Finding Free Japanese Lessons in Tokyo

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So you’re an international resident struggling to get through your day-to-day life in Tokyo. You might be a permanent resident, or you’re just staying here for a short term. Either way, you notice that your Japanese is not quite there yet. Maybe you have a too-busy schedule to learn Japanese properly — or maybe you’re missing a few bills in your wallet to sign up for that dream full-time Japanese course.

We’ll put these worries to the back of your mind. Dug correctly, you’ll find that there are a plethora of voluntary organizations providing free Japanese lessons in Tokyo. Read on to see the complete guide on where you can sign up, what are the hidden costs and who are the volunteers.

So Where Can I Find Free Japanese Lessons in Tokyo?

Made mandatory back in 2019 by the central and municipal government, you can virtually find free Japanese lessons in any Tokyo ward. The Japanese government wants to push the Japanese language and culture to international residents in Japan.

While some classes do charge a small fee to cover the necessities and costs such as textbooks, they are all volunteer-based and strictly non-profit. Of course, different organizations provide different services, so read on to find out what you need to look out for.

Finding a Suitable Class

About My Japanese Level — Can Anyone Join?

Despite its low cost, the organization provides the perfect environment for foreigners to pick up and improve their Japanese quickly and efficiently. Most free Japanese lessons are offered to students of all skills and levels, but it might also depend on the volunteers.

Some places might only offer complete beginner, intermediate and advanced Japanese courses. These community groups might not be able to accept you for the sole reason that there are no suitable volunteers for your Japanese level. Still, this shouldn’t be a problem. You can always check out other groups in other Tokyo wards that match your Japanese proficiency and goal. 

Free JLPT Preparation Course

If you are planning to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), you can for sure find at least one group in your area that helps students train and practice for the test. They’ll group you according to your level and offer mock exams for further preparations.

Most groups offer preparatory classes for mid-tier JLPT levels: N4, N3 or N2. It’s not that N5 or N1 support group is non-existent; it’s just that lot of people find N5 to be less challenging than the others, so it’s better to use group resources for upper levels. N1 study groups, on the other hand, are even less commonly found simply because only a few people are interested to take the test. Chances are, you can still find wards providing N1 support — although it might not be your nearest one.

Japanese Lesson Schedule

Lesson schedules vary from one organization to the other, but classes are commonly held during the morning and afternoon. Depending on the demographic in the area, some places also offer evening classes. These classes are perfect for foreigners already working in Tokyo but is looking to attend lessons after usual working hours.

Some wards even offer Japanese lessons on the weekend in case weekday courses threaten your usual work commitments. However, you might just need to check out a few places before locating the right volunteer lesson as they are less commonly found.

That’s another great thing about these free Japanese lessons — they don’t require you to commit to a fixed schedule. Most Japanese classes have flexible timing. After registration, you are free to join their future classes and plan your own timetable. The classes are not compulsory and you likely just have to notify beforehand of any sudden cancellations and rescheduled.

Despite this, keep in mind that most volunteer groups in the Tokyo wards set certain days of the week for classes to be held. You can always sign up for multiple Japanese lessons from other community centers if you’re ambitious to attend more lessons. It’s also a great option if some classes are maxed out but you still have time and want to attend more.

Students can also sign up for Japanese courses with a fixed schedule. Usually, these types of courses are less flexible, with more rules you need to be mindful of. For example, you may only join at the start of the course in order for the international students to finish the lesson at the same pace. Do note that you might be required to wait and register a few months prior to the actual start date — just like a school semester.

What to Expect

Japanese Lesson Costs — Are They Really Free?

Most of the classes are provided for free, or at the very least at a low cost. Then again, some places might require you to purchase class materials such as textbooks and workbooks to go through during lesson time. Commonly used textbooks are well-translated to a lot of languages, so the lesson materials are inclusive to people from around the world. Whether you’re an English speaker or someone from Southeast Asia, you don’t need to worry about being disoriented in the class — all the materials are the same.

Generally, the prices are dependent on the level and content of the course itself. An important thing to note is that some groups might require you to pay a small fee. Depending on the funding, some community centers might need help in covering overhead expenses such as rental fees, transportation fees for the volunteers, utilities and miscellaneous fees (for snacks and refreshments). Some Japanese courses might incur higher costs because they include the cost of classroom materials that they provide the students with.

Extra services such as JLPT preparatory courses may also be pricier than usual. Therefore, you do not have to worry about going over budget if you are just looking for basic lessons.

Who Are The Japanese Volunteers?

Most of the Japanese volunteers are not professionally trained Japanese teachers, but they are native speakers. They commonly join the classroom in order to interact with foreigners, practice their English language skills.

It’s not uncommon to find volunteers to conduct classes fully in Japanese — or even the polar opposite, excessively in English. Whether this is suitable for your Japanese goals and skills is entirely up to your personal preference. Some beginner students might not fully understand Japanese classes, so having a Japanese course held with a mix of Japanese and English might be more suitable. Some advanced Japanese students who’d like to achieve N2 or N1-level fluency might prefer to notch up the challenge by selecting a Japanese course that doesn’t use English at all.

Either way, most organizations include at least one English speaker, and you will likely find one that is suitable for you.

As the teachers are all volunteers and it is not compulsory for them to be present at every class, you might find yourself commonly rotating between different volunteers. It is an understandable situation, as the volunteers also have their different commitments or are travelling a distance to the location and thus appear less frequently. However, most volunteer groups do have a few constant Japanese teachers around that you can request for, if that is more suitable for you.

Lessons Takeaways from Free Japanese Lessons

Organic Interactions with Native Japanese Speakers

Whether you’re studying for JLPT or you just want to improve your Japanese personally, you will be able to learn from Japanese native speakers. This is great because you will learn beyond the textbook materials. It’s also exceptionally helpful if you are struggling to communicate in Japanese. Many volunteer Japanese groups will help your conversational Japanese skill. You can practice formal and informal Japanese language on a variety of everyday topics. Another key takeaway is that you will also learn about Japanese culture and immerse yourself in the local community. Overall, this allows you to be more gain confidence and feel more at ease when you’re speaking Japanese, regardless of your level.

Networking Opportunities

You won’t just be meeting the Japanese volunteers. In the classroom, you’ll meet foreign residents from all over the world. Students come from a variety of backgrounds and ages, so this is a great chance for you to start networking and form connections. It might be scary if you are new to Tokyo, but you will be able to connect to similar like-minded people and motivate each other.

Getting close to the volunteers may also be helpful for your career. They are less likely to be full-time teachers, and more so to be working at another company. If you’re lucky, you might meet someone in the same field of expertise and interest as you.

In the right Japanese study group, you’ll benefit from the free Japanese lessons in Tokyo even if they are free. Check out this link to see the complete list of Japanese classes available.

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