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Due to the social isolation and the inability to pursue my usual hobbies (eating with friends and playing boardgames) during Covid-19, I started feeling a little empty after work and longed to engage in some routine activity. For this activity to be engaging and fulfilling, I wanted it to be a learning experience where my progress could be measured easily.

The idea of learning Japanese popped into my mind as I have always considered language learning a fair test of diligence rather than natural talent, and there is plenty of structure in language learning to guide me as a complete beginner. Worth noting that I did have a burst of motivation at some point last year and made a half-hearted attempt in learning Japanese last year (3 italki lessons exactly). This time, if I did end up giving up again, well I would just have to admit that I am a huge slacker and am not very good at self-discipline.

Now that a month has passed and I am glad to say that I didn’t give up this time. To my own surprise, this experience of self-studying Japanese has been quite pleasant and I would like to reflect on my experiences so far. I intend to continue studying Japanese and hopefully improve on my own process.


  • Minna no Nihongo 1

As an optimizer, I probably spent too much time thinking about whether to get Genki 1 or Minna no Nihongo 1. At the end of the day, either one will serve its purpose in teaching me Japanese. My casual investigation indicates more tutors on italki can teach the material from Minna no Nihongo 1 and, therefore, I decided to go with it.


I personally have found Anki to be the best flashcard app because its space repetition algorithm is more effective than any similar apps, such as Memrise, Quizlet and Brainscape. Thanks to the large community, there are plenty of Japanese vocabulary decks available on the Anki site already. One thing that I did customize for my deck is to add audio to all the vocabularies on the deck through the AwesomeTTS plugin (this needs to be on a laptop, not a phone). I used the “Google Cloud Text-to-Speech” service through the plugin and even intentionally slowed down the speech to make it easier to listen to.

Online tutors

As a language learner, I consider listening and speaking practices with a native speaker essential. As much as I look forward to memorizing all the vocab and reading Japanese literature in Japanese, being able to first converse with someone in Japanese would be tons of fun. At the same time, I recognized my nonexistent Japanese ability and preferred private tutors that have had professional experiences teaching Japanese to foreigners in a school setting.

I tried out quite a few trial lessons with different tutors on italki and would highly encourage everyone to do that. Each teacher has their own styles and finding someone that complements your learning preference would be quite beneficial. For instance, I prefer to memorize vocab and do textbook exercises in my own time, and prefer my lessons to focus on listening and speaking. Therefore, I ended up going with a tutor that has extra materials in strengthening my conversation skills.

One thing that is going to be missing from private tutoring is the social environment with other fellow students. I tried to look up group Japanese classes online but didn’t find many options. I did come across Japonin and have been taking its classes once a week. Japonin structures its lessons in a unique way in that each lesson contains isolated grammar pattern. You don’t need to sign up for a series of classes and instead can sign up at your convenience since all their course content are self-contained. Even though you don’t really get to interact with your classmates in the group setting, I found it a good way to calibrate my own expectations. For instance, when I joined my first Intro class there, I was initially quite scared as a complete beginner but seeing others struggle as much as I did actually motivated me in my study.

Another note on Japonin is that due to the self-contained nature of their courses, I don’t think it would be a good primary way to learn new grammar rules. Instead, I use it as a way to reinforce learned rules and practice speaking.

Moreover, I tried Japatalk as a potentially cheaper option to Italki. Since I find the lesson there a bit cheaper, I feel more relaxed about the structure of the lesson. So with the teacher from Japatalk, I tend to go through my weak points, whether be grammar or speaking.

Lastly, I found having private lessons to be a good motivator for me to go through the textbook. Without the lessons, I might be tempted to go through Anki cards all day and never open the textbook.

Life Hack(?)

I scheduled a repeating event every day in my Google calendar as a dedicated time block to study Japanese and, to my own surprise, I have followed through quite consistently.

What is Next

I am looking forward to finish the Minna no Nihongo 1 textbook and pass a N5 mock test.

Additional Resources

If you would like to try out italki, I would really appreciate it if you use my referral link that will give you $10 credit as a new user.