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Whether you’re an anime junkie, a J-pop fan, or simply a fan of all things Japanese, it makes sense that you’d want to study Japanese. In fact, more non-native speakers are showing interest in the language. Fortunately, there are lots of apps to learn Japanese so you can get a head start with just your smartphone!
As of 2019, Japanese, or Nihongo, is the 8th most widely spoken language in the world. It also has the reputation of being a difficult language to learn for English speakers because the two languages don’t share similarities in terms of grammar. You can look at it this way: learning any language is hard but with enough interest and dedication, you’ll get there.
Despite the high demand, popular language app Babbel doesn’t offer a Japanese course. There are plenty of stellar alternatives, however:
- The Pimsleur audio course gets you speaking Japanese quickly.
- Rocket Japanese gives a structured way to learn to read or write Japanese.
So without further ado, let’s dive into this list of best apps to learn Japanese. 行きましょう! That’s Japanese for let’s go!
Best apps to learn Japanese for beginners
If learning Japanese with cutting-edge technology sounds appealing to you, Mondly is for you.
A beautifully designed app that caters to over 40 languages, Mondly includes daily bite-size lessons, chatbot conversations, language exercises, audio guides, and tests. For an immersive learning experience, the app features speech recognition, augmented reality, and even virtual reality.
But perhaps the best thing about Mondly is that it allows you to learn languages in any combination. You can learn Japanese from any language, not just English!
Mondly is recommended for:
- Vocabulary building
- Quick and engaging Japanese lessons
- Students who are also learning through other channels and are looking for complementary lessons
Price: The free version is limited. The premium plan unlocks all content for $9.99/month or $47.99 for a year. Check out the latest promo here.
If you think learning Japanese is not fun, MindSnacks’ Japanese vocabulary app will prove you wrong. This app with a dose of cute lets you learn over 800 words and phrases through addictive games.
You can practice reading and writing through kana (syllabic Japanese characters), kanji (logographic Chinese characters), and romaji (romanization). Colorful and beautiful images aid memorization, which also makes this app perfect for kids. Additionally, audio clips provided by a native Japanese speaker helps with pronunciation.
This app features 50 Japanese lessons designed by expert instructors, with each lesson containing 20 words. The enhanced review mode lets you replay previously lessons, too.
Learn Japanese by MindSnacks is recommended for:
- Adults and kids alike who enjoy visually appealing and fun lessons
- Beginners who need that extra push. Beating high scores should be enough motivation, yes?
- Building vocabulary
Price: The first lesson is free. Upgrade required to access all 50 lessons.
Pimsleur is not just a language app. It’s a language learning method.
Developed by educator and linguist Paul Pimsleur, Pimsleur uses SRS (spaced repetition system). Learners hear new words at gradually increasing intervals, and at each time they would remember longer than the time before.
The 5-level course starts with basic phrases, vocabulary, and practical grammar lessons, and progresses to an intermediate level of speaking and understanding. What’s great about Pimsleur Japanese is that it also includes reading lessons on hiragana, katakana, and select kanji characters.
Pimsleur is recommended for:
- Absolute beginners who prefer practical vocabulary and grammar lessons
- Busy learners who like listening to audio lessons while doing chores or driving
- Strengthening listening and speaking skills
Price: $150 per level (16 hours each). You can also buy all five levels for a discounted rate of $575. Try the full Pimsleur program free for seven days here.
Often listed as one of the best apps to learn Japanese, Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese on iOS and Android is a great and systematic grammar guide. This is the app version of the popular online grammar guide and covers everything you’ll ever need to know about Japanese grammar.
It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing app (it’s set up like an eBook) but it does the job of comprehensively explaining Japanese language structure, grammar, and vocabulary. Introductory lessons include hiragana, katakana, and kanji.
Advanced in your Japanese studies? Don’t dismiss this app just yet. Latter chapters cover advanced topics and more complex parts of the language.
Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese is recommended for:
- Beginners who prefer comprehensive Japanese lessons
- Learning and mastering Japanese grammar
- Advanced learners looking to go over more complex lessons or brush up on what they’ve learned
While self-studying through a Japanese language app is a good use of your time, learning from a Japanese language tutor makes a lot of sense, especially if you’re a beginner. A tutor will not just teach you how to read and write Japanese but will get you speaking, too. This is what italki is for.
italki connects 5 million language learners with over 10,000 professional and community tutors who teach various languages. There are over 600 Japanese teachers on italki offering conversational Japanese classes as well as structured lessons catered to your goals.
Lessons are done via video chat, typically through Skype, and prices cater to all budgets.
italki is recommended for:
- Beginners who want coaching from native speakers
- Anyone who wants guidance and quick feedback while studying Japanese
- Learners who prefer personalized lessons
Price: Varies depending on the teacher. Try it now.
Without a doubt, one of the best apps to learn Japanese, JapanesePod101 by Innovative Language uses podcast-styled audio lessons to teach grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and reading.
Each lesson features real-life Japanese conversations with native speakers. The hosts will then break down the grammar and vocabulary (including slang, if there’s any) in the conversation. Cultural context is also provided, as well as audio transcripts so you can read along or review later.
Innovative Language: JapanesePod101 is recommended for:
- On-the-go learning
- Beginners to advanced learners who want to improve their Japanese listening skills
- Learning Japanese with a cultural context
Price: Some features are available for free. Get full access with a premium membership ($10/month) or premium plus ($23/month).
Best apps to read and write Japanese
If structured learning is your thing, Rocket Japanese is one of the best apps to learn Japanese. Through interactive audio lessons, you will start with useful Japanese phrases and work your way through the finer points of the Japanese language and culture.
Covering lessons on grammar, vocabulary, writing, reading, listening, speaking, and even culture, Rocket Languages gives you a well-rounded Japanese education. Step-by-step videos also demonstrate how to write in Japanese.
Rocket Japanese is recommended for:
- Structured learning
- On-the-go learning
- Beginners to intermediate learners looking for a balanced way to learn various aspects of Japanese, including writing and reading
Price: Introductory lessons are free. Lifetime access starts at $99.95. Try it now for free.
One of the best ways to learn to read Japanese is through this amazing Japanese dictionary app.
Imiwa? contains over 170,000 Japanese entries and corresponding English translations. A good number of these entries have German, French, and Russian translations. The app also suggest conjugations, so you can switch between neutral or polite forms at the touch of a button.
Imiwa?’s best feature though is its comprehensive kanji information (13,000+ kanjis). Handwriting animations for about half of those kanjis are also available. This is a great way to read and practice writing kanji!
Imiwa? is recommended for:
- Learning how to read and write kanji
- Intermediate to advanced learners who need more reading and writing practice
- Travelers. This is one handy dictionary app that you can use as a translator.
Takaboto has over 200,000 entries with English translations. You can search for words in kana, kanji, romaji, the English alphabet, or even through voice. Sample phrases, sentences, and conjugated forms are also provided.
What’s great about Takaboto is that it also functions as a Japanese reading app. Flashcards, ready-made study lists, kana tables, and pitch accent display are available for studying. There are even grammar links to external websites. Best of all? Takaboto is available for offline use.
Takaboto is recommended for:
- Learning how to read and write kana and kanji
- Intermediate to advanced learners who want to supplement their existing method of studying
- Building vocabulary
10. Hiragana Quest
This Japanese language learning app specializes in teaching how to read and write Hiragana (the Japanese alphabet) and Katakana (a special alphabet for foreign words). Most beginners find the Japanese writing system intimidating but Hiragana Quest has managed to make it fun.
This Japanese flashcards app has two mascots, Hirako and Katato, who help you learn Japanese through simple stories and mnemonics. Pronunciation guides help hone your accent while stroke guides and tracing function help practice writing.
Hiragana Quest is recommended for:
- Gamified, interactive learning
- Learning how to read and write Japanese characters
- Absolute beginners
Price: Free for the first 7 hiragana. In-app purchases unlock further lessons.
11. Kanji Study
Make no mistake, this app is one of the best apps to learn Japanese overall and not just kanji. And it has a dictionary, too!
The free version of the app has lower level kanji as well as hiragana, katakana and radical charts and sets. The paid version includes the full range of kanji and higher JLPT (Japan Language Proficiency Test) levels, and lets you create custom sets for studying. You can study with flashcards, quizzes, and writing challenges.
