe your lesson. Put a ring on your lesson. Or, at the very least, use the following phrases:
ドキドキはどういう意味ですか（どきどき は どういう いみ です か）
What does “doki doki” mean?
もう一度言ってください（もう いちど いって ください）
Please say it again
日本語で何ですか（にほんご で なん です か）
What’s it in Japanese?
You’ll probably have a lot more questions for your teacher. You can bookmark this page where you’ll learn how to ask, “Does this sound natural?” “Could you say it a bit more slowly?” or my favorite, “In what situation should I use this?”
What to Take Away from Your Lesson
You did it! You finished your online Japanese lesson, and you finished it like a boss! Take a few seconds to give yourself a pat on the back, a round of applause, and to break out some champagne or grape juice.
Take another couple of moments to reflect on your lesson. How did it go? Was the material too difficult or too easy? Did you create solid sentences while exchanging hobbies, or revert back to your native language even though you knew you could express yourself in Japanese. Did you discover you need to increase your vocabulary or comprehension? How was your tutor? Did they speak too quickly? Did they make you feel comfortable? Maybe they corrected your mistakes, and wrote them in a chat box for you.
It’s important to consider all of these things before scheduling your next lesson. You can also keep a journal and write a quick note after each lesson to help track your progress, and any new vocabulary or grammar you may have come across.
Lastly, with a new tutor comes the possibility of having a good or bad encounter. Taking a bad lesson can always be discouraging, but remember: there’s a tutor out there for everyone! If you’ve had a bad lesson (think: too easy or difficult) with a likable tutor, then just send them a message expressing that you’d like more (or less!) of a challenge. Or, if you absolutely loved your tutor then go ahead and book them again!
Lastly, good, bad or absolutely incredible, don’t forget to thank your teacher for their lesson.
Thanks for everything!