Learning Japanese is one of the most rewarding decisions you could make. There are few feelings better than the excitement of figuring out how to express yourself in Japanese or finally understanding the jokes in the dialogue of your favorite anime. Many of the best apps for learning Japanese are free. We'll look at some of the more popular ones in this article.
You don’t have to be a fan of Japanese pop culture to enjoy learning the language - if you’re interested in linguistics, you’ll be fascinated by the stark differences between English and Japanese grammar. No articles, gendered nouns, or subjunctive mood in Japanese? No problem! You may initially balk at the idea of learning thousands of Chinese characters in order to read a Japanese newspaper, but visual learners will find the process of learning Japanese radicals and using them as puzzle pieces to decode more complex kanji very satisfying. Even if your language goals are solely career-oriented and you’ve got minimal passion for the process, you’ll find that a moderate proficiency in Japanese on your CV can open up many different work opportunities.
But that’s enough of my love letter to learning the Japanese language. You must have opened this article to find the best free apps, right? Whether you have just made the exciting decision to begin learning Japanese in 2022 or your New Year’s resolution is to transform your existing language learning practice into a more consistent habit, Japanese language apps are going to be an indispensable resource for this journey. Few can deny that we are living in an era in which finding the time to sit and study with a traditional textbook is rarely a feasible option. The best Japanese language learning apps provide you with the flexibility to inject doses of listening and reading practice wherever you can get the chance - be it on the bus, on your coffee break, or while you’re cooling down from your workout. Plus, if you’re using the right ones, language learning apps can be just as helpful when you do have that spare hour to focus on a lot of language practice all at once.
For me, the most important criteria that a good Japanese language learning app must have are:
☞ a wide variety of themes and realistic, natural language usage
☞ a well designed review system, preferably one that uses SRS (spaced repetition system - this uses an algorithm such that words you recall easily show up less frequently and words you struggle with on appear more frequently for the most efficient practice)
☞ a focus on kana and kanji rather than romaji
☞ accurate pronunciation playback and audio recorded by native Japanese and English speakers
☞ materials on honorific and humble language
With these criteria in mind, we have compiled the following list of 10 best Japanese language learning apps. Read on to find one right for you!
LingoDeer is one of the best language learning apps for self-learners of Japanese. Unlike many language apps that use a one-size-fits-all method for each language service they offer, LingoDeer offers a structured learning system designed with the idiosyncrasies of Japanese in mind. Every language has its own patterns and logic, so it’s best to practice foundational content in the right order for the smoothest and most efficient learning process. Furthermore, LingoDeer’s Japanese coursework is curated under the philosophy that culture and language are intertwined - language coursework should take care to offer insights into cultural nuances and the history of the people who speak it.
LingoDeer offers gamified coursework with quizzes ranging from N5 to N3 level that have a balanced emphasis on passive vocabulary recognition and active language production. Not only do you get a chance to work on producing written language, but you can use voice recognition software to confirm the accuracy of your spoken pronunciation. Importantly, they also offer audio recorded by native Japanese speakers so you can be confident in the accuracy of the pronunciation provided. Go ahead and check out all of the great kanji practice, dialogues, and phrase books available on LingoDeer now!
LingoDeer is the best app for self-learners who want a structured learning experience. Download it for free on the App Store, Google Play, or to access from the web!
Learn Japanese + by Vidalingua is a great tool to get you learning key phrases and enjoying speaking practice from day one of your language journey. It includes 100+ lessons, 1000+ phrases, and 4000+ exercises to immerse you in real-life conversations and help you achieve proficiency in Japanese as quickly as possible.
Learn Japanese + uses a variety of interactive exercises that makes learning Japanese fun and effective. It includes a conversation practice feature that will help your speaking and pronunciation and several exercises to help you master comprehension. Unlike other apps that focus excessively on building vocabulary and grammar, Learn Japanese + is intended to help you learn expressions that you can use in real life immediately. Its lessons are grouped into different topics like Greetings, Essentials, and Questions that prepare you for daily situations and humorous lessons such as Pickup Lines and Rejections to keep you engaged.
Learn Japanese + is the best app for a student or traveler who wants the shortest path to mastering conversational Japanese. Download it for free from the App Store and start learning today!
Even non-language learners might be familiar with the tenacious green owl who serves as the Duolingo mascot! This is a gamified app for learning Japanese that follows a structured coursework with units targeting specific themes like “Shopping,” “Airport” and “Feelings.” One of my favorite things about Duolingo is that it starts you off with learning kana immediately so that you can wean yourself off of the habit of using romaji. While you can toggle romaji on or off at any time according to your comfort level, I think that the best strategy is to get your feet wet with hiragana and katakana as soon as possible. Relying on romaji for too long will make Japanese words feel more long and confusing than they really are.
