japanesepod 101 review

My Honest JapanesePod101 Review: Fun, High-Quality Content but Lacks Grammar and Writing Practice

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.


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What Is JapanesePod101?

JapanesePod101 is an online language course and podcast source that offers various lessons and language-learning resources in Japanese.

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.

The Pros of JapanesePod101

Great Audio and Audio-Visual Elements for Listening Practice

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:

video sample lesson from japanesepod101

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.

Whichever 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. I found this a little scary at first, but I quickly adjusted, and actually figured out what they were saying pretty quickly.

Something to note, however, is that the video lessons and podcasts are useful up to a certain level. According to some users, myself included, 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.

Excellent Kanji, Kana and Romaji Reading Elements

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. (Try not to rely on romaji too much, though. I did that when I first started Japanese and it actually harmed my progress!)

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:

vocabulary section from japanesepod101

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.

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. I usually ended up learning at least five new words in each lesson, if not more, which I thought was really good progress.

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:

vocabulary entry in japanesepod101

Lots of Flexible Learning Pathways

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:

learning pathways in japanesepod101

You have the option to filter by teaching format (audio or video) and category (grammar, culture, conversation, etc.). I especially loved the culture and conversation pathways, though I found the grammar pathway a bit lacking in content.

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.

The Cons of JapanesePod101

Limited Speaking Options

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 I was 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. 

I found this helpful, though limited, and I would have preferred knowing that a real native speaker was listening to my recordings.

Writing Is 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 write 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 which 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.

Only Basic Grammar Is Covered

As I mentioned above, 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:

grammar notes on japanesepod101

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. That’s what I did, so the lack of grammar explanations wasn’t a huge deal breaker for me.

Heavy-handed Advertising Affects the User Experience

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. They do have to make money, I suppose.

What Does JapanesePod101 Cost?

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.

For a one-month subscription, the cost is $4 for the Basic membership, $10 for Premium and $23 for Premium PLUS. 

Here’s a link to JapanesePod101’s pricing page.

JapanesePod101 vs. Other Japanese Learning Programs



If you like the freedom of JapanesePod101 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, at some point, you will need to consume native content and media to become fluent or even conversational.

FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

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 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.


Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)


duolingo logo

For those who like a more gamified learning experience that gives users a more clearly defined pathway to learning Japanese, Duolingo might be a better fit. Or better yet, it would work very well as a complementary program to JapanesePod101.


WaniKani logo

For those that want to really focus on kanji, WaniKani claims that you can learn 2,000 kanji and over 2,000 vocabulary words in about a year. Because of this, I totally recommend it as another supplement to JapanesePod101.

The Final Verdict: Is JapanesePod101 Worth It?

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.


So now what do you think about JapanesePod101? This program certainly has its flaws (what doesn’t?) but it’s quite beneficial to many learners!

And One More Thing...

If you love learning Japanese with authentic materials, then I should also tell you more about FluentU.

FluentU naturally and gradually eases you into learning Japanese language and culture. You'll learn real Japanese as it's spoken in real life.

FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos as you'll see below:


FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable through interactive transcripts. Tap on any word to look it up instantly.


All definitions have multiple examples, and they're written for Japanese learners like you. Tap to add words you'd like to review to a vocab list.


And FluentU has a learn mode which turns every video into a language learning lesson. You can always swipe left or right to see more examples.


The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You'll have a 100% personalized experience.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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