The 3 cheapest ways to learn Japanese in Tokyo
You made it! You sat up in Japan, and you are now either looking for a job, either already working…if you got lucky enough to find the few jobs offers that do not require a minimum conversational level in Japanese.
But here is the point: if you want to have the maximum jobs opportunities, a better salary, and even your own private apartment, you better improve your Japanese level as soon as possible! Many landlords actually often don’t accept foreign tenants if they don’t speak well Japanese, even if you provide a Japanese emergency contact. If anything had to go wrong in the apartment they want you to be able to deal with it, with no language trouble.
And here is the dilemma, supposing you do have time to attend classes every day and that you do have enough motivation to study seriously: it’s quite expensive. 2 hours per day from Monday until Friday for 3 months will cost you around 200,000 JPY (around 1 600 EUR depending on the rate), plus the books cost, plus the additional registration fees that most schools require.
You might also realize, a bit late, that instead of planning your school registration you were too busy setting up, traveling and enjoying your new life, and that… you missed the deadlines to register for the semester!
Don’t worry, here are some useful tips to learn Japanese at very low costs.
1. Free lessons given by volunteers in your Ward: to get the basics and the grammar
One of the best advice I was given! In Tokyo, most of the ward offices have a volunteers teaching programme.
Check it out and register as soon as possible for the semester. If you already studied Japanese, they will arrange an assessment interview to appoint you to the class that matches your level. You can choose to attend classes once or twice a week, morning or afternoon, for only 2,000-3,000 JPY. If you missed the registration deadline you can still join the class during the semester (but there is no pro-rated allowance fee). Completely free lessons are also provided on weekends, however, all levels are mixed and I find it less effective.
To find more about it, have a look at the Tokyo Volunteer Nihongo Network.
2. Meetups: to practice and improve your speaking level while making friends
Meetup.com is a popular online social networking website. People from all over the world can share their common interests with others and meet offline through Meetup.
Many language exchange meetups are organized in Tokyo, it is a great opportunity to practice your Japanese with locals. The majority are English – Japanese exchanges but you can also often find it in your native language. Most of them are free and you just have to buy a drink, while for some meetups you will pay a cheap entrance fee 300-500 JPY plus a drink.
Depending on your objective and on your level I recommend you to pay attention to three points: the time, the place, the description of the Meetup.
If you are comfortable enough in Japanese and just would like an opportunity to practice and meet Japanese people: late afternoon/evenings Meetups that are held in bars are good. Be careful, bars tend to be noisy and with loud music, good to chill out but it does not provide the best environment to focus for beginners. If you want a more serious approach to practice: go for daytime Meetups held in cafes. You will have more chances to meet people having the same main objective, learning, and they will be more pedagogical. And still, it’s a really nice way to also make friends.
Also, depending on the area you attend the Meetup, the spirit tend to vary too. For example, Takadanobaba is a typical student area with rather young party people attending.
Finally, the description of the Meetup will give you an idea of the general spirit of the people coming. Pay attention to keywords such as “fun and relax” versus “learn and practice”.
Have a look to this link and find out the Meetup that fits you: https://www.meetup.com/ja-JP/English-Japanese/
One serious cafe where language meetups are very good for beginners it the 80s Cafe since the organizers give a short lesson and provide you with grammatical tips.
3. One to one language exchange with a Japanese Buddy
Another more intense way to learn is to find a Japanese Buddy willing to teach you his language while you teach him yours. A very pleasant way again to practice, and since you are only two people you can choose together the best way to learn and personalize it: chatting, with books, in cafes you want to try, at home etc.
Here are two websites that specialize in finding a foreign exchange buddy:
Good luck to all of you !
Written by Cyrielle Ugnon-Coussioz