The Best Way To Learn Japanese In 2020
DISCLOSURE: This site contains affiliate links. That means Langoly may receive a commission at no cost to you for purchases made through the links on our site.
The best way to learn Japanese is different for everybody. Depending on your learning style, certain methods may help you reach fluency, or you may want to use a combination of learning methods. Some of the most popular ways to learn Japanese include:
- Japanese language apps
- Books to learn Japanese
- Japanese lessons and courses
- TV shows and movies in Japanese
- Japanese podcasts
For this reason, deciding to learn Japanese, whether you’re doing it for business, school, or personal reasons, is a brave and courageous journey to embark on. To help you on this journey, here’s a list of resources you can use to help you learn Japanese effectively and fluently.
Before we jump into the list of tools you can use to learn Japanese, let’s first take a look at the language learning process and how to learn Japanese. It’s important to understand the benefits of learning Japanese, as well as the process of learning Japanese effectively.
Understand The Benefits Of Learning Japanese
There are a lot of reasons to learn a language, but why learn Japanese? It’s impossible to list all of the benefits of learning Japanese in one article. So instead, let’s take a look at the top 7 benefits of learning the Japanese language.
Traveling Through Japan Will Be Easier
While you may be able to get by speaking only English in the major cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka, you may run into some obstacles in other places. Less than 30% of Japanese adults can speak English, so communication obstacles are common if you aren’t able to speak Japanese.
Japanese people tend to be very hospitable and welcoming, so even knowing a few basic phrases can help you navigate more effectively. You’ll also have a deeper cultural experience while you’re traveling through this unique and isolated country.
Unlock Career Opportunities Around The World
Japan is one of the world’s economic powerhouses. It’s the fifth largest economy after the United States, China, the European Union, and India. Because of this, there are seemingly endless opportunities to conduct business in Japan, whether you work for a multinational corporation or own your own business.
If your goal is to work in Japan, speaking Japanese will open a whole new group of jobs you wouldn’t have had access to before. Instead of applying for the fiercely competitive positions at English-speaking companies in Japan, speaking Japanese and applying directly to Japanese companies can work to your advantage. In addition to speaking Japanese, your other language skills can help get your foot in the door.
Gain A Deep Understanding Of Japanese Culture
Speaking Japanese will allow you to experience Japanese culture firsthand, and you’ll be able to see the world through the eyes of Japanese people. Because it’s an island nation, Japan has been isolated for most of its history. Even with increasing globalization, Japan is still somewhat isolated.
Visiting the country is one way to experience its unique culture, but when you can actually speak the language and interact with the local residents throughout Japan, you’ll pick up on a lot more nuanced and subtle cultural characteristics.
The language itself also has many cultural peculiarities that can’t be explained in other languages, including the vocabulary. There are many words in Japanese that can’t be translated to English or other languages because of their unique history and meanings. This includes specific words for Japanese customs and celebrations.
During the process of learning Japanese, you’ll learn about a lot of different aspects of Japan that most people don’t even know exist.
Increase Your Language Sensitivity
Because they are all so different from English, a lot of people tend to assume that the popular Asian language, like Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Korean, are all related somehow.
Once you learn some Japanese though, you’ll see that this assumption is far from the truth. Each language is incredibly unique, and none of them are mutually intelligible. Even as you learn your first few words and sentences, it won’t take you long to recognize how different Japanese is from other languages spoken throughout Asia.
Stand Out Among English Speakers
Japanese isn’t one of the most-learn languages in the world because it is thought to be very difficult, especially the writing system. Because it’s so different from any other language, people tend to steer clear of learning Japanese, unless it’s an absolute necessity.
This can work to your advantage though. As English speakers, we tend to learn languages that use the same alphabet as English, like Spanish, French, and German. That’s why these are some of the most common languages spoken by English speakers. If you decide to break away from the pack and learn Japanese, you’ll easily stand out among other anglophones (English speakers).
As mentioned above, you’ll also have a unique insight into another part of the world to share with your friends and family who may not have been exposed to languages and cultures outside of the “Western” world.
Develop Another Perspective Of The World
When you learn to speak another language, you also learn to think about the world through another lens. This is true for any language, not just Japanese.
