Classes vs Tutors?

So far, my entire Japanese learning experience has been self-study. I’ve been making good progress (though I would still say that I’m at a pretty low level) and have been able to keep myself motivated without issue. But, tackling this entirely on my own, I haven’t really gotten any practice with speaking or writing. And I’m starting to notice that deficiency.

The options I’ve been looking into to correct this are Japanese classes at my local (very cheap) technical college, or tutors on italki. I figure either one would give me the sort of practice that I’m not getting on my own, but, in my situation, is one more likely a better option than the other? Does it matter? Is there another option that I’m not considering and should be? I’d appreciate some input before committing to something.

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Well, only you can know for sure what works best for you. I’d say you give both a fair try, and decide based on that…

One thing I like about classes is the community: you get to meet and work with people with the same interest in the language.

Having a tutor is much more flexible, and closer to your needs, but it’s also very easy to just not take that next lesson…


I think that a tutor on iTalki will help you more with talking while college classes will help you more with writing. I feel like you don’t get as much of a chance on talking in college classes because of the amount of students. However you should get enough of a chance to do critical thinking and writing. It’s really a matter of what you want to focus on. If you are struggling with grammar then go with the class. If not then try a tutor(or a couple) to see if that’s right for you. If not then take classes. The classes will be a bigger commitment, but the tutors you can always quit if it’s not right for you.


It depends on what you want to do. I always wanted to learn Japanese and started on Duolingo back in July. After a few weeks, I found I needed more info, Duo doesn’t teach grammar, etc… It was a good start, but I decided I seriously wanted to learn. So I bought a bunch of books and dove in head first (what was I thinking…ugh)…but having spent 5 months seriously studying, I can say I’ve come much further than I ever expected. Of course I have put in the time! That’s important, know your commitment isn’t far from a short one!

My personal schedule/work/life doesn’t really allow me to add classes at a college on top of everything else. While it isn’t very much money at a community college or even one of the Japanese schools, there is a formal time commitment along with tests and other things that I know personally I’d stress over. For me this wasn’t going to work to well. (In school I tended to overprepare for exams, I did well, but given there would be a grade I’d feel pressure to get high marks). I didn’t want to lose the “fun” of learning the language.

I tried italki and have been using a community tutor for many months. She is very good and has been incredibly helpful and supportive. She has taught me a lot and does have years of teaching experience so for me it has worked out fine. However, italki doesn’t let their community tutors create lesson plans and/or assign homework etc. You have to use one of their teachers which are also an option. When I was looking around for a tutor/instructor, schedules and availability was an issue so I ended up with the person I’m using.

I’m a fairly disciplined person, coordinating and planning things is manageable, but can sometimes be overwhelming. I just started WK since I know I had to learn Kanji to truly be fluent and the timing seemed right and heck 100 bucks for lifetime…off why not :slight_smile: In any case, depending on what you want from italki for instructors/tutors, be sure to use the trial lessons they give you and find someone that works for you. I contacted several folks and one of them (won’t name him specifically) but he came off as rather rude. He said his name wasn’t X, it was Y and that I addressed him by the wrong name, even though X was the name on his profile. To this day I still don’t know what the deal was. In any case, find someone that works for you.

Be sure to also look at language partners on italki. I found several of them are flaky and start and disappear. I’m sure this is because people want to learn a language and don’t really want to commit to put in the work right?! However, there are a couple folks that I keep in my skype window and while we don’t always have time to chat, we do help correct each others writings. The notebook is a great resource on italki. Do take it with a grain of salt. I learned that when I tried to write something that was beyond my skill level, of course it needed corrections…but the corrections I couldn’t understand. Turned out to be challenging.

The other thing about the notebook, not all corrections are created equal…make sure you understand the corrections that are made! I have learned that some folks are better than others when making corrections. Also often times the meaning of things can be changed (unintentionally) by the person making the correction. There are 2 people that have done this regularly. However, I have learned a heck of a lot from one of them in that their corrections taught me a grammar or vocab item I had no idea about. This has actually been a really good thing. That said, you’ll have to get a feel for it, but keep your posts in the notebook to stuff you know and branch out building on what you know. Then throw some stretch stuff in to see how much you can branch out. I learned early on, if I tried to do a whole complicated thing, it was just a huge mess when it came to corrections and I ended up totally lost.

Whatever method you choose, just stick to it. If you get stuck, lost, bored, frustrated, take a break and switch it up. When I found I have gone too fast I stop adding new material and practice what I know. Same thing the WK folks seem to recommend…stop doing lessons if you are overwhelmed and do reviews right? Makes sense to me.

