“Hit the books” is a phrase we use to say we’re off to study.
But I think it’s getting a bit outdated.
Nowadays, our study sessions may not include books at all.
In their place, many modern learners have come to depend on new types of resources—in particular, digital apps.
Apps offer a unique educational experience. Not only are they fun and engaging, but they can also address the specific needs of today’s language learners.
So if you’d like to give a more up-to-date twist to your Japanese studies, apps may be the way to go!
Can You Really Learn Japanese with Apps?
The answer is, absolutely! Or should we say, app-solutely!
You may already know some of the reasons why apps are incredibly popular as language learning resources, sometimes to the point that they’re a learner’s main study tool!
But it’s not just a hip trend. Scientific studies have shown that, with consistent use, language learning apps can boost proficiency in both written and oral language skills. And their efficacy isn’t just limited to the youngsters who are latched to their phones—language learning apps can even help adult learners to more quickly adapt to a new language.
One of the foremost reasons why learners love apps is that they’re highly convenient and allow for portable education. You can have a plethora of apps, and therefore learning tools, within a single device—the only “weight” they take up is intangible, as many bytes as your phone or tablet possesses. With a single tap, you can get instant access to quality Japanese study time, whenever and wherever!
Additionally, many apps can be instantly downloaded at little to no cost. That’s right, you can easily find many free Japanese-learning apps!
Many apps are specific in their purpose and content, so they can offer you the focused practice you need with different Japanese language skills. Therefore, if you decide that you’d like to work on your Japanese vocabulary at the moment and then brush up on your Japanese listening skills later on, you can easily pick the right app or apps that can reliably help you with each.
Now, while there are plenty of advantages to learning Japanese with apps, there are a few things to keep in mind.
There are many apps available on the market, but some are better than others in executing their purpose. Granted, what seems like a good app can differ from person to person, but the qualities any learner should be looking for when checking out Japanese language apps are:
- Reliable usage and teaching of the Japanese language
- Ability to track or save progress
- Interactive learner functions
- Reasonable longevity in usage
An app that at least provides these traits can prove to be a good learning resource, one that you can count on to be a study asset.
What Are the Best Apps to Learn Japanese?
As mentioned before, you have more than enough options for apps that can teach you Japanese. Quantity won’t be a problem, but what about quality? You want the best of a language education you can get, after all.
Well, if we’re going to talk about the best, let’s go over some of the different kinds of apps you’ll want to keep handy.
Japanese language learning apps
Naturally, many may start their app-based learning with apps designed for, well, learning. There’s a slew of fantastic Japanese language learning apps, each offering its own unique benefits. You probably have heard of a few popular ones, such as Duolingo, but there’s an impressive diversity in language learning apps that you may be unfamiliar with.
Some language learning apps can function as full courses, complete with lesson plans and a level-based curriculum. These kinds of apps work very well for beginners since they start with the basics before moving onto progressively difficult concepts. Review functions, usually in the form of quizzes, are often available so that you can put to practice what you’ve learned.
Other apps focus on certain aspects of the Japanese language, whether it’s vocabulary acquisition or speaking practice. You can use these apps if you want or need targeted training in specific areas; they’re also great for instances in which you want to “splice up” your studies into different segments. Having these kinds of apps as supplements to a more comprehensive course-style app can be a great way to organize your app-based learning.
While those are the two biggest categories, you can likely stumble upon learning apps of other unique formats. While most big-name learning apps will be available for most devices, certain apps may be more exclusive so that you can only access certain Japanese apps for Android or iOS.
The best kind of Japanese language learning app will teach you Japanese in as interactive a manner as possible. That means the content is available in audio, visual and textual forms so that you can learn and practice the language in all the ways it’s communicated.
One amazing option that does just that is FluentU.
FluentU’s unique approach to language learning allows you to learn Japanese with real native content. All the videos in FluentU’s vast content catalog are captioned and annotated with interactive subtitles that teach you the language in context.
FluentU also works to preserve and prolong your learning. The app provides review functions, such as special adaptive quizzes and multimedia flashcards, so that you retain your newly-gained Japanese knowledge. what you get in the end is a personalized learning experience.
If this sounds like an app-ealing way to learn Japanese, then you can check out FluentU for iOS or Android!
