Updated March 17, 2022
The Best Tools for Learning Japanese
Looking for the best tools for learning Japanese? Then you’ve come to the right place.
There are so many Japanese learning tools out there, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. That's why we wrote this guide – it will help narrow down the options and pick the best possible tools for you, depending on your needs. We'll showcase the best apps, software, textbooks, and more to help you take your Japanese studies to the next level.
In this article: 📝
Why Should You Learn Japanese?
Learning Japanese can be beneficial in many ways. If you’re traveling to Japan, it’ll be a massive help as everything will be in Japanese. And of course, learning Japanese can be crucial if you need it for work.
If you're applying for jobs in Japan, having some Japanese ability can give you a major edge. It’s already hard to look for jobs online, and even if you find some, there's a good chance they'll require Japanese. The language barrier is a huge challenge.
We've shared many tips for finding a job in Japan as a foreigner, and learning Japanese is one of the best ways to improve your chances.
You may also want to take a Japanese Proficiency Language Test (JLPT). It’s not always needed, but it can help on immigration and job applications. It can also get you some extra points on certain visa applications.
Can I Study Japanese Online?
So what are the best ways to study Japanese?
First of all, there are some great tools to study Japanese online. From free online courses to guides on grammar and and kanji, you can find a wealth of resources. There are also lots of online communities dedicated to learning Japanese. One of our favorites is the Learn Japanese Reddit community – it's a great place to start as it contains tons of useful resources.
Joining a language learning community offers many benefits, so we highly recommend it. You can see how other learners are using the resources available and get recommendations for tools.
These days, learning online can be as effective as learning through traditional methods. Attending a local Japanese class isn’t a requirement anymore. Apps are now more comprehensive, and there are many ways to practice online.
What Is The Best Way to Learn Japanese?
Here's a good overall learning process:
- Begin with understanding the Japanese alphabet. There are three systems to know: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are the phonetic alphabets, while Kanji is their writing system. We recommend learning Hiragana and Katakana first, before anything else.
- Practice speaking and pronouncing words. Knowing how to say the different sounds in Japanese will help you understand conversations and help people understand you early on. Listening skills are a massive factor in tests like JLPT too.
- Level up to reading and writing. Learning Kanji is one of the most complex parts of Japanese. We recommend you ease your way into it by studying characters in the context of vocabulary words.
Along the way, you’ll learn about grammar and vocabulary. Both things are easier to understand once you’ve got the hang of the Japanese alphabets.
Now you have a better idea of how to start your journey. It’s now time to look at the tools at your disposal. If you want to learn to speak Japanese, these are the best tools to use.
Best Online Tools to Learn Japanese
WaniKani is an online tool that focuses on teaching kanji. Their WaniKani method uses a combination of mnemonics and spaced repetition. It’s all about making learning efficient and retaining that information.
Aside from Kanji, you’ll also have more than 6,000 Japanese words to add to your vocabulary.
- Specializes in Kanji
- Uses mnemonics
- Requires a baseline level of Japanese ability (Hiragana & Katakana)
- Can feel slow at first for learners with some existing knowledge
These browser extensions help massively when trying to read Japanese text in your browser.
Simply hover over a Japanese word or kanji character, and it will translate it for you and provide some background information.
It's a major life saver when you're first trying to get used to reading Japanese text.
- Makes it easy to quickly define words
- Super easy to set up
- Sometimes they're too convenient – some people choose to uninstall them at some point to force themselves to put in more effort and look up words.
This website is great for those learning to read Japanese. It shares "easy" versions of Japanese articles, using only simple Japanese words and phrases.
Given how hard Japanese characters are to learn, reading news articles can feel like an insurmountable goal. This site makes it a lot easier.
- Easy to get started reading news articles
- Easily look up words in articles
- Links to the full article if you want to get more advanced
- Limited number of articles have "easy" versions
Rocket Japanese is one of the most comprehensive Japanese courses out there. Whether you’re a complete beginner or want total fluency, you can use this tool. They have structured lessons with a logical succession from easy to challenging content. They offer courses in an interactive podcast format through dialogues.
