What if I told you that your phone could transform?
Now, I don’t mean the “Oh my god, that’s some real Optimus Prime stuff right there, quick, somebody call Sector Seven!” kind of transformation.
Instead, what if I told you that your phone could transform into a genuine Japanese teacher?
Okay, I’ll admit it. Maybe a teacher is less exciting than a Transformer, a mecha or even a boring ol’ cyborg.
While it would be great to have a space robot as a teacher, we just don’t have the technology…yet.
However, the teacher inside your phone—that device you always carry around with you in your pocket—is just as epic, but you might not even know it. In addition to helping you interact with the world, your phone can also teach you Japanese.
And do you want to know the coolest part? Even though we don’t yet have real-life Transformers or mechas, we do have Androids—in the form of cell phones that use the Android operating system.
This post will show you six awesome Android apps that you can use to learn, practice and transform your Japanese.
Then check out these six apps and start transforming your Japanese skills!
Teach Me, Transformer: 6 Mecha-fun Japanese Android Apps
All of the apps we’re about to review here are great in their own way, but before you try them out, I suggest you try out our FluentU app for Android first.
The FluentU iOS app has been receiving rave reviews for years, and we’re excited to have finally launched our Android app!
1. ゆにおん (Union)
Union is a classic type of language studying app that’s all about listening and reproducing what you just heard. Just like the old cassettes for studying languages!
Since this is Japanese we’re talking about, you could also say it’s for practicing your 発音 (はつおん ー pronunciation). But it’s a bit more than that because you get feedback, something that regular audio lessons won’t give you.
Once you open the app, you’ll see a charming anime-style character who follows you throughout the app, acting as your teacher (umm, let’s just disregard the fact that she wears a schoolgirl uniform).
There are three modes to choose from. The first is Story Mode, and “Northern Wind and The Sun” is the theme of the story. You can do a practice run or go straight to the test and see how well you do on the assessment.
The other two modes are Japanese 1 and 2. In Japanese 1 you’ll be dealing with those tricky things like long vowels or geminate consonants. In Japanese 2 you’ll deal with everyday sentences. Also, the second one gives you the chance to do an optional dictation. It’s not too long but it can sometimes be very tricky because the pronunciation is in no way altered to make it easier to understand.
The biggest benefit you can get from this app is obvious: You’ll be able to perfect your pronunciation. It can’t be stressed enough that pronunciation is the most important part of Japanese. It won’t matter if your grammar is top-notch and your vocabulary is astonishing; if Japanese people can’t understand what you’re saying, all that other stuff won’t matter.
You might notice that this app has a pretty low rating in the Play store. I honestly don’t know why that is but trust me, the rating isn’t realistic. Don’t forget that this app was developed by the University of Kumamoto.
To summarize, this app is great for perfecting your pronunciation but that’s pretty much all there is to it. You might expand your vocabulary a little but perfecting your pronunciation is the main objective. Since it does a good job at what it’s meant for, I’d recommend you try it out and see how it goes. Plus, it’s free so there’s no risk in checking it out.
- The app is much like a mini classroom in your pocket. You get to read, write and listen, getting feedback along the way.
- Every mistake you make while pronouncing will be pointed out.
- The app has a segment dedicated to the most difficult areas of pronouncing Japanese, such as geminate consonants.
- The friendly interface helps you enjoy the app more.
- You can set the text to be in kanji and kana or kana only.
- You need an internet connection for the pronunciation exercises and tests.
- Your pronunciation must be perfect for you to get 100 points on the test. And I mean perfect. This isn’t a definitive downside though, as it can help you improve your skills.
- You won’t be able to use this app if you’re a beginner since it’s entirely in Japanese and there are no translations (at least not yet; they might add them in further updates).
- The app has no grammar explanations.
2. ねこのまち (Cat Town)
I like this one—it’s very cute! Cats, cats and more cats. So fluffy!
Anyways, the app is a multiple-choice storybook and depending on your choices, you’ll get a different ending. I won’t go into details but the story is about a town full of cats and things concerning those cats. I’ll leave the rest to you, so go ahead and read it.
This app is good for expanding your vocabulary, getting accustomed to understanding written text and looking at drawings of cute cats!
Jokes aside, it’s great because you get to read something and have it narrated to you. That can help you remember words and kanji more easily later on.
- The story is written out on the screen (you just have to open the dialog box) and you can follow it while it’s being narrated. This means you can learn some new kanji along the way.
- You can use this app offline.
- The story is a bit short, however, it has multiple endings so it’s not that noticeable.
- You’ll need intermediate knowledge of Japanese for this one. It’s a story for children, but it’s also full of kanji so you need to understand them well enough to know which choice to make when the multiple-choice section comes.
- There are no grammar explanations in this app.
3. あの夏の日から脱出 (Escape From That Summer Day)
This one was quite a ride for me.
