Did you know that it’s possible to learn Japanese for free? All you need is an internet connection, some note-taking tools, and the desire to study.
In this article, we’ll share the best resources for learning Japanese—completely free of charge! If you want more, check out our complete list of learning Japanese resources.
Free Resources for Learning Kana
Understanding Japanese 仮名 (kana), or the two syllabic Japanese writing systems, is an essential first step in learning Japanese. Here are the best resources that offer free lessons, exercises, and flashcards on ひらがな (hiragana) and カタカナ (katakana).
Japanese-Lesson provides summarized, well-structured lessons and charts that cover hiragana, katakana, and even romaji. Romaji is the Romanized version of Japan’s syllabic alphabet. While it might be useful to beginners, it can hinder your study process later on. Japanese-Lesson also offers some 漢字 (kanji) courses, which we will cover later in the article.
Japanese-Lesson is an excellent starting point for those who want a consolidated resource of Japan’s alphabets. The website offers printable practice sheets as well, so it’s possible to practice your Japanese handwriting in addition to drilling the characters.
For those wanting a more in-depth look at the Japanese writing systems, Tofugu offers lengthy but high-quality articles covering both hiragana and katakana. While Tofugu does provide a chart of each writing system, the website focuses more on how to study the characters in a way that will keep them in your memory for good. Tofugu also offers quizzes for learners to drill what they’ve just studied in addition to clever mnemonics and guides on each character’s stroke order. This website is an excellent resource, no matter what level of learner you are.
3. Real Kana
Real Kana employs more of a drill-based learning system for your kana studies. First, select your desired writing system. You can look at the chart as long as you need, then choose the characters you wish to study. The drill commences with characters being shown in the center of the screen; all you have to do is type the corresponding phonetic answer.
For example, “か” in hiragana would be a “k” and “a” on your keyboard. You can also adjust the font of the characters you wish to study, but that is the extent of Real Kana. The website’s beauty lies in this simplicity: if you want to quickly and effectively drill your kana knowledge, Real Kana is the program for you.
Free Resources for Learning Kanji
Kanji, or Japan’s Sino-based writing system, is an understandably daunting part of learning Japanese. There are over 2,000 characters to learn if you eventually want to work in a Japanese company. This means that it’s best to start studying kanji as soon as you can using the best methods.
As some of the characters can be quite advanced, the study of kanji might be a part of your Japanese learning journey that you’ll eventually want to invest some money in for textbooks. However, learning basic kanji characters can be easily done for free! Here are the best resources for learning basic Japanese kanji.
1. NHK World Japan
Japan’s national broadcasting network offers a fantastic collection of easy Japanese lessons in English, Spanish, and countless other languages.
While NHK World’s kanji collection doesn’t include stroke order or extra information on the readings of the characters, you can still learn a lot about the context and vocabulary that are most often attached to each kanji character listed.
NHK World also offers Today’s Kanji, a daily list of kanji that you can write down and remember. Each character is accompanied by vocabulary words it is often used in, so you’ll be able to build your vocabulary as well!
An intelligent online kanji and kana tutor, Kanshudo is packed with resources for the Japanese learner. You can review current flashcards, build your own, and even import existing flashcards from other sources like Anki. Kanshudo has various levels of kanji characters in its tiered lessons; you can start as an absolute beginner or jump in from an intermediate or advanced perspective.
While you will need to create an account to use Kanshudo, it is absolutely free. Kanshudo does have pro features, but these can be unlocked with “study tickets.” The more you study, the more you can use the website! Kanshudo is excellent because it offers reading practice from real-life Japanese texts—a must for remembering kanji in context.
Free Resources for Learning Japanese Vocabulary
To speak a language, you’ll need to build a solid base of vocabulary words. Here are the best free resources for learning Japanese vocabulary words fast!
This vocabulary website has earned its place as the internet’s go-to study game. DuoLingo offers a personalized learning experience to fit your language goals. You can start at any level you feel comfortable with (or take a placement test), and it is COMPLETELY free.
Level up and earn badges to motivate yourself and set a daily goal of experience points to ensure you never skip a study session. The app’s design is fun and easy to read. Better yet, the quality of the quizzes and the study system can’t be beaten. DuoLingo is available online and on your phone, whether you use iOS or Android.
JapanesePod101 – Vocabulary Lists
JapanesePod101 is one of, if not the best way to learn Japanese. They have a ton of lessons and materials, but you need pay for a premium membership to access all of their lessons.
However, they offer a lot of free materials too. JapanesePod101 offers their new podcast lessons and even themed vocabulary lists completely free. You don’t even need to give them your e-mail address: pick the lists that you want to work with and take some notes. Of course, you won’t be able to download the lists or view the sample sentences without an account, but JapanesePod101 can still be a very viable free resource for expanding your vocabulary base.
Free Resources for Learning Japanese Grammar
Although words are the building blocks of a language, you’ll still need grammar to put them together in the right order. Here are our best picks for free Japanese grammar resources that will boost your learning experience.
1. Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese
Tae Kim creates an excellent (FREE) starting point for those embarking on the journey of Japanese grammar. The website outlines important parts of speech and how each one works in a sentence. While you won’t find lessons on specific phrases of Japanese grammar, Tae Kim is a perfect resource for building the “skeleton” of your Japanese grammar knowledge.
2. NHK World Japan – Easy Japanese Grammar Lessons
NHK offers situation-specific grammar lessons in basic Japanese. These well-illustrated skits and accompanying podcasts are about 10 minutes in length. Text at the bottom of the lesson outlines the skit’s script and key phrases and grammar rules included in the conversation. NHK World offers this service in a variety of languages.
3. JLPT Sensei
This is a more specific method for learning Japanese grammar and might be better for those learners aiming to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). All the requirements for each level of the JLPT are included for free on the JLPT Sensei website, including kanji, vocabulary, and grammar included in the tests. The grammar lessons are text-heavy but provide plenty of example sentences to solidify your studies.
Check out our article on how to pass the JLPT on your first try to learn useful strategies and ways to study for it.
4. Maggie Sensei
At Maggie Sensei, you can learn everyday Japanese from a native speaker. Yukari, the site’s creator, uses her cute French bulldog pup, Maggie, as the website’s teacher. Although Maggie passed away recently, her avatar continues to provide fun, easy-to-understand lessons on Japanese grammar, culture, and etiquette.
Lessons are divided by scenario, and you can find many useful Japanese lessons on the website. Maggie Sensei also breaks down a list of useful vocabulary words with each lesson. You can also find lessons on Japanese slang and business-related phrases.
The True Japan
In addition to tips and tricks that will boost your study experience, we also write in-depth looks on specific Japanese words and grammar rules. There are also plenty of product reviews to help you decide which textbooks or services you may want to invest in once you’ve run out of free materials on the internet.
If you don’t know where to start, check out our Beginner’s Guide for some structure and inspiration!
Learning Japanese doesn’t have to cost you anything. There are fantastic free resources all over the internet! Thank you for reading our article on the best free resources for learning Japanese. Do you have any websites or services that you want to recommend? Let us know in the comments or send us an e-mail. Good luck with your studies!