Queries about how people use their tutor led lessons

I’m curious about how people use their tutor led lessons.

So far, I’ve had 3 separate tutors and each does lessons in different ways. All have been free talk sessions but this last one takes note of vocabulary or grammar that I’ve struggled with and although they explain in the lesson, they also give me homework to come up with some example sentences to show I’ve understood the meaning and then correct those if I’ve made mistakes or explain more natural versions if mine sounds a bit off.

For the most part it has been helpful but I do struggle to find things to talk about so most of the time it’s either me asking about certain grammar or vocabulary uses or it’s random stories (stuff I’ve read or talking about stuff from my childhood) and it’s still pretty basic grammar I’ve been using mostly because I panic, don’t know what to talk about or what to say and I revert. I have tried picking a topic to talk about and work on that but I don’t seem to know enough in Japanese to actually talk about anything much for more than about 5 minutes without running out of things to say with the exception of self introductions and you can only practice those so many times before they become boring and the. :sweat_smile:

Some lessons I feel like I’m wasting my tutors time because I don’t know what I’m doing and don’t know how best to learn through these lessons. I have had a few book recommendations from my tutor so we can talk about those but they are still quite far above my level so I’m unable to read them at the moment. I have asked my tutor for help with this but suggestions all seem to be for things I should be able to do once I reach a higher stage of understanding and speaking.

So if anyone wants to share their lesson structure or things that they find helpful during lessons or that may work well within lessons, I’d be happy to hear about it so I can try something different to see if that helps.

Thanks in advance :blush:

Edit: I should have stated, all of my tutors have been native Japanese with some teaching experience though that may not have been in a language capacity and each have had a better understanding of English than my understanding of Japanese.


I don’t have tutor lessons, but one thing that works well in a small classroom setting and could help with your issue of topics:

  • reading through a newspaper article about a specific topic
  • going through vocabulary & grammar in that article
  • talking about the topic in general; how is it in your country? differences to Japan? etc.

I am not sure if your tutors are teachers or just random natives who offer to talk to you, but preparing a newspaper article that is both within reach of your level and that they actually know something about, should fall on their shoulders, imo. But obviously that takes a bit of time. However, you could also provide them with a few articles you have found about topics that interest you. If they are a teacher, they will be able to explain vocab and grammar on the fly and if push comes to shove, they can just google about a topic during the lesson, if they are not familiar with it.

I have had some really interesting lessons this way. For example, teacher brought in an article about older people planning their own funerals and taking “funeral” pictures every year and we had a really interesting talk about funeral traditions and old age and dying and everything surrounding this.

You might have to start out with NHK easy articles or something but there can be interesting topics there as well.


Thanks :blush: I never thought about that, it could work. I know there are articles on NHK easy news that I can read. I could always add those in and even send a link for my tutor (or copy and paste the article into the running document we have for my homework) for to start with articles where I’m more likely to be able to understand at least a bit of it first then work up to articles she chooses once I get better at vocabulary and grammar. :thinking:


Definitely a good start. They are aimed at elementary to middle school kids, so the grammar, vocabulary, etc. is straight forward and useful - rather than some of the more obscure stuff in “adult” newspapers/books. And some of the words come with explanations in Japanese, which is also a cool thing to learn. And having furigana definitely doesn’t hurt. :see_no_evil: (I wish all books had them. :face_holding_back_tears:)


Me too :joy: though even with them, my vocabulary definitely needs work :grimacing:


I’ve only had tutors a few times and it was because I had specific things I wanted to work on (mostly job interview skills). I think having a tutor teach you vocabulary is a waste of time - mostly same for grammar. It’s good for them to correct those things but you can learn them just as well on your own.

I think scenario roleplay is the best use for a tutor - having them pretend to be someone in a scenario and run through a conversation multiple times until you can do it naturally. Could also have somewhat scripted conversations and focus on getting the nuances correct (generating such a script is a good LLM use-case). Reading an article and discussing is fine - though, I think you’re better off reading the article beforehand and explaining to them what it was about rather than using up class time on that.


That’s been my feelings so far which is probably why I feel like a lot of the time I’m wasting their time and mine. Usually they only give me vocabulary if I’m missing it, so if I speak of something and I’ve used the wrong vocabulary or they’ve asked a question and I don’t know the word to reply in Japanese they will give it. And the grammar I’ve been trying to use is stuff I already have studied, they just correct it if I’m using it wrong or I’ve used the wrong grammar for that sentence. They aren’t giving me lists of vocab or grammar points to practice in the session, just homework afterwards for me to show I’ve understood and give me a running list of the grammar I’ve had corrected for me to look back on my mistakes if that makes sense.

