Imagine your typical study session.
Are you nose-deep in textbooks? Drowning in workbooks?
Working furiously to get your flashcards all neatly aligned, despite the fact that a couple of them are covered in awkward ink marks from where you accidentally misread 趣味 (しゅみ — hobby) as 興味 (きょうみ — interest) and 入る (はいる — to enter) as 入れる (いれる — to put in)?
There’s nothing wrong with traditional studying. It’s how we humans have learned languages for decades.
But there’s also nothing wrong with spicing it up.
After all, it’s the 21st century now, and we’ve got something pre-1991 Japanese learners didn’t have: the World Wide Web.
If you haven’t spent any time scouring the Internet for Japanese-language materials, you’re missing out. Language-learning websites, specifically those with a concentration on Japanese, are bountiful these days, and the bulk of them are either sensibly priced or completely free.
Or maybe you want to enroll in a beginner’s Japanese course but don’t have the money. The Internet’s got that, too.
If you’re still in need of a little convincing (a bit stubborn, eh?), allow me to summarize the exciting benefits of learning Japanese with websites.
The Perks of Studying Japanese with Language-learning Websites
- They contain an array of learning materials. No textbook, classroom or library can compete with the Internet’s ever-growing stock of learning materials. Language-learning websites supply Japanese-language resources in all sorts of fields and formats, from key vocabulary lists and quizzes to videos and audio files. All it takes is the click of a button.
- They’re (usually) free. No more forking out the big bucks for those 50-pound textbooks and that fancy language-learning software you’ve encountered only on infomercials. As long as you’ve got an Internet connection, you’ll have unlimited access to a broad variety of Japanese-language materials, no purchase necessary.
- They can be used as supplements. Many websites draw upon or borrow material directly from Japanese-language textbooks. So, if you prefer traditional language acquisition, you can treat relevant language-learning websites as supplements to your textbooks and classes.
- They experience constant updates. It can take years to publish revised editions of textbooks, but websites are always expanding, sometimes on a daily basis.
- They foster a sense of community. Teaching yourself Japanese can be a pretty lonely endeavor, which is why many websites encourage communication and support among Japanese learners. After all, there’s nothing more intimate than bonding over the psychological agony of mastering kanji, am I right?
- They can connect you with native speakers. Many diligent Japanese language students lack the benefit of regular interaction with native Japanese speakers. With language-learning websites, though, all you have to do is turn on your webcam and you’ll form instant connections with Japanese people, anytime, anywhere.
Now that you have a pretty solid idea as to why and how online language learning can transform your study sessions, let’s take a look at some of the best websites currently available to Japanese learners.
The 18 Greatest Websites for Learning and Loving Japanese
For Speaking & Listening
What’s that, you say? For those experiencing trouble speaking Japanese or understanding spoken Japanese, here are a few helpful resources.JapanesePod101 is home to an enormous repository of 2,000+ Japanese podcasts. All you have to do is indicate your Japanese language ability, and voila! You’ll be nodding along to Japanese chitchat in no time. It’s updated with new lessons every week, with material geared towards absolute beginners all the way up to advanced learners nearing fluency.
Audio and video lessons are of the highest caliber and utilize an eclectic array of culturally-relevant themes to entice and educate Japanese learners. Podcasts also include downloadable PDFs of notes, transcripts and checklists for offline support.
And there’s no need to worry about overpaying. Packages are reasonably priced, starting at $4 a month following a free trial period.
Haven’t taken the dive and made an account with FluentU yet? Well, now’s the time to commit!
FluentU takes real-world videos—such as music, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and transforms them into personalized language-learning lessons. As a FluentU member, you’ll gain access to a wide variety of contemporary videos featuring both Japanese subtitles and English translations.
FluentU has a broad range of contemporary videos—like music videos, dramas, TV shows, and TV commercials:
But that’s not all. FluentU’s videos use interactive scripts and vocabulary lists to assist Japanese learners of all levels, beginner to advanced. No matter your Japanese language ability, FluentU’s got something for you.
FluentU makes these native Japanese videos approachable with those 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.
You can even use the FluentU app to download audio files for offline listening practice, allowing you to immerse yourself in authentic Japanese wherever you are and whenever you feel like it.
The best part? FluentU keeps track of your vocabulary, and it suggests content and examples based on your vocabulary. You’ll have a 100% personalized experience.
The FluentU app is now available for iPhone, and it’s also available as a website that you can use with your computer or tablet. If you’re an Android user, fear not, for our Android app is in the works!
If you want to speak Japanese and speak it well, sign up for lessons with native Japanese speakers and professional Japanese language teachers on italki. Through this globalized language-learning website, Japanese language students can engage in one-on-one video chat lessons with instructors from around the world (primarily Japan). At present, italki has more than 50 teachers and 160 tutors available for Japanese lessons.