Developing a new perspective about the world can be challenging, confusing, and frustrating at times. This is all part of the process though, and you’ll become more empathetic and thoughtful as you hone your Japanese skills.
Stay On Top Of Culture And Technology
Even though the Japanese language is mostly spoken in Japan, Japanese culture and technologies have spread around the globe. From manga, anime, and video games to smart phones, automobiles, and robots, Japan’s influence on the world extends far beyond Japan’s borders.
If you’re a fan of anime and video games, you probably know that Japan usually gets special edition products and early releases for the latest movies and shows. Being able to speak Japanese means you can access the same products and content right after it’s released.
As far as technology goes, Japanese developers, engineers, and scientists are some of the most innovative in the world. Learning Japanese will put you on the cutting edge of emerging technologies, and will allow you to collaborate with some of the greatest minds in the world. Even if creating and developing new technologies isn’t your thing, understanding Japanese can help you use these technologies more efficiently in your daily life.
How To Learn Basic Japanese Online
One of the most common questions is whether or not Japanese is hard to learn. The answer really depends on how you choose to learn Japanese. If you’re using advanced materials before you even know the basics, of course Japanese is going to be hard to learn!
There are a lot of different ways you can start to learn basic Japanese. The best way is to explore which resources are available and find one that you like, whether it’s an app, a book, a podcast, or something else. While you’re finding your favorite learning tool, there are some tips you can use to get started learning basic Japanese.
Set Ambitious Goals You Can Achieve
Setting goals is important in every aspect of your life, but especially when you’re learning a new language. Goals can keep you motivated and can help you gain fluency faster.
The best type of goals to set for yourself are SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Instead of learning Japanese sometime this year, your goal could be “I want to order food at a Japanese restaurant by the end of this month.”
Learn Garaigo For A Quick Win
Garaigo are Japanese words that have a foreign origin, and a lot of these words come directly from English. Some English words that have closely-related Japanese words include ice cream, anime, answer, apartment, and fry.
There are a lot of garaigo to learn, and you’ll be surprised how many words you can quickly and easily remember in Japanese.
Keep A Japanese Vocabulary Notebook
As you learn more words, be sure and write them down in a notebook so you can practice them later. This not only help your memorization of new words, but it also helps you practice writing them in Japanese.
Because the Japanese writing system is so vastly different than most others, it’s really important to practice writing in Japanese as soon as you begin learning the language.
Focus On Learning Common Japanese Words
Instead of trying to learn every Japanese word that exists, focus on the most common words used in everyday life. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can develop conversational skills just by learning a small number of words!
Think of learning a language as building a skyscraper. If you want to build the 20th floor, you need to build floors 1 through 19 first, right? Once you’re comfortable using basic conversational words and phrases, then you can build on this and learn more advanced Japanese.
If you skip straight to learning the most difficult words and grammar, you’ll most likely become overwhelmed and give up before you make any real progress. This is one of the most common mistakes when learning Japanese!
Interact With Japanese As Much As Possible
Whether it’s reading a children’s book in Japanese, watching an anime or Japanese film, or listening to Japanese radio, exposing yourself to the language as much as possible will train your brain to listen more carefully to the different words and sounds.
You may not realize it, but when you learn to read Japanese, you’re teaching yourself to think in the language. You will also learn the Japanese alphabet, or more specifically, the different character sets used in Japanese.
Is Japanese Easy To Learn?
According to the Foreign Service Institute, Japanese is a very difficult language to learn. The Foreign Service Institute categorizes languages based on how difficult they are for English speakers to learn. There are five different categories, ranging from languages that are closely related to English (Category One) to languages that are exceptionally difficult for English speakers (Category Five). Japanese falls into Category Five. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible though!
When you set goals, start with the basics, and work to increase your Japanese language skills into more intermediate and advanced topics, the learning process will flow smoothly. By the time you achieve fluency, you’ll look back and be proud of your achievements!
The 5 Best Ways To Learn Japanese
While there are a lot of different tools to help you learn Japanese, some are more useful than others. You should always look for resources that help you practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening in Japanese, so you can improve all of your skills. With that said, here are the best ways to learn Japanese.
