Are you feeling sick and tired of your Japanese learning routine?
Stuck in a rut?
Is your motivation lagging?
Get the boost you need by infusing your studies with new life!
In this article, we’ll share 20 awesome Japanese learning tools for all levels that’ll get you motivated and help your Japanese language skills be up and fighting fit in no time.
Whether you’re new to learning Japanese or an old pro, it’s easy to forget that new resources are being released every week that can help you with your Japanese learning.
There are some great Japanese learning tools out there that you may not have heard of yet, that could be just the shot in the arm you need to triumph over the tedium and break through that brick wall!
Read on to discover what’s out there just waiting to inspire you.
How to Choose the Right Japanese Learning Tool
Something to remember before you read any further is that Japanese learning tools are not one-size-fits-all. Which tool will work best for you depends on your Japanese level.
This article introduces resources suitable for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners that cover a variety of linguistic skills and learning styles:
- Beginner level resources are well suited to new learners, those who are studying book one of the Genki learning series or those who are at around Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level N5.
- Intermediate resources are perfect for learners working through the second level Genki book, have started Tobira or are at around JLPT level N4 or N3.
- Advanced resources should be useful for those who are working at JLPT N2 or N1 level, are confident with monolingual Japanese resources and want to deepen their already solid knowledge of Japanese.
Use these basic level guidelines to find the perfect Japanese learning tools for you!
20 Japanese Learning Tools to Get Your Language Skills Fighting Fit
The All-in-1 Japanese Learning Tool
The obvious option when choosing a resource is to pick one that adapts to your level and offers you an integrated approach to grammar, speaking, listening, reading and writing. FluentU does exactly that through fun, authentic and engaging videos from native speakers.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into interactive language learning lessons.
No more juggling books and websites or switching between multiple resources: Everything’s accessible in one place with just a few simple clicks.
Interactive subtitles provide examples and definitions to make understanding a breeze, without needing to spend hours leafing through a dictionary. Comprehending context and remembering new words is elementary when using FluentU’s built-in quizzes and flashcards, which provide a fun, simple way to review your learning.
And since FluentU takes your progress into account, the lessons are 100% personalized for each learner.
As an added bonus, learning on the go is as easy as downloading the FluentU app for iOS or Android.
Now that we’ve covered the full package, let’s take a look at some other resources you can use to supplement your studies and give your learning a little lift.
Japanese Learning Tools for Speaking Practice
Honing your pronunciation and natural speaking skills outside of Japan needn’t leave you stumbling. Even if you don’t have native speakers or even other Japanese learners to practice with, you can still make big strides using the right kind of techniques and resources.
Remember to speak out loud to train your mouth, record yourself and bone up on Japanese phonetics to perfect pronunciation.
You can try learning a few songs to help with rhythm and speed. Shadowing (speaking along with an audio resource) will also help you to sound like a native speaker even when you’re practicing solo.
Beginner and Intermediate:
These books’ main strength lies in their practicality: the example sentences contained in both are really useful in daily life.
- Pros: The books are good quality, well organized and include native speaker audio. They’re great resources for perfecting pronunciation and learning to automatically speak common phrases in a natural way.
- Cons: It’s difficult to understand the technique without a video demonstration which explains the difference between simple repetition and shadowing. The books would also really benefit from some kind of method for checking your own progress.
It’s especially difficult to find good speaking resources at an advanced level because they’re predominantly resources aimed at native speakers, who almost never need to actively correct their pronunciation or rhythm in speech.
Luckily for you, there are three excellent books on sale through OMG Japan (formerly White Rabbit Japan) which could be just what you need.
This book contains concrete guidance about how to improve your score on official speaking tests, such as the Oral Proficiency Interview.
- Pros: The Oral Proficiency Interview covers a skill the JLPT doesn’t test for. It’s well worth paying specific attention to this skill, as any all-Japanese job suitable for an advanced learner is likely to involve a job interview in Japanese.
- Cons: There’s no audio, which seems like a missed opportunity. Students who want to do shadowing or need to work on their pronunciation may find it challenging to do so without hearing native voices and mimicking them.
This book covers the skills necessary for the “Nihongo Hanashikata” (“Japanese Way of Speaking”).
- Pros: Intonation guides and CDs mean that you can really focus on closing the gap between your current spoken Japanese and how native speakers sound.
- Cons: The emphasis of this text is more on making speeches or giving lectures than on conversing, which means that it may not be a great fit for learners who want to speak in a casual, interactive way at an advanced level.
This book will help advanced learners master proper business phone etiquette, which is an essential skill for those hoping to work in Japan. There are several books in this series covering meetings, email, phone calls and more.
- Pros: Lots of practice exercises and audio are included to help learners master business phone calls. The exercises are suitable for both classroom and independent study, a versatility which makes this book all the more appealing.
- Cons: The scope is narrow and therefore those who need to improve spoken Japanese for situations other than just phone calls will need to invest in additional resources.
Japanese Listening Comprehension Tools
This JapanesePod101 video is just one of JapanesePod101’s many YouTube uploads.