Naturally, the website isn’t free (teachers need to get paid, too!). All fees are per hour and vary depending on the instructor.
For Structured Lessons
Looking to take a Japanese class without having to, you know, actually take a class? Consider the following online resources for structured lessons.
A reputable website created by 国際交流基金 (こくさい こうりゅう ききん — The Japan Foundation), Erin’s Challenge! provides a logical introduction to the Japanese language. Predominantly geared toward newbies, the 25 multi-step lessons employ interconnected hypothetical situations, represented by an entertaining combination of video skits, manga and images.
You’ll master an array of beginners’ topics, from greetings to how to convey emotions and use onomatopoeia. You can also change your interface from English to Japanese—a pleasant bonus for those who’d prefer an extra challenge.
Similar to Duolingo (which, presently, doesn’t offer Japanese), Linguti is a free gamified language-learning website offering Japanese, Chinese and Korean, among other major languages.
Beginners to Japanese start at Unit 1 and complete quizzes based on vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing and listening to unlock subsequent content. Keywords can be viewed in romaji, kana or kanji—a handy feature for those with previous exposure to Japanese characters.
But the coolest part is that you can redo lessons as many times as you want. Never having to fear failing is what ultimately makes this website both fun and inspiring.
Don’t be fooled by its outdated interface. Imabi is one of the most mind-bogglingly exhaustive online resources for free Japanese-language content. The 300+ lessons span a smorgasbord of topics and levels, from beginner’s basics, to classical Japanese, to Heian-era pronunciation.
Moreover, unlike most language-learning websites, which cap off at the intermediate level, Imabi boasts a plethora of content for advanced Japanese learners (totaling a staggering 100 lessons, if you’re curious). Don’t dawdle; this website is the real deal.
Japanese Level Up, or Jalup, relies on a unique adventure-driven backdrop, similar to that of an RPG or video game. On Jalup, Japanese lessons are divided into “worlds,” and each new world brings forth a different set of tasks, goals and “equipment.”
Unlike other language-learning websites, at a glance Jalup doesn’t delve too much into the intricacies of linguistics or grammar; rather, it serves as a sort of outline for Japanese language students, imparting advice and strategies along the way. (More in-depth learning materials come at a somewhat hefty price, but are available.)
Truthfully, the teaching method isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s worth a shot if you’re down for a less hands-on approach.
For Reading & Writing
Already know the ins and outs of hiragana, katakana and kanji? Then here are two websites you can use to level up your reading and writing skills.
Reading everyday Japanese is never easy at first, but you can make the feat less intimidating by opting for NHK News Web Easy. The timely news outlet translates real-life stories into simplified Japanese for Japanese youths and non-native Japanese speakers.
In other words, with NHK News Web, you get to study Japanese culture in Japanese—or, as the Japanese say, 一石二鳥 (いっせき にちょう — kill two birds with one stone).
And you don’t have to be at an advanced level, either. All kanji is accompanied by furigana, and definitions appear for key vocabulary words when you place your cursor over them. Cool, huh?
A personal favorite of mine, Lang-8 is a platform through which language learners can practice foreign-language composition. This means Japanese learners can write about anything they want in any way they want—all in Japanese.
Typical posts include diary entries, short stories and homework questions. Once you publish your post, native Japanese speakers will offer corrections and comments on your writing. In turn, you’re expected to correct members’ non-native English.
Though anyone may join, Lang-8 seems to work best for intermediate and advanced Japanese learners looking to hone their writing skills.
For Kanji & Vocabulary
Rote memorization is exasperating, especially when it comes to kanji and vocabulary. If you’re in search of a more practical or exciting alternative, these popular websites can lend you a hand.
A free software program, Anki allows you to create and customize virtual flashcards, as well as download premade flashcard decks from its companion website, for fast and easy kanji and vocabulary memorization.
Here’s why it works so well: Anki’s spaced-repetition software (SRS) makes difficult cards reappear at higher rates until you’ve adequately retained their contents. Basically, SRS forces you to review the cards with which you struggle the most, but lets you skim (and ultimately skip) the cards with which you struggle the least. It’s an innovative system with quality results, and a cinch to use.
Memrise, too, uses an SRS-based system, only with a lot more pizazz. Flashcards cater to an immense scope of levels and subjects, from katakana and counters to JLPT N1 vocabulary. You can even search for flashcard decks based on well-known textbook series, such as 「げんき」 (“Genki”) and 「日本語総まとめ」 (にほんご そう まとめ — “Japanese Roundup”).
