If you’ve ever attempted to learn Japanese online, chances are you’ve heard of JapanesePod101.
JapanesePod101, by Innovative Language, is one of the most well-known Japanese learning programs out there. It utilizes video and audio lessons, vocabulary lists and more to teach Japanese.
But is this program really all it’s chalked up to be?
We decided to test it for ourselves and share our impressions.
Read on to see our in-depth review of JapanesePod101!
JapanesePod101 Review: Podcasts, Videos and More (Oh My!)
What Is JapanesePod101?
JapanesePod101 is an online language course and podcast source that offers various lessons and language-learning resources in Japanese. It’s a popular way to learn Japanese outside of official school courses.
Despite what the name suggests, the program offers much more than just podcasts. You’ll also find daily video and audio lessons, flashcards, games and more. Although the program does have a loose structure, learners have the freedom to choose whatever lessons they need or are interested in.
Most lessons consist of instructor-led audio or video spanning about 10-20 minutes and are accompanied by full lesson notes, key vocabulary, transcripts of the audio, quizzes and more. You can even leave yourself some private notes or post a public comment to get some extra help from a qualified instructor (or your fellow learners).
JapanesePod101 comes with many other goodies and extras, like the option to add words to a personal word bank, lists of the most common words and key phrases, a full dictionary and much more. You can also access many video lessons for even more learning on the program’s YouTube channel.
JapanesePod101 First Impressions
When signing up for this service, I noticed right away that they were constantly trying to pitch additional services and add-ons, such as a “word of the day” email. They also periodically try to get you to become a paid member with various “first time offer” deals.
This is quite off-putting as a first impression, but it’s an understandable annoyance.
Free and Premium Content
Once you’re all signed up (and past the ads), you have access to some things without a premium account, such as blog posts and mini-lessons. However, to access anything of real value, you’ll need the premium account.
First-time users receive a seven-day free trial of the premium account as well as the option to upgrade to a monthly membership at any time. There are plenty of opportunities to do so at a discount for the first month, so if you like what you see, keep an eye out for those special offers mentioned above.
Subscriptions cost $4 per month for the Basic membership, $10 for Premium and $23 for Premium PLUS.
The Basic and Premium memberships give you access to more of the features, like vocabulary lists and full lessons.
The Premium PLUS plan is JapanesePod101’s “ultimate” package and includes the basic lessons, plus complete lesson access, lesson notes, line-by-line audio dialogue, multi-device access, HD video, ongoing professional assessments, access to a “Japanese expert” and intensive assignments.
As a cool bonus, if you’re not happy with your subscription at any time, you can ask for a complete refund. (You can also, of course, cancel your membership at any time).
A Huge Amount of Options
When you’re just starting out, you’re asked a few questions to figure out your level. Once you’ve picked the right level for you, the learning begins!
And there’s definitely a lot of learning to be done here. You can choose from a number of “pathways”—series of lessons structured around a theme, grammar point or general knowledge. You have the option to filter by teaching format (audio or video) and category (grammar, culture, conversation, etc.).
Choose a pathway to add it to your collection, then start learning from the beginning or dive into any lesson you want. It’s nice to have the freedom to learn anything you want, while still having a recommended order to follow so you don’t get overwhelmed by all the options.
Now that we’re all signed up and have added some interesting pathways to our collection, we can start learning. But how well does JapanesePod101 teach the various aspects of the language? Let’s find out!
The Strengths and Weaknesses of JapanesePod101
Listening: The Best Part of JapanesePod101
This is where JapanesePod101 truly shines. Since all lessons have some audio or audio-visual component to them, you’ll be getting plenty of listening practice here.
In each lesson, you’ll be presented with an overview of what you’ll learn. Your instructor for the video or podcast will then teach you each new word, sentence or grammar concept by verbally breaking them down. Some lessons include a conversation, which is also broken down for you step by step.
Whatever topic you decide to learn about, you’ll get to hear the information both spoken by a native Japanese speaker and explained in English. More advanced lessons might have no English at all and although speech is still slowed down for readers in some of the lessons, a few do offer a chance to hear Japanese at full, native-level speed.
Something to note, however, is that the video lessons and podcasts are useful up to a certain level. According to some users, the podcasts eventually become a bit boring and many of the video lessons for advanced learners still utilize English.
This is something that can become distracting once you have a solid concept of Japanese, so if you’re looking for a more immersive experience, you may want to look for an alternative or supplement. (We discuss an excellent option in the final section of this post, so read on!)
Reading: Options in Kanji, Kana and Romaji
Since every lesson comes with a full transcript, you get ample opportunities to practice your reading skills. You can switch the transcript between full kanji and kana, only hiragana, romaji or the English translation. In addition, video lessons have key phrases and words written out on the screen.
Vocabulary and grammar notes also use standard Japanese, romaji and (often) hiragana spelling as well as English translations, so you can get some well-rounded reading practice no matter what level you are.
