Reasons I Love Tech: Becoming Conversational in Japanese

I’ve studied some languages before – French via the Canadian school system, and Mandarin via a mix of self study audio courses and classes. However, in neither case would I claim knowledge of the language. I’ve definitely been scolded more than a few times by French and Mandarin speaking natives for not having better knowledge of a language I’ve studied (and in their mind should know).

About a year ago, I decided to learn Japanese. In the 1 year I’ve now studied the language, I know have more knowledge of Japanese than my knowledge of French and Mandarin combined, and that’s with 10+ years of combined study in French and Mandarin. What changed such that I could learn a language now?

What changed such that I could learn a language now?

A huge reason has been my motivation and commitment has drastically changed. I’ve committed to learning Japanese, while at the time I approached French with a laissez-faire approach and at the time I didn’t have sustained interest with Mandarin. Another big reason however, has been the technology has also drastically changed.

While I used to listen to audio lessons or go to an actual class, the majority of my learning now happens via 1:1 live video chat lessons through Skype. I utilize professional and non-professional Japanese tutors found on italki, a language learning marketplace.

It goes without saying that a private tutor is a great way to learn language, but here are 3 ways that I found technology completely changed how I learned a language, and enabled me to become conversational (albeit poorly, but improving!).

The breadth of tutors

With Skype or video chatting, physical boundaries are completely removed and the number and range of tutors available is staggering.

I have a set of about 8 tutors that I rotate through. Each tutor has their own strengths, style, and value they offer. For instance, I have a tutor who offers a very structured lesson where we work out of a textbook, and because he is fluent in English and Japanese, he’s able to explain the nuances of the language to me. On the other hand, I have another tutor who speaks little to no English and he speaks to me exclusively in Japanese, and at a fairly quick pace. With the differing styles, I gain exposure and practice to various situations, accents, grammar, and vocabulary.

The fact that I have tutors in countries such as Australia, Paraguay, Mexico, Vietnam, and of course Japan is a fun bonus, as we always have a bit of fun discussing what’s going on each other’s respective country.

The fact that I have tutors in countries such as Australia, Paraguay, Mexico, Vietnam, and of course Japan is a fun bonus

The price

Since the tutors come from a global marketplace, and of also varying skill levels, the price ranges are also large. While a private lesson in San Francisco could run $40 USD+/hr, tutors online are available for as low as $10 USD/hr.

With the online global marketplace, in addition to professional tutors I’m also able to connect to students, homemakers, travelers and other people who may be teaching Japanese as a hobby or as a side job.

I’m also able to connect to students, homemakers, travelers and other people who may be teaching Japanese as a hobby or as a side job.

The prices available for lessons online make it much easier for me to take more lessons more often.

The convenience

When I took Mandarin classes, I would drive 20-40 min to where the class was. Factor in round trip travel and the lesson time and it’s a big chunk of time.

With lessons via Skype, going to my lesson entails flipping on my computer. Travel time is eliminated and I can take my lessons anywhere and on computer, tablet, or phone as needed. Since I’m the type of person who struggles to get out of bed in the mornings, I schedule my lessons at 6 am to force me to get out of bed (can I force myself to become a morning person??). No problem for my tutors since it’s not 6 am where they are.

With lessons via Skype, going to my lesson entails flipping on my computer.

I usually take my lessons from home in San Francisco, but on a recent trip to Japan, I was able to continue my lessons as usual. I just re-shuffled the timing to match time zones better. And if the time zone difference wouldn’t work out with my usual tutors, I was able to find other tutors that would work.

I’m 300+ lessons in and I treat it like a game now on accumulating more hours and knocking out more chapters in my textbook. Anybody who knew me in school can attest that this was not normal behavior for me.

Truth be told, a lot of learning a language is done the hard way – with homework, study, and lots of time. But with the ease, fun, and cost of learning a language now because of technology, it sure makes homework a lot more tolerable.

Luckily for me also, people in Japan have been much too polite to scold me for my broken Japanese.

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I was extremely excited that I made my first phone call and restaurant reservation in Japanese. I prepped for over 30min before I called.


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