When I lived in Japan, learning some degree of Japanese was a guarantee. I got spontaneous language lessons every time I went to work, a restaurant, or a store. After returning to Canada I was determined to keep it up but I can’t say I’ve made much progress since then.
In an effort to get back into the swing of studying Japanese, I recently took an online lesson offered by Asian Language School. Based in Australia, the school offers courses in four Asian languages, including Japanese. Each course lasts a total of 10 hours, divided into weekly one-hour sessions over the course of 10 weeks.
I was unsure about taking an online language course because it seems like a bit of a paradox: the purpose of language is communication so the best way to learn is face-to-face, not reading words off a screen, right?
Wrong! Asian Language School uses a video conferencing software called Zoom that simulates a real-life classroom environment – the same technology that’s used at top universities in the US and Australia – and enables students and teachers to communicate face-to-face throughout the lesson, even while sharing materials.
After signing up for my one-on-one lesson, I was immediately able to select a date and time from an array of time slots ranging from morning until night. The school sent me a reminder text and email an hour before the start of my lesson. I was all set.
How a typical lesson works
The great benefit of doing it online was that at 9 p.m., after getting home and having dinner at the end of a long day, I could learn Japanese from the comfort of my own bedroom.
The school sets up the meeting with the instructor, so I just had to enter the code sent to my e-mail. Logging in, I was greeted by Yoshiko, a Japanese native living in Australia. She was instantly easy to talk to and laugh with, and the clear sound quality made it feel as though we were in the same room.
After we gave brief self-introductions, during which I learned that Yoshiko had worked for many years as a Japanese teacher in Japan and Australia, she started by asking me what I wanted to learn. Aside from discussing my general interest and study aims, we worked out a specific goal for the day’s lesson: to learn phrases and questions for having a conversation with someone for the first time.
There was a whiteboard behind Yoshiko in the room, but over the course of the hour we had no need to use it. All the information was displayed through a split screen, with the instructor still chatting to me in one frame, and a video, PowerPoint, or digital whiteboard in the other. I was also able to opt out of displaying myself, or turn off the teacher’s profile display, at any time during the lesson.
Having all of the digital resources at my instructor’s fingertips made it easy for her to customize the lesson for me on the fly.
Then it was on to the main goal of the lesson. My instructor played a video of two Japanese people exchanging business cards, and taught me the introductory phrases to say. After we practiced, she told me a little about the cultural differences implicit in Japan’s treatment of business cards, and how to accept one respectfully.
Our lesson was peppered with relevant cultural information which added depth to what I was learning.
After, we moved on to free conversation practice. Since we were indeed meeting for the first time, it was easy for her to take me through some basic questions. I often stopped to ask her to clarify something she’d said, or help me with something I didn’t know how to say.
Studying with the instructor was so fun that the hour flew by, and I was surprised by how much I’d learned by the end of it.
The different courses
The 10-week course is offered in levels ranging from beginner to advanced, and follows a curriculum based partially on the Genki series of textbooks, though the instructors bring in other materials to suit students’ needs. You can learn through a private one-on-one course or a small group class of up to 4 people.*
The really neat thing about this school is that you can arrange your own group for a course, made up of friends, coworkers or anyone else you know who wants to learn Japanese. You don’t even have to live in the same country, as you can all join in on separate computers.
From the start to the end of the process, I was most impressed with the program’s flexibility.
I was able to schedule a time for the lesson that worked best for me, and then access it from my laptop, tablet or smartphone. During the lesson, my instructor adapted the class as we went, moving quickly through the material but helping me thoroughly whenever I got stuck.
Whether you want to study late after work, stay motivated with regular feedback from a licensed teacher, fast-track your Japanese skills, improve your knowledge of Japanese culture, or another reason entirely, Asian Language School is definitely worth checking out.
*From February 2017, Asian Language School will be offering virtual group classes at fixed dates and hours catering to students in the U.S. and Australia.