So you’ve decided that you want to learn Japanese. Brilliant! You may have just changed your life forever!
The only problem is that if you’re a massive introvert like me, the notion of going out and actually talking to people kind of puts you off. I mean, voluntary interaction with other humans? Ew.
Luckily, we have the internet on our side, and that means that shy people like us don’t have to step outside to do most things. And that includes diving into the epic world of learning Japanese.
It’s perfectly possible to learn this wonderful language without ever having to go outside, and even without having to get out of bed.
What a time to be alive.
There might be other reasons that you choose to learn online, too, other than just wanting to keep to yourself.
Maybe you live too far from anywhere that offers language lessons, or it might be that learning online is generally cheaper than traipsing to a school. And, well… there’s just something beautiful about studying in your pajamas, don’t you think?
Well, no worries! In this post, you’ll find a collection of 19 stellar websites, online courses, learning programs and even a super powerful video-based learning program for all your learning needs. Using these awesome resources, you can set up your very own Japanese course that suits your own pace and time frame, whether you’re partaking in hardcore daily study, just taking it up as a hobby or are aiming for a casual once-a-week study session.
And, best of all, most of the Japanese learning resources in this post are either free or well worth your hard-earned cash!
By learning with these online resources, there’s no competition, no pressure and it leaves room to have fun with learning the language and finding out about Japanese culture.
19 (Mostly) Free Japanese Online Courses, Classes and Cool Resources
Online Japanese Classes with a Free Component
Suited for: All levels, and those studying for the JLPT.
Price: Free, basic, premium and premium+ accounts are available, and each level gives you access to more videos and lessons. Pricing information.
What makes it special? JapanesePod101 is a good course to start off with. It’s easy to use and excellent if you’re a visual or auditory learner, as it includes plenty of videos and audio clips. If you’re studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, it will hook you up with more resources for that, as well. You can use JapanesePod101 to shape your own course and work out which is the best way for you to learn.
JapanesePod101 also includes vocabulary flashcards and a word bank to really personalize your learning experience and help you focus on words you struggle with.
Start off with a free account, then upgrade if you decide that you enjoy the experience. Although you can continue using your free “trial” as long as you’d like, you’ll need to subscribe to one of their paid plans to unlock the full potential and all the features of the program.
Suited for: All levels, those looking to learn with authentic Japanese, those studying for the JLPT and those interested in more specific language topics.
Price: Monthly subscription and a discount for signing up for an annual plan. A free trial is available. Pricing information.
What makes it special?
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!
Suited for: Two sets of materials are available online, one for beginners and another for intermediate learners.
Price: Basic online materials are free, but intermediate lessons and add-ons for both levels can be purchased with a one-time fee. Pricing information.
What makes it special? CosCom Japanese offers to-the-point lessons that focus on all the Japanese basics. These basics include vocabulary and grammar topics and tackle the Japanese writing systems.
All the words and phrases included in the online lessons have recorded authentic Japanese audio and English translations. CosCom also offers invaluable add-ons to their lessons such as short world news updates in simple Japanese, the most common 200 Japanese verbs and instruction on how to type hiragana, katakana and kanji on computers.
Suited for: Beginners who are looking for structured courses.
Price: Free course audits, with an optional paid certificate course.
What makes it special? Started by Harvard and MIT, edX offers high-quality courses on a wide variety of topics—including Japanese—from universities all over the world.
edX’s Japanese courses are presented courtesy of Waseda University in Japan. There are two levels of in-depth beginner courses taught in English by enthusiastic professors. Students have the option to sign up for individual classes or purchase a full three-part program course. (Information on their beginner course is available here.) Every course is free to audit, though you get more materials and quizzes with a paid certificate course.
One of their unique offerings is a course on Japanese pronunciation, which teaches students the proper pronunciation and intonation of Japanese, as well as how to employ techniques such as shadowing to improve Japanese pronunciation.