Instead of paying for a subscription, you can pay for their lessons. They have three levels to choose from depending on your Japanese ability. The lessons are also flexible. You can either do 5-minute exercises or complete one-hour lessons.
- Flexible with quick exercises to structured one-hour lessons
- Opportunities to practice speaking
- Not suited for visual learners
Mondly is a user-friendly website that’s entertaining and made for beginners. This tool is perfect if you’re starting from zero and don’t know where to start. Their courses are reminiscent of apps like Busuu or Duolingo. But you can also practice with chatbots and use augmented and virtual reality to learn.
- Beautiful website and user-friendly
- Has augmented and virtual reality features
- The main focus is on vocabulary
- Activities and content can be repetitive.
The Japan Foundation offers this comprehensive online tool for free. Marugoto focuses on two aspects: listening and speaking or reading and writing. It’s perfect for beginners and puts lessons into real-world contexts.
- They make the courses according to the Japan Foundation standard.
Who knew you could learn a language through stories? Japanese Uncovered incorporates their lessons with a multi-chapter story that makes things entertaining. You learn the vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation in each chapter, then take a quiz. You can also go at your own pace with a linear progression from beginner to expert level.
- Interesting and unique
- Lots of listening and pronunciation lessons
|WaniKani||Focus is on Kanji and vocabulary||With knowledge of Hiragana and Katakana||Starts at $9 per month|
|Rikaikun / Yomichan||Translate Japanese text easily||Any level||Free|
|NHK News Web Easy||Read easy versions of Japanese articles||Beginner - Intermediate||Free|
|Rocket Japanese||Comprehensive: speaking, writing, reading,||For all skill levels||Starts at $99.95|
|Mondly||Vocabulary||Perfect for beginners||Starts at $9.99 per month|
|Marugoto||Comprehensive: Listening, speaking, reading, writing||Perfect for beginners||Free|
|Japanese Uncovered||Focus is on vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation||Perfect for beginners||One-time purchase of $297|
Best Books to Learn Japanese
If you’re looking for traditional resources, these books for learning Japanese are a good option. They’re accessible online and are the same ones used in universities. Many are also made especially for beginners.
You can usually find these in any major book store such as Amazon in most countries, including Amazon Japan.
Genki is probably the most recommended Japanese textbook. The Genki series consists of two books starting at the beginner level. They also have companion workbooks, providing a great introduction to the language.
Another popular textbook is Minna no Nihongo. They have two volumes that are for beginners. If you’re taking the JLPT, this covers the N5-N4 levels. It has a more extensive lesson plan than Genki, but the whole book is in Japanese.
This book is very popular for Japanese classes taught at language schools in Japan, so it can be a great choice if you want to study in Japan.
This textbook focuses on reading and writing Kanji. It’s a comprehensive book with over 2,000 kanji to learn. The learning method is very unique – it involves learning the Kanji characters separately from their pronunciations.
The book is somewhat controversial due to this unique approach, but it's a good option for those who want to split up their learning into separate chunks starting with kanji.
Most people consider Volume 1 to be the most useful in the series, and Volume 2 is usually not recommended by people in the Japanese learning community.
Shin Kanzen Master
If you’re taking the JLPT, this is an excellent resource. It's written in Japanese and it has intensive exercises for every level. It covers everything from vocabulary to grammar, writing and more.
Be sure to get the correct book for your level and area you'd like to study.
This book has in-depth and comprehensive explanation of Japanese grammar. It's more of a reference book than a textbook, but it’s a perfect supplement if your textbook isn’t grammar-heavy.
Though it’s advertised as basic Japanese grammar, it’s not suited for complete beginners and it actually includes a lot of content most would consider at least "intermediate" level.
There are more advanced versions of this book as well, for once you learn everything in this one.