Kanji Study is recommended for:
- Serious learners of the Japanese writing system
- Travelers. The dictionary function and offline access are handy.
- JLPT takers
Price: Free for beginner lessons. $12.99 gives you access to the full version.
Best apps to learn to speak Japanese
One of the most user-friendly apps to learn Japanese, Busuu’s Japanese lessons are systematic and efficient. The app has lessons on how to read and write hiragana and katakana, vocabulary, and grammar that starts with the basics and progresses to more advanced levels.
Busuu’s Japanese lessons can be structured and personalized into custom study plans. You can decide when you want to study Japanese, and for how long, and the app will keep you in track.
The Conversations feature is worth checking out. Here you can speak with or write to Busuu’s community of Japanese native speakers who will give you feedback to help you improve.
Busuu is recommended for:
- Structured learning
- Travelers who want to learn basic Japanese phrases and speak to locals
- Japanese speaking practice with native speakers
Price: Many features are available for free. Premium membership, which gives access to more useful features, start at $12/month.
We all know that the fastest way to learn a language is through immersion. But if you’re not in Japan or don’t talk to native speakers, how can you do that. Enter FluentU, one of the most immersive apps to learn Japanese.
FluentU helps you learn Japanese through real-world videos. These include Japanese music videos, commercials, movie trailers, news, and more. The videos are subtitled in Japanese and have English translations. Need help understanding a Japanese word? Click to see in-context definitions and clear examples.
FluentU is recommended for:
- Immersive and interactive learning
- Audio-visual learners who thrive in contextual learning
- Intermediate or advanced learners who already have a grasp on the Japanese language
Price: Free for 14 days. After that, you can sign up for a plan starting at $20/month.
One of the most immersive apps to learn Japanese, LingQ lets you learn Japanese through audio, video, and written content that you are actually interested in. This method helps you learn in context and helps you retain what you learn.
Choose from a variety of interests and topics (i.e. books, podcasts, food, entertainment) and LingQ will convert these into interactive lessons. Master what you learn through spaced repetition method. Granted, LingQ’s grammar and writing game isn’t strong but it’s got loads of Japanese speaking practice for you.
LingQ is recommended for:
- Unstructured but immersive learning
- Learning in context
- Intermediate to advanced learners who need motivation. Your preferred content will keep you interested.
Price: Limited features available for free. Monthly premium access starts at $12.99.
What if you can learn a language and a culture while also teaching your own language and culture? The language exchange app HelloTalk lets you just that.
With over 150 languages supported and more than 250 million members to chat with, this is one of the most collaborative apps to learn Japanese. You learn how to speak Japanese by actually speaking the language with native speakers who help you correct whatever mistakes you make.
You can have conversations with your language partner through chat, voice call, or video calls. Learning with your partner, or with a group chat, also gives you the opportunity to make friends and learn about each other’s culture.
HelloTalk is recommended for:
- Learners who thrive in collaborative and social environments
- Learning Japanese language and culture with native speakers
- Writing and speaking practice
Price: Free with in-app purchases to unlock other features like adding more than one language
Free apps to learn Japanese
There are plenty of reasons why Duolingo has over 300 million users in the world. With more than 90 courses in 38 languages, it has mastered the gamified way of teaching a language.
While it mainly focuses on Japanese vocabulary, hiragana, and kanji, it is lacking on grammar lessons. But it’s still one of the best apps to learn Japanese if you only have five minutes to study per day. The bite-size, gamified lessons are fun and will keep you motivated.
Duolingo is recommended for:
- Busy individuals who can’t commit to long hours of studying Japanese
- Gamified learning
- Those who are learning Japanese through other venues. Duolingo can be a companion app.
Price: Free. $6.99/month gives you ad-free access, offline access, and unlimited mistakes.
With over 4,600 Japanese words and phrases and over 10,000 native speaker audio and video clips, Memrise is one of the smartest apps to learn Japanese. It’s also practical because it uses real-life words that native speakers use.
Through naturally-voiced audio and video clips, you train your ears and learn to speak Japanese the way a local would. There are no grammar lessons but the use of SRS and the abundance of content does help with vocabulary and conversational skills.