JapanesePod101 has a lot of good content for free on their channel, so it’s worth searching through to find content suitable for your level. The website also houses a majority of their learning material, such as podcasts, videos, full lesson transcripts and more.
- Pros: The videos are good quality Japanese learning tools, specially designed for learners. They’re great if you’re training for the JLPT N5 or N4 listening test. Audio is professional quality and answers for listening exercises are given after the questions. Plus, a lot of material is available for free.
- Cons: JapanesePod101 has a free subscription option, but much of the content is only available to paid subscribers. Videos on the YouTube channel are labeled a little confusingly, with titles alternating between using the terms “absolute beginner,” “beginner,” “basics” and so on.
This Japanese learning tool helps bridge the gaps between textbook learning and listening to real news broadcasts. New content is available as a free podcast for four weeks, then it’s archived so only paying members can access it.
Toggling speed on the built-in web player or on your podcast app allows you choose between paying close attention to every word or trying to catch the gist of an article at full speed.
- Pros: Over 300 episodes are available to members. Podcasts are regularly uploaded, made by native speakers and stay up to date with current events in Japan.
- Cons: While reasonably priced, this resource’s archives aren’t free. You can, however, add the podcast to your subscriptions and download each new episode to keep.
There are a plethora of learning resources for native speakers that suit a higher level learner. One especially useful way to study is to use TED talks from Japanese speakers to challenge your comprehension and listening stamina.
There have been over 450 TedX talks in Japan to date (and counting), meaning that ever-more Japanese content is being added to YouTube.
While filtering on the TED website by language will bring up content with Japanese subtitles, the audio may not be in Japanese. Searching for TedX events within Japan instead will help you find content from native speakers covering a huge variety of topics.
- Pros: All talks are free and subtitled. You can use YouTube’s variable speed settings to slow down (or speed up) speech. Plus, there’s a lot of content here!
- Cons: Language filtering options don’t allow you to select the original language of the talk and therefore can throw up a lot of results that are only subtitled in Japanese. Despite this, it’s not too difficult to find good Japanese native speaker content to study from.
Bonus tip: Listen to NHK news or another similar resource at double speed on Youtube at 1.5X or 2X speed. The NHK radio news site has options for low, regular or high speed and also has a podcast available through iTunes (which also offers a range of playback speeds).
Listening at true speed regularly will greatly improve your comprehension ability over time and will make listening to speech in real life far less intimidating.
Reading Tools for Japanese Learners
When you’re practicing your Japanese reading, make sure your choice of reading material doesn’t bog you down. Keep things fresh and relevant by reading short pieces with vocabulary and grammar at a level that you can understand, while still challenging yourself.
These readers are tailor-made for students of Japanese, with texts ranging in difficulty levels to suit absolute beginners up to around JLPT N2 level learners.
Books come in boxed sets of five, with furigana (the small phonetic Japanese kana characters written above kanji) and audio CDs included.
- Pros: These books allow you to study Japanese at your level, without needing a dictionary or feeling overwhelmed by unfamiliar words.
- Cons: They’re relatively expensive, with a set of five stories running at over $30.
Newspapers can be really valuable learning tools, but kanji makes Japanese news especially challenging to read. That’s where this resource comes in.
- Pros: As the name implies, NHK News Web Easy offers a great entry point thanks to simplified stories, the option to toggle furigana on or off throughout the site and an integrated pop-up feature that gives simple Japanese explanations of difficult terms.
- Cons: This all-Japanese resource may be beyond learners who are at the lower end of the intermediate range and requires an established grasp of grammar and vocabulary for comprehension.
Reading these or other Japanese broadsheet newspapers daily will help you not only keep on top of academic Japanese, but also stay up to date with current affairs and new key terms as global events develop.
- Pros: You’ll be able to study real, relevant, formal written Japanese while learning about Japanese politics, international relations, culture and business.
- Cons: There’s no safety net, so you may find yourself out of your depth sometimes, especially because so many Japanese names will be referenced, which can be difficult even for native speakers to read (though a name dictionary may help).
Japanese Tools for Learning to Write
When writing in Japanese, you should be clear about your goal: Do you want to have legible handwriting, create beautiful calligraphy or are you happy just being able to compose sentences digitally, saving time on handwriting?
Choose your goal and work out the steps you’ll need to take to achieve success.
This Tokyo-based language exchange and networking site is an incredibly helpful tool for language learners of all abilities. Start using it as a beginner and build good habits that’ll pay dividends as you progress.
The basic premise is this: You write something on Lang-8 and native Japanese speakers who are also language learners (of English or other languages) grade it. In return, you check and correct some other learners’ work in your native language. This way, everyone corrects in their native language, ensuring good feedback for learners.
Checking is fast and the interface is well-designed, making it simple to use and support other learners while getting invaluable feedback on your own writing from native speakers.
- Pros: It’s free and checked by native speakers, giving you the opportunity to make friends and interact online.
- Cons: Feedback from different users may contradict each other and cause confusion requiring a higher level of linguistic skills than you currently have to fully comprehend.
