There was a time when I was crazy about learning Japanese. I would spent hours searching for the best method to learn it. I read blogs and books and watch a lot of Youtube about learning languages.
Then I came across a guy named Benny Lewis who profoundly changed my perception of learning languages forever.
Benny is a polyglot. He can speak more than 10 languages fluently. He liked to travel the world and learnt the local language on everywhere he went. The remarkable thing about him was that for every language, he only learnt for several months and was able to converse at a decent level. I was fascinated.
Then I read all of his blogs and books to try to understand his approach. It turned out to be very simple, but extremely powerful:
- When he started learning a new language, he only learnt some basic phrases to ask what something meant, ask someone to repeat, and a few simple sentence structures to describe things.
- Then he scheduled many lessons with a native teacher online via a platform called italki.
- He spoke with a teacher several times a week. He learnt by speaking, by actively using the language, instead of spending days reading textbooks.
- When he encountered new words, he put it into Anki.
- After just 2-3 months, he was able to speak to a local in a foreign country confidently. He could express what he wanted to say and understood others. That was mind-blowing to me at the time.
Inspired by Benny, I started to register for an account on italki and looked for my first lesson with a Japanese teacher. It didn’t take me long to find one because there were hundreds of Japanese teachers on the platform. I could see their profile, their teaching method, their rating, how many lessons they have taught, what students talked about them, etc.
So I booked one lesson and it turned out to be awesome.
During the lesson, I was forced to use Japanese for the first time in my life. I struggled to express myself in Japanese but my teacher was patient and always helped whenever I got stuck. When she said something new, she typed it to the Skype chat to make sure I understood it. I enjoyed the lesson a lot. I didn’t feel embarrassed by my elementary Japanese level at all, instead I felt encouraged by the teacher. I wanted to improve. So I booked more lessons.
After several sessions, I felt more confident and was able to speak Japanese naturally. It was not fluent but I could talk to the teacher about basic topics like food, hobbies, holidays, work, etc. It’s the moment I realised that this was the most effective approach of learning languages.
“Speaking with a native teacher frequently is the best way to learn any languages”.
That’s such an important realisation to me.
It gave me a strong feeling that I could learn any language if I wanted to. If Benny could do it, so could I. Learning languages became so much fun with this approach.
Having been using italki for a long time, I’d like to share a few tips on how to best utilise this platform:
- First of all, how to choose a teacher?
- Make sure the teacher’s available slots match your schedule.
- The teacher should have taught many lessons already. I usually chose a teacher with a record of 500-1000 past lessons.
- The teacher should have good ratings and positive feedbacks from the students.
- Many teachers offer trial lessons with cheaper price. You should try that out to see whether you like the teacher and his/her teaching format.
- During the trial lesson, make sure the teacher patiently listens while you’re struggling with words. The teacher should correct your mistakes too. And more importantly, you should do most of the talking instead of the teacher.
- Learnt some basic phrases to say in case:
- You don’t understand something.
- You want the teacher to repeat.
- You want to ask simple questions like: what, when, where, who, why, etc.
- Tell the teacher what your goal is and what lesson format you’re more interested in.
- It could be speaking casually about daily life.
- Or learn lessons from a book.
- Or study for a test.
- Or just want to improve your speaking in general.
- Record the lesson into a video. Then review it and try to correct your mistakes.
- Put all new vocabs into Anki.
In summary, the next time I want to learn any language, here are the only 2 things that I would focus on:
- Speak to a native teacher 1-3 times a week.
- Add all new vocabs into Anki.
Try it for yourself. Who knows maybe you can speak fluently after only 2-3 months. That would be awesome.
As a bonus, here’s a video of me learning with a Japanese teacher on my 4th lesson (The original video lasts for one hour, I cut it to only 50 seconds here).