Busuu has everything you need to become fluent in Japanese. All in one beautifully designed space.
Backed by science and costing only $6 a month it has earned its place at the top of our list.
Cost: $6 per month
Length: users choice (to fluency)
Platform: Web page and mobile App
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”
Japanese is a language studied across the world by culture lovers and businessmen alike. It has 126 million native speakers and millions more learning it right now.
Well, Japanese is the 9th most spoken language on the planet. Japan’s booming economy has made it very popular with businessmen looking to expand in their market.
Anime and Manga also influence thousands to begin learning the language every year.
Others like a challenge.
Japanese has a reputation for being one of the hardest languages to learn in the world. That is thanks to its three different alphabets.
Add to that the fact that written and spoken Japanese seem to have no link (to beginners, we know advanced learners and native speakers will disagree).
Japanese is so dissimilar to Latin Based languages, like English, that it forces people to learn in a completely new way.
So, how does one go about learning a language like Japanese?
We always recommend starting with an online course. Which doesn’t really help to narrow things down. There are thousands of online courses each claiming to offer the key to easy Japanese learning.
Sadly, there is no substitute for hard work when it comes to learning a language. However, the really good courses will teach you to work smarter, not just harder.
We’ve narrowed down the plethora of online Japanese courses to eight. Each one offering something different, but all offering great results.
Today we’ll be discussing some fantastic online courses that will help you get to grips with this challenging but rewarding language.
Busuu is proof that low price points don’t always mean low quality. This is not only one of the cheapest language courses on the market but one of the best.
Busuu has a lot to offer both casual and intense learners.
Firstly, the whole course is available online and as an app. You can take it anywhere and practice anytime. Busuu stores the words you have learned in its flashcard system. It is also beautifully designed and easy to use.
Busuu is clearly designed by lovers of language and of learning. There are little touches that let you know this. One example is that when they teach you a new word they show you the word on its own, then in a sentence. Most courses do one or the other.
Busuu also offers the opportunity to have your writing reviewed and corrected by genuine native Japanese speakers. And as if that wasn’t good enough, it also has an integrated chat system that allows you to text or speak with native speakers.
It offers all of this on top of what a typical Japanese online course offers. It comes with flashcard learning, interactive activities, and opportunities to practice your pronunciation.
This course focuses on teaching through the two Kana alphabets rather than Kanji. Whilst this is a great way to get to grips with the language, it is arguably more difficult than necessary.
And doesn’t mimic how native Japanese speakers are taught the language. It is clearly designed to help English learners get their heads around the alphabet differences, but it is a little counterintuitive.
We love this course, and we think it is seriously underrated. That is probably because it’s not the most visually pleasing or trendy course. However, we’re here to learn Japanese, and not to look trendy (although some of us can’t help but do so).
Like many of our other favorite Japanese courses, these ones are designed to help you prepare for the series of JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) exams. If you’re looking to get a job in Japan, having one of these certificates will look really great on your CV.
We really don’t have anything negative to say about these courses. They offer over 600 different lessons from beginner to advanced.
Their classes aren’t particularly interactive and you may need to get some extra coaching on your brushwork after this course.
No one in the language learning business has a reputation quite like Rosetta Stones. They have earned their incredible reputation through years of dedication to and investment in learning.
So does this course live up to their high standards?
Yes! This course has all the typical Rosetta Stone elements. The immersive learning simulations. The slow methodical teaching, designed for long term learning. A course syllabus with real breadth and depth.
Each lesson is under 15 minutes. The course challenges you to improve all areas of your Japanese (writing, reading, speaking, listening, translating).
Whilst advanced learners won’t find much use in this course it is an excellent resource for beginners. And if it was less expensive it would be higher up this list.
Sadly, this type of learning doesn’t work for everyone. We would recommend making the most of their free trial to see how you mesh with their system.
Designed by the University of WASEDA (who have taught seven prime ministers, as well as countless business leaders, scientists, and writers) this course is a must do for all Japanese beginners.
WASEDA is a world renowned center of education, and this is one of their many award winning courses.
