In my quest to learn Japanese online, I’ve noticed that courses for learning Japanese are bountiful these days. And many of them are either sensibly priced or completely free.
In this post, I’ve rounded up the 16 best online Japanese courses for different learning styles:
Length: 5 courses with more than 60 lessons
Price: Monthly or yearly subscription
Japanese From Zero! was created by a Japanese learner named George Trombley who became fluent in Japanese and went on to be an interpreter for companies like Microsoft and IBM.
The first three lessons for each course are available completely for free if you sign up on his website. You can access courses too in either their online or textbook formats.
It’s definitely worth checking out the YouTube channel, especially since George has an entertaining personality too. Many of the playlists are already arranged logically for learners.
Length: More than 1,500 videos
Pricing: Monthly or yearly subscription
It naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You’ll learn real Japanese as it’s spoken in real life.
Just take a look at the wide variety of authentic video content available in the program. Here’s a small sample:
You’ll discover tons of new Japanese vocabulary through these great clips.
Don’t worry about your skill level being an issue when it comes to understanding the language. FluentU makes native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts.
Tap on any word to look it up instantly.
You’ll see definitions, in-context usage examples and helpful illustrations. Simply tap “add” to send interesting vocabulary words to your personal vocab list for later review.
FluentU even uses a learning program which adapts to your specific needs to turn every video into a language learning lesson and get you to actively practice your newly-learned language skills.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)
Length: 60 levels covering most of the Jōyō kanji
Pricing: Monthly, annual or lifetime subscription
Created by famed Japanese-culture website Tofugu, WaniKani strives to teach Japanese learners 2,000 kanji and 6,000 vocabulary words in a little more than a year.
Specifically targeting beginners, WaniKani uses SRS and employs a slightly rigid learning structure, starting with elementary-level kanji, radicals and vocabulary.
It also supplies entertaining mnemonic devices to help you recall the meanings and readings of kanji.
Length: Three courses for around 450 hours
Pricing: One-time payment or six-month subscription
If you want to focus on conversational phrases, Rocket Japanese gives you thousands of hours worth of lessons that go from beginner to advanced.
The courses are built around audio lessons that last from 15 to 40 minutes. As your level gets higher, the audio gets longer too. You’ll listen to two native Japanese speakers having conversations related to everyday situations, like going to a job interview or seeing a doctor.
Since there’s a speech recognition feature, you’ll also be asked to say several phrases out loud.
On top of this, it has lessons on grammar, culture and writing.
Length: Videos ranging from 10 minutes to 2 hours
Price: YouTube videos are free, with monthly or yearly membership for additional materials
ToKini Andy’s YouTube channel is practically legendary in the Japanese learning world because of how clearly he explains Japanese concepts.
Andy is an N1-level Japanese learner who has lived in Japan for a while. His Japanese wife, Yuki, handles the translations and Japanese audio.
From the YouTube channel alone, you can already view several playlists of videos for free, covering N5 to N2.
There are also full-on courses if you subscribe to the website. These include companion courses for the popular textbook series “Genki” and “Quartet,” where Andy goes through each chapter and adds his own exercises, tests and practice material.
Length: Top playlists have 30 and 90 videos
Cure Dolly is an unconventional resource that’s well-loved by a lot of Japanese learners! It makes you look at Japanese grammar the way that a native speaker would instead of trying to understand it through English.
She has a video playlist called “Japanese Grammar Structure: What the Textbooks Don’t Teach,” which consists of 16 videos that go over tricky topics like Japanese particles and the potential forms of Japanese verbs.
The visuals and voice might feel a little strange at first, but the content of the videos is great! For a similar approach, there’s also Jay Rubin’s book “Making Sense of Japanese.”
Length: Around one to two hours per class
Pricing: Monthly subscription or one-time package
Based on an in-person learning academy in Tokyo, Coto Academy offers online courses that users can take anywhere in the world.
After checking your Japanese level for free, you’ll then be able to select the best course option for you. Depending on how you learn best, you can take lessons either privately or in a group.
There’s no need to worry about getting materials—Coto will send you everything you need.
Coto Academy also offers JLPT prep courses and business Japanese courses, making Coto a fantastic resource for those looking to advance professionally with their Japanese.
Length: Depends per course, but usually 3 to 5 hours of study time per week
Price: Free for auditing, with optional payment for getting a certificate
Started by Harvard and MIT, edX offers high-quality courses on a wide variety of topics—including Japanese—from universities all over the world.
edX’s Japanese courses are presented courtesy of Waseda University in Japan. There are two levels of in-depth beginner courses taught in English by enthusiastic professors.
Every course is free to audit, though you get more materials and quizzes with a paid certificate course.
Length: Depends on the course
Price: Ranges from around $20 to $200, but sales happen often
Another online learning platform with tons of affordable courses is Udemy. From beginner-level foundations to tourist Japanese, there’s truly something for everyone.
One course provider I’d recommend would be Attain Online Japanese Language School, which has more than 70 courses across all levels.
Courses usually consist of video lectures, which come with extra study and review materials for you to download.
Here’s a tip for Udemy: wait for when courses go on sale since prices can go down to 10$ then!
Length: 150 daily lessons at 30 minutes each
Price: Pay per level or for the whole package
You can accomplish a lot with Pimsleur as a beginner because it forces you to start listening and speaking right away.
