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Learning Japanese is a big and exciting project. Whether you’re learning for work, travel, or just for fun, it’s important to find the right tools to help you along. But finding the right one can feel overwhelming, especially with so many apps and resources to choose from. In this article, we highlight 10 of the best ways to learn Japanese to help you get started on your Japanese-learning adventure.
Language learning tools can help you master the key skills you need to reach fluency. Some tools focus on the building blocks of language, such as vocabulary or grammar. Others will give you access to reading, listening, or audiovisual material in your target language. To take your speaking abilities to the next level, some tools also connect you with virtual teachers for conversation classes and interactive lessons. You might need to use a few different tools to uplevel your language abilities across the major skills.
In the past, language learners were restricted to a few scant resources. From heavy dictionaries to dense grammar books, they were difficult to use on the go. And while in-person classes and courses still have a lot of value for learners, they can be expensive and a big time commitment. By contrast, digital Japanese learning tools give you the opportunity to study at any time, and costs are usually much lower (or even free).
They can also bring learning to life, with multimedia resources that can make memorization and language practice much more stimulating. Many Japanese learning apps use techniques rooted in neuroscience and educational research to ensure you’re getting the best results. There are even tools that can connect you with other learners or native speakers, making Japanese learning less of a solitary pursuit. Even if you’re not able to visit a country where Japanese is spoken, you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to engage with authentic material and practice the key skills.
When it comes to Japanese learning apps, you’re spoiled for choice. Many apps focus on vocabulary acquisition and memorization, but how they approach this will depend on the software. Some go for a spaced repetition approach, similar to flashcards. These will help you embed vocabulary by cycling the words you’ve learned so you’re exposed to them frequently over a period of time. Others will integrate vocabulary into short phrases, sentences, or even stories, so you’re getting used to the words in context. Many apps also use game-like features to encourage you to “level up” through repeated practice.
Other Japanese learning apps focus on helping you navigate written or recorded audio material. Sometimes they may be presented together to help you improve your reading skills. Other tools may integrate vocabulary learning to make encountering an unfamiliar text less intimidating. There are even some solutions out there to help you watch TV shows and movies in Japanese with the help of subtitles.
When it comes to speaking, there are a number of tools that encourage you to start. This can be through repeating audio material or conducting fake conversations. Some apps even have voice recognition features that will assess your pronunciation.
If you’re keen to work on your speaking and listening skills in a more natural context, there are a number of Japanese learning apps that connect you with a virtual teacher, often a native speaker. This might be the whole focus of the tool, or it can be offered in conjunction with other features. Japanese lessons could come in the form of 1:1 conversation sessions or structured classes, which obviously make sure the focus is on you and your needs.
Alternatively, some apps can connect you with other learners for group lessons, which can help you learn from others’ mistakes. There are also a number of apps that can connect you with people from around the world for language exchanges, which are less formal than lessons and won’t normally cost anything.
The first thing to think about when choosing a Japanese learning tool is your budget. There are some totally free tools out there, and lots of them also have premium add-ons if you have a bit more cash to spare. Lessons with virtual teachers can be on the pricier side, but you may be able to vary the frequency of your lessons or choose a group learning option to cut the cost if needed.
You’ll also need to look into whether your chosen tool actually covers Japanese. If it does, check what level the materials are aimed at. If you’re a total beginner, a tool that offers native-level content might not be the right choice. Conversely, an app that only covers the absolute basics might help at the start, but if there’s no room for progression you might not get as much value from the tool. Some Japanese learning apps let you add your own material, which can help you tailor the content to your own interests, something that might give you added motivation once you get past the basics.
Selecting the particular skill you want to focus on can also guide you in choosing a tool. Perhaps you need to hone your reading, listening, writing, or speaking skills in particular. Or maybe you need to cover all four. Building a suite of tools can help you develop your language more holistically.
Finally, think about the context in which you want to learn. Japanese learning apps that rely on speaking out loud might be great if you’re studying in your own room, but for learning Japanese on the go, a bite-sized vocabulary trainer might be more suitable. Similarly, if you have time to commit to a pre-booked virtual lesson or language exchange, these can be a great way to uplevel your speaking and listening. But if you’ve got a tight schedule, you might want to start with an app with smaller chunks of content. Or, go for one that lets you follow your regular hobbies and interests (movies, blog posts, or music) in Japanese.
You can use language learning software from day 1 of your language learning project. Apps can help you build your vocabulary, start putting together sentences, and connect with native speakers. Using these tools on a regular basis can help you reach fluency faster.
The cost of language learning software depends on the tool you choose. Some language learning platforms are totally free or operate a ‘freemium’ model whereby you pay for upgrades and add-ons. Others will have a subscription cost or one-off fee.
Language learning software can help you get to grips with the key skills of language mastery. Digital tools can help you learn vocabulary and grammar, build sentences, develop your reading, writing, and listening skills, or connect with virtual teachers.
With decades of research to support its unique approach to learning and offering access to resources for more than 50 languages, Pimsleur is rightly one of the best-known and most established names in its market. Some of its most attractive features include 24/7 customer service and access to interactive learning tools through its Premium plans, although we did find the design of the website a little dense and difficult-to-follow in places.
As Pimsleur recommends taking one of its 30-minute lessons per day, it may be most suitable for those willing to make a regular commitment to language learning. And, although the pricing for its subscription plans is roughly in line with others in the market, the prices for its standalone CDs and MP3s are costly in comparison. If you’re not certain whether the approach is right for you, it would be wise to try a 7-day free trial of one of its plans or a free lesson from its website.
Preply is an easy-to-use platform for finding and booking a language tutor, with 50 languages available (and some non-language subjects, too). The focus is on 1:1 video lessons, although group tuition is also available in English, giving you a great opportunity to connect with other learners. You can search for a tutor who suits your needs, whether related to level, budget, or availability. Lessons are conducted via the user-friendly Preply Classroom software, through which tutors can send chat feedback that you can check between sessions. You can also book and complete lessons on the Preply mobile app.
Helpfully, when you take your first lesson, you can get a refund if the teacher isn’t for you, so you have the opportunity to find the right fit. You’ll then need to pre-purchase a lesson package of multiple hours, which might not work if you’re looking for low commitment. But Preply has lots to offer, with 24/7 support and loads of languages (and other subjects) to pick from. This is definitely a platform to explore if you’re a language learner.
LingoPie offers a fun & easy way to learn through immersion by giving you unlimited access to thousands of hours of native video content, both TV shows and movies. These come with clickable subtitles to help you follow the meaning, which you can then turn into flashcards to review later. Putting the language in context makes it easier to memorize. And, if you enjoy watching TV and movies on streaming services anyway, LingoPie helps you turn your everyday hobby into a fun learning experience.
Although it’s only available in 9 languages so far, you’re sure to find content on the platform that keeps you coming back for more. You can also search LingoPie’s directory of tutors if you want to get further 1:1 support. And if you are learning as a family or group of friends, the Family Annual Subscription Plan lets you buy a bundle of 4 accounts. If you’re learning one of the 9 included languages, LingoPie is a great way to go about it.