If you live in Japan or if you have people you can practice Japanese with, this may not interest you much. For the rest of us, however, it might be helpful.
DISCLAIMER: I got one of the Cafetalk monitoring positions. I get five free online lessons over the course of the month of November, and, in return, all I have to do is rate the lessons and post it to their social media group. I figured I might as well go whole hog and do a serious write up here. (By the way, as of this writing, they are still taking applications for monitoring positions. If you want some free lessons, now’s your chance.)
As you know, I want to let people know what works for me and what doesn’t, so, here we go. First I’ll explain about Cafetalk and then I’ll tell you about my short experience today.
How does Cafetalk work?
First of all, you have to buy “points” which you then use to pay for your lessons. 1 point costs 1 yen plus tax. The smallest number of points you can buy is 1500, which, in US dollars comes out to be $14.73 including tax.
You do a search for tutors based on what you want to study (obviously, in my case, it was the Japanese language). You can refine the search with phrases like “good for beginners” or “content rich”. Each tutor has a profile which describes him or her, including some comments from students, and a list of lessons with a description.
The tutor I picked had a 15 minute level check (300 points), a 25 minute beginner lesson (800 points) and a 50 minute beginner lesson (1500 points). The tutor also had intermediate lessons, which was important to me because, if I find a tutor I like, I would like to be able to continue with that same tutor for a while.
Many tutors also have a “free talk” lesson which is exactly what it sounds like – practice your Japanese by having a conversation on the topic of your choice with a native speaker. (There are tutors who aren’t native speakers, but I narrowed my search to native speakers only.)
The lessons are conducted via skype, which, to be honest, I haven’t used much. No worries. The site is very user friendly and includes all kinds of help, including skype basics, such as how to add your tutor as a skype contact.
You can, by the way, get tutor recommendations (selected for you by actual human beings, I think) based on answers to a list of questions if you want, and you can get counseling to help you select a tutor. I picked my tutor by looking through the profiles and available lessons and by how much they cost. (Yeah, I get five free lessons, but what if I want to continue with more lessons after that?)
You choose a lesson, and it takes you to a calendar that shows you the time slots the tutor has available. You select up to three time slots, listing them in order of preference, and the tutor is notified. The tutor then has to confirm the lesson before it is set in stone.
Each tutor sets his or her own cancellation policy. So, for example, if you cancel more than 12 hours before the lesson time, there is no penalty. If you can cancel 3-12 hours before the lesson time, you are charged 50% of the lesson cost. If you cancel less than 3 hours before the lesson time, you still have to pay the full cost of the lesson. Different tutors have made different choices there, some more strict, some less so.
Cafetalk will send you an email about 24 hours before the lesson and another a couple of hours before the lesson to remind you that you’ve scheduled it, just in case you’re the forgetful type. They ask you to have skype up and running five minutes before the lesson is scheduled.
So, after all of that, how did my level check go?
It went very well.
The tutor was friendly and easygoing and was asking me questions about how long I had been studying Japanese, what book I use, what websites I use and so on. (All of these questions were asked slowly in Japanese, by the way, but the tutor switched to English as needed and could understand my answers in Japanese (few) or in English (lots). (Although, quite frankly, the mere fact that I could understand most of the questions and even answer a few of them in Japanese is really nice.)
The fifteen minutes flew by quickly, and I have already signed up for a 25 minute lesson tomorrow (because the tutor didn’t have any hour slots open) and an hour long lesson for next week. Tomorrow’s lesson has already been confirmed by the tutor. Obviously, I’ll let you know how it goes.
Oh, the tutor has shared some pdfs with me through dropbox so I have some things to work on.
As you may know, I have complained that my studies lack organization. I really haven’t been using a book. One of the funniest moments of my level check was when she asked which book I was using and I said, “日本語の本がありません.” Basically, I don’t have one. To say that she was startled would be to understate the case.
Looking at the pdf she sent me, I think that my studies are going to get some organization now.