The start of a new year is the perfect time to learn something new — like a language! Learning any new language can prove challenging, and Japanese is no exception. Not only do you need to learn to speak fluently, but there’s also the issue of learning hiragana, katakana, and kanji so that you can write in Japanese — but more on that later. Language-learning apps can help you by making learning easier and more fun, as well as encouraging you to stay motivated by learning each and every day. We’ve put together a list of the best apps to learn Japanese, whether you’re completely new to the language or can already speak a few phrases. So, ganbatte kudasai!
You can also check out our article on the best language-learning apps for 2021 if you want to learn other languages.
Drops: Learn Japanese
Drops is one of the most popular apps for learning Japanese, and you don’t need to have hours free every day to fit learning in. Just five minutes a day with the app helps you build a language-learning habit that will soon have you speaking and understanding Japanese words and phrases. Each lesson is beautifully illustrated for an immersive learning experience, and you get a five-minute lesson every day for free. You can also choose to upgrade to premium, which gives you a seven-day free trial and then costs from $8 per month — this gives you access to unlimited sessions, removes ads, and unlocks more topics.
Each lesson starts by introducing you to a range of words — there are over 2,000 to learn with Drops — with a picture and crystal-clear audio. You can replay the audio as many times as you like to get into the habit of pronouncing the word out loud before matching it with the correct picture in the following task. These visual associations help you to remember words, and you’ll quickly build your vocabulary. There are a range of topics, from food and drink to travel, nature, and business — and you’ll find more unusual words and phrases here compared to some other language-learning apps.
The app motivates you by tracking your current streak — the aim at first is to reach five days for a reward — and showing you your percentage accuracy at the end of each session. There’s also a Dojo to unlock, which lets you practice words, and any words you learn are added to your Collection, where you can review them at any time.
LingoDeer helps you learn 10 languages, including Japanese, and as well as speaking Japanese, it will teach you to read and write the language, too. To access all the features, you’ll need to subscribe, which costs $12 per month, $30 for three months, or $80 a year — but right now, you can pick up your first year of membership for $56, so it’s the ideal time to commit to a year of learning Japanese.
Although you won’t necessarily become fluent with LingoDeer, it’s perfect for beginners through intermediate level — and the range of activities to consolidate learning, from flashcards to quizzes, means you won’t get bored or demotivated. You can easily track your progress and learning stats, and you can download lessons for offline learning.
DuoLingo supports learning over 35 languages, including Japanese — and it’s free, accessible, and well-designed. Learning Japanese on the app feels more like playing a game, and if you’re having fun, you’re going to be more motivated to learn!
As well as dividing language learning into grammatical subjects like pronouns and adverbs, there are topics such as clothing, business, and more. You can choose your goal, from five minutes of learning a day right through to 20 minutes — but we recommend starting out with just five minutes. When you load the app, it’ll ask you if you’re a total beginner or if you already know some Japanese, so you don’t need to worry about going over stuff you’ve already learned.
You listen to the text and audio — which you can slow down if you’re having trouble understanding — and select the correct answer. The activities are constantly changing, too, so you’ll switch between choosing from multiple choice answers, speaking answers aloud, and typing them. If you want to learn to write in Japanese, there’s a Let’s Learn Hiragana section that is really useful for beginners.
You’ll learn the basics fast with this app, but it can sometimes feel like you’re learning a random mix of information, and it may not be the best app for developing useful conversational skills. You’ll need a data or Wi-Fi connection to make the most of the app, as the offline mode feels limited. It’s free to download, but you can upgrade to Plus from $10 a month to remove ads, unlock progress quizzes, and access your Japanese courses offline.
Memrise is one of the most popular language-learning apps. As well as Japanese, you can learn over 20 languages. Its broad approach gives you a range of exercises, games, quizzes, and lessons to help you master Japanese grammar and vocabulary. There’s a pronunciation guide to master some of those tricky vowel sounds, a bot to teach you proper grammar, and audio — and sometimes video — recordings of native speakers saying various words and phrases, which can be really helpful for beginners.
Memrise is fun, too, with most courses consisting of memorizing words and phrases using Mems — which are strange sentences or images. It’s easy to track your progress and stay motivated with daily goals as well as set daily learning reminders, and the app is aimed more at serious learners, so if you’re learning Japanese for an upcoming trip or for work, this is the app to get.
It’s worth noting that Memrise works best as a vocabulary builder, so you’ll probably want to pair it with one of the other apps on this list for grammar lessons and conversation. The app is free to download for basic functionality, but if you want to access lessons offline, you can subscribe for $9 per month, $25 for three months, or $90 for the year.
Cute design and animations aside, Hiragana Quest is actually a pretty serious app that aims to teach you hiragana, a set of 46 characters that describe all the sounds of the Japanese alphabet, and katakana, used for writing words and names of foreign origin. These can actually be tricky to learn, but the app’s fun approach attaches a story to each hiragana character that makes it easier to remember — and encourages you to create your own stories to help you learn, too.
The simple lessons each introduce you to several hiragana characters, with clear audio so you can master the pronunciation of each, and the romaji (the hiragana’s pronunciation in the Roman alphabet). You’ll then learn keywords that help you to associate a character with its romaji — for example, “ku” could be associated with “kudos” — and a story to aid in remembering. You’ll learn to draw each hiragana, too, with the repetition here really helping to reinforce learning. When you feel ready, you can take a test on what you’ve learned!
The app is free and keeps learning simple but fun for beginners looking to learn hiragana and katakana.
You can use Busuu to learn Japanese as a beginner or brush up your skills if you already know some Japanese, and you won’t need to go over the introductory stuff, as the app tests your current knowledge before you dive in. There are over 150 courses to choose from, and you can learn up to 12 languages, including Japanese, in just 10 minutes a day.
The app introduces a word or phrase — such as Konnichiwa (hello) — with the hiragana and audio to help you with pronunciation. You can replay the audio as many times as you like before moving on to the next screen. True-or-false quizzes test your knowledge, while a fill-in-the-blanks game sees how much you really remember along the way. You’ll learn everything from single words to whole sentences — like how to introduce yourself in Japanese, something that’s sure to come in handy if you’re planning a trip to Japan.
Create a Study Plan by telling the app when you want to learn and for how long, and it’ll send you notifications to keep you motivated. Grammar and Vocabulary Reviews ensure you won’t forget what you’ve learned, while the Conversations feature connects you with a community of native speakers to help you perfect your pronunciation. The app even gives you official McGraw-Hill Education language certificates to prove your skills, and there’s a progress tracker that tracks your learning streak, corrections, and more to keep you motivated.
The app’s basic functionality is free to use, but to access all the features, you can subscribe from $7 per month.
Simply Learn Japanese
The final app on our list is one that pairs best with one of the other language-learning apps here. Simply Learn Japanese is a kanji and hiragana phrasebook that you can refer to while learning Japanese. There are over 1,200 phrases, divided into handy sections depending on what you want to learn, from beginner phrases (such as how to introduce yourself and say hello) to traveler basics and more advanced words and phrases. A mix of flashcards, audio tracks recorded by native speakers, and multiple-choice quizzes help keep learning interesting, and all words are presented in both phonetic and original Japanese writing.
The free version includes over 300 phrases and words as well as a wide range of categories to help you learn Japanese, from greetings and basic conversation to sightseeing and shopping in Japan. If you want more categories and phrases, you can upgrade to Pro from $10 or purchase new categories for $2 each.
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