If you’re going to live and work in Japan, you’ll eventually want to know the language. Self-study is essential, but the right language school or tutor can put you on the fast track to success. Unfortunately, the coronavirus has caused many language schools around the country to temporarily close or make students rightfully concerned with assembling in crowded classrooms.
Moreover, not everyone has the time to enroll in a school or meet with a private tutor. When my schedule permitted it, I always took lessons with private tutors at cafes found online. Unfortunately, I have been hunkered down at home waiting out 2020. While I’ve had plenty of time for self-study, I’ve had few opportunities to speak Japanese.
When life goes back to normal, I don’t want to be worse off than I was, so I decided to find an online tutor. As it turns out, there are many websites out there, but which one has the right tutor for you? I took trial lessons with five different websites, taking into account the teacher’s price, schedule, tools, and experience.
Here are five sites for finding online Japanese tutors.
I had heard about JapaTalk when NHK aired a segment about a Japanese housewife teaching Japanese from home. The website promises that students can learn Japanese that is actually used by Japanese people, which I am lacking. Although learning formal or textbook Japanese is essential, in my experience, it can sometimes sound awkward in social situations. More importantly, JapaTalk is a dream come true for students on a budget. Classes start from just ¥390.
The system is point-based. For example, you can purchase 1,000 points for ¥1,000 (or more). Or you can sign up for a plan and receive points monthly. Then, you can perform a detailed search through hundreds of Japanese teachers on JapaTalk’s database and choose a lesson by date and time. Although it depends on the teacher’s experience, lessons average at about 500 points for a 25-minute lesson, meaning a 50-minute lesson will cost 1,000 points, or ¥1,000.
It was fun talking about their distinct interests in Japanese.
I ended up taking two 25-minute lessons with two different teachers. The teachers’ profiles are very detailed so that you can search for one with the same taste or hobbies. My teachers, Umi and Chinami, had vastly different personalities, but it was fun talking about their distinct interests in Japanese.
With Chinami, we spoke in-depth about video games and otaku culture, while the conversation steered towards cooking and traveling with Uni. All the while, they were both able to give me basic notes and corrections.
2. Sensei Shokai
Since I have used the website before for finding one-on-one lessons, Sensei Shokai was my first choice. Once you create a profile and personalized lesson request, it’s posted on Sensei Shokai’s notice board. Your lesson request includes your goals, current Japanese level, and preferred schedule. Soon after, you’ll receive offers from qualified teachers listing their price and experience.
I was paired with Mrs. Sawaguchi, a Japanese native with 25 years of experience teaching Japanese in private and public schools. We used a combination of Skype and Google Docs, and I found this method particularly useful. The lesson focused on particles and composition, and I could view examples and corrections from Mrs. Sawaguchi in real-time.
I really appreciated she didn’t just give me the answers.
I had plenty of opportunity for output, and by the end of the hour, there were seven pages of detailed lesson notes on Google Docs. From the start, the lesson was clear and structured. Sensei Shokai’s teachers must either pass the “Japanese Language Teaching Competency Test” or have completed 420 hours of training in a Japanese teacher training course.
Mrs. Sawaguchi was friendly and patient throughout the lesson. What I really appreciated was that she didn’t just give me the answer when I didn’t know something but led me to figure it out myself.
3. Nihongo Online School
The aptly named Nihongo Online School was recommended as a strong pairing to go along with my self-study. After registering my information, I used the inquiry form to request a trial lesson and Ms. Adachi was assigned as my teacher.
Ms. Adachi and all teachers at Nihongo Online School must hold a university degree and have completed a 420-hour teacher’s course. Teachers must have a high level of communication skills and be able to support students with varying degrees of Japanese. That includes students like me who are stuck somewhere between sufficiently reading a McDonald’s menu and getting lost in a post office.
Using Skype, Ms. Adachi quickly determined my learning goals and hurdles through a level check and assessment. Afterward, she was able to tell me the textbooks I would be using. If those didn’t meet my needs, Nihongo Online School also uses in-house textbooks. Despite your Japanese level, goals, or schedule, lessons are customized to meet your specific requirements. I would even receive a roadmap if I decide to continue lessons.
I was pleasantly surprised by how structured the lesson was despite the short notice of the trial. Ms. Adachi was professional and thorough with my corrections, and my short time with her gave me a lot of insight into where I need to focus my studies.
Like JapaTalk, Preply has a database of teachers that must pass the website’s prerequisites to teach. One feature that I like is that tutors have to make a video introduction. It gives you a chance to see a bit of their personality and teaching style.
Teachers set the price, which ranges between ¥500 and ¥4,000 per hour.
They can also be from anywhere in the world, which could be helpful if you’re not in Japan and want a tutor in the same time zone. After a trial lesson with your chosen tutor, you must buy a package, which is a minimum of six lessons.
I chose a trial lesson with a teacher named Miho because she was recommended by the website based on my price range. From the first lesson, Miho used popular Genki textbooks and Google Hangout’s screen share feature. The first experience was enjoyable enough that I signed up for six more lessons throughout the month.
…tutors are hit or miss. You might need to try a few before finding one that fits your needs.
Unfortunately, Miho was late multiple times and ended the lessons about five minutes early every time. Call me cheap, but if I’m paying for six hours, give me six hours, not five hours and thirty-five minutes. Miho was also a little bit less patient on some days. But, hey, I was a teacher once. I can relate.
After Miho, I tried another tutor on Preply. They were very friendly, but I might as well have been leading the lesson myself. The tutor was unprepared and there was a lot of silence as they looked over their notes. Worst of all, the lesson was almost entirely in English. My impression of Preply is that tutors are hit or miss. You might need to try a few before finding one that fits your needs.
Italki is one of the biggest language learning websites out there. To book a tutor, you have to purchase credits. Tutors set their prices, and they can vary greatly. It’s nice having a lot of options, especially if you’re on a budget, but it’s annoying if you have credits leftover and decide to switch to a different teacher.
Italki accepts two kinds of tutors. “Professional teachers” must submit references, a CV, teaching certificates, and a diploma. A “community teacher” has to be pretty much just breathing. You can guess which of the two make up the majority of the website.
It took me a bit to find a teacher I liked that matched my schedule. There were also a lot of non-native Japanese language teachers. I ended up with Asuka, a Nagasaki-based community teacher. We used Skype and mostly worked on conversational Japanese. She used a whiteboard to show me written examples and did a good job keeping dead air minimal, especially compared to my last Preply teacher.
There’s a lot of tutors out there, you just gotta find the one who is right for you. Know anywhere else to find online Japanese tutors? Let us know in the comments!