Japanese dictionary and translation apps
The humble dictionary app may be quite simple in its function, but you’ll likely find it to be an invaluable and frequently used study tool.
Japanese-English dictionary apps will, of course, provide the definitions to words you look up. However, many of them often providing alternate meanings, example sentences, audio pronunciations and even kanji character breakdowns. Some may even allow you to type in Japanese words in Romaji, in case you don’t know the proper hiragana or katakana spelling.
Technically speaking, Japanese translation apps work much like dictionary apps but may offer the ability to find the meanings of whole phrases or sentences. You’ll want an app that provides not just reliable translations, but also suggest other possible interpretations of the same phrase. This is particularly critical for phrases that are more idiomatic or slang-y in nature.
You’ll always be encountering new or unfamiliar words, and you’ll constantly need a refresher on previously learned vocabulary, so be prepared by having a dictionary or translation app on hand. It’s guaranteed to be an invaluable asset to your Japanese studies.
Japanese streaming apps
Japanese media has quite an audience outside of the native country, so there’s good reason for the many outlets that let you watch Japanese-language TV series or movies. Indeed, you can access some big-name Japanese streaming apps for Android and iOS with ease. Streaming apps are convenient resources that let you watch your favorite Japanese shows anywhere, but they can serve another purpose for language learners.
With the proper mindset and some nifty strategies, you can transform Japanese entertainment into language lessons. It hardly matters what kind of media you’re using; you can learn Japanese with anime just as you can learn with variety shows or documentaries. The main idea is to carefully dissect and parse through the Japanese used in the show, whether in written or audio form, without getting distracted by the actual entertaining aspects.
A good streaming app will offer a variety of different shows so that you can have your pick of what to watch. Several streaming apps may also offer optional subtitles, whether in Japanese or English, that you can easily transfigure into helpful learner tools.
Many learners enjoy using entertainment for learning Japanese—it’s certainly a great and fun way to learn the language as it’s spoken in different scenarios and environments. However, you’re more likely to benefit from streaming apps and their content by coming prepared with some rudimentary knowledge of the language as well as premeditating what you’re wanting to learn. This will help you to pick the right kind of content that will fulfill your study goals.
Streaming apps are also a good way for you to casually gauge how much Japanese you know. Within a given Japanese program, you can challenge yourself and see how much Japanese you can understand without any aid.
Japanese game apps
Games aren’t just fun; their highly interactive and engaging nature can seamlessly blend play-time with study-time. Apps that house Japanese learning games can be the ultimate way for you to pass your time while getting some language practice!
Most learning game apps will focus on teaching you essential information. This may include the alphabet, common vocabulary or basic phrases. Some may go further still and provide more detailed explanations or practice with certain concepts.
You can expect that most game apps will be tailored for beginners and a lot of the Japanese knowledge you gain will be based on memorization; the games themselves will likely encourage you to repeat certain actions and award you properly when you get things right.
A good Japanese game app will not only be fun to play but also teach you Japanese in a fashion that makes the learned knowledge applicable to learning scenarios outside of the game. In other words, whatever you learn from a game app should be useful to your general Japanese studies. And even if you’ve surpassed the level of Japanese used in a game, you can still hold onto it for some casual review practice!
Japanese social apps
Social media is, by nature, highly interactive. You get to see and chat with people from all over the world, messages and posts being sent in an instant for all to see. Such a speedy and lively platform can be an amazing space for you to both learn and practice your Japanese, in a manner that doesn’t seem like studying at all!
Japanese social apps, such as the ever-popular LINE app, can be re-purposed for language learning in a variety of ways. As a follower or viewer, you can see and become accustomed to natural Japanese communication. As a poster, you can test your Japanese skills in real-time with native speakers. Understandably, this can be nerve-wracking, so you can choose to do this at a later point when you’re much more confident in your Japanese.
There’s a caveat, however. Since this is social media, be conscious that the Japanese you read or hear can stray from the “standard” form that you should be learning. Expect a lot of informal slang, idiomatic speech, text “shortcuts” and other forms of online-speak. Of course, they can still be useful to know (as long as you fully understand their meanings), but make sure you keep your focus on the Japanese speech you would actually use in real-life scenarios.
