Does your wrist hurt from writing out countless flashcards for Japanese words?
Do you sometimes end up reviewing stuff you already know, just because you made a flashcard for it?
There’s a better way.
No matter what it is you like or hope to gain from using flashcards—whether it’s customizability, effectiveness or just convenience and simplicity—there’s an app that can give you the same benefits without all the hassle.
Besides, apps are just good tools for studying. While learning a new language takes time and consistency, trying to make the time to sit and study every single day with traditional methods and textbooks can be an exercise in frustration. Immersing yourself in the language is invaluable, but it isn’t always possible.
That’s where technology comes in.
Going digital is the perfect solution for squeezing in some Japanese language learning during those boring commutes, work lunch hours and idle minutes spent waiting in lines.
Flashcards apps give you bite-sized pieces of information, perfect for mini study sessions.
So how about it? Let’s make your life easier and get you fluent in a flash!
What to Consider When Choosing a Japanese Flashcards App
With all the Japanese flashcards apps to choose from—plus the more generic flashcards apps that can also be used for Japanese—it helps to narrow down what you’re looking for before you start wading through the pool. Here are a few factors that are important to consider.
- Device and operating system: Apps can be found for desktops, tablets and smartphones, but most aren’t available for all three. Make sure you’re only considering apps usable on the devices you own and their operating systems.
- Cost: How much are you willing to pay for an app? If you’re only interested in something that’s free, it’ll narrow your search considerably—and, depending on what other features you’re looking for, it might also restrict the quality of the apps you can pick.
- Traditional vs. SRS: Traditional digital flashcards give you cards to review in an arbitrary order. Flashcards apps based on a spaced repetition system, or SRS, show you the cards you need the most help with, or the cards you’re in danger of forgetting. It’s kind of complicated, but basically an SRS means “smart” flashcards.
- Ease of use: How important is user-friendliness to you? This one can be a little harder to judge before you actually use the app, so if it’s a big concern, read reviews carefully, and see if the app’s website offers any videos that show how it’s used.
- Premade vs. user-created: Some flashcards apps offer a blank slate you have to fill in yourself, while others have the cards already made for you. Both have their pros and cons, and often the availability of content can affect the price of an app. Special note: If you want an app with premade cards, pay attention to whether the cards have single words or if they offer added context. Context is a big factor in efficient language learning.
- Functionality: Are you happy with flashcards that simply show text, or do you want the option for audio and/or images? Multimedia flashcards are another great way to add context to your learning.
No matter how important the above factors are to you, rest assured that there’s an app out there for you.
6 Japanese Flashcards Apps That’ll Make You Smile
To save you some search time, here’s a handy shortlist of six apps worth investigating. All are available on iOS, but some have other download options as well.
On the opposite end of the DIY approach to flashcards is a learning app with premade cards, FluentU. In addition to the iOS app and Android app, FluentU has a browser-based option, opening up the program for Android users (and anyone who’d rather just use a computer).
FluentU gives you premade multimedia flashcards with tons of context and an SRS. Plus, since it’s really a comprehensive language learning platform and not just a flashcards app, the low monthly price for the full version gets you a lot more: FluentU teaches you Japanese through the use of native videos, which provide real-world context and authentic, natural language in a fun setting.
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” 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.
Access FluentU on the website to use it with your computer or tablet or, better yet, start learning Japanese on the go with the FluentU app for iOS or Android!
Possibly the most well-known free flashcards program is the desktop version of Anki. The official iOS app, AnkiMobile, isn’t free, but the unofficial Android app, AnkiDroid, is.
No matter what version you’re using, Anki is an SRS-based flashcard system with cards that are completely open-ended and highly customizable, so you have a lot of room for personalization. The mobile apps don’t offer the same extensive options that the desktop version does, but they still have the same solid foundation.
If you don’t want to spend time building your own deck from scratch, you can use the import feature on the iOS version to download shared decks available on the Anki site. These can be useful, but since they’re created and shared by other users there’s really no way to verify their accuracy—so keep that in mind before you decide they’re the perfect shortcut.
StickyStudy offers a blank flashcard version and two different sets of cards for Japanese learning: one for hiragana and katakana, the other for kanji and vocabulary. A lighter version of the kanji study app is available for free, but the full versions of either set will cost you.
A cool thing about StickyStudy is that it has stroke-order animations and a window for you to practice writing the characters. It also shows you tile and list views of your cards, provides statistics and has a scheduler so you can customize your learning—plus, cards are timed using an SRS algorithm.
SpeakEasy provides phrase sets in multiple languages, including Japanese, and has flashcards you can use for studying and to quiz yourself. The app is free to try, but in-app purchases are available.
Each phrase includes a phonetic guide along with audio of a native speaker saying the phrase, and the audio can be slowed down to make it easier to hear. SpeakEasy’s phrase-based language learning can act as a sort of jump-start to Japanese—or it could help you prep for a trip to Japan.
Free flashcards app Brainscape uses what it calls “Confidence-based Repetition,” which is just a fancy way of saying spaced repetition. The app is geared a little toward collaborative use by teachers and their students, but individual learners may find it useful, too.
Brainscape flashcards can contain both text and multimedia. The app allows users to create their own cards, and Brainscape also offers deck sets on a variety of subjects, both through official partners and shared by other users. Japanese isn’t a subject that’s offered officially, but there are plenty of free user-created decks to choose from. Like with Anki shared decks, though, just beware of potential inaccuracies.
Play and Learn Languages
Available for both iOS and Android, Play and Learn Languages aims to make language learning fun through the use of colorful, image-based flashcards, games and quizzes. Japanese is one of the many languages the app offers.
You can get started with a small group of vocabulary for free, with the option to buy more vocab packs in-app. Most of the sets available are of basic nouns, including food, nature words and different types of animals. So if you’re a beginner, or just looking to fill in some of the blanks in your vocab in a fun way, this app may be worth checking out.
These flashcards apps are just waiting to mobilize your studies. So what are you waiting for? Go digital!
Katie O’Hara is a writer, editor and blogger with a long and varied history of learning Japanese. (Pro tip: Don’t mention the city of Fukuoka to her unless you really want to hear how much cooler it is than everywhere else, at length.)
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.