How and Why to Use italki to Improve your Japanese

Why italki is Great: Personalized, Convenient, Affordable

If you are committed to learning Japanese, working with a native speaking private tutor is one of the best investments that you can make. Personalized support from a good teacher will allow you to make gains not possible on your own. The best place to find your teacher is on italki. If you were wondering whether italki works for learning a language, such as Japanese, and whether it will be worthwhile for you to use, the answer is positive.

Italki can be used to learn Japanese as it is a purpose-made platform to connect with teachers for personalized one on one support. With their choice of teacher and lesson format, learners can receive real-time instruction and feedback from a native speaker to improve and build their language abilities.

At a high level, italki is an easy-to-use platform to connect you with teachers for personalized support. You can be at any level with any language learning goal in mind, and with italki, you can find and take lessons from a teacher that will help you improve your level and achieve your specific goal. This is possible due to the variety of teachers available.

Finding the Right Teacher on italki

You can browse many teacher profiles and even directly contact them to identify one that will meet your needs and goals. Different teachers offer different types of lesson formats. So, you can choose who you want to work with and how you work together. Lesson formats range from general speaking practice to individualized lessons that suit your learning goals.

A few very specific examples of goals are:

  • Interview preparation
  • JLPT exam preparation
  • Working through a textbook such as Minna no Nihongo or Genki

The best way to identify the right teacher is to first read their profile and watch their introduction video. If you have questions, contact them directly with the built-in messaging function. If you feel like you want to meet the teacher, book a trial lesson (more on this later). There are a lot of teachers on italki, and if you need extra help finding one, italki even has a search filter feature to narrow the options.

italki teacher search filter bar

Each button in the search bar breaks down into even more specific sub-filters. But don’t be limited to just the available options. If you have a unique goal, reach out and ask a prospective teacher directly if they can accommodate you.   

Do not be afraid to ask the questions you need to ask and to try out a few different teachers. According to researchers Matsumoto and Obana [1], especially at the beginner stage, the teacher has an impact on whether a student finds learning enjoyable or not, and therefore plays an important part in determining whether a student will maintain their motivation to continue. So, just by not having the right teacher, you could end up not learning the language and missing out on what could have been one of the most enriching experiences of your life!

What makes italki great for learning Japanese (or any other language) is the ease with which learners can connect with a native speaking teacher that is right for them. Significant gains are possible with a good teacher’s personalized attention. What’s more, location, meeting time and even cost are non- issues.

Regardless of your location, you will almost certainly be able to find a suitable teacher offering a lesson time that works with your schedule. Several Japanese teachers even live abroad in various locations around the world, so most time zones are covered.

It’s all online. No need to drive across town to meet you teacher. This was actually a big barrier for me in the past. I tried meeting a couple teachers in person, but the commute to get to the lesson was just too much. But with italki, it’s so easy. You just need a device with internet connection, and you are good to go.

Another beauty of italki is the affordability. Many of the per hour lesson costs are unbelievably low. I’ve been able to work with some great teachers for about $10 USD per one hour lesson. You can also easily try out different teachers at even lower investment. When you sign up with italki, you will start with 3 trial lessons that you can use with teachers who offer them. Trial lessons are not free, but many teachers offer an initial 30 min trial for $5 USD or less.

One note on booking lessons, once you have found a teacher that you want to work with, purchase a package of lessons if the teacher offers it. The most common package size that I have seen is 5 lessons. The reasons why you want to book lesson packages on italki:

  • Minimize transaction fees (especially if using a credit card)
  • Take advantage of bulk discounts the teacher may be offering (I’ve seen up to 20% discounts)
  • Secure you desired lesson times with your teacher into the future
  • Force yourself to commit for an extended period of time to continue learning

If you can, the best thing to do is to book a timeslot on the same day(s) at the same time(s) every week. This is part of establishing a habit and making learning part of your weekly routine.

I started using italki in 2019 and haven’t stopped since. In my experience, you can make considerable gains by working with private tutors who will help you achieve your goals and improve your Japanese speaking ability.