Best of luck…and hey this is my first post in the forum…give me another year and I should be pretty darn good at Japanese!


I take a Japanese class so I can share some thoughts on this:

As @Naphthalene mentions, I like having a community of Japanese learners I can speak to. We can share information on learning techniques, language tools, etc. Plus , when something ‘Japanese’ happens (such as a Japanese language film showing at the cinema) we have a group of interested people to share this with.

Classes come with 2 things that you can either use to your advantage, or will find problematic, depending on what kind of person you are:

  1. Fixed curriculum - you will learn Japanese in the order that is prescribed. The upside to this is that you don’t have to think about when you need to start learning grammar, for example, or which order to learn it, but you might find that you are not learning something you are really interested in until later in the course. Naturally, being in a class does not stop you from studying by yourself, but this leads on to:

  2. Fixed timetable - you will learn at the pace dictated by the class. In the first 2 years I found this mostly frustrating as I could grasp something quicker than the class would allow. Having said that, it just meant I could spend more time learning new vocabulary, or kanji by myself. The flip-side is that now, in year 3, the pace is exponentially quicker than before - I am a freelancer so sometimes have little time between lessons for homework and it soon starts piling up, meaning you can can get behind easily.

Personally, if you can afford it (I am lucky my local university offers the classes very cheap in the evening) then I recommend you try it, especially if you have a Japanese tutor; the social element, plus having someone to check in with on your vocab every week is valuable.

If you find it too fast, slow, or regimented for your learning style, then by all means try something else, but at least you will have the experience.


Thanks for the responses, everyone. They’ve all been helpful.

That is a good point. It almost might be worth looking into doing both eventually…

Well you sure picked quite the post to start with! This has loads of useful information, thanks.

That reminds me… One of my hesitations about classes is that I’m not sure whether to start with the beginning class or the intermediate one. The beginning class apparently covers things like hiragana and katakana, pronunciation rules, and basic vocabulary, things I’m already pretty solid on. But the intermediate class assumes that you have a lot more practice actually talking to people than I do. I suppose I could email the teacher and ask where he thinks I should go.


Well, you could start with a tutor for a while, so you get some practice and then join the intermediate class some time later. I guess it should restart once every term or something?

Remember that boredom in a class can be detrimental to your learning. I’m starting Japanese classes in April, we’ll have a placement test. I have done the basics in Japanese class a couple of times now (because of a long time span between them). So I’m using WK and other resources to brush up and learn new stuff before I start. My plan is to hit up some iTalki tutors/teachers in Feb to start speaking practice.


That is a good suggestion and now that I’m thinking about it, I will probably end up doing that.

Oh believe me, I know. That’s a big part of why I almost didn’t finish school. But I also know from experience that one class at a time is more than manageable for me even if it goes a bit slow for my liking.

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i think that you can study everything by yourself but speaking practise. as such i think its probably a waste of money to visit classes because they teach you that stuff insteat of giving you as much speaking practise as possible.

i persoanlly think its a really good idea to just use cheap cummunity teachers from italki to get speaking practise and if you dont understand a words exact meaning or usage you can always have your conversation about that.

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A couple of other things about italki that I can share…it is free! The free account limits…friend requests, notebook entries, discussion, entries and question entries to 2 per day each. Not that big of a deal. The other thing is they give you highlighting for questions and notebook for premium. But to get premium all you have to do is buy credits and the premium is built in. Also, once you do get credits, there are no limits, so trying italki for free is certainly a worthwhile adventure. Looking for language partners is totally free, so you technically never have to spend any money if you don’t want to. I think a lot of people use italki for that very reason, also might be why there are some flaky people. If you can speak somewhat and can find a native speaker that speaks your language (doesn’t have to be English) and just want to practice talking, that’s easy and simple to coordinate…email/link/friend and done then you can skype whenever.

A couple of things of other possibly useful things…italki passes the cc/paypal fees back onto you. They have various ways to pay but all of them do this. It is a minor annoyance and reminds me of the 80s when there were different prices for cc / cash, which seems to be what we have gone back to…ugh! … Anyway, typically this is about 3-5% of the transaction. It will depend on the payment method and amount of credits you buy. If you do sign up for an account, you can check all this before making a purchase to see what it will cost ahead of time. They do have gift cards so if you have family friends that want to donate to help you out that can also offset any costs. The fee is on top of the credit so if you need $50 for lessons, they will charge say $53 and you keep the 50 for lessons.