Duolingo is a great way to get started in Japanese and maintain daily upkeep of your skills (that owl’s pesky pop-up notifications really know how to shame you into a quick language session!) but be aware that the material currently seems to end at about an intermediate level and does not have an in depth grammar guide. It bears repeating that a single app shouldn’t be relied on as your only language learning tool. Duolingo is an excellent way to pepper in short bursts of visually appealing Japanese language learning to your day, so give it a shot!
Duolingo is the best app for young learners who like a gamified approach to learning Japanese. Download it for free on the App Store, Google Play, or to access from the web!
Anki is not strictly a Japanese language learning app, but rather an SRS flashcard program beloved by language learners and students of all disciplines. This application can be used on desktop or mobile and allows you to download decks created by other users on their database or develop your own personal decks. Some dictionary apps like Jisho also offer integration with Anki, through which you can long-press a word and select “Send to Anki” for an instant flashcard entry. This is a wonderful way to make sure you’re actually going to review the Japanese words you just looked up in the middle of the manga you’re reading and eventually commit them to memory.
Anki also offers customization options, such as the ability to add audio clips and images to your flashcards. Adding a daily review session with Anki is an easy habit to form and will immensely improve your likelihood of committing to regular Japanese language learning practice. Check out some of the most popular free decks on their database for inspiration and get studying Japanese today!
Anki is the best app for practicing vocabulary with flashcards. Download it for free on the App Store and Google Play!
LingoDeer Plus is a wonderful accompaniment to your LingoDeer Japanese coursework as it focuses on review drills for the language content you’ve already learned in your lessons. This app is unique in that it offers a wider variety of games and activities than the standard language app, bringing satisfaction, ingenuity, and visual appeal to your review sessions. One of my favorite games is the Particle Workshop, which specifically drills users on one of the more daunting parts of Japanese grammar: particles. Like prepositions, particles modify nouns and verbs to indicate critical information such as direction, the recipient of an action, location, time, etc. Practicing and mastering the foundations of particles is really important for Japanese learners, so you should get all the practice you can!
Another excellent activity on LingoDeer Plus is the Sea of Verbs. Verb conjugation practice is something that all language learners have to face at one point or another, so why not make it as fun and streamlined as possible? This drill includes basic Japanese verb conjugations such as the negative form and more advanced conjugation like the passive and causative verb forms. The short minute-long bursts of practice are strategically designed to be an engaging but palatable challenge. LingoDeer Plus' difficulty ranges from JLPT N5 to N3, so it’s also a great resource to prepare for your JLPT test.
LingoDeer Plus is the best app for extending your use of LingoDeer. Try it for free on the App Store or Google Play!
Japanese Translator + is complementary to many of the other apps in this review because it includes reference tools such as a translator, dictionary, verb conjugator, flashcards and vocabulary quizzes. So if you are working through exercises in LingoDeer or Duolingo, you can switch over to Japanese Translator + to look up a word, phrase, or practice your verb conjugations.
Japanese Translator + is the perfect app when you need help constructing a phrase in a pinch. It’s especially convenient if you are hoping to travel to Japan, as having a reliable translation app at hand is crucial if you don’t know Japanese that well yet. Machine translation should not be relied on for practicing natural phrasing, but it is incredibly helpful to be able to get a rough outline of what you’d like to express in a matter of seconds.
One of the best things about Japanese Translator + is its customizable features. It allows users to take notes, attach audio or images to dictionary entries, and create a unique learning experience. It’s more than just a great Japanese translator, it's a study companion that enriches your travels.
Japanese Translator + is the best set of reference tools available in a single app. Download it for free on the App Store and Google Play!
Any Japanese language learner will tell you that it’s frustrating when you miss out on key vocabulary and fragments of Japanese speech while listening to challenging native content. Subtitles aren’t always available, and even if they are, it can still be really difficult to parse out longer Japanese sentences and understand fast-paced dialogue. If you’re someone who has wished it were easier to keep track of newly learned vocabulary while watching Japanese anime or dramas, you will love FluentU.
FluentU is a unique application that revamps existing Japanese YouTube videos into highly accessible language learning lessons. The app provides interactive Japanese subtitles for videos that can be toggled on and off for listening comprehension practice and the option to quickly build flashcard decks based on newly learned Japanese grammar and vocabulary. You simply click on a new word from the subtitles and add it to one of your custom decks to study after you finish your video. These decks use SRS to help you master vocabulary acquisition effectively and efficiently. Whether you’re interested in studying with the help of Japanese anime clips, cooking videos, news, language lessons, scenes from popular movies and dramas, or music videos, FluentU has a wide variety of free Japanese content to suit every user’s interest.