The course takes the form of a series of video lectures with accompanying worksheets. The course focuses on building grammar, vocabulary, and conversational skills. You will be led through by a set of kind and encouraging instructors who always give great feedback.
The one major downside of this course is that there isn’t much writing and brushstroke practice.
For a small fee, you can have a certificate of completion printed and sent to you.
This is an incredible app and online Japanese course. Its major downside is that it is only available on Android. That being said, if you’ve been looking for an excuse to pick up a Samsung tablet, this app is it.
This app offers a mind boggling number of vocabulary flashcards (over 14,500) and Kanji writing exercises (over 2000). There is no course out there that will help you build, refresh, and store this range of words.
It is built around the JLPT exam system and is designed to help students pass those specific exams.
What really sets this course apart from the others is the fact that it offers world class brush stroke tracking to help you improve your writing.
Whilst the course itself offers no explicit grammar exercises, it has recently collaborated with Tae Kim (a name you will see later) and has ported her entire guide onto their app.
Podcast learning courses have fallen out of fashion, perhaps that’s why some of these lessons feel very dated.
That being said, this is still a great resource for anyone looking to learn Japanese. Its main advantage is that it offers endless opportunities to listen to the language being spoken by native speakers.
This course covers a really wide range of abilities, and nearly everyone will be able to get a lot out of this course.
The major downside to this particular course is that there is little to no visual element. The reason so many of these courses focus on flashcards is that they are one of the most effective vocabulary building methods.
JapanesePod101 is a great way to improve your comprehension skills, however, it will not improve your grammar, spelling, or ability to write Japanese.
Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese is pretty unique in the world of online courses. When we say this is a complete guide we mean this is a thorough guide that will talk you through everything you need to know when learning Japanese.
If Tae Kim’s guide was converted into an app or web program that looked anything like the others on this list… Well, it could very easily have put the others out of business.
Sadly, this guide isn’t very visually stimulating or easy to navigate. It has an incredible range of information, but you have to work quite hard to find it.
Meet Duolignos bigger, beefier brother. This is an app-based system that helps you to build your vocabulary on many basic topics. If you’re a beginner who just wants to tip your toe into the waters of language learning then this is a great option for you.
This system does not offer anything complex or extraordinary. What it does offer, however, is a fun and easy way to get to know the language and learn a solid base of Kanji.
If you’re looking for fluency then you won’t be able to do this exclusively through LingoDeer, but it is a great place to start your Japanese journey.
With three alphabets, two writing systems, and many other elements to learn, teaching yourself Japanese can be difficult. We have discovered (through a lot of trial and error) that the most efficient and well-rounded way to learn Japanese is by taking part in a course.
For many beginners picking a course can be almost as overwhelming as the language itself. So, we have put together this informational guide to help you find the perfect course for you.
The first choice you will have to make is: how much are you willing to pay for your course.
As you will have seen in our list above, a high price does not guarantee high quality. In fact, some of the best courses out there are free with ads or under $10 a month.
There are many fantastic free courses online. And it is possible to learn some of this language without paying anything. However, many paid courses can offer tools free courses cannot.
The next choice you need to make is: how much Japanese do I want to learn? Do I want to be fluent? Do I just want to be able to understand Anime without the subtitles? Do I just want to know conversational Japanese?
The answers to the questions above will give you an idea of what kind of course you are looking for.
Some courses are designed for holiday makers looking to learn basics like ‘where is the train station?’, etc. Others are designed for beginners or advanced learners exclusively. Whilst other courses are designed to take you all the way from novice to fluency.
Learning Japanese is a little different from learning French and Spanish as you will need to learn a new alphabet… well, three new alphabets actually and a completely new writing style.
When looking for a Japanese course it is important to find one that teaches you to speak as well as read and write.
One that offers comprehension and listening exercises. One that offers you somewhere to store your vocabulary. And maybe even interactive games to help you build your retention.
Whilst we all learn differently the list above is inspired by scientifically proven language teaching techniques.
Many of us do not take up new skills because we think we don’t have time to practice them. Little do we know that we all carry a secret weapon in our pockets that can open up whole new worlds of learning to us… our phones.
