The Best Apps for Learning Japanese

When I was learning Japanese, my go-to device was my Nintendo DS. On it, I used the game “Kanji Sono-mama Rakubiki Jiten,” an electronic Japanese dictionary and kanji translator, and I got my money’s worth.

I used that baby every single day throughout college for my Japanese classes. When I lived in Japan, I carried it around with me like a good luck charm, just in case I ever came across something I couldn’t translate.

However, that was in the age of flip phones. I adored my rose-gold Japanese flip phone (yes, you know, those things that flipped open and had a top screen display and a keyboard below- you may now find them in museums). But the world turned! Time marched on! Phones became less flippy!

Now, with these fancy smartphones of ours, we’re capable of carrying around dozens of language resources all on the same phone, no bulky Nintendo DS dictionary needed (admittedly, I still use it from time to time, because the 20-year-old me that still resides deep inside thinks it’s just so cool).

Have a look below for some of the best learning tools out there, all waiting to assist you on your path to improving your Japanese.

 

Kana

Like its name implies, this app is for the basics of the basics of written Japanese. If you’re a complete beginner with the Japanese writing system, I would start here, out of all of the apps.

If you’re laying down the foundations of kana- specifically, hiragana and katakana- this app is as simple as it is necessary.

Neatly divided into chapters, you’ll learn the stroke order of each character, which all come with a voiced pronunciation.

Quizzes and detailed explanations on pronunciation are available, as are kana charts.

If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, kana is the most important…alphabet? Of the day? Alpha-bit Cereal? Ok, moving on.

 

Price

Free, but offers in-app purchases and contains ads.

 

Download

Download from Google Play:  Kana (Hiragana & Katakana) App

Download on iTunes: TenguGo Kana Hiragana Katakana

 

Bravolol’s Learn Japanese Phrases, Japanese Translator

This is a great app for those who are at a beginner level of Japanese. I would recommend at least knowing hiragana and katakana, although it’s not completely necessary since romaji is provided (romaji is the Romanized Japanese- literally “roman letters”).

The home screen colorfully organizes all of the different categories covered: travel, weather, animals, etc.

Once you select a category, you’re led to a list of common words and phrases relating to it (some of these are restricted unless you upgrade to premium, unfortunately).

Click on one, and the written Japanese, along with the romaji underneath, will appear. A voice (either female or male, an option that can be changed by clicking the face icon in the upper right-hand corner) will pronounce the word or phrase for you.

A cool feature is the ability to slow down what’s being said (click the snail icon) or to play it at the natural speed (click the volume icon).

Note: One odd thing I noticed is their Romanization of words like 少々お待ちください “sho-sho o-machi kudasai” (please wait a moment). They write it as “syosyou”. Which, okay, maybe that’s just me being picky, but it’s something to just be aware of.

 

Price

Free, but offers in-app purchases and contains ads.

 

Download

Download from Google Play:  Learn Japanese Phrases | Japanese Translator

Download on iTunes:  Learn Japanese Phrases & Words – Bravolol Limited

 

Memrise


Another great beginner’s tool, Memrise employs spaced-repetition-software (SRS) to drill words and grammar into your head with a rote memorization method- but with cute spaceships!

Like a video game, you play levels and advance in the app once they’ve been completed, or when you’ve mastered the flashcards in the level.

You’re able to adjust the difficulty at the start when it prompts you to input your level of Japanese, but overall, the app is definitely aimed at beginners.

Once you get going, it’s very straightforward. Sometimes, repeated memorization is the best medicine for those pesky words that feel unnatural or are difficult memorize through other methods.

For an additional cost, the premium version offers the ability to chat with native speakers of Japanese, advance to a more difficult version of the app, and overall, use more learning tools.

The things they offer at a hefty price, though, can be found for free in other apps, so I’d suggest passing (unless you’re a Rockefeller, then, hey! The world is your oyster).

 

Price

Free, but offers in-app purchases.

 

Download

Download from Google Play:  Memrise: Learn New Languages, Grammar & Vocabulary

Download on iTunes:  Memrise: Language Learning

 

Yomiwa

This app is best used for translation, above all, but is also a great tool for reading and writing practice. No romaji is used, so you’ll need to know at least your basic kana to get the best use out of it.

If you know how to spell a word in Japanese, you can type with the Japanese or English keyboard, or write it out with a stylus (or your finger, in a pinch).

You’ll get the translation and be taken to a page that breaks the word down by its individual hiragana or kanji, which you can select and delve into even further.

And, if you’re looking up a verb, it will provide you with an entire list of different conjugations of that verb. Quite handy, if you ask me.

One of the coolest features of the app is, unfortunately, one you have a shell out a few bucks for. But, if you’re on a trip to Japan and think you’ll use it a lot, it would definitely be worth it.

