Yo! Niko here. This month I got this super sweet offer from italki to take their Language Challenge…for free!

The italki What Challenge?


The italki language challenge is already a sweet deal, because you’re basically getting reimbursed for taking lessons, which is rad.

Here’s how it works…

First, you sign up…

Then, you take at least 12 hours of language lessons…

Then, boom! Free points to take more lessons:

Seeing as how June is kind of a crazy month for me, though, I got them to give the free lessons to a NihongoShark.com reader, instead.

Rei and I "being busy" at Sapporo's super-famous park: Moere-numa Koen. Highly recommended!

Rei and I “being busy” at Sapporo’s super-famous park: Moere-numa Koen. Highly recommended!

I’d like to say that it’s only because I love helping people learn Japanese… but let’s be realistic: I’m just being lazy by not taking the lessons myself!

“Having a defined goal, such as taking 12 lessons, is crucial for focus. In language learning, it’s not easy to set a goal because progress is not easy to quantify, and there is always more room to improve.”

– Kevin Chen, co-founder of italki

Enter: Jeff, a long-time NihongoShark.com reader and fellow student of Japanese.

Jeff takes the italki challenge

Jeff is using the June language challenge in order to prepare for taking the JLPT N3 test in July. Here was his first lesson experience…

Studying for the JLPT with italki Japanese Lessons

I took my first Italki trial lesson. Since I am taking the JLPT N3 test in July, I found a teacher who specializes in JLPT and has the most experience teaching on Italki. My teacher considered the JLPT material and my ability. He recommended practice tests to help my reading and kanji.

I speak conversational Japanese, but my weak points are kanji and reading. When I first came to Japan, I memorized Japanese sentences using romanji because I could read them faster that way. Now, I read Japanese too slowly because I didn’t force myself to read in hiragana.

A few of italki’s highly experienced Japanese teachers.

If you are serious about Japanese, the time is now to read in hiragana, kanji, and katakana.

Friends, let’s give up romanji.

Now is the time to learn. How are we ever going to pass the JLPT tests if we don’t get used to reading in Japanese? Please see my notes written in Japanese below.

My Italki teacher administered a practice test. The first part contained mostly easy kanji—kanji that I either knew or should have known. I’ll make notes from my lesson for my benefit and yours:

  1. 近所はきんじょです。きんじょうではない。(Neighborhood)
  2. 地震はじしん(Earthquake). 自身(By yourself)自信(Self-confidence).
  3. 閉じてはとじてです。とうじてではない。(To close)
  4. 便利はべんり。(Convenient)
  5. 調べるはしらべる。(To check)
  6. 出席はしゅっせき。(Attend)
  7. 情報はじょうほう。(Information)
  8. 届いたはとどいた。(Arrived)
  9. 自由はじゆう。(Free)
  10. 覚えたはおぼえた。(Memorized)
  11. 細いはほそい。(Thin) 軽いはかるい。(Light) 強いはつよい。(Strong) 安いはやすい。(Cheap)
  12. 動いたはうごいた。(Moved) 働くははたらく。(To work)

A false beginner should know most of the words above. I felt confident after taking this section. I knew most of the words but made a couple of embarrassing mistakes such as confusing the kanji of 動く(move) for 働く (work).

The next section was not as easy:

  1. 積極的はせっきょくてき。(Assertive/proactive)
  2. 参加はさんか。(Participate)
  3. 環境はかんきょう。(Environment/circumstance)
  4. 申し込みはもうしこみ。(Application)
  5. 表情はひょうじょう。(Facial expression, countenance)
  6. 心配はしんぱい。(Worry)
  7. 痛いはいたい。(Painful)
  8. 遅いはおそい。(Slow)
  9. 若いはわかい。(Young)

My confidence dropped a little after taking this section—but I resolved to pass the JLPT test this time. I taught test preparation for the SAT and ACT, which are university entrance exams in the USA. The manager at my former test prep company once said:

“When it is test day, you are at war with the test. Think of nothing else but nailing every question. If your friends are at the test site, don’t think about them—kill the test.”

I arm myself with this attitude as I prepare for the JLPT. Here’s another quote to pump you up from General Patton: “Attack! Attack! Attack! When in doubt, Attack!” I’m not promoting war—just war on tests.

Lastly in my Italki lesson, I took a grammar section, which was also difficult. The sentences contained grammatical phrases that were unfamiliar. Because time was limited and I chose an Italki teacher who didn’t speak English, I couldn’t immediately receive a grammatical explanation. I told my teacher on Italki’s lesson comments that I would like a simple explanation of grammar next time. I believe he will help with simple grammatical explanations in future lessons.

I also looked ahead at the fill-in-the-blank section. One of the questions follows:

jlpt dealski

The sentence is fairly easy to understand—except for that kanji 都合 (つごう conditions; circumstance / The phrase 都合がいい means like “a good/convenient time”).  Now the meaning is clearer:

“Because I would like to hear the talk, please tell me the best _____ for you.”

Let’s consider the answer choices.

1. 時代  (An era) I don’t think so.

2. 期日(Fixed date, settlement date). I didn’t know this word. Turns out it is a JLPT 1 word. Fortunately, it is not the answer. If a word is too hard, then it might not be the answer on JLPT 3.

3. 日時 (Date and time). What I love about kanji is how clear they are. I actually hadn’t heard this specific word before, but I recognized both kanji quickly—day and time. Yes! That answer fits.

4.日頃 (Normally, habitually).  I nearly understood the meaning—because I thought of ひるごろ (around noon). With this knowledge, I could understand that this is not the correct answer. My rough reading of the kanji was “around the day.” If you want to hear a talk, you want to know the exact date, not an approximation. This limited knowledge helped me to correctly eliminate the wrong answer choice even though I didn’t clearly know the meaning.

The next fill-in-the-blank question follows:

jlpt dealski2

Ahh, this question is not so bad—the kanji is easy:

“Going to the bank, I ____ money.”

  1. 引いた (Pulled) No.
  2. 振りり出した。(Shook out). This just sounds wrong. ふり(振り) means shake or wave—not to be confused with ふり(降り) (to rain). This seems to mean shake it out: clearly a wrong answer choice.
  3. 引き出した。(Pulled out, withdrew). Ahh—an obvious correct answer. Yes!
  4. 差し出た。(Presented, submitted). This answer seems wrong intuitively because you would say 入れる to put money in the bank (as a casual expression). A more formal word for depositing money into the bank is 払込 (はらいこむ). The other kind of deposit (e.g. security deposit) includes 内金 (うちきん), 入金 (にゅうきん).

I usually pay money for Japanese resources like books, podcasts, or iphone applications—but this is my first time to have a Japanese lesson from a human being that would normally cost money.

I feel that my Italki teacher gave me a plan and a consistent goal to keep studying. His lesson allows me (and you) to study better by ourselves. We can take tests and look up the answers—as he guided me to do.

My Italki teacher offered in the lesson something that would’ve been hard for me to find by myself: test expertise.

He knew what was coming on the JLPT 3, assessed my ability, and told me what I need to study. That knowledge is worth paying for—and is something you can only get from either a lot of research or a thorough teacher.

がんばろう! (頑張ろう)! Persevere!

italki language challenge


I learned from living in Japan, coming back to the USA, and moving back to Japan again. I am living what I call a dialectical life: starting with something, experiencing the opposite, and growing into something new through the synthesis and conflict of the two. And I love ramen.

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