Guide to Choosing Group or Private Japanese Lessons
What is the difference between group and private Japanese lessons?
For people have taken Japanese lessons before, this is probably a simple question. However, for those who have not taken lessons, it is impossible to know the difference if you do not have context.
We run a 150 student plus Japanese language school in Tokyo and this is a question many students have posed to us. We have found that some types of lessons and teachers are more suitable for certain types of people. Depending on your main goal, choosing the right type of lesson can make a huge difference in your motivation and attitude towards learning.
This guide will talk about the benefits and challenges of both group Japanese lessons and private Japanese lessons. This article will also focus on casual Japanese lessons (1 - 8 hours a week) and intensive lessons (15 hours a week or more).
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Benefit of Japanese Group Lessons
Benefit 1 : Make foreign friends
One of the awesome benefits of group lessons is that you have teammates that can help you learn the language and be a support system during your time in Tokyo. You’ll be connected by the fact that you will usually speak around the same level of Japanese and share the same goal in improving your Japanese. We have seen our group lesson students go from strangers to friends, help motivate each other and even go out for lunch after every lesson.
Benefit 2 : Ample lesson Time
For group lesson students, most casual schools either do multiple 50 minute lessons in a row or have one long 80 - 100 minute lesson. I have not seen any schools do 50 minute lessons, so another great point for Japanese group lessons is that you have ample time for learning Japanese and more time than a private lesson for the same price.
We have found that 80 - 100 minutes is an optimum amount of time for lessons. Three hours of lessons can be overwhelming and leave your head spinning. However, taking 90 minute lessons gives you a sense of accomplishment without draining all your brain energy. At our Japanese language school in Shinjuku, we have found a decent amount of success doing 100 minute lessons.
Benefit 3 : Discover new things through your classmates
Since you are around the same level of Japanese, you will have many opportunities to learn from one another. Your classmates may have a question you never thought about and you may learn something really interesting thanks to them. Another example is when your classmate makes a mistake and your teacher gives them a correction and from that you can correct your own mistakes.
Benefit 4 : Less Attention and Pressure
This benefit really depends on you and you may not find this beneficial. However, we have had students mention that they feel nervous being one on one with a Japanese teacher and do not want to be corrected all the time. If they can take a lesson with other people, there will be less attention and less pressure on them to answer questions from the teacher.
Benefit 5 : Reduce your nervousness speaking in front of others
If the thought of speaking Japanese in front of other foreigners scares you, a group lesson may actually be a better option for you than private lessons. We have quite a few students at our Japanese language school who decided to take private lessons because they are afraid to speak Japanese in front of a group of people and wanted to develop their confidence through private lessons.
Jumping into a group lesson will give you many more opportunities to practice speaking in front of other people and help you break out of you shell. An added bonus is the pressure of speaking in front of other people will probably also help you increase your response speed time. My personal recommendation is try taking both types of lessons because you can get the best of both worlds.
Benefit 6 : Raise your motivation for studying
In your group lessons, you will likely have classmates who speak Japanese better than you. In some cases, they may be several months ahead of you in terms of ability and it can be daunting at first. If you are the type of person who is competitive, attending a group lesson may motivate you to study more to catch up with your classmates. When I was studying Japanese, all my classmates were Chinese who could read all the kanji or Koreans who already understood the grammar structures. This motivated me to out study because that was the only way I could keep up with the class.
Benefit 7 : Easy first step for people who are not sure what they want
Another potential benefit is that attending group lessons can serve as a first step towards learning Japanese. Some people feel that they need solid goals and a purpose for taking private lessons and would feel nervous to be one on one with their Japanese teacher for an hour. We find that many students who take group lessons at Japan Switch are not sure what type of lessons they would like to take and “would just like to try lessons out before making a commitment.”
If you read this article and you are still unsure about what type of lessons you should take, consider taking group lessons as your first step.
Challenges of Japanese Group Lessons
Challenge 1 : Differences in student levels and learning speeds
There are unicorn group lessons where all 6 students are exactly at the same level and share the same learning speed. This is usually not the case for casual lessons because everyone has their own separate reasons for learning and do not study or use Japanese in equal amounts outside the classroom.
Some students might be good at reading and writing, while other students might have excellent speaking skills. In some cases, you will have to move on to the next section even though you do fully understand the lesson because the class needs to move on.
Some classes may have a dominant higher level student who speaks a lot using language that is beyond your level of understanding. The opposite may also happen where a student is not studying outside of class or learns at a more relaxed pace and may hold the class back by asking many questions to the teacher.
Challenge 2 : Difference in ages, hobbies, and stage in life
Similar to differences in levels and learning speeds, you will most likely have classmates who are older or younger than you, have different hobbies and interests in Japan, or are at a different stage in their life and have challenges that are not relevant for you. You might have a classmate who is the same age as your mother or the same age as your child. Almost all classes work well together, but in some cases there are groups with people who can’t really relate to one another.
You may also have students who ask questions to the teachers that you already know the answer to or don’t have much interest in. As a Japan veteran, I would not want to use class time to listen to questions about Japan from curious travelers, so for me private lessons would be more appropriate. However, as someone who is new to Japan, you would gain a lot from any questions about Japan from other students.
Challenge 3 : Students who are absent or missing a lesson
Another challenge to taking group Japanese lessons is that if you miss one lesson, you will have to study the content on your own and catch up with the class. For students who are taking classes up to 5 days a week, missing one week could set them back quite a lot. With casual classes, you can easily prepare for the lessons you missed and if you are taking private lessons alongside group lessons, you could use your private lesson time to make up that missed lesson as well.