The app has the option of using the camera to scan kanji (on a sign, let’s say, or in a menu) and translate it from that live image. You can also upload a photo, which it will scan and translate for you.

Ah, technology!

 

Price

Free, but offers in-app purchases.

 

Download

Download from Google Play:  Yomiwa – Japanese Translator

Download on iTunes:  Yomiwa Japanese Dictionary

 

Japanese Kanji Study


This is one of the best kanji apps on the market, and one I’ve used almost daily for quite some time now.

This is an amazing supplement to your kanji studies, especially if you’re on the go (riding the train, killing time at the post office, etc.). It allows for quick kanji look-up by radical or stroke order, or by simply drawing the kanji onto the screen (best with a stylus).

This app is the next best thing to having an actual teacher with you, showing you how to properly write a kanji. It shows you an animation of the correct stroke order, which you can pause and replay as many times as needed.

Each kanji has its own page that displays a breakdown (its different readings, different meanings), as well as example words and sentences.

The quizzes are excellent for drilling definitions and stroke order into your head (the quiz calls you out if you write a kanji out of stroke order). You can download free kanji lists by JLPT levels and focus on cementing each kanji list before moving onto the next one.

If you’re looking to begin learning kanji, want to advance from the level you’re at, or need a solid app to help you review old kanji, this is the best one I can recommend.

 

Price

Free, but offers in-app purchases.

 

Download

Download from Google Play:  Japanese Kanji Study – 漢字学習

Download on iTunes: Kanji Study

 

Tae Kim’s Learning Japanese


This is the app that, design-wise, is the closest thing to a textbook. Divided into lessons, this app is fantastic for anyone wanting to learn or brush up on their Japanese.

Feel free to start wherever you feel comfortable, whether that’s at the basics with hiragana, or at a higher-level topic like transitive and intransitive verbs (I know we’d all love to ignore complicated grammar points, but we need to learn them eventually).

What makes this app stand apart from the rest is how much thought goes into each lesson. In detail, you’re given an overview of the lesson and the points being taught.

Japanese words mentioned are highlighted and can be tapped to show their English definition without leaving the page.

I’d recommend this for those that have roughly a year or more of Japanese under their belt. Then again, I don’t think it’s ever too early to start learning the more complicated lessons for fun (yes, that’s right, I said “fun”, yes I know, I am a nerd).

 

Price

Free

 

Download

Download from Google Play:  Learning Japanese

Download on iTunes:   Learning Japanese

 

JapanesePod101


An extension of www.japanesepod101.com, this podcast has dozens of lessons and discussions on Japanese language and culture. Some of the episodes are spoken entirely in Japanese, while some have both Japanese and English.

Topics range from basic Japanese greetings to famous Japanese authors and their impact on Japanese culture. The episodes aren’t just limited to audio lessons, either- videos are included, as well.

Be sure to make full use of the podcast by creating a free account on their website, where you’ll find transcripts of the lessons (conveniently either in romaji, kanji, or English). You’ll also see the vocabulary, kanji, and grammar points that are in the lesson, all organized into their own sections.

The podcast and the website are the powerhouse couple of the Japanese app world.

For anyone looking to really dive into learning more Japanese on their own, they’re truly a dream team. Find the podcast with whatever podcast app you use.

If you have a paid subscription to Japanesepod101, you can access the audio and video lessons through their Innovative Language app. The app is fast and easy to use, which makes it great for learning Japanese on the go. If you want to know more, check out our Japanesepod101 review article.  Happy trails!

 

Price

Many podcasts are free.  The app is free, but you’ll need a premium membership to be able to access all of the lessons.

 

Download

Download from Google Play:  Innovative: Learn 34 Languages

Download on iTunes:   Innovative 101 Learn Languages

 

Hello Talk


Gone are the days of pen pals who wrote to each other with, well, pens. This app allows you to connect with people from all around the world.

It’s incredibly easy to connect with native Japanese speakers who are happy to talk and help you with the language, or with any other questions you may have. In turn, you’re able to help them with your native language, the language they’re seeking to learn, as well.

Create a profile, add some hobbies to your page, and write a short bio explaining who you are and what you’d be interested in chatting about. Soon, you’ll have plenty of people messaging you, eager to have a friendly talk.

You can communicate with text or voice messages, which your partner can correct or edit to help you learn. As part of the language exchange theme, you can do the same for them as they try communicating with you in your language.

This is an app to have fun with and not take too seriously. It’s nice going into the experience knowing that everyone is there to learn and that mistakes are going to be made. That’s part of the fun! And, as a bonus, you may make some friends along the way.

 

Price

Free, but offers in-app purchases.

 

Download

Download from Google Play:  HelloTalk Learn Languages Free

Download on iTunes: HelloTalk Language Exchange

 

I hope this list helps you on your quest to find the right Japanese language apps for you!

Let us know if you have any experience with these, what you thought of them, or if you have any suggestions of your own.

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