This week Cafetalk told me that they’re accepting applicants for Student Monitors.

In other words, they’ll give you 5 free Japanese lessons in exchange for your feedback. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.

Details about applying to become a student monitor and take free lessons can be found here.

I’ve actually been teaching English online with Cafetalk for about six months now, so I’m pretty familiar with the site, even though I’ve yet to take any (Japanese) lessons on it.

Writing this review, I’m starting to get the itch to take some online lessons of my own.

Cafetalk Review – Taking Private Japanese Lessons Online

Me weighing the pros and cons of online lessons. (Okay, not really--I'm just waiting to eat delicious soup curry.)

Me weighing the pros and cons of online lessons. (Okay, not really–I’m just waiting to eat delicious soup curry.)

I mention this quite a few times both in my free 7-day course, and in the Hacking Japanese Supercourse, but online lessons are an awesome way to boost your Japanese language skills.

Aside from improving listening comprehension, you’ll also get better at forming your own sentences, learn the subtle differences between similar words, and maybe even develop a close-knit relationship with another one of this world’s fascinating human beings… a Japanese one!

There are quite a lot options when it comes to taking lessons online. The most popular of these is probably italki, which has an immense number of teachers and students. In fact, this very month one of Nihongo Shark’s readers is taking free lessons from italki. Sweet!

If you’re going to study Japanese online, though (as opposed to a more obscure language, for example), Cafetalk has a seriously impressive selection of both Japanese tutors and interesting Japanese lessons.

What Is Cafetalk?

Rather than jumble together my own description, I’ll just quote the source:

We’re a service that aims to “Let the world spice up your life” through private online lessons with teachers from around the world.

From language lessons like Japanese and French to instruction in music, art and various hobbies we offer a multitude of unique and engaging lessons.

My Personal Experience With Cafetalk

In the six months that I’ve been teaching English with Cafetalk, I’ve had a great experience.

My favorite thing, by far, is the level of support that they give to both students and tutors. Support staff regularly checks in to see how things are going, and they’re always communicating with students, helping them to choose appropriate students and lessons.

Another positive aspect is the site’s intuitive functionality and ease of use. Here’s a sample of what my tutor dashboard looks like:

As a tutor, one thing that I initially had mixed feelings about was the percentage of payment that I get for each lesson that I teach. A tutor just starting out will only get 60% of the lesson fees that they charge.

The number goes up based on how many lessons you teach and how often. Currently, my “margin rate,” as it is called is at 70%. So for every $10 that a student spends on one of my lessons, I get $7.

The upside to this is the fantastic support that I mentioned. One of my long-term students, for example, consistently takes 3-4 lessons per week, and the only reason that she became my student in the first place was because a support staff recommended me.

From the perspective of the student, this seems to be a win-win, because teachers are still charging lesson fees that are both competitive and affordable.

Speaking of taking lessons, let’s take a closer look at what’s going on over at Cafetalk…

Choosing Lessons On Cafetalk

As a student, my favorite thing about Cafetalk is the way that they present their lesson options. Aside from the lesson layout being a great way to find new and interesting tutors, it’s also a great way to get excited about studying Japanese.

Before I was able to become a tutor on Cafetalk, I was required to prepare at least a few different lesson types. This turned out to be really nice, because the student always has a clear idea of what exactly is going to be covered in the lesson. Also, they can read feedback from past students that have taken a particular type of lesson.

Looking at the wide selection of Japanese-filled lessons, it’s hard not to want to schedule a few.

Teachers are in full control of the lessons that they offer, and it’s clear that they try very hard to develop study topics that are both useful and appealing to students.

For me teaching English, my most popular lesson type is actually a pronunciation course. But with my long-term students, we slowly began to develop our own, personalized study courses, sometimes revolving around a textbook.

A lot of these lessons are under $10. That makes me feel kind of ashamed about all the money I wasted on expensive Japanese lessons and study materials.

JLPT Lessons! Agh!