Start To Learn Japanese Online
There are so many ways to learn Japanese, and one of the easiest places to start is online. Some websites and resources are even free! To learn Japanese online, it’s important to find reputable, high-quality programs. Some may have flashy websites and convincing marketing, but won’t actually teach you anything.
That’s why a good starting point is to learn Japanese online for free before paying for anything. Here are some of the best ways to learn Japanese online for free.
Start To Learn Japanese With YouTube
There are a lot of native Japanese YouTubers you can watch, as well as people who have learned Japanese as a foreign language. They cover any topic you can imagine, and they can all help you learn different aspects of the Japanese language and culture.
If you’re into fashion and cosmetics, Aoi is definitely a YouTuber you should check out. Even if you’re not really interested in those, Aoi’s channel is still worth checking out. She’s a young Japanese girl who has an engaging personality!
Even though it’s a playlist and not a full-fledged channel, Heartwarming News, created by TomoNews Japan, is a series of short videos that are light-hearted, entertaining, and most importantly, manageable if you’re not a native speaker. They’re animated too, so watching them is a great way to learn new vocabulary words in context!
Perhaps the best YouTuber on the list for Japanese learners is Yusuke. He makes videos specifically to help people learning Japanese, and he often discusses Japan and what it’s like to live there. He has a lot of different videos, and they’re usually subtitled in English to help you follow along.
Use Reddit To Learn Japanese
While you’re learning Japanese, Reddit can also be an excellent resource. There are two main Reddit threads for learning Japanese:
You can find tips and tricks for learning the language, as well as more resources. It’s also possible to find a language buddy, so you can practice speaking with a native Japanese speaker!
Work Your Way Through The Best Free Japanese Courses Online
There are also some free online courses to help you learn Japanese. When you learn Japanese with a free online course, you’ll have a more structured and traditional approach to language learning. This works great for those who enjoy (or enjoyed) school!
NHK World Easy Japanese
In addition to offering other free resources, NHK World Easy Japanese also offers a bunch of free online Japanese courses. The lessons take you from beginner to intermediate, and you can use NHK’s other resources to complement what you learn in the courses.
Japan Foundation Marugoto Course
Learn Japanese Free
Learn Japanese Free is a site with a lot of different lessons, some of which include audio. The lessons mainly focus on vocabulary, grammar, and reading, so if you’re looking to improve these skills, this site is definitely worth checking out.
Subscribe To A Top Japanese Course Online
Free courses are a great way to start learning Japanese, but they usually aren’t comprehensive and they stop at a certain level (usually between beginner and intermediate). If you reach this level of fluency and want to continue learning more, or even if you want to use a structured course to learn Japanese grammar and vocabulary from the beginning, these are the top Japanese courses online.
Rocket Languages is a well-known brand in the language learning industry, and for a good reason. The main focus of Rocket Japanese is audio, which will significantly improve your listening and comprehension skills. Each lessons comes with a transcript written in English, Japanese using English characters, as well as Hirigana and Katakana.
This course also improves your speaking skills through the use of voice-recognition technology. This will help you practice more accurate pronunciation, and you’ll learn to sound like a native when you speak. One of the main drawbacks of the course is that it doesn’t have any focus on writing, which is one of the most difficult aspects of learning Japanese. If your main goal is to be able to speak though, Rocket Japanese is definitely worth a try.
The course also has some extras to help you learn more, like flashcards, a forum where your questions can be answered by Japanese teachers, and a virtual notebook for you to keep track of phrases and vocabulary you want to practice.
You can usually find coupons online or directly on the Rocket Languages site to get a discount on this course, too. Level 1 usually costs around $100 and all three levels (Beginner to Advanced) run around $300, depending on which coupon you find. Compare that cost with a traditional in-person Japanese course that has multiple students, and it’s a lot cheaper!
Japanese Pod 101
This course comes from Innovative Languages, which is another big company in the language learning community. Japanese Pod 101 is a series of podcasts and videos that walk you through interesting and culturally relevant lessons to improve your Japanese.
With almost 3,000 different lessons, it’s pretty safe to say that you’ll find pretty much every topic on Japanese Pod 101. The team also gives you PDF lesson notes and special learning tools to help you learn Kanji and more advanced vocabulary words.
