Online lessons are an awesome way to boost your Japanese language skills.
Aside from improving listening comprehension, you'll also get better at forming your own sentences, learn the subtle differences between similar words, and maybe even develop a close-knit relationship with another one of this world's fascinating human beings... a Japanese one!
There are quite a lot options when it comes to taking lessons online. The most popular of these is probably italki, which has an immense number of teachers and students. If you're going to study Japanese online, though (as opposed to a more obscure language, for example), Cafetalk has a seriously impressive selection of both Japanese tutors and interesting Japanese lessons.
What is Cafetalk?
Rather than jumble together my own description, I'll just quote the source:
We're a service that aims to “Let the world spice up your life” through private online lessons with teachers from around the world.
From language lessons like Japanese and French to instruction in music, art and various hobbies we offer a multitude of unique and engaging lessons.
My Personal Experience with Cafetalk
Several years ago, I spent a couple of years teaching English on Cafetalk, and I had a great experience.
My favorite thing, by far, was the level of support that they give to both students and tutors. Support staff regularly checks in to see how things are going, and they're always communicating with students, helping them to choose appropriate students and lessons.
Another positive aspect is the site's intuitive functionality and ease of use. Here's a sample of what my tutor dashboard looks like:
As a tutor, one thing that I initially had mixed feelings about was the percentage of payment that I got for each lesson that I teach. A tutor just starting out will only get 60% of the lesson fees that they charge.
The number goes up based on how many lessons you teach and how often. Last time I checked, my "margin rate," as it is called was at 70%. So for every $10 that a student spends on one of my lessons, I get $7.
The upside to this is the fantastic support that I mentioned. One of my long-term students, for example, consistently took 3-4 lessons per week, and the only reason that she became my student in the first place was because a support staff recommended me.
From the perspective of the student, this seems to be a win-win, because teachers are still charging lesson fees that are both competitive and affordable.
Speaking of taking lessons, let's take a closer look at what's going on over at Cafetalk...
Choosing Lessons on Cafetalk
As a student, my favorite thing about Cafetalk is the way that they present their lesson options. Aside from the lesson layout being a great way to find new and interesting tutors, it's also a great way to get excited about studying Japanese.
Before I was able to become a tutor on Cafetalk, I was required to prepare at least a few different lesson types. This turned out to be really nice, because the student always has a clear idea of what exactly is going to be covered in the lesson. Also, they can read feedback from past students that have taken a particular type of lesson.
Looking at the wide selection of Japanese-filled lessons, it's hard not to want to schedule a few.
Teachers are in full control of the lessons that they offer, and it's clear that they try very hard to develop study topics that are both useful and appealing to students.
For me teaching English, my most popular lesson type is actually a pronunciation course. But with my long-term students, we slowly began to develop our own, personalized study courses, sometimes revolving around a textbook.
A lot of these lessons are under $10. That makes me feel kind of ashamed about all the money I wasted on expensive Japanese lessons and study materials.
JLPT Lessons! Agh!
Choosing a Teacher on Cafetalk
While browsing by lessons is cool. You also have the option of browsing by teachers.
As of this moment, Cafetalk has 165 Japanese tutors offering lessons on their site. Since they seem to be pushing to ramp up their Japanese teaching, though, I'm expecting that this number is going to jump drastically over the coming months (partly in thanks to the fact that they have tens of thousands of Japanese students who are, theoretically, capable of teaching).
One thing that I was kind of disappointed by was the lack of male teachers. There seem to be ten female teachers for every male. I've heard that's a problem in general when it comes to finding a Japanese teacher, but still, it can be hard for us students to get that rough, manly Japanese we want and need!
There are some options, though:
Once you click on a tutor's picture, you can see their profile page, which gives you details on stuff like:
- Schedule / availability
- Language ability
- Average response time
- Number of students
- Number of lessons
...and pretty much anything you'd need to know when choosing a tutor.
Here's a sample:
I find that it's also extremely helpful to read a tutor's profile. Some tutors are better at English than others, but I don't think that you should let English ability factor too heavily in your decision. I've had great Japanese teachers before (even when I was at a beginner level) that spoke no English whatsoever.
Towards the bottom of a tutor's profile page, you can see the different lessons they offer:
And, last but not least, you can read feedback from other students that have taken lessons with this teacher:
At the end of the day, 90% of teachers are probably going to be no problem, so maybe don't worry too much about choosing a teacher. Take a trial lesson, then decide after if you could see yourself growing with this teacher.
What you're looking for is only partly about the tutor's ability to explain Japanese to you. Ideally, you'll be meeting with your tutor quite regularly, so it goes without saying that you should look for a tutor that you actually enjoy talking to. And a lot of that is less about qualifications, and more about common interests and personality.
It's a bit difficult to go into lesson pricing on a tutor matching service like Cafetalk, because each individual tutor is setting the price of their lessons.
Some tutors have really cheap, affordable lessons. Other are a bit on the expensive side.For me, the question "Is this cheap/expensive?" can be a bit harmful to the learning environment. I think that a better question to ask is, "Is this price both fair and motivating?"
And it should be fair and motivating for both the student and the teacher.
Speaking as a teacher that charges more for English lessons than most of these teachers charge for Japanese lessons, I can vouch that having a motivated student that is paying what I think to be a fair, motivating price for both of us make me want to improve her lessons. When you have a student that's helping you to, you know, buy groceries, that's awesome. And you start to feel indebted to them. And you work hard to pay them back... in language learning.
Buying Lesson Points
Buying lesson points is a pretty straightforward process, and Cafetalk walks you through the whole thing, step-by-step.
At the time of this writing, 1 point is equal to 1 yen (less than $0.01).
Booking Your First Lesson
Right after you set up your free profile, Cafetalk will walk you through their entire system one step at a time. Here's the first thing you'll see on your first sign-in:
As you can see above, they also offer free counseling to help you get started, which is pretty great. Or you could follow these simple instructions...
Gotta get those points before you can book any lessons! Then you can...
Or you can search by tutors, if that's your style...
After you book lessons, they'll show up in your dashboard:
You can also managed your requests by going to the requests page:
And if that was way too confusing, you can get a real, live human to explain it to you:
Last but not least, when first starting out, checking out the coupons might be a good idea. A lot of the tutors offering coupons are just getting started, so you can help them get set up, too (while getting a sweet deal):
Managing Your Lesson Schedule
Here's a look at my schedule for June 2015. As you can see I was teaching quite a few days that month:
I'm pretty sure that the calendar looks the same (or very, very similar) for students, as well.
For tutors, it's especially helpful to check out your weekly calendar:
So once you've chosen a tutor and booked your lesson, it's time to start panicking. I'm kidding, but it's totally normal to be very anxious about taking lessons. From my perspective, teaching them is even more intimidating.
I think that a huge part of taking lessons online is building a relationship with a tutor. The main reason for this is that you find yourself wanting to study more. You want to see your tutor, complain about all the problems Japanese is causing you.
And anything that makes you want to study is something worth studying.
Learning a language is an endurance test, after all. Kind of like crossing an ocean, you could say.
Good luck, everyone!
p.s. Taking face-to-face lessons is great for improving your productive ability, but you need even better comprehension for that to go smoothly, and NativShark is the place for that.