Choosing A Teacher On Cafetalk

While browsing by lessons is cool. You also have the option of browsing by teachers.

As of this moment, Cafetalk has 165 Japanese tutors offering lessons on their site. Since they seem to be pushing to ramp up their Japanese teaching, though, I’m expecting that this number is going to jump drastically over the coming months (partly in thanks to the fact that they have tens of thousands of Japanese students who are, theoretically, capable of teaching).

One thing that I was kind of disappointed by was the lack of male teachers. There are seriously like ten female teachers for every male. I’ve heard that’s a problem in general when it comes to finding a Japanese teacher, but still–it can be hard for us students to get that rough, manly Japanese we want and need!

There are some options, though:

But seriously, let’s be honest: I know that quite a few of you are more than happy with the “selection” of Japanese tutors on Cafetalk…

Anyways, once you click on a tutor’s picture, you can see their profile page, which gives you details on stuff like:

  • Experience
  • Schedule / Availability
  • Qualifications
  • Language Ability
  • Average Response Time
  • Number of Students
  • Number of Lessons

…and pretty much anything you’d need to know when choosing a tutor.

Here’s a sample:

I find that it’s also extremely helpful to read a tutor’s profile. Some tutors are better at English than others, but I don’t think that you should let English ability factor too heavily in your decision. I’ve had great Japanese teachers before (even when I was at a beginner level) that spoke no English whatsoever.

Towards the bottom of a tutor’s profile page, you can see the different lessons they offer:

And, last but not least, you can read feedback from other students that have taken lessons with this teacher:

At the end of the day, 90% of teachers are probably going to be no problem, so maybe don’t worry too much about choosing a teacher. Take a trial lesson, then decide after if you could see yourself growing with this teacher.

What you’re looking for is only partly about the tutor’s ability to explain Japanese to you. Ideally, you’ll be meeting with your tutor quite regularly, so it goes without saying that you should look for a tutor that you actually enjoy talking to. And a lot of that is less about qualifications, and more about common interests and personality.

Lesson Pricing

It’s a bit difficult to go into lesson pricing on a tutor matching service like Cafetalk, because each individual tutor is setting the price of their lessons.

Some tutors have really cheap, affordable lessons. Other are a bit on the expensive side.

For me, the question “Is this cheap/expensive?” can be a bit harmful to the learning environment. I think that a better question to ask is, “Is this price both fair and motivating?”

And it should be fair and motivating for both the student and the teacher.

Speaking as a teacher that charges more for English lessons than most of these teachers charge for Japanese lessons, I can vouch that having a motivated student that is paying what I think to be a fair, motivating price for both of us make me want to improve her lessons. When you have a student that’s helping you to, you know, buy groceries, that’s awesome. And you start to feel indebted to them. And you work hard to pay them back… in language learning.

Buying Lesson Points

Buying lesson points is a pretty straightforward process, and Cafetalk walks you through the whole thing, step-by-step.

At the time of this writing, 1 point is equal to 1 yen (less than $0.01).

Booking Your First Lesson

Right after you set up your free profile, Cafetalk will walk you through their entire system one step at a time. Here’s the first thing you’ll see on your first sign-in:

As you can see above, they also offer free counseling to help you get started, which is pretty rad. Or you could follow these super simple instructions…

Gotta get those points before you can book any lessons! Then you can…

Or you can search by tutors, if that’s your style…

After you book lessons, they’ll show up in your dashboard:

You can also managed your requests by going to the requests page:

And if that was way too confusing, you can get a real, live human to explain it to you:

Last but not least, when first starting out, checking out the coupons might be a good idea. A lot of the tutors offering coupons are just getting started, so you can help them get set up, too (while getting a sweet deal):

Managing Your Lesson Schedule

Here’s a look at my schedule for June 2015. As you can see I’m teaching quite a few days this month:

I’m pretty sure that the calendar looks the same (or very, very similar) for students, as well.