FluentU is the best app for learning Japanese with videos. Sign up for a free trial on the App Store or Google Play today!
While I do believe that there is merit in rote kanji practice while you are aiming for an N4 or N5 comprehension level, it’s not necessarily the most efficient way of learning to recognize the vast quantity of more complex kanji. Building blocks are key — most Japanese language learners ought to focus on the radicals and the simpler kanji and move on from there. That is why I would recommend the use of a free kanji app in addition to the traditional method of writing kanji over and over again in a composition book or following the order provided by many Japanese textbooks.
Kanji Study is an excellent kanji app for Japanese learners of any level. It has different sets of kanji ranging from elementary (N5) to advanced (N1) and includes an incredibly helpful set of radicals for you to practice. You can use flashcards and multiple choice quizzes to improve your passive recognition of Japanese as well as writing challenges to focus on active production and stroke order. The app’s nifty automatic stroke detection feature will help you use your finger to trace the appropriate strokes in the correct order and improve your handwriting without even putting pen to paper. This Japanese learning app is unbeatable for JLPT review and I would highly recommend getting into the habit of regular Kanji Study sessions, especially if your goal is to be able to read articles, manga, and books in Japanese as soon as possible.
Kanji Study is the best app for practicing to write Japanese. Download it for free on Google Play and see for yourself!
The gamified language learning app Drops has been well-received by language students since it hit the App Store in 2015. Its simple design offers five-minute bursts of visual vocabulary practice that are meant to instill a ritual of Japanese language learning in your daily routine. One of the things I really like about this app is its lack of third-party advertisements. There’s minimal pressure to upgrade to the premium version and if you’re satisfied with using it as a daily Japanese vocab quiz, you can continue using the free version indefinitely.
Drops offers Japanese vocabulary reviews from a wide variety of different categories, including topical ones like "Winter Holidays", “Ecology,” and “Politics.” However, the app solely focuses on vocabulary, so this is best used as a supplement to your other resources. As far as Japanese vocabulary acquisition goes, its well designed UI and creative, sensible images make for very satisfying review sessions. Go ahead and test it out for yourself!
Drops is the best app for improving your Japanese vocabulary. It’s available to download for free on the App Store and Google Play!
Self-study is an incredibly important part of learning Japanese. With self-study, you get to be the master of your own journey, decide whether you need to focus on Japanese verb conjugation or listening practice, and fit your preferred style of learning into your own busy schedule. However, it can be easy to get into a passive-learning rut and hinder your progress in the long run. Yes, it can be embarrassing to make mistakes in front of a native Japanese speaker, but the fact of the matter is that we learn through our mistakes and improve every time we use our target language aloud. It feels so much easier to just review flashcards, listen to Japanese podcasts, and read news articles in Japanese than it does to write a daily journal entry or have a conversation with someone and have to really produce the language… but sometimes you really need that challenge.
This is where an app like iTalki comes in. Flexible lesson scheduling at reasonable pricing with native Japanese speakers will pave the way for you to get the regular speaking practice you need. Think of how great it will feel to apply what you’ve been practicing with LingoDeer, Vidalingua, FluentU, DuoLingo, and Anki to a chat with a native speaker who is ready and willing to correct your mistakes and offer meaningful feedback and praise! Most Japanese teachers offer next-day bookings and some Japanese teachers on iTalki even offer instant bookings if you’re feeling social and looking for a quick free practice session. Take the plunge and try a trial lesson with a Japanese teacher on iTalki this week! It’s available for free on the App Store and Google Play!
Above is the list of 10 best Japanese learning apps to kick start on your Japanese learning journey! Whether your goal is to travel to Japan, converse with Japanese friends, or watch anime without subtitles, you can always find a useful app to help you get started, and most of them are free to download. Remember, the best time to start learning Japanese is always now, so give them a try and start learning Japanese today!
If we missed one of the best free apps for learning Japanese, don't hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Indiana has been studying Japanese since high school and has always felt inspired by the pursuit of language learning. She graduated with bachelor's degrees in Japanese Studies and Women's Studies from the University at Albany and is currently working as a freelance Japanese English translator. She also enjoys studying Korean, German, and Spanish when she can find the time and assists local refugee families in overcoming language barriers and navigating new and unfamiliar environments.