What's it like to learn Japanese with a tutor?

Hello! I’ve been studying Japanese for a year-ish and, since my weakest areas are in speaking and listening, I think the next step to improvement for me is to get a tutor to help. I’ve been looking at italki for a bit, but I’m a bit anxious and confused about what it’s like.

I’m mostly worried about not having anything to “present” to a tutor at the start of the lesson. Like, do I need to be some conversational lesson-planning master? My biggest fear is coming into the lesson without having anything to talk about and being stuck in an eternal (but also hour-long) void of awkward silence. I’m kind of introverted so the idea of pushing myself out to meet someone in any kind of tutor situation isn’t the most appealing to me. But I still want to do it.

If you had lessons with a tutor before, whether it was in-person or through some online service, what was it like? I know these things vary from tutor to tutor, but it’d be comforting to go in with a basic understanding of what to expect.


Isn’t the whole point of a one on one lesson that they prepare things for you to work on so there isn’t just silence? Obviously you have to give them an idea of what you want to cover, but then they manage the flow of the studying. Alternatively, you can bring your own things you want to do, but you’d never go into a session with nothing.


Hey there.

I was also considering getting a tutor from Italki to help with my Japanese. Currently, I decided not to hire one yet because I am still at a very basic level so I feel like my money would be wasted. (I’ll wait until I’m done with Genki 1/ halfway through Genki 2)

Anyway, from what I’ve heard on Reddit and other sites, hiring someone from Italki seems to be worth it. Generally, after you have booked a lesson with a tutor/teacher, you should contact them and let them know what you want to focus on and what kind of things you have studied so far. Usually, the teachers will have Japanese learning books with them. So if you’re studying using Genki, you can tell them you’ve studied up to x chapter. They should be able to create a lesson plan that suits you as well.

As far as being worried about awkward silences, I’ve heard that the teachers/tutors are usually great at asking you questions or engaging you so there shouldn’t be any worry about not knowing what to talk about. If for some reason they don’t try to engage you, you should let them know that you’re having trouble.

My advice would be to go hire a professional teacher first just because they have structured lesson plans and are more qualified at… well, teaching. Those people are the ones who actually have experience teaching and they will have a better idea on what you need to work on and also be better at explaining things.

Community tutors on the other hand doesn’t require to have a structured lesson ready. They might also not be able to explain things as clearly since they could just be native speakers that doesn’t have any teaching experience. Although, I heard they’re good if you want to pratice your conversation skills.

Also, definitely use the trial lessons that you have. You have three to use and the trial lessons are only 30 minutes long. Also, some have a cheaper rate on the trial lessons. Don’t be afraid to find other teachers if you feel like the current one doesn’t click with you.

I would also recommend looking at the reviews left by the other students, and to definitely check out their introduction video to see if you can understand the way they say things. Also even better if the teacher can also speak some English so that they can explain things to you.

Although I don’t have any experience with Italki yet, I hope that my research helps. Good luck!


I… feel like if a tutor lets you sit in awkward silence for an hour, they’re probably not a very good tutor!

I don’t have any experience with it myself, but I know @shadykit uses a tutor, so might be able to give you some tips. Depending on the tutor, I’m sure you can discuss not only what your level is and the things you’d like to learn, but also which areas you’d like to work on (so in your case, you might literally just want to practise conversation rather than explicitly learning new grammar, for example).


As someone who teaches English AND takes Japanese lessons, keep in mind what you want to get out of the lessons and look for a teacher who you think will deliver that based on their teaching style. If you want to improve your speaking accuracy, look for a strict and professional teacher who will correct your every mistake. If you want to improve overall fluency, look for a teacher who will mostly have discussion classes and be more patient. If you’re looking to improve JLPT, make sure they have experience with that!


A good tutor will make an effort to engage you, so an awkward hour long silence would be more of a reflection on them than you! But it is probably unlikely. Many teachers will be used to dealing with shy and nervous students I guarantee you won’t be some kind of terrible unteachable anomaly.

As an anxious person I find it best to have a ‘script’ ready to get the conversation started then once it’s going you should be totally fine. A good script for talking to a tutor would be what language you are learning (obviously), your previous study methods, a rough approximation of your level and a goal is also helpful.

So something like,

'Hello, I am looking for a Japanese tutor, I’ve been studying alone for a year using Genki and am still a beginner. I want to get better at conversational Japanese"

Then they can ask you questions, you can get a conversation going and everything will be fine!