The more you buy the less the fees, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay for a single $10 lesson as you might pay 5% vs about 3-4% if you do $100. One other thing that worried me a bit is that italki isn’t refundable. This was a big concern when I started because I thought if I hate this, I’m stuck. I think for the most part, you’ll find that isn’t that big of an issue to worry about. Just find an instructor that works for you. You can contact them for free before buying any credits at all! I highly recommend contacting them and see how they respond to you. To this day there is one person I wanted to take lessons with, but our schedules didn’t match. She seemed friendly patient and all around like a good teacher. Doing the trial lessons is a must really. Find an instructor you like with a small first time (maybe $30) to cover the trial lessons. They aren’t free, but they are very inexpensive usually about 50% of the regular prices. I guess too many people took advantage of the free lessons and would flake on the instructors taking up time slots.

Anyway, once you find an instructor you like, then see if they have a bulk lesson purchase option. E.g…I can buy several lessons at a small discount about 5% of the cost of several lessons helps a bit. Also, that offsets the cc/paypal fees. Personally, I have been doing about 150 at a time and then buy a block of 5 lessons. 150 covers 2 blocks for me. That ends up being 10 hours of lessons about 15 bucks an hour…not bad right? There is a time limit of 6 months or so that you have to use them by but that’s not really a restriction, especially if you use them once a week. For me personally this works out well. I figure I spend no more than 60-75/mo on tutoring and it give me all the time I want to talk and work on whatever. Plus, it left money over for the lifetime WK lol. If choose to use a professional teacher, say you spend 25/lesson that’s still only about 100 a month. A semester in college/school is more than 400-500 for 4-5 months, right? Also, you are not limited to a single instructor. You can certainly mix/match as much as you want. If you do go with a professional instructor wait to buy books until you decide who you will use. With amazon you can get whatever book you need in day or two anyway.

I might move up to 2x a week for speaking practice, but work and life just doesn’t give me quite that level of time to study and prepare for a lesson every 3-4 days. I did try this in 2x 30min per week in the beginning but when I first started it was a tad overwhelming and especially not having any real vocabulary. My tutor just started with very basic stuff and some cards for simple reading and speaking. Something a 1st grader might use but it was a good place for a beginner. Now 5 months later I can speak (slowly) 80% of the time mostly. I think you have to remember no matter how bad you think you are, look at where you came from and how much you have improved over the little time you have put in. Try to be reasonable with your expectations. I want to be fluent, and I know it won’t happen overnight, but that sometimes can be discouraging. Just keep swimming … :wink:

As with most people, I feel listening is a hurdle. Passive listening (tv/media) vs active listening (someone asking you a direct question) when you need to focus on what’s being said, understand and respond is certainly more challenging. Following a textbook is fine but going outside those bounds is when I find it more difficult. I listen to as much as I can, but even still that’s something that I think I find the most challenging. It is improving though. I get excited when I get a whole sentence from tv or something. The easy ones are simple, but sometimes I’ll hear a something said, and they will start on the next thing and I have to stop it and go wait a minute I understood all of that! It’s really great when I get 2-3 in a row. I know that seems silly, but that always makes me happy.

If you do have time and the vocab for 2x a week I would recommend it. When I first started this, I asked my instructor/tutor for her suggestions. She said to do a speaking lesson at least 1x a week. Her personal feelings are that 2x a week is much better for retention. She recommended avoiding every other week unless it was absolutely necessary. She said most of the students that do a lesson every other week end up forgetting what they learned 2 weeks prior. Knowing what I know now I do tend to agree with this. I still forget some stuff after a week, 2 weeks would be worse. She said that she ends up using most of the time to review what was forgotten from 2 weeks prior. She says it is hard to make forward progress and can be frustrating for both the tutor and student.

Also, I did a quick check this morning for you…average costs for a Native Japanese Speaker that speaks English for a professional teacher is about 20-25/hr and a community tutor is about 10-15/hr. These are averages. But you can check all this out for yourself. It isn’t a bad way to go to get started. Off to do my WK reviews!


One of my hesitations about classes is that I’m not sure whether to start with the beginning class or the intermediate one.

I guess it depends where you learn, but whomever runs the class should talk to you about this first and try and place you at the appropriate level. At the start of each year we always get a couple of students who aren’t sure, so they try out a class then switch after 1 or 2 weeks to the level they feel more comfortable at.

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Private tutor trumps classes. You can choose when you want the lesson to be held and sometimes, the location. You can also choose what you want to learn and from which textbook. I had a private tutor last year come to my home for 90 min every week. We covered Genki lessons 8 to 23 and then N4 preparation. Cost AUD 55 per lesson.

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