I think this is my biggest issue because I don’t have the language to discuss it so this is what I’ve been struggling with. Maybe I jumped into conversation lessons too early or maybe I’m just not getting my head around things quick enough, I don’t know. I thought by this stage (just over a year on for staring conversation lessons, almost 4 years into studying Japanese total) I should be coping better with conversations and progressing from the basics but maybe I need to rethink things and figure out a way to improve until I can handle that kind of conversation before taking more lessons. Because of work, I’m only able to manage one tutor led session a week, so maybe I need to rethink that as well.

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Speaking is always way behind your other language skills. And while you can talk about complex topics in simple language, that in itself is already a pretty difficult skill. If you’ve ever tried explaining something complex to a child, this is basically what you need to do, if your vocabulary and grammar are limited.

You could do the lessons less often. Collect things/topics/grammar points that you want a native’s perspective on or that you want corrected and then do a lesson or 2. In the lower levels I, personally, think that ppl get more out of spending their time listening and reading, rather than language production - unless the latter is needed for survival. (i.e. you’re going to be transferred to Japan in 3 months or something)


I’m usually pretty decent at these kind of explanations :joy: especially if technology or skill based in English.

Yeah, no hopes of me needing Japanese for survival purposes in the near future unless I end up with a lottery win or a zombie apocalypse and a surprise flight to Japan. So there’s not major rush, I just feel a bit frustrated with my seeming lack of progress in the time I’ve been using the lessons, though maybe they are more effective than I realise and it just hasn’t become apparent yet.

Maybe I should try gathering stuff that I can specifically ask a native speaker advice on (though my book collection may be more than enough for that :joy:). I need to think more on it then.

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Just chiming in here that while my speaking is definitely a way way lower skill than all of the rest, when I’ve actually needed to speak in Japan, it’s been adequate. I kinda think that production in a tutor situation where deep down you know you can lean on another language is always going to be harder than actually expressing a need to someone who only speaks Japanese. Somehow, when you really need those language skills, it seems like your brain can turn on the afterburner :joy:


Knowing my luck, I’ll constantly feel inadequate and have sub par speaking skills right up until I travel, then once I’m finally in Japan and having to use it, it’ll all just click into place. :rofl:

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That’s basically what happens to me. I think it also helps seeing and hearing so much more Japanese around you all the time. I spend about 2-3 hours a day reading and watching Japanese TV, but that’s nothing compared to having it everywhere, even when I’m there with English speaking friends.
Now, that doesn’t mean that I don’t make mistakes and then realize them afterwards and ruminate about them for the rest of my trip… but I do at least get my point across :joy:

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I could handle more mistakes, if I knew more to say :joy:

I feel stupid at times because I know what they’ve said and I can translate it to English but have no clue how to reply. My language exchange partner now knows if I have a stupid grin on my face I know what he’s said but can’t respond in Japanese :rofl:


There’s a lot of evidence to show that when babies learn their first languages, there’s a very long period of time where they understand words but cannot use the language. Then they go through one word stages, can string a few words together, and it takes years before they are able to talk in full sentences, let alone express any inner thoughts.

As adults we have a big advantage that we already know how languages work, and what things are (although there’s some cultural specific learning that you need to do). Our disadvantage is that we already have a complex inner narrative in another language(s) and can very easily compare the abilities in one language to another and be appalled at the differences. :sweat_smile:

It sounds like you’re somewhere around a 2-4 year old in your speaking skills. If you’ve ever spent a lot of time with one, they can frequently talk pretty fluently on specific topics, but will totally clam up if they don’t understand what’s going on or they don’t know how to express their thoughts. I find it’s a bit freeing to look at how children learn languages since there’s a fair bit of research that shows that there’s not that much difference as an adult. You wouldn’t expect a toddler to be able to have an insightful conversation with your tutor, so you can cut yourself some slack if you’re not able to either. :slight_smile:

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I definitely feel like a toddler at times when speaking :joy: but yeah, that does make sense. I did also struggle with English and expressing my thoughts or understanding complex situations and concepts even up til I was around 12-13 yo (I tended to use basic language a lot of the time) so maybe it’s just a reflection on that and how I learn naturally. :sweat_smile:

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I just spend a couple of hours with a 7 year old on the weekend and this is still the case at that age. The amount of general knowledge words they don’t know is still astronomical. (and it doesn’t help that he doesn’t like reading. :rofl:)