Language learning is a complex endeavor. Many people sit in a classroom, or with a personal tutor, for months or even years without any progress. The truth is, learning a language is a very organic element of our minds as human beings, and forcing it into a classroom can be very limiting. Still, though, having an experienced mind to help you along your journey can often be an indispensable help for new learners just starting out.
That being said, do you need a tutor to learn a language? Surprisingly, no; it is possible, and even recommended in some cases, to learn languages completely on your own, with no help from an expensive or possibly inconvenient tutor.
Truth be told, there are advantages and disadvantages to every language learning method, even the classroom! Having a personal tutor to work with your own specific needs and pace can definitely make a lot of the headaches of studying a language on your own a little easier to deal with. This is especially the case if you’re lucky enough to find a tutor who can grow with you and learn the way you learn, so as to better teach you!
That being said, a tutor is by no means necessary. There are many advantages and disadvantages to using a private tutor, and it’s important to understand them if you want to choose which way is best for you.
So, let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of learning a language without a tutor.
Learning Without a Tutor: Pros and Cons
There are some definite advantages to learning a language by yourself without a tutor, including:
- Work at your own pace. Working with a tutor means that you will have to follow their lesson plans, which might not be exactly what you need as a student. Working by yourself means that you can learn at the pace that’s best for you.
- Learn what you want. A tutor will make you learn a lot of boring stuff first before you ever get started learning fun stuff. Although boring stuff is usually important in language learning, being bored is not. Teaching yourself means you can focus on the parts of the language that interest you the most, which makes studying less of a chore.
- Save Money. This is the obvious one, a good tutor will cost money, especially if you want to get a really good relationship with a tutor that can learn from the way you learn, and teach the way you need to be taught. Although learning without that structure and direction can be challenging, it definitely has the potential to save you a lot of money.
- Convenience. Setting up appointments and working with another person to accommodate your language learning process can be a pain. Learning by yourself means that you can do it in your spare time, from the comfort of your own home, and whenever the mood strikes you. You can’t pull a tutor out of your pocket to study on the bus like you can with flash cards.
Overall, the advantages of teaching yourself versus using a tutor are mostly about what you need as a student. Learning by yourself gives you a lot more control over the process, although with great power comes great responsibility.
Case in point, there are a few very important disadvantages you should keep in mind if you want to learn a language without a tutor:
- Hard to stay focused. Because you don’t already know the language, you will not know where to start, or where to go next once you’ve gotten the basics. This can often continue well into fluency, since you have no structured lesson plan for mastering everything you need for the language.
- Easy to make mistakes. Because you don’t have the same linguistic reflexes that a native speaker or fluent tutor has, you will probably make mistakes a lot more often. This is especially true when you’re just starting out, and your studies are mostly about analyzing the language when you’re not sure exactly what you’re seeing or hearing.
- You must verify things yourself. Because there is no teacher or native speaker ready to tell you if you’re right or wrong, you must painstakingly verify all of your exercises and progress by yourself. This can become easier if you manage to get a language learning pen pal, but it will always be a laborious struggle to make sure you aren’t reinforcing incorrect habits.
- Resources can be expensive. Many tutors get special deals on educational resources or otherwise have most of that cost covered. Learning by yourself means you may have to purchase expensive textbooks, or import native materials for immersion.
Of course, your own experience will always differ from what is expected. If your learning style is more suited to support from a one-on-one expert, then a tutor will be able to teach you in ways that you won’t be able to do by yourself. Of course, learning without a tutor has distinct advantages that can be very very good for certain types of students.
Essentially, if you’re more inclined to study on your own time and at your own pace, then a tutor is something that can come later. You can study to your heart’s content before consulting a professional, as long as you do it the right way.
So What Is The Right Way?
As we mentioned earlier, there are a number of pitfalls involved if you’re going to try and teach yourself Japanese. The most important thing to remember is that you need to be honest, prudent, and thorough about verifying your studies. If you make mistakes, and practice something that is incorrect, you can form bad habits that are even more difficult to overcome than learning the language in the first place.
With this in mind, there are a few distinct steps you can be taking in order to make sure you aren’t sabotaging your language learning off-the-bat:
- Textbooks are your friend. Many textbooks are designed to be used without a tutor. Do your research, and see what people are saying about different authors and publications. Go with something that sounds like its right for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and be ready to spend money. However: The most important thing to learn about textbooks, in the end, is when to put them down.
- Use online resources. There are plenty of free community-driven sites dedicated to sharing resources and strategies on how to learn Japanese. This is a really easy way to avoid the pitfall of practicing bad habits. Participating in a language learning community is one of the best ways to supplement language learning.
- Get a pen pal. Being able to communicate one-on-one with somebody that understands the language is key. This doesn’t have to be a tutor. If you have casual conversations (even in broken Japanese) with one of your friends from an online game, or a popular forum, you will slowly absorb the language from speaking with them, even if they aren’t tutoring you per se.
- Play games. Games are available in many different languages. In fact, Japanese regional encoding for video games (NTSC-J) is functionally the same as in North America (NTSC). This means you can actually import games from Japan and play them on your consoles in Japanese with no issues. You can also buy Japanese versions of games digitally through online stores, but these usually require a Japanese credit card to do so (due to distribution rights). Mobile games in Japanese are easier to find and mostly free.
- Use language learning apps. There is a huge emergent market for mobile language resources. You can install an entire host of flashcard apps, camera-translation apps, and grammar exercise apps to run while you’re bored on the bus, or whenever it’s convenient. There are lots of these sorts of apps popping up every day, so it can be important to do your own research on ones which are good. Once your skills begin to develop, you will eventually be able to judge yourself how well you’re learning and progressing.
- Go to Japan. This is the ultimate thing that anybody can do for their Japanese language learning. There are tons of opportunities for small educational stays, professional temporary jobs, language learning or teaching co-ops, and a vibrant array of locations to choose from. Even if you stay in a hotel in Tokyo for a week and only go out for sushi every night, you will learn more Japanese than you can imagine.
So What’s The Verdict?
The truth is, you can, in fact, learn a language without a tutor. Learning by way of immersion (either through travel or obtaining native materials) is by far the most effective method according to scientific research on language learning, but many people find that having a tutor as an additional guide really gives them the support they need to stay focused and motivated.
In the end, it will depend on you, your specific needs, and your dedication to the language you want to learn. Good luck, and happy studying!