Best Podcast to Learn Japanese
JapanesePod101 is an excellent resource for enhancing your listening skills. Lessons revolve around grammar, vocabulary, and listening. Each lesson has conversations between two native speakers. For more exercises, they have supplementary content on their website.
It’s one of the most popular tools for beginners because of what you get for its price. There are many learning materials, especially for beginner levels.
- Perfect for audio learners
- A lot of content and materials for beginners
- More suited for beginner levels
Best Apps to Learn Japanese
Anki is an app designed for retaining information as efficiently as possible. You memorize words through the use of flashcards and "spaced repetition". It’s a great tool when used effectively.
The more you use it, the more the algorithm understands your skills. You can determine which words you find challenging. It’ll show it to you more and more until you get it.
You can either download existing shared decks or create your own.
- You can import your flashcards
- It adapts to your skill level.
- Limited to vocabulary only
Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese was a book that was turned into an app for convenience and accessibility. It’s a guide to grammar that is more suited as a supplementary tool.
The content is in-depth and comprehensive, with various tools to help you. It also allows you to construct your sentences for practice.
- Breaks down sentence construction for easy understanding
- In-depth content
- You have to know Hiragana or Katakana beforehand
Pimsleur is another tool that relies on audio. Their method mimics how one would learn their native language. They use repetition, real-world context, and vocabulary that you’ll need to converse. There is also an emphasis on pronunciation and speaking.
- Convenient and accessible with 30 minutes per lesson
- Focuses on essential vocabulary
- Limited content on grammar
|Anki||Vocabulary, Kanji etc.||Free on Android and $24.99 on iOS|
|Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese||Grammar||Free|
|Pimsleur||Vocabulary, speaking, and listening||Starts at $14.95 per month|
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you learn Japanese from anime?
In some ways, yes. Watching anime or reading manga can be an excellent way to start learning Japanese. If you pay attention to the language actively, it can help you with your listening skills. The dialogue in anime tends to be very clear since they use professional voice actors.
You’ll also pick up many cultural contexts and common phrases.
But there are also some problems with trying to learn using anime. The style of spoken Japanese tends to be very stylized and often uses vocabulary that you won't come across much in daily life.
It's also very easy to simply passively listen to Japanese and read subtitles, in which case you really won't learn much. You have to be actively exerting effort while watching to see any results.
In summary, it can be a good baseline if you work hard, but it’s not as effective as a structured course.
Is it hard to learn Japanese?
This is a common question.
Many people find Japanese intimidating because of Kanji and the complexity of the writing system. And it's true – learning to read and write Japanese is hard, and it takes a lot of dedicated study.
But the writing system is the most complex part of learning Japanese. Compared to learning kanji, the grammar isn't particularly difficult.
Pronunciation also isn’t particularly complex, compared to a language like English. There are a few unique sounds you'll need to learn, but it's actually pretty straightforward.
As with any language, there will be some challenges. But if you're dedicated, there's no reason you can't master it.
Tips for Learning Japanese
Practice everything you learn.
It’s especially helpful to practice with native speakers or talk with other learners online. Repetition and practice can go a long way to learning something new.
Another tip is to find a community of people studying Japanese and get involved. Learning from others can be an amazing way to keep up your motivation and increase your learning sped.
And lastly, pace yourself. Learning Japanese won't happen over night, and it's easy to get burned out if you try to do everything at once. Instead, be realistic and celebrate the small wins instead of focusing on your end goal.
If you want to learn to speak Japanese, there are many ways to do it. Learning Japanese can be helpful in job hunting or if you’re immigrating to Japan.
With the COVID-19 situation, online tools can be especially useful. You can use these tools for learning Japanese to supplement one another. You can go for a comprehensive book like Genki. Or use supplementary apps like Anki to have with you on the go.
There are many resources to help you, depending on your needs. Hopefully, this guide has narrowed down the options for you.
If you use the resources in this article and follow these tips, you'll be speaking Japanese fluently in no time!
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