Our Top 7 Japanese Language learning tools

HiNative

Level: All levels

I can’t tell you enough how amazing HiNative is. The app / website allows you to ask native Japanese speakers if your sentences sound, well, native. There are four types of questions you can ask the HiNative user base:

  1. How do you say this?
  2. Does this sound natural?
  3. What’s the difference? 
  4. Free question?

I personally have never asked a question on HiNative before. Why? The best part about HiNative is that you can search for peoples' past posts. For example, you can search an English phrase, like, “I hope you feel better,” and then a past post will show up that says something like: “How do you say ‘I hope you feel better,’ in the most native and natural way?” Then a native Japanese user will have likely posted a translation down below.

Tofugu did a wonderful review of HiNative. I encourage you to check it out if you’re interested in HiNative (We'll get to Tofugu in a second.).

TOFUGU

Level: All levels

Tofugu is a website jam-packed with eclectic content. The website slogan simply describes itself as a “Language and Culture” blog, but that doesn’t do the website justice. I recommend this webpage to see the types of content they produce, including free study materials, not free study materials, video series, blog series, podcasts, and much more. 

Firstly, they have blog #series, like “What I Use To Study Japanese" (check that out after this!) and “Yokai”, which is Japanese Supernatural Folklore. By the way, these blog posts aren’t being written by any random-os. Tofugu has its own eight staff, kind of like a miniature Buzzfeed, but sometimes they have guests writers, too.

Secondly, they do interviews. I went to their website to check our their most recent ones, and it looked a little something like this:

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I don't know about you, but I want to read and watch EVERY INTERVIEW you see above. Don't you? And look at that artwork! Their full-time artist, Aya, is super talented. The graphics on their website are so beautiful and creative.

Tofugu describes themselves like this: Tofugu started out as a college course project in 2008. It was rooted as a Japanese language blog for English speakers. Over the years Tofugu began to find its niche and evolved into a full-time business.

They also have a newsletter. I highly recommend it. Before you skim over this section because nobody in their right mind subscribes to newsletters anymore, just hear me out. I'm a millennial, too, and I get it: we all hate newsletters. But Tofugu is the one company I'm subscribed to in the entire world because they're all, well, for the most part, millennials too, running a company and doing an incredible job at it. They consistently document fun news in Japan and how to learn Japanese in unconventional ways— they even sent me a blurb and photo of a local place interns and I always go while we’re in Tokyo, and we didn’t know anyone else knew about it!

If you’re interested, Tofugu sells Japanese study content you can purchase for a fee. The person who creates the content is someone who also studied Japanese as a young adult. He always wanted to design study material that worked for him. Now he shares that content with the rest of the world. I’ve bought and downloaded their Kanji learning set, but I never got around to actually using it! I’ll keep ya’ll updated once I finally try it.

DUOLINGO

Level = all levels

Duolingo is a free app / website that specializes not only in Japanese but many other languages; however, Japanese is one of its largest communities with over 4.05 million registered users. Duolingo reminds me of Rosetta Stone a bit- they don't teach specific grammar structures, and instead they throw you into the deep end. The primary way you learn with Duolingo is through repetition. Games and other interactive activities make that happen, which is a bit more fun than flashcards.

As someone who has taken quite a bit of Japanese already, I was frustrated when trying to test out of sections. Your answers need to be pretty exact to what they're looking for. For example, one time I typed 2PM for 二寺, and I got it wrong because they were looking for two o'clock.

Though, once I got passed this frustrating part, I was surprised by how quickly I wasn't understanding questions anymore. As someone who has taken three years of Japanese, I expected Duolingo to be too easy for me. Boy, was I wrong. Not only had I forgotten a lot of vocabulary and drew several blanks when asked, but there were new grammar points my professors never got around to teaching me-- grammar points that I knew would definitely make me sound more fluent.

JISHO

Level: All levels

You’ve hit a word that you’ve seen a thousand times. You’ve studied it, written it, spoke it, but now you’re drawing a blank. Jisho is here to save you. Or, you’ve run into a brand new word, and you want a true definition - not some fancy Japanese - English dictionary definition that is probably incorrect. Jisho is here to save you.

Jisho.org, which literally means dictionary in Japanese, is the best resource I’ve found for looking up vocabulary and kanji. The creator of jisho.org designed this website because he noticed too many flaws in typical Japanese - English dictionaries, especially incorrect connotations. Not only does Jisho.org have your typical adjectives and nouns, but it has slang, onomatopoeia, and other words typically defined as unconventional.

GENKI

Level: "I KNOW NOTHING!" to intermediate

Genki I and Genki II start from scratch. They’re the Japanese textbooks used in most 1st and 2nd year university classrooms, and they’re actually GREAT. They have a textbook and a workbook. You can also order the workbook answer key (which I’ll admit, I ordered while I was still in university and used it to check my homework).

Nowadays they also have grammar apps, verb/adjective conjugation apps, vocabulary apps, and more, which I downloaded during a winter sale for about $3 a piece. I think they're usually more expensive than that. These apps SAVED my life while I was still in school. I think the verb/adjective conjugation app is essential for success.

TOBIRA

Level: INTERMEDIATE TO ADVANCED


Tobira is a three-piece set—grammar book, kanji book, and textbook. It's typically used for 3rd and 4th year Japanese university students. I'll admit, I'm biased since my Japanese professors at University of Michigan wrote the book, but the book genuinely is pretty great.

In general, Tobira is great for anyone past the Genki I & II level. I love the style of Tobira because, as much as a textbook can be, it tries to immerse a reader instead of haphazardly throwing vocab and grammar translations at your face. Overall, there are fifteen chapters that primarily use Japanese articles, pictures, and news to teach you vocabulary and grammar points. There are handwritten activities before each chapter, too, which prepare you for the chapter material. These are the 15 chapter topics:

  1. 日本の地理
  2. 日本語のスピーチスタイル
  3. 日本のテクノロジー
  4. 日本のスポーツ
  5. 日本の食べ物
  6. 日本人と宗教
  7. 日本のポップカルチャー
  8. 日本の伝統芸能
  9. 日本の教育
  10. 日本の便利な店
  11. 日本の歴史
  12. 日本の伝統工芸
  13. 日本人と自然
  14. 日本の政治
  15. 世界と私の国の未来

Chapters from https://polyglotplotting.wordpress.com. If you want a more in-depth review of Tobira, read this post.

WANIKANI

Level: BEGINNER TO ADVANCED

Have you had enough of Tofugu being stuffed in your face? Well, just one last thing, I swear—WaniKani. 

“2,000 kanji, 6,000 vocabulary, in just over a year,” is their slogan. “WaniKani is more than just flashcards. Our SRS algorithm adjusts time between reviews for each individual item, calculated by your last session. You will see a radical, kanji, or vocabulary in your reviews at the optimal time for you, not anybody else."

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