Memrise is recommended for:
- Building practical Japanese vocabulary
- Strengthening listening and speaking skills
- Beginners and casual learners
Price: Some features are available for free. Premium membership starts at $7.50/month.
LingoDeer is a strong contender for the best free app to learn Japanese. For one, Japanese was one of the first languages that LingoDeer focused on so you can expect well-developed and contextual lessons that you can apply in real life.
This app helps you learn Japanese vocabulary and grammar through flashcards and bite-size lessons. Reading and writing lessons are also available, and audio clips help with pronunciation. The Learning Tips feature explain grammar nuances and concepts.
LingoDeer is recommended for:
- Absolute beginners to intermediate learners
- Learning Japanese through a variety of exercises and format
- Building practical vocabulary and learning grammar in context
Price: Introductory lessons are free. Premium plans start at $11.99/month.
Anki is not exclusively used for learning languages but it’s great as a Japanese flashcards app. Simply put, Anki is a program that lets you memorize anything through spaced repetition system. Language learners swear by this method.
You can create your own flashcards deck or load any existing decks created by other users. Anki will then employ SRS to help you memorize your flashcards. Since Japanese is popular in the Anki community, you can be sure that there are lots of pre-made decks to learn Japanese.
Anki is recommended for:
- Quick, on-the-go learning
- Intermediate and advanced learners who want to retain what they’ve learned
- Expanding your Japanese vocabulary
Last but not the least, Obenkyo is one of the most efficient apps to learn Japanese if you want to master the Japanese writing system. Catering to all levels, from beginner to advanced N1, this app teaches kanji, hiragana, and katakana.
Obenkyo tests your writing skills through multiple choice quizzes and handwriting tests. It has an impressive handwriting recognizer that not only corrects your form but also assesses your stroke order. How cool is that?! It also uses Tae Kim’s guide for grammar lessons.
Obenkyo is recommended for:
- Independent, disciplined learners
- JLPT takers. Kanji lists can be displayed according to JLPT levels
- Japanese writing practice
Honorable mentions: other apps to learn Japanese
A testament to how fast Nihongo is becoming popular among non-native speakers is the abundance of choices when it comes to language learning apps. If you’re looking for more options in addition to the ones above, these apps are also worth checking out:
- Bunpo: Bunpo means “grammar” in Japanese and this Japanese flashcards app is a great choice for mastering grammar.
- Tandem: Like HelloTalk, this is a language exchange app that connects you with other language learners around the world. There are plenty of Japanese speakers here.
- Drops: Another flashcards app, Drops lets you learn over 2,000 Japanese words through bite-size lessons. Its companion app, Scripts, is great for learning kana.
- JF Japanese e-Learning Minato apps: Developed by the Japan Foundation, these free apps help you learn kana, kanji, and Japanese vocabulary through mnemonics, quizzes, games, and comics.
Top tips for learning Japanese
Now that you know the best apps to learn Japanese, here are some tips to help you make the most out of your Japanese lessons:
- Learn the Japanese writing system. It can be tempting to just build on your Japanese vocabulary, especially since the Japanese alphabet and kanji are known to be complex. But learning to read and write will help you understand the language better.
- Remember that your native language is different from Japanese. Nihongo is far removed from English and other languages. It has its own grammar rules, politeness levels, and conjugations. Be prepared to embrace these differences if you’re committed to learning Japanese.
- Stick with one or two apps at a time. It’s hard to say which is the best app to learn Japanese. You have to identify your learning goals first, then test out your options before choosing. But stick with just one or two so you don’t overwhelm yourself with information.
- Immersion is key. Surround yourself with Japanese content to train your listening and reading skills. Watch Japanese movies, read Japanese texts, listen to Japanese songs and learn Japanese with textbooks. Keep yourself immersed and practice what you learn.
- Just do it. Don’t get intimidated by the misconceptions of the Japanese language. Pick an app and just start. Ultimately, no matter how challenging the language is, it is your interest and commitment that will keep you motivated to learn.
With this list of apps to learn Japanese and tips to learn the language, you should be able to start studying. Take your pick from these apps and look forward to speaking Japanese soon!