1034 words long | 5 minute read
In 2021 I set myself a challenge to level up my Japanese skills. I had studied Japanese in college and felt like I let my skills atrophy over time. It also helped that it was the height of the pandemic and I was often at home with time for studying and lessons. My ultimate goal was to build a sustainable habit for both practice and learning.
As I began searching around for ways to practice I began leveraging the tools I had used in the past, Duolingo and Anki, to work on memorization. I quickly realized that to really level up and progress how I wanted to I was going to need a teacher.
Looking around the web there are a bunch of tools out there to find teacher. I knew I didn't want to do a group lesson so I could have more tailored experience and make sure I was learning the vocabulary that was going to be relevant for my potential future trips to Japan. This is how I stumbled across italki.
If you aren't familiar italki is a marketplace that helps people find teachers in nearly any language. You can filter by your language, price, etc. and quickly book lessons with teachers from around the world. What is extra great is that you can book multiple intro lessons with various teachers to find one you mesh with. When I first signed up I booked 3 different introductory lessons and was lucky to find 2 teachers that were great. After finding my teachers I did the following cadence:
Three lessons a week is honestly a lot to fit onto your calendar so don't feel like you have to do the same. It happened to be during the pandemic when I was around a lot anyways so I found it pretty easy to find times that would work for my schedule.
The reason I did the 3 lesson cadence is that I wanted to progress with comprehension, vocab, etc. but I realized that the thing I was missing out on most was actually speaking. All throughout college learning I realized that what I did the least was actually speak the language I was learning and I knew it was important to speak as much as possible.
Doing three lessons a week cost me $45 a week, or $180 per month. Teachers set their own rates and Japanese tends to be one of the more expensive languages on the platform. You also don't have to be doing three lessons a week, but I found it useful for trying to build a habit. It seems expensive but compared to the group classes I saw or classes at a local university this felt like a steal. Having one on one mentorship really allows to quickly cover topics and move along so I felt like I was getting my moneys worth.
If you were just getting started with a single one hour lesson per week I would estimate it would be around $20 per week.
I was so scared my first few lessons. I didn't realize I had such a mental block about looking stupid in my lessons. For the first 10 lessons I would be really nervous beforehand. Looking back it's silly because the entire point of me taking lessons is to make mistakes, look stupid, and learn from them. It was a real lesson in getting out of your comfort zone because the risk really isn't that big just to try.
Initially I was also surprised that my speaking skills were so poor. If I were taking the test I would know how to answer but my off the cuff speaking and recollection just wasn't there at first. This was a huge shock and the 30 minute speaking lessons I had really helped hone those skills for quickly recalling common phrases or holding a basic conversation. I would say that from the 100+ lessons I have done this has been the biggest win for me. What use is knowing a bunch of vocab if you can't use it when you want to talk to someone?
The book work was also great because being 1 on 1 means you still speak a lot even during book work. My teacher would act as my partner in the practice exercises and could quickly correct any mistakes I was making. In a classroom setting it would require the teacher walking by to correct these types of mistakes and the instant feedback meant that I could learn new grammar faster.
If I had to rate myself I would say I went from rusty novice to intermediate over the 100 lessons. I can do a lot of the basics like directions, asking for food, etc. and start to hold my own with more advanced topics like talking about my childhood or describing a meal to someone. This felt like great progress and my range of words has also grown.
For me, absolutely. There is no better practice in my opinion than being able to talk with a native speaker who can teach you how to actually speak the language you are learning. It's as close to immersion as I can get 6,000 miles away from Japan in my basement.
Before spending money on lessons I would suggest you try to use books or Duolingo to get the basics down. I am not sure if I would feel like I got quite as much value out of lessons when I didn't have skills like basic sentence formulation, a bit of vocab, or simple verb conjugation down. I came in at a pretty rusty novice level and was glad I knew things like present & past tense and a decent amount of vocab so I could at least get a conversation started.
If you are on the fence about getting started, book a trial lesson. It can be daunting but totally worth it for those of us wanting to learn a new language.