The basic plan is only around $4 USD per month, and with the value of the content, it’s definitely worth this price! They also offer a free plan if you want to get a feel for the content before subscribing. Definitely take advantage of that!
Pimsleur is a language education company that offers courses for a lot of different languages, including Japanese. The Pimsleur Japanese course is one of the best ones available today because it gets you speaking and listening from day one. Similar to Rocket Japanese, it also helps you improve your pronunciation through voice-recognition technology.
It’s a great course for beginner and intermediate students, but it has its limitations once you reach a certain level. It may not be the best choice for advanced students.
Pimsleur Japanese’s strength lies in breaking up spoken Japanese into manageable sections. This helps increase your comprehension over time, and definitely makes it one of the best audio courses available.
Pimsleur Japanese lessons and courses range from about $21 USD to over $500 USD, so you can start learning no matter what your budget is. There are also a lot of coupons available on different sites, so be sure and do some research!
Practice Speaking With Native Japanese Speakers
Learning Japanese in a course is a great way to dip your toes in the water and get started learning the language without the pressure of having someone in front of you. The ultimate goal when you learn to speak Japanese is communicating with other people though, and the earlier you start practicing this, the more comfortable you’ll be throughout your journey of learning Japanese. Here are some different ways to practice speaking Japanese with native speakers.
Find A Native Japanese Tutor Online
It’s easy to find a Japanese tutor online, as long as you know where to look. Speaking with a native speaker can also help you learn Japanese words that aren’t covered in more formal courses, like slang, swear words, and colloquial phrases. Here are some of the best sites to find high-quality Japanese tutors.
iTalki is one of the most established online tutoring sites available, and because of this, they have a lot of great tutors working with them. You can browse a lot of different Japanese tutors and find the best one for you by looking at their profile and reviews, course offerings, and watching their introduction videos.
A lot of tutors offer a discounted trial lesson as well, and this is the best way to see if they’re a good fit for your learning style. For regular lessons, tutors set their own prices, so you can also find someone within your price range.
All you need to do is sign up, and whenever you want to practice speaking, you can log in to the app and invite people to chat. If the regular conversations aren’t helping you speak the way you want to speak, Tandem also has native Japanese tutors who can give you more structured lessons and help you in specific areas.
LiveLingua is an online language school that helps you find the perfect Japanese tutor to learn with. Unlike iTalki and Tandem, LiveLingua has its own curriculum that has been tested over time. If you’re looking for more of a formal, school-like environment to learn Japanese, LiveLingua could be a great option.
You get a free 60-minute trial lesson to give you an idea of the quality of the lessons, and you should definitely take advantage of this, even if you choose not to continue! The lessons are one 1-on-1 and take place in Skype, and depending on how many lessons you buy at a time, you can get some great discounts, too. A single one-hour lesson costs $29. If you buy over 40 lessons at one time, the price can be as low as $24.99 per hour.
These three sites all have slightly different offerings, and they cover a wide range of lesson types. Take advantage of free or discounted trial lessons, and give each of them a try to find out which one works best for you!
Learn Japanese In Japan
If you have some time and money to spend, and virtual lessons aren’t really your thing, you can choose to learn Japanese in Japan. This is the ultimate way to learn the Japanese language, as well as the culture associated with it. There are a lot of different ways to learn Japanese in Japan, but the most common are studying abroad in Japan and taking a language course in Japan.
Find A Study Abroad Program In Japan
If you’re enrolled in a college or university, you may have the option to study abroad in Japan. Check with your school to see what options are available. If they don’t already have a program in Japan, these three are certainly worth checking out. You can also earn college credits while you’re in Japan!
Find A Language School In Japan
Use An App To Learn Japanese
One of the most accessible ways to learn and review Japanese is to use an app. There are a lot of language learning apps available, but particularly with Japanese, some are better than others. There are also some apps available to use as a reference or dictionary. Downloading one of these is a quick way to look up words that may be new to you. Here are some of the best apps to learn Japanese.
There are also some apps available to use as a reference or dictionary. Downloading one of these is a quick way to look up words that may be new to you. Here are some of the best apps to learn Japanese.