One great aspect of the program is that many lessons break down key kanji by components, so you can learn not only the meaning of the phrase or word as a whole but also the meaning of each individual kanji it’s made up of.
Speaking: Limited Options for Premium PLUS Members
There isn’t really a speaking component to the JapanesePod101 standard learning program, but the Premium PLUS membership does offer limited chances to practice speaking.
The Premium PLUS membership boasts the help of “My Teacher,” and although it’s uncertain if this is a real tutor or an automated personalized program, it does contain speaking components. Learners are asked to record themselves for an initial assessment and for subsequent assignments.
Writing: Nearly Nonexistent
While some of JapanesePod101’s additional materials cover how to write kana (such as their popular YouTube videos), there’s no real chance to practice writing in the program.
When it comes down to it, the best way to memorize kana is to handwrite them regularly. If your stroke order is incorrect, it can affect the look of your handwritten kana and become a legibility issue down the road that can be difficult to correct.
Besides those few kana videos, JapanesePod101 offers neither stroke order information nor the chance to type in Japanese, so you’ll have to get that practice elsewhere.
Vocabulary: Lists, Flashcards and Pronunciations Galore!
Learning new words is another strength of JapanesePod101. Lessons are vocab-heavy and, as I mentioned above, break down kanji and meanings in a way that’s accessible to all learning levels.
Key words you learn in Japanese are listed below the lessons. You can save these words to your Flashcards or Word Bank, for later practice.
The program also has an extensive vocabulary library that’s easy to access. You can learn unique words from the “word of the day” feature or check out any of the hundreds of vocabulary lists available.
Start with a list of the most common Japanese words or head right to a theme that interests you. There are lists for everything from seasonal words to “Star Wars”-related words, so you’re sure to find something you’ll enjoy learning here.
Vocabulary words utilize flashcards for learning, as well as audio and example sentences.
You can take your learning even further by supplementing these flashcards with FluentU’s authentic videos, which also allow you to add unfamiliar words to a flashcard deck. Unlike JapanesePod101, though, FluentU’s interactive flashcards let you hear the word spoken by a native Japanese speaker in a real-world context.
Between JapanesePod101 and FluentU, you’ll be able to learn each word on a deeper level.
Grammar: Just the Basics
JapanesePod101’s grammar explanations are notoriously short and not always completely helpful. Beginner lessons include some information on the “how” and “why” of grammar but intermediate and advanced lessons seem to be lackluster when it comes to explaining grammar concepts.
This can definitely be remedied by pairing JapanesePod101 with an actual school course in Japanese in which a teacher can explain the grammar concepts in more detail.
The Verdict: Should You Try JapanesePod101?
The short answer? It depends on your learning style.
If you want a structured way to learn, this program isn’t for you. On the other hand, the freedom to learn at your own pace and in whatever order you want can be a definite benefit for learners who dislike rigidity.
JapanesePod101 is not a catch-all when it comes to learning Japanese. It’s sorely lacking when it comes to explaining grammar ideas in detail as well as in teaching how to write and type in Japanese. The over-use of self-promotion is also off-putting.
However, the massive vocabulary bank, professional-quality video and audio lessons and extensive flashcard features all work together to make JapanesePod101 a fantastic resource for Japanese learners.
Supplementing JapanesePod101 with FluentU
If you like the freedom of JapanesePod10 but wish you could create a more immersive learning experience, we recommend pairing the program with FluentU.
The lessons in JapanesePod101 are created specifically for learners, which is an excellent way to begin your studies. However, by utilizing only learner-oriented content, you’ll be missing out on some critical Japanese skills. If your goal is to become fluent or even conversational, you’ll need to expose yourself to authentic Japanese content.
FluentU makes it easy to dive into authentic content by offering real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turning them into personalized language learning lessons. Videos come with subtitles that can give you an instant definition and example sentence, as well as show other videos that use each word.
Both JapanesePod101 and FluentU offer learners the chance to learn new vocabulary with flashcards and example sentences, but (as I mentioned earlier) FluentU also allows learners to hear the words in use. This helps remedy one of the biggest flaws of JapanesePod101: the lack of authentic, non-English-driven content.
On top of that, FluentU’s algorithm will learn as you do, providing you with suitable questions and videos based on your level and current knowledge. It’s a program that grows with you organically, unlike the more self-guided learning provided on JapanesePod101.
FluentU can also provide a mix of passive and active learning, which balances well with JapanesePod101’s focus on active learning.
Using the two Japanese learning programs, you can form a well-rounded daily study plan. You can even choose videos on FluentU based on the words you learn on JapanesePod101.
Not sure what’s right for you? Both programs offer free trials so you can take them out for a spin before you commit.
JapanesePod101 excels at video and audio lessons, while FluentU offers an approachable immersive experience. A really effective study plan for learning a new language pulls in various resources. With these two apps combined, your Japanese skills will surely take off!
What do you think about JapanesePod101? This program certainly has its flaws (what doesn’t?) but it’s quite beneficial to many learners!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Japanese with real-world videos.