With Memrise, you must choose or type the correct meaning of a kanji or vocabulary word, while with Anki you must perform everything mentally before clicking a button to reveal the answer. The two websites are comparable, but Memrise might better serve the needs of beginners and casual learners due to its more interactive, game-like approach.
Created by famed Japanese-culture website Tofugu, WaniKani strives to teach Japanese learners 2,000 kanji and 6,000 vocabulary words in a little more than a year. Specifically targeting beginners, WaniKani uses SRS and employs a slightly rigid learning structure, starting with elementary-level kanji, radicals and vocabulary. It also supplies entertaining mnemonic devices to help you recall the meanings and readings of kanji.
While you can toy with levels one through three for free, it’ll cost you $10 a month for access to levels four and higher.
Ah, Japanese grammar. Sometimes you totally get it, and sometimes it’s like smashing your head against a brick wall. Whenever you’re feeling puzzled, the following Japanese-grammar websites are here to ameliorate your suffering.
Maggie Sensei thoroughly answers any and all questions you have about Japanese grammar and uses adorable images of cats and dogs to do so (awww!). Its incredibly detailed grammar explanations are straightforward and easily comprehensible, with each entry including numerous example sentences, romaji, English translations and robust commentary.
Despite the website’s somewhat lackluster layout, content is, for the most part, well-organized and readily accessible. You can use the search bar to locate specific grammar patterns, or click on categories, such as “Grammar” or “Expressions,” to access lists of thematically linked articles.
If you’d rather study grammar using a more structured format, Tae Kim’s Japanese Grammar Guide (also available as a PDF) is a neatly organized resource for beginners and intermediate learners. The free online guide is an extensive compilation of fundamental grammar patterns, addressing everything from how to use ～ます (polite verb suffix) and ～です (polite copula meaning “to be”), to how to conjugate causative and passive verbs.
Some people have criticized the guide for being overly simplistic, so you might be better off using it to review grammar rather than to learn grammar from scratch.
For the JLPT
Slowly counting the days until your dreaded hours-long test? Here are two websites that’ll boost your JLPT confidence.
The JLPT Study Page presents a tidy collection of kanji, vocabulary, grammar, readings and listening exercises from old (pre-2010) JLPT examinations.
Although extensive, the free website doesn’t include any N1 content and is disproportionately beneficial to N4 and N5 takers. (In other words, the N4 and N5 study pages have amassed an impressive number of listening exercises and Japanese-grammar lists, whereas the N2 and N3 study pages offer markedly fewer learning materials.)
All in all, though, it’s a well-rounded resource, particularly for those who are new to the JLPT.
JGram is a convenient accumulation of common JLPT grammar points. The website projects a communal and cooperative atmosphere by permitting users to check, verify and comment on grammar entries.
In contrast with the JLPT Study Page, JGram sustains a notably comprehensive list of N1- and N2-level grammar patterns. Patterns are arranged alphabetically in romaji, and each entry contains a definition and example sentences with accompanying English translations. A nifty resource for all JLPT takers.
For Questions & Discussions
Sometimes, it’s nice to take a break from studying. Feel free to browse the following websites when you need some outside support for your Japanese studies.
On the Learn Japanese Subreddit, Japanese learners can pose and answer questions, as well as incite discussions on relevant topics, such as grammar patterns, study plans or learning methods. The active subreddit also hosts a weekly Q&A event called シツモンデー (Shitsumonday), a play on the Japanese word 質問 (しつもん — question) and the English word “Monday.” Even if you’re not a die-hard fan of Reddit, consider making this a go-to website whenever you’re craving answers or looking to interact with others in the same boat as you.
In some ways, Japanese Language Stack Exchange is like a more highbrow version of the Learn Japanese Subreddit. Catering to teachers, students and linguists, Stack Exchange engages users via in-depth discussions on the more nuanced and complex characteristics of the Japanese language.
As many discussions center on minute grammatical and linguistic differences, Stack Exchange is perhaps best suited for upper-intermediate and advanced Japanese learners, though anyone of any level may ask questions.
While it’s tempting to assume language-learning websites, especially free ones, lack quality study materials, this isn’t a particularly fair train of thought.
These days, with the Internet almost always at our fingertips, studying Japanese encompasses much more than just sitting down and cracking open a textbook; it’s about content customization, pinpointing your weaknesses, commiserating with others and, yes, having a heck of a lot of fun.
And you can do all of this with language-learning websites, most of the time without paying even a cent.
Don’t put limits on your Japanese studies.
Get online, find a website you like and, for heaven’s sake, bookmark it!
Hannah Muniz is a freelance writer based in Michigan. She enjoys Japanese literature and travel. You can learn more about her services by visiting her website.
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