Suited for: Beginners and up.
Price: There’s an option to download full 12-month or 24-month courses, or download each level individually. There’s also a short free trial. Pricing information.
What makes it special? Rosetta Stone is one of the few online courses for individual learning that monitors and helps you improve your accent and intonation, something that can often be overlooked when studying without a physical, human teacher.
Rosetta Stone’s philosophy is to teach new languages in the same way you learned your first language, by associating pictures with words and introducing grammar later on. It’s a lot of fun to use. Go ahead and test it out with its free trial!
Suited for: Beginners through advanced students who want a lifelong partner on their Japanese journey.
Price: Free trial with basic, premium and lifetime pricing plans. Pricing information.
What makes it special? With a philosophy of effective and quick Japanese instruction, Nihongo Shark offers a series of over 1,000 detailed Japanese lessons. Its comprehensive lectures are entertaining and make even the most confusing aspects of Japanese easy to understand. It’s accessible for the complete beginner and a valuable tool for the advanced speaker.
Its “HJS Four Phases” divides Japanese into four sections: introductory, beginner, intermediate and advanced. The courses in each phase are further divided into sections that accommodate your Japanese needs, whether you’re learning from scratch, studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) or looking to learn the language for a trip to Japan. Each course is self-paced, so you can take your studies as quickly or as slowly as you want.
Suited for: Beginners looking to take their first steps in the Japanese language.
Price: First 20 beginner lessons are free, followed by paid intermediate courses. Pricing information.
What makes it special? A personalized learning experience that provides structured lessons as well as free plans. By setting your own challenges, you can focus on the areas of Japanese that you want to learn. The program’s tracking system lets you see exactly what your progress is in vocabulary, grammar, kanji and specific study points.
In addition to lessons, Kanshudo offers a ton of games that allow you to reinforce your studies, as well as graded reading material to practice reading. Its vast library of Japanese vocabulary, grammar and kanji lets you look up any term and its kanji.
One of Kanshudo’s notable points is that it offers textbook support, so if you’re learning with a Japanese textbook series like “Genki” or “Minna no Nihongo,” this is a great supplemental resource.
Japanese From Zero!
Suited for: Beginners to intermediate learners who have no (read: “zero”) previous knowledge of Japanese.
Price: Some online material and the YouTube videos are free. Additional materials and the full Japanese From Zero! course can be purchased for a fee. Pricing information (a free account is required to view this page and upgrade your membership level.)
What makes it special? Japanese From Zero! was created by a Japanese learner named George Trombley who attained fluency in Japanese and went on to interpret the language around the world for companies such as Microsoft and IBM.
The first course, which is comprised of 13 full lessons, is available completely for free with sign-up on the website. The additional four courses must be purchased in either their online or textbook formats.
If you’re looking for something completely free, however, the online and textbook courses are supported by the Japanese From Zero! YouTube channel. The channel itself can be used on its own to learn Japanese, and the videos are sorted in a logical order for learning Japanese from scratch.
Wasabi’s Online Japanese Grammar Reference
Suited for: Beginner through advanced learners.
Price: Wasabi’s grammar reference is available for free online, but lessons come at a cost. Pricing information.
What makes it special? At its base, this online course is true to its name: It’s a Japanese grammar reference. Grammar lessons follow a chronological order and are actually structured quite like a textbook.
The lessons progress through basic, essential and advanced grammar topics, eventually covering all major concepts in the Japanese language. Each lesson has a detailed breakdown and examples of the topic as well as a summary section at the end. As originally intended, the reference is best used in conjunction with Wasabi’s online lessons, but the free resource on its own functions as a complete grammar course.
Websites to Learn Japanese Online for Free
Suited for: Beginners who want a quick overview and base in the Japanese language.
What makes it special? Loecsen offers language courses that learners can follow at their own pace. In the Japanese course, there are 17 completely free lessons (called “themes”). These are interactive flashcard-based lessons complete with vocabulary lists and quizzes.