This challenge also applies to your classmates. You may have classmates who miss lessons and the teacher would need to balance moving on to the next section while spending time to help them catch up.
For those who are fast learners or who want to prepare for their lessons in advance, private lessons may be more suitable for you.
If Japanese group lessons matches your needs and you are looking for a school in Tokyo, learn more about our group lessons here.
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Online Japanese Group Lessons
Challenge 1 : Classroom Management
The biggest challenge of online group lessons is classroom management. In a in person classroom environment, it is easy organizing students into pairs, writing things on the board, and calling on students to speak. When doing lessons online, the teacher has to switch between sharing screens and ensure that only one person is speaking at a time since you cannot do pair work in many cases. You sometimes get the hilarious scene of people accidentally talking over one another which you would not get in a in-person class.
Challenge 2: Classroom Sizes
We see many schools trying to do online lessons with 6 or more students and we personally think those lessons are ineffective because of the classroom management challenges above. We have reduced our maximum online group Japanese class sizes from 6 > 4 students to avoid many management challenges and to increase student speaking time.
Other than the above too, most of the points are the same.
Benefits of Japanese Private Lessons
As of 2020, we have launched online private Japanese lessons. The online lessons are going very smooth and get our same quality lessons at home and save money on transportation fees.
Benefit 1 : Go at your own pace
One of the main benefits for taking private lessons is that you can learn at your own pace. For students who want to move at a quick pace, you can prepare for your lessons in advance using the tips in our guide on how to prepare for private lessons.
For students who would like to ask many questions to their teachers, private lessons would give you the opportunity to take your time and ask as many questions as you want.
Here are some examples of things you can do
- You do not need to worry or think about inconveniencing other students
- You have more time to practice challenging areas
- You have more time to practice pronunciation
- You have more time to ask about Japanese culture
Benefit 2 : Having an ambassador in your corner
Group lessons can be great for meeting other foreigners, but you cannot develop the one to one relationship that private students have with their teacher.
Living in Tokyo (and Japan in general) can be tough and we have discovered that meeting the same teacher each week helps provide a pillar or source of consistency for students. There are many things that foreigners both new to Japan and long-term residents may not know and having someone you can go to every week and ask all your questions makes life much easier.
Based on my interviews with our students at Japan Switch Tokyo, I highly recommend students who are in Japan short-term (example: tourist visa) to take private lessons. Every student we interviewed had visited Japan before but mentioned that taking privates lessons made them feel much more connected to Japan than their first trip to Japan.
Benefit 3 : Having someone who understands your needs
The longer you take Japanese lessons with your teacher the more they will get to know you and your individual needs. Your teacher will learn about your strong points and weak points and can adjust how they deliver the lesson based on those needs. Your teacher will also know what areas they need to spend more time on and also the best way to explain things to you.
This also relates to what you like personally and your goals in Japan. For example, if you like talking about Japanese food or are interested in pop culture, your teacher may introduce you to a new restaurant they heard about recently or a something they saw on the news.
For group lessons, the teacher has to think about all of the students and make adjustments accordingly and may not always be spot on for you because of the uniqueness of the group. If you are taking private Japanese lessons though, the teacher can focus their full attention on your needs and it will be much more spot on.
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Challenges of Japanese Private Lessons
Challenge 1 : You have to answer every question yourself
I was surprised to hear this but one thing some multiple group lesson students mentioned was that they feel more comfortable in a group lesson with other students. They mentioned that they felt nervous having to answer every question in the book during private lessons. In group lessons, they were able to hide under the radar and allow other students to answer questions. You can also say that you do not know the answer and pass the question or speaking challenge to another student.
Challenge 2 : Not having enough content to talk about
Several students we interviewed at our Japanese language school in Tokyo mentioned that they took private lessons and felt they did not have enough content to talk about with their teacher.
Students who have many questions on the textbook or on the language or culture will probably not run into this challenge. Students who like to go with the flow and prefers to let someone else lead may experience this challenge.
Challenge 3 : Using a lot of mental energy speaking Japanese
Some students mentioned they felt exhausted because they had to speak the whole time in Japanese. In group lessons, you can take short breaks and have time to think or daze off while the other students are speaking. It would be impossible to daze off during private lessons, because all the attention is on you.
If group lessons are not your cup of tea, and private lessons are the way to go, come check out what type of private Japanese lessons we offer here.
Summary and Quiz
If your answers are mainly yes, than group lessons are for you.
- Are you interested in your classmates questions on culture or life in Japan?
- Are you interested in your classmates opinions on Japanese culture and Japan?
- Do you want to meet other foreigners more than learning at a fast speed?
- Are you motivated to try harder if your classmates are more advanced than you?
- Are you willing to study several hours a week to keep up with your classmates?
- Are you just curious to see what it’s like to study Japanese?
Group lessons are in general great for people who want to meet and learn from other foreigners and who are fine with studying with students who may be slightly higher or lower level than you.
If your answers are mainly yes, than private lessons are for you
- Do you want to only focus on the book and lesson or do you want both lessons and non textbook conversation time?
- Do you want to take your time and go at your own pace on the lesson?
- Do you want the teacher to expand on the textbook or do things that match your interests?
- Do you want to prepare for your lessons in advance?
- Do you like to ask many grammar questions or deeply understand the structure?
If you want to improve quickly or at your own pace take private lessons.
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