Unless you are studying Japanese full-time at school or university, chances are that your language learning is primarily driven by self-study.
There are many benefits to this, such as having the freedom to create your own study plan, being able to pick and choose what type of study suits you best, and being able to shake things up as frequently (or infrequently) as you like.
But sometimes, it can be difficult to make independent self-study go deep enough.
Most of us need at least some structure, direction and accountability to motivate us to practice with enough consistency to become anywhere near fluent in a foreign language.
One great way to get this structure in self-study (or indeed as an aid to formal lessons) is to use online language learning labs.
A language lab is essentially a virtual classroom—or perhaps it is more accurate to liken it to a one-on-one class. It is essentially a multimedia platform that can inculcate language lessons with text, images, audio, video, quizzes and assignments, creating a structured course of lessons to teach language.
How to Use Japanese Language Labs
Language labs were developed as an aid to traditional classroom environments, to encourage students to actively participate in language practice and independent learning. Now there are several purely online language labs, which can be used completely separate from traditional classroom learning.
They are generally made up of lessons, which can include simple vocab lists, explanations of grammar rules, in-context usage examples and demonstrations of words and phrases, and review segments, which can take the form of quizzes, timed tests and flashcards.
This means that they can be equally helpful for self-study learners and classroom-based students. They can be used to review and reinforce recently learned rules, prompt and revive forgotten lessons or to learn something entirely new.
It pays to have several lessons with a range of difficulty levels going at once in your labs. Some lessons you can use primarily to review old vocabulary and grammar patterns, to ensure that you don’t forget to keep using them. These are the “easy” lessons, to keep for the days when you really don’t feel like using your brain too much.
Of course, you want to be learning new things regularly to keep expanding your knowledge and moving towards that nebulous goal of fluency. Most language labs don’t require you to start with Lesson One, and you can often look at the content of the lessons before starting them. Intermediate and advanced learners can use these programs to tailor labs to their skill levels.
Browse the lessons until you get to something you don’t know and start from there, choose your skill level at the get-go or take a placement test if offered!
5 Outsanding Japanese Language Labs
Living Language Lab
With so many lessons and a huge range of languages available to learn (even Dothraki!), Living Language Lab is a popular online lab for good reason. The Living Language program combines interactive technology with proven teaching strategies to provide a fun, efficient and effective learning resource.
Their free course is made up of simple flashcards, with the Japanese word and a photograph on one side and the English meaning on the other. Click on any of their lessons to play, and you can choose to see a list of all the vocab that will be covered in that lesson. There is a downloadable PDF file with a summary of the grammar covered in each course.
Living Language Lab has a full online course available for a subscription fee. This includes 46 lessons based on their coursebooks, games and quizzes to make for engaging review and to let you track your progress as you go. You can even interact with a bustling online community of learners and experts along the way.
The thing that sets Living Language Lab apart is the availability of e-tutoring sessions (for an additional fee), which gives independent students the opportunity to practice live with native speakers and work through specific problems.
Living Language Lab has an app version of their free online course available through the iTunes Store.
FluentU is one for the pop culture buffs and fun-loving folks—and everyone else who likes their lessons to really come to life. It is by far the most entertaining, engaging and refreshing language learning lab option out there.
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!
Featuring over 2,150 audio and video lessons, JapanesePod101 is an extensive and highly popular program.
JapanesePod101 combines podcasts, video lessons, PDF lesson notes and an online forum to create an enormous online classroom.
To create your free account, the homepage will prompt you to choose one of four skill levels: Absolute Beginner, Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Once you have an account you can change your skill level, there are also Bonus Lessons available.
There is little more that you can find out about the course without creating a free account or signing up for a paid membership. On the Dashboard lessons are separated into Learning Paths, which are review-type lessons, audio clips and video lessons. New lessons are added frequently, and can be found easily in the Newest Lessons tab.
JapanesePod101 offers a wide range of resources on top of their basic language lab, some of which are free. However, resources like the Conjugation Chart, Learn Kanji program and quizzes are only available with a paid membership.
This is a great language lab for students looking for a wide range of lessons, resources and learning styles. JapanesePod101 incorporates many of the great features of other language labs (forums and blogs, video lessons, podcasts etc.) and puts them all together in one accessible site.
They also have two apps: Innovative Language 101, available on the iTunes App Store, Google Play and Kindle, and Daily Dose of Language, available on the iTunes App Store and Google Play.
Learn Japanese on the go with Rocket Languages.
With lessons designed to encourage spoken Japanese in “only minutes a day,” Rocket Languages uses interactive audio lessons (“perfect for learning Japanese in the car”), flashcards, pronunciation practice sessions, more traditional language and culture lessons and review resources to teach Japanese.
Sign up for a free lifetime account to use select lessons from the full course, which is made up of packages covering three levels: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced.
Lessons are made up of Modules. Each Module is broken up into labs, which are are broken up again into sections to complete (including an audio lesson, writing and speaking practice, and practice tools).
You can check out what is included in each package on their Courses and Pricing page, but the features which stand out to me in particular are the voice recognition, the “My Vocab” vocab builder and 24/7 forum and email support.
Memrise aspires to make learning joyful.
Unlike other paid language labs, Memrise provides most of their learning tools in their free account—with several more advanced options for Premium members.
Users create their own quiz-based courses with “Mems,” personalized prompts to make new vocab stick in your mind. Click on any course to check out what each lesson will entail, so you can easily select courses that suit your proficiency level.
Courses are made up of levels. In each level, a handful of new words will be introduced at a time, supplemented by Mems and simple practice exercises. As your memory grows (animated adorably as a flower growing and sprouting petals) more words are added throughout the level.
Practice exercises include reading, writing and listening, with special listening tools, video lessons and personalized lessons for Difficult Words in Pro. Towards the end of each level you can begin Speed Reviews, where you are given seconds to recognize the word and select its correct meaning. Your progress is recorded as points, firing up your competitive side and turning study into a fun and challenging game.
Memrise also has an app, available through the iTunes App Store and Google Play.
Technology has become such an integral part of our lives, we tend to take it completely for granted.
We rarely think about ways in which we can use it to aid our lives in new, productive and educational ways.
But smartphones and the Internet have completely revolutionized how we can learn languages, from connecting us with people around the world through social media to globalizing pop culture and bringing the classroom to us via online language labs.
So, don’t be afraid to try out these new and fantastic resources.
You may just find exactly the resource you have been looking for!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.