For tutors, it’s especially helpful to check out your weekly calendar:

So once you’ve chosen a tutor and booked your lesson, it’s time to start panicking.

No, I’m kidding. It’s time to start…

Taking Skype Lessons Like A Pro

I talk about this quite a bit in both my free e-course, and I even walk you through it step-by-step in the Hacking Japanese Supercourse, but preparing yourself for an online lesson will make your life much, much easier than just diving in blindly.

Here are some pointers, mostly from the tutor’s perspective…

Communicating With Tutors

Tutors are there for you to talk to, so it can help to send a few messages, especially if it’s your first lesson.

I always ask new students if they have any special requests, along with why they’re studying English. As a student, though, you might want to take the initiative and provide this info for a teacher, giving them a good idea of what you’re hoping for and expecting.

Messages are also a great way to build a strong student-tutor relationship. For example, here is a string of messages between a student and me, talking about her recent performance on an English test that she had to take for work:

Recording Your Lesson

Since I want to be an awesome teacher, I always record each lesson that I do with students and then send it to them after we’re finished.

Most teachers are not going to be this technically inclined, though, so I recommend doing this yourself.

It’s super easy to record your lessons using a tool like MP3 Skype Recorder:

I love this tool, because:

  1. It’s free.
  2. It records my Skype conversations automatically (I’ve learned over time that computers have a much better memory than I do).

Writing Lots In the Comments Box

During your lesson, you absolutely should be writing (and having your teacher write) anything that isn’t clear or needed confirmation. The easiest way to do this is simply to use the comments box in Skype:

Those are from a recent pronunciation lesson that I was teaching in English. Japanese will look a little different, obviously.

Speaking of Japanese comments…

Have your teacher write in kanji!

Or at the very least, have your teacher write in both kanji and hiragana/katakana.

You don’t really have any excuses here, because it’s pretty easy to copy and paste that word into a dictionary if you forget the reading. Also, you’ll want to know the kanji of new words that you learn when you’re…

Making Flashcards Using Notes and Recorded Audio

At the very least, I would try to make new Anki flashcards for words and grammar points that were introduced in the lesson.

If you want to go above and beyond, then you can take your lesson recording and disassemble it as you super-charge your Japanese listening skills.

Once you’ve done all that, you’re a boss. Make all of your friends and families give you props for building up the courage to take a lesson.

Also, give your teacher props…

Leaving Positive Feedback

Although studying Japanese might just be a weird hobby for nerds like me (and you? *_*), your teacher is probably trying to make a living. Part of that means getting new students–which is pretty much impossible without positive feedback from former students.

If you have a problem, contact support or message the teacher privately. They’re probably trying really hard to please you, and it’s not really fair (or professional) to say negative things about them in front of their friends and clients (unless they did something super rude, that is).

Staying Motivated

I think that a huge part of taking lessons online is building a relationship with a tutor. The main reason for this is that you find yourself wanting to study more. You want to see your tutor, complain about all the problems Japanese is causing you.

And anything that makes you want to study is something worth studying.

Learning a language is an endurance test, after all. Kind of like crossing an ocean, you could say.

Good luck, everyone!

Keep swimming,


p.s. Have you signed up for the newsletter? Because if not, you’re a horrible person.

No, I’m just kidding. You’re great. But your Japanese could be great, too, if you sign up…


Yo! I'm Niko, the founder of NihongoShark. I'm also a Japanese translator, writer, and all-around language nerd.

I created this site to help as many people master Japanese (any language, really) as possible.

Uh, what else? Well... I live in Tokyo, Bangkok, Sapporo, Saigon, San Diego, Tokyo, Chiang Mai, Portland, Oregon! So if anyone wants to meet up for a refreshing nama beer, I'm probably down for that. Or a coffee. Learning Japanese is tricky-tikki-tavi. But we're in this together. ファイト!

Good luck with your studies!


p.s. If you like my articles, you may very well love my daily lessons.