17 Targeted Tips for Learning Japanese with Apps
As mentioned before, different apps can improve different Japanese language skills. This is why it’s recommended that you gather a number of apps to use, as opposed to just depending on one app.
In order to better understand app-based language learning and how it can fit within your study regime, we’ll go over how Japanese apps can tackle various skill sets.
Vocabulary is often the biggest point of interest for most learners, as well as being the most straightforward to teach, so it’s no surprise that most Japanese learning apps will teach you words and phrases in some way or another.
1. Use flashcards apps for multimedia vocab learning
A specific app that you can frequently use to work on your vocabulary would be a Japanese flashcards app. Flashcards are the classic method of learning items individually, but their digital counterparts can have some extra functions such as audio pronunciations that will boost their utility. Also, you can categorize and store your flashcards easily; anytime you’d like a refresher on some Japanese vocabulary you can go straight to your flashcards app.
2. Look for apps that teach new words in context
Memorizing vocabulary is easy enough, but in order to make sure they stick in your brain, you should max out as much of a Japanese learning app’s functions as possible to mentally store the information in different formats. You should aim to get the “whole picture” of words or phrases: how it’s written and spoken as well as any context clues. You can easily review vocabulary in such a manner with apps, so take full advantage of that!
3. Use vocabulary apps often
In essence, learning vocabulary requires frequent encounters with the words in question, so you should use your Japanese vocabulary apps often. When you’re aware that you’ve forgotten something you previously learned, make sure you go back and review instead of charging on ahead.
Japanese grammar has plenty of unique quirks that can make it difficult to grasp. It can be dry business learning it all with textbooks and the like, but with apps, you can expect to have a less agonizing time.
4. Have some prior knowledge of Japanese grammar
It’s recommended that you possess a very basic understanding of Japanese grammar before depending on apps for your learning. Knowing the ground rules will make it easier to dissect more complicated sentence structures.
5. Be aware of the level of grammar being taught in apps
Japanese grammar apps can give you detailed breakdowns of sentences so that you understand their workings. Alongside this, they can also address potential pitfalls a learner can encounter when analyzing or interpreting phrases. Keep good notes on what grammatical concept the app is teaching you, and then gauge how comfortable you are with it before moving forward.
You can expect grammar to be taught in progressing levels of difficulty, so you won’t have to worry about more complicated concepts until you’re ready. On that note, it’s important that you not jump ahead just because you find the material easy. Grammar can get tricky fast!
6. Scour through general Japanese learning apps
An app that teaches Japanese grammar may not always explicitly describe itself as such; rather, they may classify themselves more generally as apps that work to improve your Japanese writing or speaking skills, but they still should address grammatical concepts. After all, grammar knowledge is necessary for basic sentence comprehension.
For that reason, you can be pretty confident that you can get grammar practice with most Japanese learning apps, even if they don’t mention it as their main focus. Keep that in mind while browsing for an app to download.
Reading and writing
As you probably already know, the Japanese language involves three written systems: hiragana, katakana and kanji. Each are utilized for different situations, but they’re all vital for understanding standard Japanese texts. Luckily, there are more than enough apps that work to familiarize you with any or all three of them!
7. Look for reading apps that break down Japanese text
Besides practice with the alphabet letters and their pronunciations, Japanese reading apps can offer you detailed, guided instruction on how to properly analyze and interpret texts; many will offer simplified readings (often in hiragana), provide on-the-spot word translations and potentially point out where learners commonly make mistakes. Some apps may provide graded readers that present Japanese text tailored to your learning level.
Check out those apps that dig into the language instead of just teaching you how to read text like a robot. They will be the ones that will boost both your reading and reading comprehension skills.
8. Have a Japanese keyboard downloaded to your device
Japanese writing apps will likely offer much of what reading apps would, but with a stronger focus on building your ability to independently write Japanese text. Writing apps may make you practice by having you properly draw out each stroke of a character; some may ask you to train your ability to write words or phrases via keyboard.
It’s highly recommended that you download a Japanese keyboard for your Android or iOS device so that you can train your writing skills whenever, but try to avoid depending on automated word suggestions when you’re practicing.