Lessons revolve around topics such as colors, the beach and taking the taxi. Learners first review the words included in each lesson along with audio recordings and helpful visuals. Next, you complete the quizzes that include various activities to help you learn the words and phrases.
The “Read Aloud” function allows you to hear Japanese readings from anywhere on the web. Simply copy and paste a text and get an automated audio recording and translation of it.
The course also includes and supports writing in hiragana, katakana, kanji and romaji.
Suited for: Beginners who have little to no basis in the language. Knowledge of hiragana and katakana not required, since romaji is used.
What makes it special? Japanese-Lesson.com offers 10 completely free lessons that cover essential Japanese words and phrases for complete beginners. Each lesson focuses on phrases and words associated with a certain lesson topic, and includes audio files for key terms.
Lessons also include grammatical and cultural explanations under the “Tips” section, and there are three different drill exercises to help solidify your knowledge in each lesson.
Japan Society NYC
Suited for: Beginners. A basis in hiragana or katakana is not needed.
What makes it special? The Japan Society of New York City offers 24 completely free video lessons on YouTube, covering essential Japanese. While no writing of hiragana, katakana or kanji is taught, this course is perfect for those looking for a traveler-style Japanese course for tourists.
Each lesson is taught like a university lecture with explanations and grammar tips. The last part of the lesson gives viewers an opportunity to practice by translating words and phrases from English into Japanese.
If you’re interested in the cultural aspects of Japan and its language, the Japan Society’s main YouTube channel covers many modern issues important to Japanese people.
The Japanese Page
Suited for: Beginners and lower-intermediate learners.
What makes it special? The Japanese Page is a great place to start to learn about Japanese culture as well as beginner language skills. It can give you a feel for really learning the language before you decide to commit yourself to a paid service.
The Japanese Page is a completely free website that offers help with typing Japanese words on your keyboard, hiragana and katakana lessons, some extra helpful advice about Japanese culture and insight into what it’s like to live in the country. There are polls, links to places where you can find a language partner and there’s also a forum which the administrator regularly visits to answer questions and concerns.
However, one of the website’s coolest features is Makoto, a monthly e-Zine. For just $3 per month, you receive a 46-page digital magazine packed with learner content like stories with tons of vocabulary explained, cultural tidbits, jokes and puns and so much more. Plus, by signing up for this magazine, you also get access to more features on the website, like weekly shadowing sentences for beginners and intermediate learners.
NHK World’s Online Japanese Lessons
Suited for: Beginners and up.
What makes it special? NHK’s online Japanese course was created by native Japanese speakers for learners of the Japanese language.
Since you’re getting Japanese lessons straight from the source, this means that you’re learning real, relevant, everyday Japanese words and phrases. This site offers realistic scenarios, quizzes and videos, which is similar to BBC’s Japanese learning course. Free, downloadable lessons are also available to use for later review.
As a bonus, all the content is presented with fun, colorful illustrations and tons of personality, making the learning process very enjoyable!
You can now access a “new” version of the lessons, which features even more lessons, a fresh new format, a charming “My Haru-san” tracker to hold you accountable for studying every day and a number of other fun features.
Suited for: Beginners who want flexibility in their course options.
What makes it special? Marugoto is a textbook series as well as a website, developed by the Japan Foundation. Based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), it provides structured courses for beginners that aim to give them real power to communicate in Japanese.
Marugoto offers self-study courses provided through the Minato website. There are two options that you can choose from based on your study style: “Katsudoo” for casual studies and “Rikai” for more serious studies.
You can review your progress at any time with “My Page,” a profile that keeps records of your study progress and your learning portfolio.
Both self-study and tutor-supported options are available online. Options include a wide range of topics, like writing general language and anime-specific courses. While many of the most popular courses use English as a base language, a number of lessons are also available in seven other languages, including Spanish, French, Thai and Mandarin Chinese.