Pimsleur is an audio-based course that consists of 30-minute lessons you’re meant to listen to every day. All of these have speaking prompts that drill you on pronunciation, and you can even listen to them hands-free.
A lot of the vocabulary gets repeated so these naturally stick as you go through the course.
You can download the app too for related games and exercises.
Here’s an in-depth review of Pimsleur if you want to know more!
Length: 700+ lessons at 2 to 4 minutes each
Price: Free, with monthly subscription for extra features
If you need motivation to start studying Japanese, Duolingo is one of the best apps that you can try because it makes language learning feel like a game. It’s also free!
Duolingo offers short, snappy lessons that only take a few minutes each to complete. These come with diverse exercises and use spaced repetition to make sure you remember the vocabulary.
As you go through the lessons, you earn points and get rewarded for streaks.
Once you finish all of the Japanese modules, you’ll be at around an N4 level.
Click here for a full review of Duolingo.
Length: Around 18 lessons per course
Marugoto is a textbook series as well as a website that provides structured courses for beginners. Developed by the Japan Foundation and based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), Marugoto offers self-study courses provided through the Minato website.
There are two options that you can choose from based on your study style: “Katsudoo” for casual studies and “Rikai” for more serious studies.
Both self-study and tutor-supported options are available online. Many of the most popular courses use English as a base language, but a number of lessons are also available in other languages like Spanish, French, Thai and Mandarin Chinese.
Length: 48 lessons
NHK’s online Japanese course was created by native Japanese speakers for learners of the Japanese language.
Since you’re getting Japanese lessons straight from the source, this means that you’re learning real and relevant everyday Japanese words and phrases.
This site offers realistic scenarios, quizzes and videos, which is similar to BBC’s Japanese learning course. Free, downloadable lessons are also available to use for later review.
All the content is presented with fun, colorful illustrations and tons of personality, making the learning process very enjoyable!
The lessons include a charming “My Haru-san” tracker to hold you accountable for studying every day and a number of other fun features.
Length: 24 videos at around 3 to 10 minutes each
The Japan Society of New York City offers 24 completely free video lessons on YouTube, covering essential Japanese.
While no writing of hiragana, katakana or kanji is taught, this course is perfect for those looking for a travel-style Japanese course for tourists. Each lesson is taught like a university lecture with explanations and grammar tips.
If you’re interested in the cultural aspects of Japan and its language, the Japan Society’s main YouTube channel covers many modern issues important to Japanese people.
Length: 10 lessons at 45 to 90 minutes each
Japanese-Lesson.com offers 10 completely free lessons that cover essential Japanese words and phrases for complete beginners.
Each lesson focuses on phrases and words associated with a certain lesson topic and includes audio files for key terms.
Lessons also include grammatical and cultural explanations under the “Tips” section, and there are three different drill exercises to help solidify your knowledge in each lesson.
Length: 17 lessons over less than 2 months
Loecsen offers language courses that learners can follow at their own pace.
In the Japanese course, there are 17 completely free lessons (called “themes”). These are interactive flashcard-based lessons complete with vocabulary lists and quizzes.
Lessons revolve around topics such as colors, the beach and taking a taxi. First, learners review the words in each lesson along with audio recordings and helpful visuals.
Then you complete the quizzes that include various activities to help you learn the words and phrases.
The “Read Aloud” function allows you to hear Japanese readings of content anywhere on the web. Simply copy and paste a text and get an automated audio recording and translation of it.
With so many online Japanese courses out there, it can take some trial and error to choose what works for you. For the Japanese courses above, we took all of these into consideration:
The courses I’ve listed are either free or offer free trials, so you can go through the list above and explore which courses suit you the best.
For more advanced courses, here’s a useful guide:
Online Japanese courses are the most convenient way to learn the language.
To begin with, think of the savings! So many online courses are either low cost, or even completely free, which totally beats the $50-per-hour classes or $100 textbook.
On top of that, for those of you with busy lifestyles or who understand your own learning style, an online course will let you move through things at your own pace. Your studies will be designed specifically around your goals, your needs and your schedule.
The best part of online learning resources is the portability. These courses can be used or viewed on your phone or tablet.
I have an hour-long morning commute—these types of resources transform it from boring transit time to super valuable learning time. If you’re anything like me, these online courses just scream “study me!”
With these courses, you’ll be improving your Japanese in no time at all. And all without stepping outside!
Learning independently gives you the chance to work at your own pace and to focus on any aspect you’d like.
No matter how much time you spend studying online, having fun while you learn will keep you motivated to keep going!
I am enjoying FluentU. I have been using this site for a couple weeks and I have definitely noticed a huge improvement in my vocabulary. I love that it uses a lot of relevant clips like Norman fait des videos to practice REAL French, and it is presented in such a fun way that it makes it easy to practice. Using this site has become part of my daily routine.
- Rachel Hollars
I really like learning with the videos. I have studied using other methods and it was very hard to put what you were learning into context. With the videos, not only are you learning new vocabulary, you are seeing how it is used. For example the tone which is used, the body language of the person using the phrase and the reaction to the phrase being said.
- Frederick Calestini
I love how I get to see videos, listen to music and learn about real and relevant aspects of the Chinese culture. I enjoy seeing faces in those videos of actors and people that I can recognize from other programs outside of Fluent U - which again tells me that the materials I get are relevant in the real Chinese/Taiwanese culture!
- Aileen Raquel Araúz