And if you don’t get on, that person just wasn’t the tutor for you and you can try again


I’ve been taking Japanese lessons on Italki since May '18 and I can definitely say they help SO much! (I’ve also been taking Spanish lessons for a bit longer.)

The lessons are different depending on the teacher but they really motivate me to study more inbetween lessons. Just to give you an idea of what my Japanese lessons usually look like, I study with 2 professional teachers (hour long lessons) and then I work with a “community tutor” for 30 minute lessons.

The teachers are much more structured lessons, and we are working through Genki 1 currently, I started at the end of May and am now through chapter 10 (though I had basic Japanese skills prior to getting back to Japanese study this year and I got through the first half of Genki 1 mostly as a review). We usually start our lessons with some conversation about our weeks,day, etc and then we start going through the lesson I’ve been studying. We do all the practice you would do in a classroom, but it’s so much better because instead of practicing with another student who has roughly the same level of Japanese as yourself, you get to practice with a native who can correct even the most minor mistakes. These practices usually lead to some natural conversation intermixed and because you’re practicing with a native speaker and not another student you can learn more vocabulary instead of saying the same boring/canned responses you would in a traditional classroom.

My experience with the “community tutor” on Italki is different. She doesn’t have Genki to work with so I usually try to write my own sentences before hand, working with the new grammar and vocabulary from the Genki lesson I’m working on and then we go through those. She’s helpful with helping me to sound more natural and casual in conversation among friends, but I do find that if I don’t have questions or something prepared that the conversation can stall.

I think using a combination of teachers and tutors has been helpful, just more exposure and focusing on different things. Obviously the more real life interaction you can have with a native speaker the better.

If you’re worried about dead air I would suggest trying a lesson with a teacher first and going from there. Italki gives you a few free trial lessons, and those are a great way to try it out. If you have a goal and a method you’re using to achieve it, there will be a teacher that can work with you, and even if you don’t and you want someone to assign you something to work on, there are teachers that will do that too.


@jprspereira, were you using an italki tutor or teacher?

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Yes OP, like everyone says, you obviously have stuff you want to work on, and a good tutor is not just gonna let you pay them to sit there quietly for an hour. To me, it’s been utterly worth it!


Thanks for the thoughtful replies, everyone. I feel more confident going into this. Jeez, you guys on WK are neat <3

From what I’ve read here it sounds like hiring a professional tutor’d be better for me. Maybe when I hit a higher level of speaking proficiency I’ll be more up to informal lessons where I just have a conversation or something.

That’s a great idea! I think getting the lesson started’s gonna be the hardest part but that’d make things a lot easier for me since I could get everything I wanna say down on paper first. I’ve done that kinda thing before when making important phone calls so I’m confident it’d work well here too. :slight_smile:

Do y’all think it’d be a bad idea for me to try to write that script out and present it in Japanese?

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I see a tutor once a week for an hour via Skype. I told her flat out that I am an awkward individual and sometimes I may look disinterested (my face sometimes looks emotionless at times >_>). I found her on Thumbtack and she’s been super patient with me. Though, I had a pretty bad experience with another tutor last year (same website). It’s hit or miss but more often than not, I think people won’t be bad. My horrible experience seems to be an outlier. If you’d like, I can recommend my tutor. Private message me if so.

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I think having a little 自己紹介 prepared in Japanese made me feel more confident getting started. Maybe jot down some other things you’d like to talk about too. I was nervous when I had my first lesson, but just do some trial lessons and if the person doesn’t have a good vibe you literally never have to see them again!

I found my Spanish skills improved a lot after doing a few months of lessons but I also just felt so much more confident on a recent trip to Costa Rica (I actually went to a cell store and got my mobile WiFi working with their SIM and got it reloaded all in Spanish! Which would’ve been a lot more painful prior to my lessons) And I’m sure the Japanese lessons will make me more confident on my upcoming trip to Japan! (That’s the idea anyways…)
Good luck!


I’ve done iTalki lessons since December, twice a week. I’ve done 55 lessons up to this date with various teachers. It’s very rare to get total silence even if I run out of topic almost every teacher will ask you something or try to keep things going.

I started doing them when I had just a couple of months of experience. The early conversations weren’t really conversations, but I tried to tell stories as much as I could.

I’ve never really used any sort of plan, or structure. I chat for an hour about whatever comes to mind. These days there is very little English involved. My rationale for this is that iTalki provides the one thing I cannot do on my own which is conversation practise.

It’s totally great. Making mistakes is the best part. I’ll never forget the time I tried to think of the word for middle east (中東) and instead calling the middle eastern immigrants here for 地中から来た人. And when calling my boss my 親分.


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