How to get started with italki:

  1. Create an account with your name, email and password
  2. Select the language you want to learn
  3. Browse teachers that teach the language
  4. Identify a teacher that meets your needs
  5. Choose your lesson type from the options offered by the teacher
  6. Book your lesson time (or multiple times if booking a package)
  7. Choose a video meeting tool such as Skype, Zoom, italki Classroom…
  8. Pay for the lesson in advance with a credit card, PayPal, Skrill….
  9. Join the lesson at the chosen time
How to get started with italki: 
1. Create an account with your name, email and password
2. Select the language you want to learn
3. Browse teachers that teach the language
4. Identify a teacher that meets your needs
5. Choose your lesson type from the options offered by the teacher
6. Book your lesson time (or multiple times if booking a package)
7. Choose a video meeting tool such as Skype, Zoom, italki Classroom…
8. Pay for the lesson in advance with a credit card, PayPal, Skrill….
9. Join the lesson at the chosen time
How to get started with italki flow chart

Maximize Your Gains on italki

No matter what, practice with a native speaker will be one of your best investments to make gains with your Japanese communication abilities. italki is an exceptional platform to help you make these gains, and there are some best practice ways to use italki that will really help you get the most out of your experience with it and maximize your return on investment.

italki is used most effectively by identifying the right teacher and working on specific goals while focusing on subject matter relevant to the learner’s life situation and interests. Taking notes of new learnings, reviewing them, and being prepared to implement them in subsequent lessons will maximize gains.

During your lesson time, make sure you speak a lot. One simple definition of being fluent in Japanese is being able to say what you want to say spontaneously and in a way that sounds natural. This ability will only come with practice. The best way to go about getting the necessary practice is of course with your teacher. Not only are they someone to practice with, but they will also give you real time support to correct any mistakes and help you formulate sentences that you struggle with.

Embrace the struggle and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Don’t avoid saying things that you think you can’t say because you just don’t know how to express it in Japanese. This is the point of working with a native speaking tutor. Try saying whatever it is that you want to say and get stuck. It’ll be frustrating, but let your tutor guide you through how to express it in natural Japanese. Don’t miss any opportunity to gain new expressive ability. Bit by bit, you will acquire the language.

If you need more convincing on why you should work with a Japanese teacher, I wrote even about the topic here.

What to Speak About During Your italki Lesson

Direct your italki lessons by centering them around your language learning goals. Your goals are unique to you, and it is important that you relay them to your teacher during your first meeting. I wouldn’t recommend just showing up at your lessons with no idea of how you would like to proceed. It will be better to know what you want to work on in advance. And it will help your teacher too.

So, what are your goals? Let’s look at a few examples. Some very specific goals might be interview preparation or JLPT preparation. Many teachers offer these types of lessons specifically which can be selected when booking a lesson. Some more general goals are reading practice and conversation practice. These types of lessons are offered too! In fact, conversation practice is the most common.

Interview Preparation

This is all about role play. Your teacher is the interviewer, and you are the interviewee. Help your teacher out by explaining the type of interview, e.g., for a job or entrance to an academic program, and give as many details as you can that will help them play the interviewer role as realistically as possible. Give them questions to ask you that are likely to come up in the interview, but also ask for questions that you might not be expecting, you need to think on your feet, which will be all the more difficult in a foreign language, so practice as much as you can. Your teacher’s job here is to help you craft your answers in natural Japanese.   

JLPT Preparation

For JLPT preparation, you will want to be doing quite a bit of self studying outside your lessons using a dedicated series like Shin Kanzen Master. Go through the material and try practice questions on your own first. There will be things you don’t understand and places you get stuck. Bring these questions to your italki lesson and have your teacher answer them. If it’s a grammar point you are stuck on, discuss it with your teacher, and then you (not your teacher) need to make some example sentences which you run by your teacher to ensure you got it. For JLPT reading practice specifically, it’s discussed below.

Side note: I discuss a bit about preparing for the JLPT N3 level exam in an article I wrote here about where to go after Tobira (an intermediate Japanese textbook).

