Whether you want to learn Japanese without enrolling in a language school, or you want to supplement your Japanese lessons, there’s no shortage of learning resources for you, and here are some of them. Keep in mind, though, that since some of these resources work best as supplementary review material, it’s best to use a combination of materials for those planning to study Japanese on their own. Of course, there’s no one surefire way to learn Japanese (different strokes for different folks, after all), but we’ve also got some tips on how to improve your Japanese. Good luck, and happy learning!
First, here are some digital resources:
1. 80/20 Japanese
Written by Richard Webb, who lived in Japan for over 6 years and believes that learning Japanese is easy but that it is often taught inefficiently, this e-book focuses on the fundamentals of learning the language and teaches practical, frequently used expressions—saving you the trouble of learning expressions with limited usage. The book explains how the language works, has several exercises to make sure you get enough practice, and features more than 40 common expressions. You can download just the e-book for US$39, a PDF-and-physical-copy set for US$59, an audiobook set for US$59, or the complete package for US$79 here.
Pronunciation and listening are important skills, too, so here’s a podcast devoted to learning Japanese. According to JapanesePod101’s website, it’s delivered over 300 million lessons, so it’s hugely popular. While free content is available, there’s a lot more that you can do with a paid subscription. Lessons are about 15 minutes long, and involve dialogue, a vocabulary portion (related to the dialogue), and finally, grammar. Exercises and quizzes are also available, and you can add new words to a flashcard deck so you can learn them later on. Luckily for you, we’ve got a summer 2015 coupon, so you can get JapanesePod101 at a discount here.
Anki, a nod to the Japanese word for “memorization,” is a flashcard app that allows you to create decks of cards (a card consists of a question and an answer), either by downloading available content or creating your own. It uses a spaced repetition system (SRS), which means that its algorithm spaces out when to show you a flash card again, based on how well it determines you to have remembered the answer. Thus, it promises that you won’t forget what you’ve learned (as long as you use Anki frequently enough, of course; using it every day is ideal). Anki is free for Android users, but unfortunately, it costs nearly US$25 on iOS.
A very handy free dictionary for the iOS, imiwa? has over 170,000 entries that can be translated into English. It also has a sizable number of entries that can be translated to German and French (about 94,000 and 15,000, respectively), and 7,000 entries that can be translated into German. Its auto-clipboard feature means that it can automatically translate text that you’ve copied. Translations aside, imiwa? also provides sentences as examples for you to know the different usages of a word, and lists the different ways of conjugating words. While it has no writing recognition function for kanji, the app features animations of kanji strokes and allows you to search for kanji by radical and stroke number.
5. Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese
Now here’s one app that teaches grammar! Available for free for iOS and Android users, this guide teaches you grammatical expressions from the basics to the more advanced. It also has a handy guide for those confused by conjugation rules. There are also some exercises for you to practice. This is, essentially, a Japanese textbook in app form.
6. Kanji Damage
This irreverent website is a humorous but practical way to learn kanji. With funny mnemonics and descriptions of kanji (e.g. how one character looks like a broken coat hanger), you’ll probably remember certain kanji more easily. (The examples might make this site potentially NSFW, though!) It also addresses the problematic aspects of learning kanji and the Japanese language in general, such as how dictionaries and translation apps give several synonyms for a word, but do not indicate which one/s sound more natural and are commonly used. Instead, Kanji Damage indicates the usefulness level of a kanji (as determined by how often they appear in mass media and everyday life), usage examples, and lookalike characters to watch out for. As of now, the website has 2,023 kanji for you to learn.
LinguaLift is the perfect resource to complement any language-learning go-getter who’s tackling Japanese on their own but could use a little lift (see what we did there). You can use LinguaLift from the comfort of your browser, so it’ll fit nicely in a busy schedule, and the content is tailored to your specific learning needs based on advanced algorithms (fancy word, huh). And to add a cherry on top, there’s a support line staffed with native-speaking tutors that you can call 24/7…because you never know when those burning kanji questions will hit ya at four in the morning.
And if you want some textbooks/physical resources:
Used by many language schools, this trusty two-volume textbook series is a great way for beginners to learn Japanese. Some textbooks, such as the Minna no Nihongo series, are best used for classroom learning and not for self-study, due to the lack of explanations (in the case of Minna no Nihongo, you’d have to buy the guide book separately from the main textbook for explanations), but not Genki. The book comes with detailed explanations and enough practice exercises, and the chapters (23 in all) are structured quite well, with enough grammar lessons, new vocabulary, and useful expressions. The books also come with an audio CD. For additional practice, you can also buy the workbooks, which also come in two volumes, although even if you just stick to the textbooks, you’ll be fine. Each textbook costs 3,500 yen, while each workbook costs 1,600 yen. Genki also has a vocabulary app for iOS.
9. Japanese for Busy People
Another popular choice, Japanese for Busy People is said to be one of the most comprehensive Japanese textbook series in the world. It may be for people who don’t have the luxury of time, but it doesn’t scrimp on the essentials and practice exercises. It has 3 volumes, which take you from knowing survival Japanese to communicating more naturally. Like Genki, the books also come with CDs, and supplementary workbooks are also available. What’s even better is that the books now has a supplementary app (download it here for Android or here for iOS) for further practice.
White Rabbit Flashcards
If working your way through a lengthy textbook seems unappealing, try the White Rabbit flashcards as an efficient and straightforward way to master kanji, hiragana and katakana. This is a great option for those who learn best through drilling and visuals. The kanji flashcards each contain 6 vocab words/phrases, including commonly used kanji compounds, and are suitable for anyone working towards JLPT level N4 or N5. The hiragana and katakana flashcards include 450 basic Japanese vocabulary words and stoke-by-stroke diagrams. And for an extra leg-up, you can also purchase the audio companion to keep learning without having to reference the cards.
Ako Sensei on Twitter
Follow our friend and Japanese teacher Akiko on Twitter. She tweets out fascinating and very useful bite-sized kanji and vocabulary chunks for Japanese learners of all abilities.
Watch this next
New Video: Tokyo City Flea Market
Tokyo flea markets are a great for bargain-hunting, pick up a new kimono or snag a new book on a shoestring!