Going to try a conversation tutor, looking for tips

I am pretty much convinced I want to try having regular long Japanese conversations to keep progressing. I wanted to drop a line here to solicit tips on how to make the sessions as effective as possible.

My plan:
I am going to try with italki. Part of me wants to pay a premium for teppei sensei from nihongo con teppei. But realistically I would be able to do way more sessions with someone if I pick a cheap native speaker instead, so that’s my current plan. I am thinking once a week for thirty minutes, see how it goes and adjust from there. Though that feels light.


  1. is italki the way to go?
  2. any tips on how to make the most of a session?
  3. tips on how to come up with topics to discuss?
  4. All Japanese? When if ever can you use english
  5. when should I ask for corrections and how to learn from them?
  6. how to find the right tutor (current plan is go cheap since Im not looking for lessons, just a native speaker)
  7. anything else I’m not thinking of?

My level:
Almost to the three year mark. My learned deck is over 8000 and slowly growing. I immerse about 1-2 hrs a day on top of cards. I use hello talk daily using mainly spoken dictation to chat and do daily diary posts the same way.

My main goal now is to just get more confidence in conversations and keep getting more and more words from the “recognize when I see it” bucket to the “can use it in conversation” bucket.


I’m currently doing once a week for 30 minutes with one community tutor from Italki, just hopping on and talking about random stuff (neither of us is preparing anything). We’re doing all Japanese, mostly without corrections.

I do writing practice separately, with corrections. With the writing, I’m focussing on improving my accuracy and expressiveness. With the speaking, I’m focussing on improving fluency with what I already know. And they cross-pollinate without really trying.

I’m satisfied with my progress at the moment. If I start to feel like I’m not improving much, I can try having more focussed goals for the session, doing more sessions, and/or doing sessions with different people.

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I was never any good at putting it into practice, but my feeling from when I was taking 1:1 lessons was that it works best if you have a clear aim for what you’re trying to get out of it. If you don’t then you get whatever the tutor/conversation partner happens to think of or has to hand, which is by no means worthless, but is going to be less specifically useful to you than if you start out with some well defined goals that you and the tutor can then use to set a structure and content for the sessions.

Some off-the-top-of-my-head potential goals that would all steer towards rather different experiences:

  • “I want to pass JLPT 2 this year so want to work through some grammar points together and have somebody I can ask about practice-test questions I don’t understand”
  • “I can read OK but have no spoken fluency/confidence because I don’t talk enough so I just want to spend time in casual low-stakes conversation”
  • “I talk to my friends in Japanese all the time, but I know my accent is bad and I want to really focus on pronunciation in particular”
  • “I’m planning to try to get a job in Japan so I want to practice language for the workplace, how to explain my opinions, and maybe do some mock-interview type sessions”

That sounds pretty similar to my current plan. Once a week, 30 minutes. Should be able to do 100% Japanese or very close. I heard one way to do corrections is just make corrections when they don’t understand or need to clarify something in order to keep things flowing so I was leaning towards that.

That is good advice. My goal is primarily your second point:

  • “I can read OK but have no spoken fluency/confidence because I don’t talk enough so I just want to spend time in casual low-stakes conversation”

I would love to spend much of the time role playing museum, restaurant, casual first encounters, hotels, etc. The next time I go to Japan I want to have more confidence in these areas and be able to engage beyond just the surface couple of lines.