If you are anything like me, you might have spent half of the past year trying to coax your kids out from under the desk to do some online work, and the other half reveling in the weirdly luxurious convenience of attending meetings, lessons and events without
proper trousers the slog of the commute to get there.
If you’ve been thinking about learning Japanese 1-1 with a private tutor in 2021, you will likely be wondering what the main differences are between online lessons and in person lessons. Should you start online now, or wait until you can meet up face-to-face? Read on for 6 key questions you should consider.
Well, there is absolutely nothing like meeting face-to-face, grabbing a sunny table and a barista-made matcha latte. Oh my goodness, I miss it so much. But I have to say I don’t miss lurching about on a standing room tube train, perspiring profusely in my coat (too squashed to take it off) after meeting up in London town.
Businesses struggled to deliver their services over 2020-2021, trying to adapt and learn how to make their expertise work online. Likewise, we have all, as individuals, had to rapidly update our tech skills and plunge headlong online into a world of Zoom meetings, like it or lump it! But the good news is:
Tutoring is one of those rare services which can actually offer remarkable results online
I feel incredibly fortunate that my small tutoring business, which I have been running since 2007, has been able to evolve to suit the times. Tutoring is one of those services which can actually offer fantastic results online, and our professional & dedicated Japanese tutors really rose to the challenge of online teaching. Likewise, so many students embraced Japanese tuition online and enjoyed seeing their learning progress.
In this article I would like to share my honest assessment of the PROS & CONS of Japanese tutoring online vs. in person learning, in terms of time, location, cost, and your goals for the lessons. And although I sadly lack a crystal ball, I will offer my thoughts about the future & how learners might expect their Japanese tuition to span out.
Here are 6 key questions to consider that will help you decide what approach to Japanese lessons will work best for you.
1. When will you schedule your Japanese lessons?
Whether meeting online or in person, timing is absolutely crucial when arranging your Japanese lessons. It’s so important to stick to a regular time every week, to make the learning Japanese habit a non-negotiable commitment of your life. Do you have time? When can you make the time?
Also, in order to make a successful connection, your tutor also needs to block off the time in their schedule, and be available to tutor you at the time that works best for you, when you will be relaxed and ready to concentrate.
There is certainly some wiggle room & flexibility for considerate rescheduling (when the lesson time or day needs to change due to other commitments) but it is absolutely essential to start with a realistic, sustainable slot in your weekly timetable that you can look forward to each week, and that your tutor can prepare in advance for.
Also, don’t forget to factor in how much time you can set aside to do some homework between lessons, and when you will do it, as regular review (little & often) is so important to speed up your progress. At the moment, I am literally scheduling in just 10-15 minutes of Japanese review per day. But it all adds up!
With online lessons, no time is spent travelling to lessons (neither the student nor the tutor). It can be easier to fit in with child care and other commitments. Also, if you travel or go abroad for business, it’s very convenient to schedule online lessons (instead of simply needing to miss your regular weekly lesson & losing momentum).
2. How long will each Japanese lesson be?
For in person lessons, there is usually a 90 minute minimum (unless the learner is a child under 12). We find that 60 minutes really flies past when meeting face-to-face, and 90 minutes makes time spent travelling (either yourself or the tutor) to the lesson location worthwhile.
For online lessons, a shorter lesson time of 60 minutes, or 45 minutes is possible (for children under 12 years old, 30 minutes is also available). We find that having the option to schedule shorter lessons online for kids works very well for keeping it fun & maintaining attention spans.
An option that also can work really well for adults’ online lessons is to study more often, but for shorter bursts. Some students are breaking their weekly 90 minute lessons into two sessions online. Others are taking 1 hour every day to keep the learning consistent.
‘I think the 2 x 45min online sessions a week have been really beneficial for my progress in speaking and listening.’ MS, 2020
It’s important to go with what’s most manageable for your learning style – do you prefer a deeper dive or to jump in more frequently?
3. Where do you want to take your Japanese lessons?
Naturally, there are plenty of pros & cons to taking lessons online rather than travelling in person to a location.
