iKnow Japanese Review: Is It Worth Paying For?

You need to learn thousands of core vocabulary words to be fluent in Japanese. This is a daunting task; it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the only way to learn that much vocabulary is to memorize it.

Enter iKnow. While iKnow is one among a handful of successful vocabulary apps that have risen to fame in the past decade, it has some unique and useful features that helped me in my Japanese studies. While it is not as complete or good as Japanesepod101, iKnow has been the helped me whenever I hit a plateau in learning vocabulary.

In this article, I’ll be reviewing this app: the pros, the cons, the cost—and of course, whether or not iKnow is the right app for you.

What is iKnow?

A screenshot of the iKnow Japanese home screen.

iKnow was initially designed to help Japanese students learn English and Chinese. This gives the makers of the app an intimate and natural understanding of what words belong in the Core Japanese Courses that they offer Japanese learners.

iKnow uses the scientifically lauded Space Repetition System to create word banks based on each user’s learning pace. It combines writing drills, listening drills, and classic word definition quizzes to ensure the user fully masters each term. Native Japanese speakers provide recorded example sentences for each term, and these are supported visually by stock images. Available on iOS and Android as well as your PC, iKnow is practical and portable. It is a sturdy, reliable study tool.

How Does it Work?

A screenshot of the iKnow Japanese quiz answer choices.

iKnow offers six “core courses” for Japanese learners. Each course contains around 1,000 words. That certainly covers the amount of vocabulary words experts say one needs to be considered fluent in Japanese! There are also two core courses for the Japanese kana, or basic written alphabets.

Each Core Course has 10 “steps,” allowing you to level up within the course itself. Once you’ve accessed iKnow, you can download the steps or courses of your choice. If you’re unsure of where to start, you can take the placement test found on the app’s website.

To begin studying a step within the course, select how many words (referred to as “items” within the app) you wish to learn per study session. New words and drills of “seen” words are combined within one study session.              

A screenshot of the iKnow Japanese study options screen.

Drills include writing out the word, filling it into a sentence (with proper conjugation), and defining it. Your next study session will be calibrated based on the results of the previous session’s drills.

What Does it Cost?

A screenshot of the iKnow Japanese pricing page.

Unfortunately, iKnow isn’t a free app. You’re guaranteed five free study sessions to get the feel of the app; if you want to keep using it after that, you will have to choose between two plans. 

iKnow’s monthly subscription is currently priced at ¥1,510 per month, or about $14.42 USD. The yearly subscription is ¥9,530 for 12 months, or $90.03 USD.  This makes the monthly value of an annual subscription around ¥750 per month($7.16 USD), just about half of the monthly payments.  

iKnow also offers a contract renewal bonus to pro users who choose to renew their subscriptions after 12 months. This bonus includes an extra month free.

Pros of iKnow

A screenshot of the iKnow Japanese quiz (naruhodo in Japanese is displayed).
  • It has an easy-to-use and uncomplicated interface. iKnow keeps things simple but attractive with its color scheme, button sizes, and layout. Any part of the app that you don’t understand is mapped out in multiple languages on the official website.  
  • You don’t need any kana knowledge to use iKnow; it is very beginner-friendly.
  • The learning algorithm matches and even outpaces that of Anki, given that in addition to a Spaced Repetition System, you also have access to audio and visual stimuli. iKnow creates a study plan best suited for your pace with ease, and if you struggle to organize your studies, it can be a lifesaver.
  • The sample sentences are very common in daily and business Japanese. As iKnow is created by Japanese professionals, it has a wonderful archive of natural, useful, and memorable Japanese phrases.
  • The system of showing progress and mastery is motivating. You can watch the progress bar of each Core Course fill up as you study. This is encouraging, especially when the words get tougher.
  • You can create your own study items
  • You can set weekly study goals and customize which words you want to keep in the course.

Cons of iKnow

A screenshot of the iKnow Japanese course levels.
  • It has an incredibly stingy “free trial.” Many apps permit users free access on conditions such as multiple ads between uses and limited features. iKnow offers only five study sessions, which isn’t a lot—the goal is limited to giving users a taste of what they could have if they paid.
  • It’s pricey for a language-learning app, even if you’re paying the annual subscription. Younger users might not be able to afford iKnow. Schools in Japan are allowed discounts and special deals, but this is limited to Japanese schools.
  • The courses, though lengthy, are limited. This is not an app that goes on infinitely. Yes, you can create your own study items. But you will need to record your audio and create your sentences if you want new content.
  • It is specifically aimed at people wanting to study vocabulary; unlike JapanesePod101, iKnow doesn’t include any grammar, kanji, culture, or video lessons.

Is iKnow Worth It?

A screenshot of the iKnow Japanese lower-intermediate word list.

I believe this depends solely on your learning style. I struggle to remember vocabulary without the visual and audio support that iKnow provides, thus benefiting my Japanese learning journey. However, considering the steep price and the limitation of the courses, iKnow might not be for learners who are already confident in their vocabulary or looking for free language learning apps. There are also a lot of other Japanese learning resources you can use to improve your Japanese.

If you see good results with apps like Anki, then I recommend iKnow as a worthwhile investment to make. It is also an excellent start for beginner Japanese learners, as you don’t need to know any kana to make use of the app.

Do you want to share your experiences with iKnow? We would be happy to hear from you! Please leave a comment or send an e-mail directly. Thank you for reading this review!

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Erin Himeno

Erin hails from the east coast of the United States. She initially came to Japan to share her love of English and country cookin', but ended up getting married and adopting two chubby cats. Erin doesn't mind; she enjoys her life in Japan and writes about culture shock, culture share, and the exciting chapters in between.

2 thoughts on “iKnow Japanese Review: Is It Worth Paying For?”

  1. I’ve been with IKnow from way back when it was slightly different and had a more gamified feel and the ability to socialize with others using the app. Before they went to subscription mode, the offer was given to purchase a lifetime sub, which I took advantage of and don’t regret. As it stands I’m just up to Core 6 in Japanese, and I’m attempting to actually be able to understand the sentences and all vocabulary before moving to another core. The spaced repetition is nice and seems well calibrated.

    Also if one wants to improve their English vocabulary the SAT English is great. Since I’ve been using it they’ve also included a path for Chinese, and I’ve heard it’s excellent. All in all I consider it to have been money well spent.

    • Hi James,

      Thanks for the insightful comment! I also took advantage of their lifetime subscription…kind of a bummer that they don’t offer it anymore.

      I think learning from the sentences they give you are just as important as the words you learn. Studying the vocab on iKnow can get tedious and it is random, but it is a nice way to increase your vocabulary. Thanks again for your input!


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