Suited for: Beginners and intermediate learners. There are video series for topics in N5, N4 and N3 levels.
Price: Free on YouTube. Additional courses are offered on Yuko Sensei’s website at a price.
What makes it special? Yuko Sensei has created short video lessons in Japanese that are available on YouTube. Yuko Sensei is a native Japanese speaker, so the language used in her videos is authentic and she gives real-world situations to contextualize her lessons.
Yuko Sensei has a variety of lessons for beginner and intermediate learners. Such videos are incorporated in playlists for Basic Japanese, hiragana, katakana and listening practice.
Additional materials and lessons are available on Yuko Sensei’s website for a price, but she does offer a beginner’s Japanese mini-course for free.
Suited for: Beginners and Intermediate students.
What makes it special? Japanese Ammo is run by Misa, an upbeat language enthusiast whose videos go into the fine details of the Japanese language.
Aimed at beginners and intermediate learners, she explains particulars of Japanese grammar in-depth, including points that may be easily confused by learners of the language. She also thoroughly explores how words are used by native Japanese speakers, offering valuable insight that can help viewers sound natural.
No stone goes unturned in her videos, either—every aspect she touches on gets a clear, easy-to-understand explanation, so you’ll know exactly why every Japanese word or expression is used the way it is.
Her playlists contain a treasure trove of Japanese lessons, offering help for absolute beginners and tourists, as well as listening practice for those looking to improve their Japanese comprehension. You can also find her on Twitter!
Paid Programs to Learn Japanese Online (That Are Worth Your Cash!)
Suited for: All levels, and for students who want structured lessons.
Price: Varies based on lesson package. Pricing information available for each type of lesson.
What makes it special? Based on an in-person learning academy in Tokyo, Coto Academy offers online courses that users can take anywhere in the world.
After checking your Japanese level for free, you’ll then be able to select the best course option for you. Depending on how you learn best, you can take lessons either privately or in a group. There’s no need to worry about getting materials—Coto will send you everything you need.
Coto Academy also offers JLPT prep courses and Business Japanese Courses, making Coto a fantastic resource for those looking to advance professionally with their Japanese.
Suited for: All levels.
Price: Reasonable rate for a 50-minute lesson, and discounts if you purchase 30 lessons or more. Pricing information.
What makes it special? This website is great for you if you do want a real, physical teacher who can Skype with you and help you learn Japanese at your own pace. Obviously, the previously mentioned sites are better if you want to learn 100% by yourself, but if you’re looking to learn Japanese with a teacher in the comfort of your own home, Nihongo-Pro.com is a good place to start.
This article is about learning on your own, and there are many good things about that. However, there are advantages to having a real teacher, too. He or she can:
- Help you improve your pronunciation and intonation
- Encourage you to keep going when you’re struggling
- Help you get from beginner level to fluent
- Give you personalized tips and study suggestions
- Be someone to practice with
- Introduce you to other native speakers (who could be potential language exchange partners or friends)
- Give you advice for if you want to go to Japan (that’s more personal than a travel blog)
You can try out some lessons to help you decide if it’s right for you. You can choose your own teacher and buy private lesson “tickets” which you can use at any time, whenever you’re ready and available. This is much better than strictly scheduled lessons, because you won’t miss out or be left behind if you need to take a break or go on vacation. There are also a few freebies like leveled quizzes and kanji games.
You don’t have to be living in Japan or even near a Japanese school to commit yourself to learning this wonderful language. Learning privately gives you the chance to work at your own pace and on any aspect you’d like to focus on, whether that’s grammar, reading and writing kanji or starting your own language exchange.
With these websites, you’ll be pera-pera (speaking fluently) in no time at all. And all without stepping outside!
Be sure to check out other ways to study by yourself, too, such as Japanese books, how to learn Japanese in your car and learning by watching TV.
No matter which way you go, or how much time you spend studying online, the key is to have fun!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.