Completing logical tasks in your own language is one thing, but doing them in a foreign language is a whole world apart. A simple riddle can become as difficult as calculus!
This app is one of those “escape from the room” kinds of games. But since it’s in Japanese, it’s way more interesting. Setting the table, writing a card or guessing the password will trigger your brain in a whole new way!
You’ll understand what I mean once you try it out.
I don’t want to spoil the game for you so I won’t cover any more details. However, I can tell you that the feeling you’ll get while solving problems in a foreign language is quite amazing. Not only that, but completing them will definitely give you an edge in thinking in Japanese, which is really neat, right?
- It induces logical thinking and problem solving in Japanese.
- It’s very, very interesting. You won’t get bored with this one.
- The app is great for getting familiar with casual conversations in Japanese, as well as some informal phrases and expressions.
- You need a Japanese keyboard layout or IME on your phone, because you’ll be writing Japanese letters in this one.
- Again, intermediate knowledge of Japanese is needed to use the app.
- Sadly, this app provides no grammar explanations.
4. Japanese Kanji Tree
The name of this one speaks for itself: It’s an app for studying kanji.
You have four different modes in the app, namely recognition, reading, writing and dictionary. In each mode, you have different categories based on the difficulty level chosen.
To be honest, I haven’t seen a lot of kanji apps like this one. You can see the time and effort that was put into making it and polishing it to its current state. A job well done.
I’ll say it again: This is a great (free!) kanji learning app and you should certainly try it out. Maybe you won’t like it as much as I do, maybe you will. Try it out and see!
- You get everything you need for studying kanji. It covers all areas, from simple to complex.
- You can use this app while offline.
- The app has a user-friendly interface.
- The app has no grammar explanations but then again, it’s only for kanji, so I’d say that’s fine.
- Reading mode can get laggy sometimes, but that will probably be fixed in new updates.
- The writing mode is crazy strict. One tiny error and it lowers your score. But then again, that can also be a pro, because that’s just how kanji writing works.
5. NHK Easy Japanese News
Did you ever get that feeling while you were listening to Japanese news?
The “Wait, what? What was that? I didn’t get that. What did you say, man?” kind of feeling?
Well, I have.
But with the help of this app, you can say goodbye to those freak-out moments and enjoy the news, making everything niiiiice and slooooow.
This is a normal news app, but with a twist. All of the text has ふりがな (furigana) and every recording has an option to change playback speed.
I love this kind of studying. You take real-life situations and materials and learn from them. This is real news which means real, non-fabricated Japanese language!
Because of that, I strongly recommend using this app. Try to translate at least one article by yourself and you’ll feel that you’ve improved your skills. Just try it out.
- You can change the playback speed of the content. The speed options are slow, even slower or—if you’re feeling funky—faster than a bullet!
- Tiny ひらがな (hiragana) letters are written above every ideogram. These are called ふりがな (furigana) and are very helpful for learning how to pronounce new characters.
- You get to read the latest news from Japan and the world in Japanese!
- Your Japanese knowledge must be at least intermediate or even better (but if it is, you’ll be able to read and understand everything in this app).
- The app uses formal language so sometimes the text gets quite complicated (like when related to politics or the economy) and can become somewhat dry because of that.
Duolingo is an amazing app. Even Bill Gates himself used it. And as of recently, Duolingo covers Japanese as well!
The main concept of Duolingo is consistency. You don’t have to study for hours a day. Even five minutes a day can be enough! But the key is in being consistent. Do those five minutes a day, but do them each and every day of the week. And results will come.
I like how you can bet on yourself. If you keep a studying streak of seven consecutive days, you’ll double the points you wagered!
A word of caution, though: don’t get carried away and start learning three languages at once just because it seems so easy. It is in the beginning but trust me, it gets harder. If you take in too much at once, you’ll get nowhere and learn nothing. Focus on one language at a time and enjoy it!
- You don’t need to spend a lot of time on it. Just five minutes a day is enough. Of course, if you want better and faster results, you’ll have to put in more time.
- You get to practice all the areas of a foreign language, such as reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary, idioms and so on.
- The app notifies you when it’s time for your lesson, which is handy.
- You must be consistent or you’ll learn nothing. This isn’t really a con but it’s not a pro either.
- The grammar isn’t explicit, it’s implicit, meaning you have to deduce the rules by yourself by following the train of thought they intend you to follow. I find this cool, but you can hit a wall here and there, slowing down your progress a bit.
- The app needs a network connection to work so you can’t use it while offline.
I’ve said this already but each one of these apps is great in their own way. That’s why they’re on our list, after all!
They all cover a certain area and excel there, which is why you should make your own sampler platter and download a couple of them, or even try all of them if you’d like.
Then just sit back, relax and let your Android phone be your Japanese teacher. Soon enough, you should notice an amazing transformation in your Japanese skills!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.