9. Get a Japanese kanji learning app
In general, many learners (and native speakers) struggle with the kanji system more than the other two alphabets. This is a well-understood problem, evidenced by the many Japanese kanji learning apps that specifically hone your ability to read and write kanji characters.
Kanji is essential to learn. As much as you’d like to avoid it and stick with hiragana or katakana, it’s inevitable you’ll frequently encounter kanji characters even as a beginner. There are many great kanji apps that will ensure that you get the specific practice you need with this tricky and dreaded writing system, so download one early on in your app-based learning journey!
10. Use in tandem with a Japanese grammar app
It’s a good idea to combine a reading or writing app with a grammar app as well, as the three are naturally related. If you’re ever confused or wondering why a phrase or sentence is written as such, you can use the grammar app to figure out why or get more practice.
Listening skills are often the hardest to improve for language learners but that’s exactly why it should be a learning priority.
Apps that provide plenty of Japanese audio content can work wonderfully for listening comprehension practice. But you don’t just have to use apps that provide learner-targeted Japanese audio. You can certainly go for apps that offer a much more natural exposure to spoken Japanese.
11. Check out Japanese podcast and audiobook apps
Japanese podcast or audiobook apps are great options to give you the listening practice you need without making it feel like a chore. Podcasts and audiobooks are popular choices for multi-tasking situations, but they’re just as great for learning. Some of their stand-out benefits include their length, their engaging nature and their diverse usage of the Japanese language, and with the functions provided within the apps, you can consume the audio at your own pace and really put your ears to work.
12. Listen to Japanese music with apps
Japanese music apps are also perfect for learners who want a bit more rhythm to their studies. You can rock out to some of your favorite tunes while actively working on your listening skills. Due to varying cadences, word choice and genre, different songs can offer different colorful experiences with the language. Also, because songs utilize a lot of repetition in their lyrics, you can easily learn a lot of new vocabulary and phrases, potentially more so than with other kinds of audio!
13. Watch Japanese media with streaming apps
Another option to consider would be Japanese streaming apps. As mentioned earlier, the entertainment value and audiovisual nature of Japanese media can make for some powerful learning resources; in the case of listening comprehension, you can both hear and see how the language is spoken.
There are Japanese-specific streaming apps that directly provide you shows or movies that may not be available elsewhere; more generalized streaming apps such as Netflix or Hulu may also have a handful of Japanese-language content and can include helpful functions such as subtitles that make it easier for you to follow what you hear.
The act of speaking in a foreign language involves a lot of work and knowledge. You’re not just working out your jaws; you’re putting to the test all that you know about Japanese. It’s for this reason that speaking can be so intimidating for language learners.
14. Use language exchange apps for interpersonal practice
To tackle that fear, you can get the cozy practice you need via apps that test your Japanese speaking skills. There are special language exchange apps that allow you to practice and speak Japanese online so that you can get feedback from native speakers (who in turn may be keen to build their English skills). Some other apps function more as casual chat rooms so you can get your speaking practice done in a more relaxed setting.
15. Test your skills with social media apps
You can also utilize other apps that aren’t specifically for Japanese studies but can still provide you a speech podium and a way to interact with Japanese natives. Social media apps are a big one, as many of them enable video or audio posts, so you can upload snippets of your Japanese speech in action! Who knows, you may even make some Japanese friends or followers along the way.
16. Use apps that let you get private speaking practice
If you’re still a bit shy and would rather practice in a more private manner, there are also apps that let you get speaking practice without having to interact with others. These apps can offer lessons on how to say certain phrases, which you can then say aloud to yourself or save in an audio recording that can then be graded by the app.
It’s a neat way for you to boost your speaking skills without worrying about others’ opinions, though it’s highly recommended that once you become confident enough you move onto the language exchange apps to really challenge yourself!
17. Practice correct Japanese pronunciation
Remember that speaking practice should involve a lot of work with proper pronunciation. Even if what you’re attempting to say makes sense, the way it’s enunciated can massively affect its coherence to others. You can use listening-focused apps to better hone your ears to the cadence and nuances of native Japanese speech so that you can pick up any discrepancies or problematic spots in your own.
An app a day keeps the language woes at bay!
If you’ve come to app-reciate the benefits of integrating apps into your Japanese studies, then no need to wait: pop into those app stores and start downloading!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.