The Best Free Apps To Learn Japanese
If you’re looking to study Japanese using an app, you should look out for one that not only teaches you to speak and listen, but also to read and write. Because writing in Japanese is so different than English, not improving your Japanese writing skills can really hold you back. Here are some great apps to learn Japanese.
If you’re looking to learn basic Japanese, the Japanese Duolingo course is a great starting point. Duolingo will immediately start helping you develop listening skills, and the Japanese course includes a lot of basic and useful phrases to help you communicate.
You’ll also be introduced to the different Japanese writing systems: hiragana, katakana, kanji, and romaji. Unfortunately, Duolingo won’t teach you to write using these characters though, and Japanese grammar isn’t really ever explained in the Duolingo Japanese course.
Therefore, it can be a great starting point, but there are better options to take you from beginner to advanced. Duolingo is available on iOS and Android devices.
To learn how to read and write effectively in Japanese, Kanji Study is the perfect app! The lessons and flashcards have a structured approach that will take you through the different levels of Japanese proficiency, from N5 (beginner) to N1 (advanced).
The great part about Kanji Study is that the beginner level is free. This way, you can give the app a try and see if it works well with your learning style. You also have access to Kanji Study’s full Japanese dictionary at the free level. There are three ways to learn new words with the app: flashcards for a word-to-word translation, multiple choice questions where you choose the correct translation, and writing the correct character to translate from English to Japanese.
The Pimsleur app is another way to take the Pimsleur Japanese course previously mentioned. The app is pretty straightforward, and the content is the same as the online course.
Pimsleur Japanese is the perfect way to beef up your conversational skills quickly, and instead of learning Japanese grammar from charts and boring exercises, you pick it up naturally through conversations.
LingoDeer is often compared to Duolingo and Memrise because of its structure and content, but it has a competitive advantage when it comes to Japanese. Unlike the other two, LingoDeer is focused on Asian language. Duolingo and Memrise structure all their language courses similarly, but that’s hard to structure Japanese lessons the same way you structure Spanish, French, or German.
LingoDeer is a great app for beginners because there is extensive pronunciation help. It also has learning tips throughout the content that are focused specifically on Japanese. This specialization really makes it stand out among other well-known language apps.
Native speakers record the audio, and there is a good amount of grammar, pronunciation, and cultural explanations throughout the lessons. However, speaking activities are somewhat limited, so it may be good to supplement LingoDeer with another app with a lot of speaking practice, like Pimsleur.
LingoDeer costs $11.99 USD per month, and the price goes down if you opt for a longer subscription. If you start using the app and really enjoy it, you can purchase a lifetime subscription for $119.99 USD. You can get LingoDeer on iOS and Android devices.
Obenkyo is one of the most popular apps to learn Japanese because it has a heavy focus on developing your writing skills. It teachers all three Japanese writing systems (kanji, katakana, and hiragana), and there is also a pretty extensive grammar section.
Obenkyo also stands out because it’s not structured as a course. It has a more self-directed approach, and you can study all of the app’s content at once without completing prerequisite lessons. In fact, obenkyo means “study” in Japanese! If you’re looking to learn specific skills, Obenkyo is a great choice for this reason.
Download A Japanese Dictionary App
You’ll also want to have a Japanese dictionary handy when you’re out and about so you can translate words quickly. Google Translate is always an option, but it’s not always reliable. Using a dictionary app specifically designed for Japanese will be much more useful as you learn the language. Here are some Japanese dictionary apps.
Nihongo is an English-Japanese dictionary app developed specifically for a positive user experience.
Because of this, it functions as more than a traditional dictionary app and has a lot of extra features to make it both easier to use and more helpful.
It focuses on authentically Japanese content, not just direct translations from English to Japanese. You can also create flashcards automatically to help you learn and review the words you’ve previously looked up. You can even add photos to the flashcards! There are some other unique features that are worth checking out too, like clippings.
You can download Nihongo for free, and it’s available on iOS devices.
This app, simply called Japanese, is another free app. It’s really easy to use, and is packed with a lot of great features that make it more than a basic dictionary.
For starters, you can write Japanese words directly in the app to look them up in English! Not only will you learn new words this way, but you’ll also get to practice your writing skills. The Japanese app also has a text reader tool to help you read all different kinds of content.