One of our students, who is really motivated to learn to Japanese (to use at work and on work trips to Japan) had previously been taking lessons before work at 7.30am in the Bank area before heading in to her office. Since April 2020, she has switched to online, and says:
‘I have much more time to study now and the lessons by Skype are working well – we’re doing 1 hour lessons.’ AW, 2020
Until March 2020, people mostly found JapaneseLondon.com and our tutoring services by searching online for ‘Japanese lessons in London’ – and with most of our lessons involving face-to-face meetings, picking the right location (comfortable, reliable & quiet) has always been extremely important.
Most in person lessons have taken place at the student’s home or office, or the tutors’ home, or in convenient private locations around London such as hotel lobbies & coffee shops, or in other public spaces around London (such as the Southbank Centre or the Barbican).
For learners who are particularly keen to meet up in person with their tutor after restrictions have been lifted, I am being careful to match them with tutors who can still easily get to the student’s preferred area of London, such as their office or home, or nearby. LOCATION does still matter!
4. What will Japanese lessons cost?
Cost can be viewed in terms of both time and money. It’s pretty clear that online lessons cost less of a time investment. This is due to the saving of travel time, not needing to get ready to leave the house, plus the option of taking a shorter lesson online.
In terms of the financial investment, the hourly lesson fees for tuition are the same, whether online or in person. Why are online lessons not cheaper per hour than in person lessons? The answer is that online lessons are equally challenging for tutors to prepare & deliver effectively.
Tutors have had to be adaptable – and acquire a new skill set for professionally delivering communicative lessons online, using the technology well. For those reasons, I believe strongly that tutors should be paid the same rate for their diverse skills, whether lessons take place online or offline.
For in person lessons, a travel fee will be added to the lesson fee, to get the tutor to your preferred location (unless you decide to travel to them – this can be arranged but is not always possible). For online lessons, of course the travel fee does not apply. Naturally, students also don’t have to pay for their own travel if they take lessons online.
5. What are your goals for your Japanese learning?
As we have all found, online meetings can be particularly tiring because of needing to focus intensely on the person on the screen. Online lessons put a lot of emphasis on communication, on the active skills of speaking and listening skills.
Fortunately, Japanese communication skills, such as learning basic greetings & survival Japanese for a trip, brushing up rusty Japanese at any level, and developing small talk skills & conversational fluency are often the number one priority of our Japanese learners.
Online lessons can also be great for building vocabulary because the stream of (typed) chat between you and your tutor can be saved to review later. It’s much easier to look up the meanings of typed Japanese ‘kanji’ characters (than handwritten Japanese characters – you need to know the elements that make up the kanji) in a translation tool such as Google translate, or in an online Japanese dictionary, such as Rikaichan.
On the other hand, in-person lessons might work better for you if you’d like to focus on skills other than speaking and listening, especially writing. The stroke order of writing hiragana, katakana and kanji is best seen in person.
However, I must say that many Japanese language students prefer to practice the passive skills of reading and writing on their own time, asking their tutor to correct or explain as needed.
6.What will Japanese tuition in the rest of 2021 look like?
Although it seems we have never lived in such uncertain times, I’d like to offer my thoughts on how I see our private 1-1 Japanese lessons working for the teachers and students, going into the future.
Some learners and their tutors will be happy to continue with solely online lessons, finding the combination of logistical factors, as well as the results they are getting, suit them very well.
It’s tricky to predict if offices and other businesses will fully open in 2021. A slow return to the regular commute and offices seems likely. For those Japanese learners who are back in town and want to meet their tutor in person, I think that it may be more realistic to schedule to meet up, say, every month – or every 2 weeks – for a lesson. This will keep the convenience of online lessons, but also ensure that face-to-face rapport.
In the warmer months, it may be a good idea to schedule lessons at an outdoor cafe, or even ‘walk & talk’ lessons. For example, to practice the pronunciation skills (modelling mouth movements) which can be a bit trickier online.
Thanks very much for reading this article, and I hope that it has helped you to consider the pros & cons, and whether you will take Japanese lessons online, or in person. Only you can decide what’s right for you, but talking it over can really help, so feel free to get in touch for a chat!
Whatever you decide to do, don’t hesitate to schedule a free consultation with Vanessa, where we can talk about your own unique situation – your vision, goals, and tactics for learning Japanese. There’s never been a better time to really get prepared properly for your trip to Japan.