Reading Practice

For reading practice on italki, choose short articles that are slightly above your level containing subject matter that interests you. The technique is to read the short article aloud in front of your teacher, and then discuss the content and have your teacher ask you comprehension questions. It will be so much more engaging and so much more useful to you if you are actually interested in the content of the article, because you will be more likely to talk about this subject matter outside the lesson too. If it’s JLPT reading material, the content may not be the most interesting thing to you, but still necessary for well rounded practice. Use the same technique described above.

Conversation Practice

The goal of conversation practice on italki is to be able to speak on a variety of everyday topics totally naturally and spontaneously. Variety is important, but the topics should still be of interest to you and relevant to your life. Your teacher’s role is to monitor your speech carefully and help you adjust it to make it as natural as possible.

The conversation can be made quite interesting by taking an everyday topic and trying to bring a unique point of view to it, which is what is suggested by Teppei in episode 628 of the Nihongo Con Teppei podcast. For example, you and your tutor could talk about whether soccer/football is a big sport in your respective countries. But to make it interesting, how about talking about it’s cultural importance to your country, and/or the importance of teaching the sport to children and what they can learn from it.

You may think that just talking about everyday things might seem like a regression, but this is actually the key to going from advanced to fluent. It’s not about using hard words or fancy grammar, it’s about being able to express yourself in a simple and natural way, the same as native speakers do.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

Leonardo da Vinci

For Absolute Beginners Using italki

Can a total beginner use italki and how much Japanese should I know before getting started? These seem to be common enough questions. Especially if you are willing to put in time to learn outside of your lessons, the right teacher can make it possible for you even if starting from zero.

A total beginner can use italki to learn Japanese by identifying a teacher who can accommodate this learning stage. Many teachers offer lessons from beginner level textbooks. A flip the classroom approach should be used in which lesson time is used for answering questions and working through activities.

There are some great teachers with professional teaching credentials on italki that have experience teaching beginners. If you already have a beginner textbook, seek out a teacher with experience using it and who can tailor your lessons to help you work through it. As alluded to, avoid the traditional approach of going through learning material during the lesson time. Read through the lesson material and do some practice on your own in advance. Use the lesson time to get your questions answered, but especially use it for activities where you are actively practicing the language such as role plays.

By the way if you are a beginner, and looking for the best beginner textbook, I write about Genki here.

The Key to Success with italki: Take and Review Your Notes

Online tutoring with italki offers a convenient advantage in that you’re using a tool like Zoom, Skype or similar, which have text chat functions. You can easily save your chat history which become your lesson notes. Using the chat is a great way to support your live conversation with your teacher. For example, if you just learned a new word, ask your teacher to write it in the chat. Then try to use it a few times. Better yet, if you struggled to formulate a sentence or express a thought, have your teacher work through it with you and then write it in the chat. Now you have it forever!

No matter what, review your notes (chat history). The biggest mistake I have made with my italki lessons is not reviewing. A good chat history will contain the corrected mistakes you made and new things you learned during the lesson. There is not necessarily going to be a quiz on these things during the next lesson, but it would sure be nice to be able show improvement by being able to use them!

A good thing to do would be to systematize your review. Let’s say you have weekly lessons. You could review everything right after the lesson, and then review it again mid week to see how much you’ve retained, and then quickly once again right before the next lesson. By doing something like this you will be prepared to try to apply what you learned previously in the new lesson. Since I systematized my review more, I have found that, yes, it does in fact work and it’s a great way to get the most out of the dollars and time that you spend with your teacher.

That wraps it up. If you don’t already have one, I encourage you to go make yourself an account on italki. The account itself is free. This link will take you to italki. Happy learning!

[1] Matsumoto, M., & Obana, Y. (2001). Motivational factors and persistence in learning Japanese as a foreign language. New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 3(1), 59-86.

Colten Dumonceau

My goal is to provide information that will help you learn Japanese as quickly and effectively as possible. I have spent more than ten years learning Japanese, mostly self-taught, from absolute beginner to an advanced level. I believe its possible to go much faster than I did. Please let me share with you the best learning strategies I have uncovered.

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