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What Are the Best Apps to Learn Japanese on a Smartphone?

From Jon, published on 20/02/2018 Blog > Languages > Japanese > How to Learn Japanese on Your Smartphone

How to learn Japanese is one of the most important questions you will need to answer as you start out on the road to fluency. Luckily, there are a lot different ways of learning Japanese, and therefore finding a way that suits you shouldn’t be too hard. Aside from a traditional Japanese course in a classroom, you can learn Japanese online, with a private Japanese teacher, or even using videos on YouTube.

Let’s face it, not many people have the time to go to Tokyo to speak Japanese, and with the hectic pace of life these days, people are often short of time. This raises the question, how can you learn to speak Japanese when you don’t have much time?

If you want to learn all about the Japanese writing system on the move, use your smartphone or tablet!

Apps are more useful to learn Japanese than you probably think!

Whether you want to learn Japanese cuisine on the spot, become one of the many travelers in Japan, visit the archipelago, participate in matsuri or other traditional festivals, there are applications tailored to your every need, profile, point of view, and expectations!

The Business of Bilingual Language Applications 

You use your smart phone for everything else, so why not learning Japanese too? Your app will make you travel as far as Japan and China!

Bilingual Applications are thriving when it comes to all foreign languages.

Japanese is obviously part of this equation. Apps for learning basic Japanese usually focus on Nihongo, the form of Japanese taught to any new learner.

Smartphone or tablet applications also have the advantage of enticing you to be much more involved in your learning.

Indeed, whether you are a beginner and you want to study Japanese words and phrases in order to introduce yourself and know the basic greetings before you go to Japan, or you are an intermediate but want to become fluent in order to work in Japan, you will find something that fits.

Like with any learning, you will have to ask yourself the right questions to use the appropriate supports (to learn Japanese).

  • If you are a tourist and plan to travel to Japan to see Kyoto, the capital, Mount Fuji, or temples and shrines, your learning objectives will generally be limited to understanding a simple conversation when you’re there.
  • If you want to settle and live in the land of the rising sun, your learning goals will have to be higher as you will likely need to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).

Linguistic applications take into account the degree of investment in your learning. Some target a beginner audience and are more of a simple introduction to Japanese while others require some common knowledge of the language before they can be used.

Regardless of your aims, you will more than likely find something that meets your needs. Whether it is speaking Japanese itself, or the grammatical nuances of reading and writing using Japanese kanji, and hiragana and katakana, there is an app out there for you.

And if apps aren’t to your liking, you will find a number of amazing websites to help you learn Japanese online as well.

What Are the Advantages of Learning Japanese Via Applications

Compared to studying Japanese through textbooks, applications have the advantage of being practical and usable in all circumstances.

Would you take out your 500-page textbook on a crowded public transport in the morning when you leave for work? The answer is definitely not!

Learning Japanese on your smartphone via an app is much easier in such circumstances. And it’s just as effective as learning Japanese by webcam, or studying the Japanese language by video!

Make the most of your commute to work by learning Japanese You can learn the Japanese language anywhere now, including on your way to work!

If we keep with the same comparison with books, learning via an app is more engaging and interactive, and you will certainly feel like it is less serious than when you are learning via books.

Finally, with an app you are directly interacting with your Japanese learning.

If you are looking to travel to Japan, then learning the Japanese language with or without apps is definitely important. Japan is a country where learning the language brings a lot to the table.

Though it’s possible to travel to foreign countries without speaking the native language, your experience will be largely shaped by your ability or inability to see beyond the surface of Japanese culture. When you lack the ability to communicate in the native language with Japanese people, you can not fully participate in day-to-day life, nor understand the culture. The language barrier can be anywhere from frustrating to downright dangerous.

When you know the language, you have the comfort of being able to successfully navigate all sorts of situations, like order meals in restaurants, ask for and understand directions, find accommodations and perhaps negotiate cheaper prices, and meet and talk with natives, to name only a few. In most countries, people will appreciate attempts to use their language. You will be able to communicate more completely and have a deeper, more satisfying travel experience.

We definitely are not saying apps are the only way to go. You should not burn your Japanese books! But when you’re away from home, it’s clear that apps are easier to use and just as effective! Feel free to use both methods to progress faster in Japanese!

You don’t necessarily need to speak fluently, or even have a conversational level. But whatever you do, make sure you at least memorize a few Japanese phrases and expressions before you travel.

Learn Japanese Online with the ‘JA Sensei’ app

Vocabulary, verbs, adjectives, the kana alphabet (hiragana katakana), kanji, writing–everything goes with JA Sensei.

The application is extremely well thought out and works on spoken Japanese, as well as the written aspect of language learning.

For the oral part, there are modules to help you review or learn kana, and master their pronunciation.

Quizzes are available (for which you can choose the level–beginner, intermediate, advanced) to validate what you have learned. On the hands-free mode, the application asks you oral questions that you must answer as quickly as possible.

