Choose Your Lesson Tech

At the time of this writing, the standard platform for online face-to-face lessons is Skype. I'm not a fan of Skype. That said, a lot of teachers might feel uncomfortable using platforms they're not familiar with. And it's pretty much the standard platform on which lessons are held.

Explaining to a brand new teacher that you want to use something other than Skype (I like is a hassle. Accordingly, your first lessons will probably be on Skype.

The main reason that Skype is not ideal for online lessons is that your teacher will probably write comments, feedback, etc. in the chat box on Skype. We don't want our teachers to do this!

Instead, we want to set up a Google Doc, then share it with our teacher, and ask them to put all notes and feedback into this location. This Google Doc is also where you'll write down various materials that you would like to use during the lesson.

Here are some of the the benefits to using a Google Doc as your "chat box" during your lesson:

🐯 You can fill it with notes about what you want to discuss or practice in the lesson. (For example, when I do free conversation lessons, I'll list a bunch of conversation topics in the doc before the lesson starts.)

🐯  It is easy to come back and review the notes and feedback that your teacher wrote during the lesson. And these written notes will look a lot more organized in a Google Doc than in a Skype chat box.

🐯 Since a Google Doc can be viewed in your browser, you can use an add-on or plug-in like Yomichan (for Chrome) or Rikaichamp (for Firefox) to check the meanings of words and readings of kanji that your teacher has written without pasting them into a dictionary.

↑ That last point is especially important because we will be asking our teachers to write all words using kanji as Japanese people write them. A lot of teachers will dumb down what they write by using only hiragana — or worse, romaji — in an attempt to make it easier for you. This makes you learn to read Japanese more slowly because you don't get a chance to build your sight vocabulary, which is the ultimate goal for learning to read Japanese writing, including kanji.


How am I going to explain all of this to my teacher if I can't speak Japanese?

Good question.

You can just copy and paste the following when you schedule your first lesson:

[NAME] です。

日本語は [LEVEL] レベルです。


もし差し支えなければ、レッスン中はスカイプのチャットボックスの代わりにこのGoogleドキュメント ([LINK]) を使うことはできますか?




Here's what that says in English (not a literal translation):

My name is [NAME].

I am a [LEVEL] student of Japanese.

My friend helped me prepare this message in Japanese.

If it is all right with you, I would like to use this Google Doc ([LINK]) for all of our written communication during the lesson instead of typing in the Skype chat box.

This will make it easier for me to review what we have studied.

Also, I can put notes in it letting you know what things I would like to learn in the lesson, conversation topics for "free talk" lessons, and so on.

If you have any questions or do not understand something, please just let me know. 

Some notes about using the text above:

Note #1: Be sure to replace the parts in brackets!

Note #2: In place of "[LEVEL]," you can put 超初級 (=absolute beginner), 初級 (=beginner), 中級 (=intermediate), or 上級 (=advanced).

Note #3: You should replace "[LINK]" with the shared URL of the Google Doc that your want to use with this teacher. This page has info on how to create a shareable link to a Google Doc. The links tend to be pretty long, so you might want to shorten it using a service like Bitly.

Note #4: If you're a male speaker, feel free to replace 私 (わたし) with 僕 (ぼく) in the second-to-last sentence, which is a polite word meaning "I" for males. Changing this is technically optional.


I mentioned above that you should use a browser plug-in like Yomichan (for Chrome) or Rikaichamp (for Firefox) so that you can look up Japanese words on the fly while looking at web pages.

Now would also be a good time to start bookmarking your favorite dictionaries. The online Japanese-English dictionary most commonly used by native English speakers is, which is quite useful.

When you get to an intermediate level of Japanese, it might be more helpful to use something like Weblio since it aggregates a large number of Japanese-English dictionaries. This is important because you get definitions that are listed in official dictionaries (i.e. dictionaries written and published by companies). Sites like are just pulling data from free, volunteer-managed projects like JMDict, which are occasionally inaccurate. The example sentences given on sites using free materials tend to be particularly atrocious.

When you get to an advanced level of Japanese, I highly recommend using a Japanese-Japanese dictionary, as you'll get a much better sense of the meanings of various words and also get a chance to notice ways in which English translations sometimes fail to capture the true meaning of a Japanese word. Recently, I've been using goo辞書 the most often.


There's one more thing that we should mention to our teachers in regards to our lesson preferences: Kanji!

Japanese teachers will often try to dumb down written Japanese by using only hiragana and katana, or by writing intrusive kana readings in parentheses next to every single word containing kanji. We do not want our teachers to do this.

First, it doesn't matter if the teacher is writing words with kanji that we don't know because we can use our browser plug-in to instantly view the word's reading and meaning.

Second, by viewing the Japanese the same way a native adult Japanese speaker would view it, we can improve our "sight vocab," which is crucial to becoming able to read Japanese at a higher level. I talk about "sight vocab" in this blog post.

How do we explain all of this to our teacher?

Well, we can just copy and paste the following text:



例えば、「趣味(しゅみ)は映画鑑賞(えいがかんしょう)です。」や「しゅみ は えいがかんしょう です。」のような書き方はせずに、「趣味は映画鑑賞です。」と書いて欲しいです。



Here is what that says in English:

When you write in the Google Doc, could you please use kanji the same way you would when writing to a Japanese person?

This includes times when you think kanji will be too difficult for me.

For example, instead of writing something like 「趣味(しゅみ)は映画鑑賞(えいがかんしょう)です。」or「しゅみ は えいがかんしょう です。」, I would like you to write it as 「趣味は映画鑑賞です。」.

This allows me to practice kanji without relying on their readings, and I can easily look up the readings and meanings of words, even in the middle of a lesson. (I am using a plug-in with this type of functionality.)

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

Note #1: If you're a male speaker, feel free to replace 私 (わたし) with 僕 (ぼく) in the second sentence, which is a polite word meaning "I" for males. Changing this is technically optional.

Note #2: I know you're just dying to learn this Japanese sentence, yeah? It's...

しゅみ は えいが かんしょう です。
My hobby is films.
Literally: "hobby + は + movie / film + appreciation (e.g. of art)."
Note: The Japanese sounds fancier than the English, yeah? I'm having trouble capturing the nuance in my translation.

OK. So, we've got our lesson tech squared away.

Next we need to decide the format we want for our lessons. This is going to be a bit trickier...

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