iTalki for Japanese Review
Having recently introduced iTalki briefly as a sponsor on my YouTube channel, I wanted to provide a bit more insight into their service offerings. iTalki is a useful service for pairing foreign language learners with online teachers and tutors. But it also might be suited more to some learners than others, so I wanted to share my experiences and thoughts. So here is an iTalki for Japanese review!
Quick Ratings of iTalki
The introductory trial rates are unbeatable. The full-lesson rates are also unbeatable when compared to language schools and private in-person tutors. Depending on your level, you might want to start out with a free app and self study to jump-start your vocab and technical input.
Was that what you were looking for? Give iTalki a try. Or keep reading for more details and insight.
My Experience With iTalki for Japanese
When I started using iTalki, I was hovering around N5 JLPT level. For the sake of understanding my background, I have also tried the following:
- In-person: adult evening classes with a native Japanese teacher (relaxed community style in America)
- Apps: Duolingo, Anki, Lingodeer, Brainscape, HelloTalk, Busuu
- Audio books: Pimsleur
- Online Courses: Japanese with Aimee, Visual Learn Japanese
- Textbooks: Genki 1
- 1-on-1: private lessons in Japan with a bilingual teacher
- Immersion: living and working in Japan
- Websites: Wani-Kani, Rocket Languages
On iTalki, I tried a few different instructors, all native Japanese speakers. Two were community tutors, three were licensed teachers. They were all very different experiences.
Is Learning from a Native Speaker Important?
Speaking and listening to a native Japanese speaker is necessary, however conversation might not be as important for the most beginner levels as we are made to believe it is. This is my opinion. Some might disagree.
I took a 1-on-1 lesson with a native Japanese teacher in Japan and it didn’t feel worth it because ultimate beginner curriculum can have been more quickly and cheaply input by using self-study. My teacher walked me through a lesson on hobby vocabulary and two simple sentence structures. While $15 for the lesson is very reasonable for a human’s time, it wasn’t worth it when compared to the same amount of focus time spent on the right app.
When iTalki Is the Most Valuable in Your Language Learning Timeline
Conversation with fluent speakers is irreplaceable. The key is doing it after you have enough of a foundation to make it worthwhile.
Attempting conversation with no Japanese language foundation is like showing up to an art lesson without a pencil and paper.
The experience you have with each teacher or tutor is completely dependent on that person. iTalki is simply a matchmaking service. The service provider can be great or terrible, so you will want to look at their rating and reviews on the iTalki platform.
The most valuable instructors I worked with [counterintuitively] were the community tutors. While you might think that the service would be “lesser” because they don’t require the same amount of training as teachers, I found my experience with tutors to be more flexible and useful. They were less strict about sticking to the curriculum and more willing to take detours to answer questions or go down a custom conversational track.
Pros and Cons of iTalki
- The ability to search for teachers who speak regional dialects (Kansai-ben, anyone?)
- Set your own pace
- Affordable when compared to a language school or in-person 1-on-1 lessons
- No commute time
- Individualized feedback
- Many teachers and tutors to choose from
- No subscription fee
- Introductory trial rates as low as $5 available from many people
- The quality of the session is dependent on the instructor [variable]
- Lessons offer fewer opportunities to create community friendships, or meeting new people when compared to in-person classes or online courses that use discord/forums
- It may take a few trials to find the instructor that you prefer
- Might not be worth it value-for-your-dollar-wise depending on where you are in your language journey
Is 1-On-1 Better Than a Classroom Experience?
Yes and no. I really loved my time taking classes at Aozora Gakuen in Brooklyn (if these classes are still available, they aren’t advertised online). The teacher regularly offered us wine to loosen up. My only classmate was a wise-cracking tradesperson who had fun stories about his Tokyo-born mother-in-law. It was a warm atmosphere and a nice memory. That’s not really related to “effectiveness” per-se, but the community aspect might influence the ease of maintaining momentum.
When it came to actually practicing Japanese, iTalki was more efficient for coursework mileage. More content got into my brain more efficiently than in the classroom. The verbal practice was there. The responsiveness was there. All the technical elements were there. And of course, a classroom simply doesn’t exist for me in-person here in the inaka.
Recommended, but Might Not Be for Everyone
The right person for iTalki:
- You have either already taken a course in Japanese or have a fair amount of self-study vocabulary, grammar, and ability to form sentences under your belt
- You are interested in the efficiency of input and practice
- You have a busy or irregular schedule
- You don’t have Japanese-speaking friends to practice with
- You prefer to take lessons at home
Not the right fit for iTalki:
- Those who are at the very beginning, aka JLPT N5 level or less
- Distaste or challenges utilizing zoom/web classrooms
- Often late or forgetful of appointments
It’s important to note that iTalki (and any method of conversation practice) is not the whole story. Conversation needs to be accompanied by a great deal of technical input and laborious memorization.
Again, this is purely based on my personal opinion and experiences. An ultimate beginner may very well start with an iTalki teacher and have a great experience.
As far as the platform goes, yes. It is legit, convenient, and well-designed. And it has a very low commitment fee to give it a try. It very may well be the missing key you’ve been lacking in your Japanese study and practice. So after it all, yes. I recommend giving iTalki a try.
… but also make room for your own style of language-practice joy. 😉