Twitter is really popular in Japan, maybe because you can say so much more in 140 characters in Japanese than in English. Check out some fun ways to use Twitter for interactive Japanese learning and set up an account if you don’t have one yet.
Tweet daily and use hashtags and retweets to find learners of a similar level or make Japanese friends with similar interests.
- Pros: It’s really easy to find the time to write one tweet a day and you can do it from your smartphone. Twitter also lets you stay up to date with Japanese culture.
- Cons: Slang and cultural references may leave you confused as to the meaning of some content.
Journaling can be a great way to consolidate language skills and get used to applying new words or grammar concepts. This resource has one prompt for each day of the month, written by a native speaker and language teacher.
- Pros: The PDF is very affordable and boasts instant delivery. You can use the prompts multiple times and print as you go, making this product great for working on little by little during your downtime.
- Cons: You’ll need to check your own writing or upload it to a resource like Lang-8 in order to get it verified, meaning small mistakes may not be caught and corrected.
Japanese Grammar Learning Tools
This is a great beginner-level textbook that’ll help you get to grips with simple grammar and immediately apply it in everyday Japanese communication.
- Pros: The textbook is well organized but allows learners to dip into topics or sections whatever order seems appealing to them.
This flexible approach should help keep motivation high, while lots of practice exercises mean learners can really master the basics and review thoroughly before progressing.
- Cons: Romaji (Japanese written using the Roman alphabet) is used for all conversations, which can be a nice shortcut when starting to learn but can also stunt the ability to read real Japanese if you don’t make a concerted effort to stop relying on it.
This great book series (called 新にほんご500問 in Japanese) is designed for JLPT test takers at levels ranging from N5 to N1. The books feature questions that are similar to those on the real JLPT, so they offer a good measure of your ability to pass real test questions.
- Pros: The volumes come in a portable size, are reasonably priced and are just perfect for general or JLPT review. They allow learners to quiz themselves quickly when they have a little downtime.
The books have a carefully considered design, which means there’s minimal flipping between pages to check answers.
- Cons: There are limited explanations in this series of books, as they’re designed for review and not as main texts. This means learners are likely to need another resource or textbook which gives a more in-depth look at each grammar point.
It’s also worth noting that there are no listening questions included.
These are both excellent resources for covering advanced grammar.
- Pros: Both tools offer free, comprehensive information without being overwhelming.
- Cons: Learning natural usage in context can help you focus your energy on more commonly encountered grammar, whereas learning from IMABI or JLPTsensei may lead to a great deal of time studying grammar which you’ll only very rarely encounter “in the wild.”
Vocabulary and Kanji Study Tools
The Japanese writing system can often be overwhelming, even to veteran learners. Kanji, in particular, requires good organization and a systematic approach if learners are to be as productive as possible.
Thankfully, there are lots of great digital solutions which will allow you to put thousands of flashcards onto a device you already take with you everywhere. Practice kanji and vocab on the go and make the most of dead time.
If you want to learn the most commonly used words in order of frequency, these sets of words are often called Japanese Core vocabulary and you can find frequency lists to help you along.
Anki is a digital spaced repetition system which is available for free online. Decks of digital flashcards created by users can be added to, amended or used as is.
You can download shared decks or create your own SRS cards using Anki’s many customization options. If you’d rather not start from scratch, the program’s large community of users has a ton of resources available for Japanese learners of all levels.
For instance, you can use the Anki Core 2000 deck to learn the 2,000 most common words in Japanese. Here’s what you can expect from this particular deck:
- Pros: The deck focuses on the most frequent words first, meaning that every minute spent studying will be instantly useful.
- Cons: More common words may have complex kanji, so just because a word has a simple, common meaning, doesn’t mean the kanji will be easy to read or write for beginners. The iOS Anki app is also very expensive (while Android and PC/Mac versions are free).
This is a technique that can be used with any SRS and authentic Japanese content.
Since FluentU offers native speaker audio in addition to written Japanese, it’s perfect for this technique. Other banks of sentences such as Gakuu also offer sentences which can be used for sentence mining.
- Pros: Learn vocabulary, kanji, grammar and natural syntax all at the same time.
- Cons: It can be time-consuming to find good content and add those sentences into a flashcard program to memorize. However, you can utilize options such as FluentU, which do all of that work for you so you can focus on the actual learning.
This list was designed using the most common 4,500 words in Japanese.
Example sentences accompanying each word allow you to test your vocabulary knowledge and practice reading kanji and vocabulary in context. There are spaces for you to translate the words individually and the sentences as a whole.
- Pros: Made by native speakers, this pack is of great quality and well organized. The digital format means you can re-do pages again and again for review and you can print as you go, making this product really portable.
- Cons: While this tool is undoubtedly high quality, it comes with a significant price tag and focuses on the comprehension—rather than the production—of Japanese.
Instead of feeling lost next time your motivation starts slipping, try reaching for a new Japanese learning tool and give yourself the boost you need.
Go on! Invest in a new resource and your personal growth. After all your hard work, you’ve definitely earned it!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.