Its search feature is fast and straightforward, and you can easily navigate through over 180,000 words and 58,000 example sentences. The app also has kanji breakdowns, conjugation charts, and vocabulary lists.
The Japanese app is available on iOS and Android devices.
The previous two apps are free and full of excellent features, but Aedict3 is the best Japanese dictionary app for serious learners.
It features the ability to search using any style of Japanese writing, as well as multiple other languages, including English, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Portuguese, and Russian. You can also look up verbs and adjectives using any form without having to worry about conjugating them.
The app will automatically prolong vowels, as well as show different pitch accents. This makes differentiating the different homonyms a lot easier.
You can add flashcards, take quizzes, and review diagrams to make sure your stroke order is correct when you write.
Being a premium app, Aedict3 does have a small cost, but the features make it completely worth it for dedicated Japanese learners. It’s available on Android.
Learn About Japanese Culture
When you’re learning Japanese, you’ll also open the doors to Japanese culture, from business and politics to the arts and social customs. If you ever plan to travel to Japan, knowing about the culture will help you integrate more while you’re there, and you’ll also experience the “true” Japan, not just the touristic sites. Here are some ways to learn the culture of Japan while you’re learning the language.
Learn Japanese with TV and Movies
As with any language, watching TV and movies is not only a great way to learn how people actually speak, but they also offer a glimpse into the cultures that speak your target language. Here are some shows and movies that you can use to learn Japanese.
Best TV Shows To Learn Japanese
There are a lot of TV shows that showcase Japanese culture (and some that exaggerate it!), and watching them can clue you in to different aspects of Japanese culture. Here are some of the best TV shows to learn Japanese.
- Samurai Gourmet
- Japanese Style Originator
- Terrace House
If you can’t find these shows online, major streaming services, like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and others, no doubt have a lot of choices. The best way to find which shows are available is to search “Japanese” on your streaming service.
Best Anime To Learn Japanese
Anime is a global phenomenon that has been one of Japan’s biggest cultural exports. Not only did it introduce the world to a unique way of storytelling, it also exposed millions of people to the Japanese language. Here are some of the best animes to learn Japanese.
- Death Note
- Fullmetal Alchemist
A great resource to watch anime is Animelon. This site is specifically for people learning Japanese, and each show includes interactive subtitles. It’s also free!
Best Movies To Learn Japanese
Movies are also useful in language learning, and Japan has a booming film industry. Here are some movies to learn Japanese.
- Jiro Dreams of Sushi
- Battle Royale
- Kingdom of Dreams and Madness
Once you start watching more Japanese movies and becoming familiar with the different styles of Japanese cinema, you’ll be able to refine your search to find more similar movies. These three are a good starting point!
Learn Japanese With Books
If you want to practice reading Japanese, you can build up your skills by working your way through Japanese books, from picture books for children to full-length novels. These websites have some of the best books to learn Japanese, and a lot of them are free!
- Traditional Japanese Stories for Children
- Aozora Bunko
- University of Virginia Japanese Text Initiative
All of the resources above are free to use, but if you’re interested in buying a physical book to read, Amazon has a wide selection of Japanese books (of course!).
Incorporate Japanese Into Your Daily Life
The final way you can learn Japanese fast is to incorporate the language into your daily life. Throughout your day, try and think of different activities you could do to use Japanese, whether it’s labeling things around your house with post-its to practice vocabulary, or changing your phone settings and social media to Japanese instead of your native language. You can also listen to some podcasts during your down time.
How To Learn Japanese With Podcasts
Podcasts can take the form of language lessons, if you’re looking to learn Japanese while you’re on the go, or you can learn Japanese with podcasts covering any topic you’re interested in. If you’re a beginner and want to start listening to podcasts, here are some you can check out.
If your Japanese is intermediate or advanced, here are some Japanese podcasts for you.
You can listen to podcasts on your way to work, while you’re cleaning, or even when you’re just laying around the house.
Hopefully this guide gave you some ideas about where to start learning Japanese. No matter what your learning style is, there are a lot of excellent resources available to help you become fluent.
Japanese is a difficult language to learn for English speakers, but with motivation and perseverance, you can achieve fluency!