The more convenient something is, the more likely we are to do it. That’s just human nature. So, being able to access at least part of your course from your phone can be a game-changer.
With an app, you can turn your boring commute into a productive morning. Instead of endlessly scrolling through social media in the WC you can teach yourself a couple more Kanji.
Here are a few other resources that you can use to supplement your online courses and learn Japanese even faster:
Duolingo – this has a great on the go app, that is useful for refreshing vocabulary
WaniKani – this is a great resource for Kanji and brushstroke practice
Japanese Quizzes – here is another great resource for building your Kanji vocabulary
Kanji Practice Sheets – no need to pay extortionate amounts for Kanji Practice workbooks, when many schools offer free PDFs online
The Western world is fascinated by the Japanese language, and many of us want to learn it.
Whether it is so you can understand One Punch Man without the subtitles, or you need to learn it for work. We are asked about learning Japanese all the time.
That’s why we’ve put together this FAQs section. Here are the questions you ask us most about learning Japanese:
Japanese has a reputation for being one of the hardest languages for English speakers to learn. Is this true?
Well, there are arguments on either side, but there is no doubting the beauty and complexity of the language.
Things that make Japanese difficult to learn:
Things that make Japanese easier for English speakers:
Learning a new language always requires hard work and practice, no matter how ‘easy’ it is. Japanese is no different.
A lot of people find Japanese so overwhelming because to succeed you have to juggle a lot of plates at once. Structured courses are a great way to take some of that pressure off yourself.
Most Latin-based languages have one alphabet that varies minutely from language to language. When it comes to Japanese things are a little bit different.
There are three types of writing systems in Japanese: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. They are all used in different situations, and all need to be learned to master Japanese.
Hiragana and katakana are phonetic. They are referred to together as Kana. They can be used to make words. Kanji is a series of preformed words and phrases based on the Chinese alphabet.
Whilst you could technically write Japanese without knowing Kanji. Learning the vocabulary will save you a lot of time and make communication in the language a lot easier.
The Japanese writing systems also include three punctuation marks, Kuten (full stop equivalent), Touten (comma equivalent), and the question mark.
Japanese can be written both vertically and horizontally. Vertical writing is usually reserved for school textbooks and more artistic pieces of writing and literature. Horizontal writing is used in scientific papers and pop culture media. Horizontal books are read right to left.
Whilst many of the courses on this list are quite expensive, as, with all skills, there really is no substitute for hard work when it comes to Japanese.
There are many free online resources that will help you learn, improve, and master your Japanese. But there are some elements of language learning that we would recommend paying more for.
One of the best ways to improve your knowledge of any language is to immerse yourself in it. A trip to Japan will be invaluable when it comes to improving your ability to speak the language.
If you can’t afford a trip to Japan why not hire a native Japanese speaker to hang out with you for a couple of hours. There is nothing like being able to hear the language spoken by native speakers.
Some people like to learn widely spoken languages. For people like this Spanish and Mandarin are fantastic options, but what about Japanese?
Japanese is mainly spoken in Japan and is not the national or second language of any other country. However, there is a very large Japanese population in Brazil. 0.4% of Brazil’s 211 million people speak Japanese.
Japanese culture and media are both very wide-reaching and are enjoyed all over the world. Therefore you will be able to find a use for your new skill wherever you live.
There are many reasons why the Japanese language has captured the imagination of other cultures.
One of the main reasons is the business and career opportunities available in Japan. It is the third-largest economy in the world and has many opportunities other countries do not.
The food is another reason. Sushi isn’t the only thing Japanese has to offer in the culinary department. People are often shocked by what the country has to offer.
From the world’s most expensive beef, cloud cake, matcha, ramen, cheese, and much more. Any foodie should have Japan on their bucket list.
For decades we have been obsessed with Japanese culture, be it manga, anime, J-Pop, or their reality TV. Learning Japanese offers you the opportunity to enjoy these pieces as the creators originally intended.
Jacob has a background in finance and engineering. Outside of his day job, he is a lifelong learner, who enjoys reading, taking online courses, and writing about what he's learned.
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