Choose Your Lesson Format

So, uh... what are we actually going to do in these lessons?

Right. About that... I'm not sure.

Don't worry, I'll give you a lot of suggestions below. But I can't tell you what the best of them would be for you because I don't know your particular goals, level, preferences, and so on.

I'm not even entirely sure what advice I would give to myself back when I was a beginner because I am constantly changing the formats of my own personal online lessons. Whatever new idea I have for a lesson format always ends up being the one I'm most excited about, after all.

Well, here are some options...


Let your teacher decide.

If you're feeling a big overwhelmed about all of this lesson planning, then let your teacher do it for you.

Although I do highly recommend taking the initiative and setting up your lesson tech, as we talked about in the previous lecture, it's not a big deal if you take a more passive approach to your lesson contents/format... at least initially.

This probably won't produce the best results for you personally, but it does save you some work.


Just chat.

These are often referred to as "free talk" or "free conversation" lessons. Essentially, you and your teacher just show up at the lesson time, then talk.

Doing this is very difficult if you're still a low-level speaker of Japanese. Once you get to a higher level, though, it can be pretty great. This is the type of lesson I take most frequently nowadays. However, I always write a list of conversation topics in my Google Doc prior to meeting with a teacher.

Off the top of my head, here are some topics I've listed in the past:
  • Self-sufficiency (e.g. gardening, homesteading, etc.)
  • Population growth
  • Japan's ageing population
  • Internet marketing
  • Volunteering abroad
Trying to talk about any of those things when I was still at a low level would have given me a brain hemorrhage. Even now, I get a little bit uneasy thinking about what I'm going to say when discussing these things. If you're at a lower level, try topics like these:
  • Food preferences
  • Daily habits
  • Family and friends
If you're at a low level and find the open-ended structure of a free talk lesson appealing, then the following format might be better for you...


List things you want to say in Japanese.

This will only work if your teacher can speak/read English quite well, as you're essentially asking them to translate.

The basic idea is that you fill your Google Doc with things that you personally want to be able to say in Japanese.

To give some examples, I'm currently preparing some sentences for Korean lessons, as Rei and I will be traveling to see our family there in about a month, and I haven't been studying at all! So far, I've written the following on my "want-to-say list:"

For adult family members:
  • Long time no see!
  • You look great.
  • How have you been?
  • Is my pronunciation correct?
  • Sorry my Korean is still so bad.
  • Work has been really busy, so I haven't been studying.
  • Has your work been busy?
  • Come visit us in the U.S.!
  • I'll show you around.
  • I recommend coming in June.
  • What is this called?
  • Will you teach me some Jeju dialect?
  • I'll be better at Korean the next time I visit.
  • Which part of Jeju do you recommend to live? 
  • Will you help me apply for a visa?
  • I tried to look it up in English, but I couldn't find any good information.
  • Is it hard to find places where you can live with a dog?
For young family members:
  • Do you like school?
  • Let's play.
  • Can you speak English?
  • How old are you now?
  • How old is your younger brother?
  • What are you doing?
For strangers:
  • Is English OK (to use)?
  • I'm sorry, but I don't speak (much) Korean.

As you can see, we're currently living in the U.S. and considering moving to Jeju, South Korea in the near-ish future.

I suppose I should also mention I actually wrote the above sentences in Japanese since I only take Korean lessons from teachers that can speak and read Japanese fluently. The languages are quite similar compared to English... something to look forward to if you decide to learn Korean after Japanese.

I once met a young American guy in Tokyo who worked as a piano player. He was quite good at speaking casual Japanese, but he had never attended school of any kind. When I quizzed him about his study methods (because I'm a nerd), he told me that he met with a teacher multiple times per week for a couple of years, and that they always did what I described above — he would come into lessons with lists of thing that he wanted to say in Japanese.

Sounds like anecdotal proof that this method works. After all, general learning materials won't always teach you how to say what you do for a living, how to accurately pronounce the name of your hometown, your mom, etc. And they certainly won't have descriptions of your unique motivation for learning Japanese.


Drill grammar patterns.

Drilling grammar patterns is one of the most useful things you can do in a lesson. It is unlikely that you'll be good at conjugating verbs and whatnot on the fly regardless of whether you've read all of our amazing lessons on how to do so. It can be immensely helpful to do so with a teacher... over and over and over again.

As you can imagine, this gets boring fast. But it's certainly useful.

There are a few ways you can approach lessons like this.

💀 If you know which patterns in particular that you want to master, you can tell your teacher. For example, if you want to study the て-form, you can just say that. Then you teacher can feed you verbs and correct you when you conjugate them wrong.

💀 You can also tell a teacher that you want to practice grammar patterns in a resource of some kind, such as a lesson in a textbook, or one of the hundreds of grammar lessons on NihongoShark. Most teachers will already have one of the major textbooks, Genki or Minna no Nihongo, and you can go through them cover to cover. I've heard mixed opinions from both teachers and students about which series prefer.


Play the vocab game.

This is something that Rei and I do to improve her English and my Japanese.
  1. Rei tells me a Japanese word.
  2. I have to use that word in a sentence.
  3. She tells me if I sentence was accurate/natural.
  4. We switch, and I tell her an English word. Repeat until exhausted.
If you're going to try this game with a teacher (or a language exchange partner, as it's quite good for that), it may help to prepare a list of words that you want to be able to use in Japanese, then give them to your teacher/partner so that they can pick from it at random. This is helpful because it can be pretty discouraging if they keep saying words that you don't even know to begin with.


Practice pronunciation.

There are a lot of ways to do this, but one involves reading texts aloud.

Your teacher listens to you read, then gives you feedback when you're done. And there should be feedback because your pronunciation will be flawed. If you don't get feedback, then your teacher probably lacks experience teaching pronunciation.


Message each other.

A tricky thing about speaking a new language is that it happens so fast. One way around this is to have conversations with your teacher that are typed instead of spoken.

You can both type directly into your Google Doc, then after a short back-and-forth is completed, your teacher can give you spoken feedback.

A cool thing about this is that you can look up the words your teacher is typing in a flash (using a browser plug-in), which makes it easier to follow the conversation. Also, it's another way to improve your reading ability.


As you can see, we have A LOT of options for our lessons. And when you browse teacher profiles on sites, you'll encounter even more.

No need to try them all at once. And if you pick a format and end up disliking it, then switch it up! ^_^

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