The app also gives you 34 Japanese lessons to master your sentence structures as well as elementary Japanese grammar. A text is attached to each of these lessons as well as a grammar recapitulative (more than 100 flashcards in total!). There are also anecdotes on Japanese civilization, culture, traditions, and customs prevailing in the country of the rising sun. For example, you will learn about hanami and what religion is practiced in Japan.

It’s extremely convenient if you are going on a trip to Japan anytime soon!

There are more than 2500 words available with the possibility of creating your own list of words (for those you have trouble learning for example).

Through audio quizzes, you’ll be able to understand numbers and learn to count to 10,000.

For a fee, you can have unlimited access to all parts of the application.

What we liked:

  • Affordable fee for all the proposed content
  • The fact that you control your learning (choice of quiz level for example)
  • The application’s design (pleasant and ergonomic)
  • The fact that you can track your progress
  • The fact that the application has a website with free content

What we liked less:

  • The fact that the application is only available on Android, and not IOS

Learn Kanji with Kanji Recognizer

You can learn the Japanese writing system on an app Learn the different forms of writing to be able to translate Japanese into English or English into Japanese easily thanks to the application!

The application is based on one single aspect of the Japanese language: the writing and recognition of Japanese characters.

This can be challenging for English speakers because the kanji characters govern how to read and write in Japanese, but they are completely different from the Latin alphabet that we use.

You will have to copy the kanji, which will then be systematically translated into English. Quizzes will validate your progress and allow you to retain the information more easily.

A similar application is available for devices running IOS. It is called JEDict Lite and offers the same features.

What we liked:

  • Being able to learn kanji by copying the characters for yourself
  • Quizzes testing your knowledge of kanji

What we liked less:

  • The austere design of the application

Writing, Numbers, and Quizzes with Obenkyo

Like with the JA Sensei application, Obenkyo has a wide learning field.

Learning how to speak any new language will mean getting to grips with the numbers and how to count. This app tackles this very well as they are always translated into romaji, hiragana, or kanji (do you know these great English-Japanese translation tools?).

These exercises will help you to smoothen your Japanese language skills and express yourself in a clearer way. It is also great for anyone trying to learn Japanese.

The work around the kanjis is excellent and you can learn exactly how to transcribe them line by line with stroke animations.

Similarly, the richness of the lexicon will allow you to expand your vocabulary and travel through the history of Japan. Samurais, emperors, and other geishas will soon be a part of your general culture! Take advantage of the opportunity to enrich your lexicon but also expand your approach and your cultural perspective of Japan.

What we liked:

  • The very original pattern recognition system
  • The very clear animations around the kanjis
  • The application is free and does not have ads

What we liked less:

  • Some issues with the quizzes that sometimes skewed the results

JED to Learn Japanese Vocabulary

Use all of the technology available to learn Japanese Be careful not to confuse the Japanese applications with Siri! It’s not because they talk to you that you can ask them to give you the weather forecast for example 😉

This application is ideal if you are traveling to Japan and find yourself misunderstanding a native speakers.

The application translates things quickly and sheds clarity on hazy conversations. Be careful, however, as it is important to have notions of Japanese and especially some experience of Japanese writing in order to use it properly (know how to put a verb in to the infinitive for example).

A beginner can still use it without benefiting from all the features.

The system of learning kanji is also extremely well developed. You will find a line by line breakdown of each kanji, which greatly facilitates learning and memorization. Kanjis are sometimes difficult to conquer.

The application is not available on iOS, but do not panic! The application Imiwa will meet all your expectations, too: examples, pronunciation exercises, or animations in order to show you how kanjis are broken up…it is similar to the Android app.

What we liked:

  • The fact that the application allows us to translate Japanese into several languages ​​(French, Spanish, English) and vice versa
  • Available offline, so convenient if you are communicating in more remote areas.

What we liked less:

  • The austere design and black background of the application
  • The app experiences regular technical issues

In short:

  • There are many tips for learning a new language, but perhaps the most important is knowing your motivations and expectations. As we have seen many times before, profiles and needs vary greatly between someone wanting to work or live in Japan and someone who just wants to go on holiday to Japan.
  • If you are looking for a great application to learn Japanese which can satisfy both beginners and intermediate students, we recommend you download JA Sensei, which although you have to pay for, the cost is relatively low when compared to how great it is.
  • For more specific topics and if you want to refine your Japanese writing, then we recommend Kanji Recognizer.
  • If you are with an interlocutor and a misunderstanding occurs, vocabulary applications like Imiwaou and JED Android will be most useful.
  • If you are experiencing a mental block with apps, you can always take private lessons (use the Superprof website to find a Japanese tutor in your local area).

As you can see, some applications are intended to provide you with a comprehensive knowledge of Japanese, while others are very useful to meet specific needs.

Ganbatte (which means good luck!)

And, finally, why not have a look at how to learn Japanese using videos and movies?

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