Do you want to learn Japanese? Are you looking for a good course to help you? Well, there are actually quite a lot of them available these days and today I’d like to share the best online Japanese courses in 2019.
(This list has been updated for the new year)
I’ve used all of them myself at one point or another, so I’ve got a solid grasp on what they teach you, and how they do it too.
The two primary things that you have to keep in mind while you go over this list are these:
- What is your current level with Japanese?
- What are your language learning goals?
The reason these questions are important is because some of these courses are fantastic for beginners, while others are really better suited for people who are already at the intermediate level and are working on breaking through to fluency.
Also, some courses focus more on teaching you conversational Japanese, while others aim to teach you everything from the four areas of language (reading, writing, speaking, and listening).
So if you can answer those two questions for yourself, then you should be able to figure out which course will help you out the most when compared with the others.
Also, I have included a short summary at the end of each review with what I feel are the strong points, and also the weak points of each course. Here’s what it will look like:
- Strong point #1
- Strong point #2
- Weak point #1
- Weak point #2
As a final note before we begin, I wanted to make sure that you know that all of the courses in this article have free trials so that you can test each one of them out for yourself before making a final decision on which one to go with.
This is the perfect way to experience exactly how they can help you improve learn Japanese and get super great at the language. So make sure that you try at least one of them out!
-Table of Contents-
1. Pimsleur Japanese
The Pimsleur Japanese course is well-known and has a reputation for being effective at getting you to a basic conversational level with Japanese in a rather short amount of time.
The lessons are primarily audio based, and are kept to about thirty minutes per lessons so that you can find the time to practice each day, no matter how busy you get. Many people (myself included) do the lessons while driving to and from work or school each day.
Each lesson starts off with a short two-minute conversation in Japanese, and then the full lesson begins by going over the vocabulary and grammar that you just listened to. Then you practice saying them yourself in listen and repeat style exercises.
But what really makes the Pimsleur courses special are two things:
- The Principle of Anticipation
- Graduated Interval Recall
Let’s touch on each of these now:
The Principle of Anticipation – What they have found is that teaching you certain words and phrases in the beginning of the lesson, and then asking you to recall them later on actually boosts your memory’s retention rate.
For example, they might teach you that “hello” in Japanese is “konnichi-wa” and then about 5 minutes later they’ll ask “Do you remember how to say ‘hello’ in Japanese?”
This then activates your mind to search for the answer, which it is usually able to do quite well. I personally never considered myself to have a great memory, but for whatever reason, this method works!
Graduated Interval Recall – is a science based on how quickly people naturally forget. Another name for this is Space Repetition System (SRS).
So the first time you learn something, you naturally forget it within a day or two. That is unless you are reminded about it before you forget it. Then your memory generally goes out about a week before it forgets, but if you are reminded again, then the memory gets strengthen to several months.
This process continues on until the memory is locked in forever, and you never forget it.
So that’s the science behind the two primary techniques that Pimsleur Japanese used, but before we move on to the next course I want to highlight a few other things about this one.
The real strength of this course is that it goes over common words and phrases used in conversation many times, breaking down each word into its individual syllables so you can fully grasp them, before moving on to more complicated topics.
This course is perfect for people who are beginners and want to be able to speak in Japanese with natives fairly quickly (30-90 days of practice).
When I first used the course it didn’t teach you how to read and write Japanese. Seeing as how that aspect of the Japanese language is so large, I had to take a different approach in order to learn hiragana, katakana, and kanji. However they now teach reading at the same level as the conversational skills in the course.
They focus primarily on hiragana, katakana, and the beginning of kanji. So if you’re goal is to learn all the 2,000+ “daily use kanji” then you’ll still need a supplement, but the good news is that you will be able to read all of the words and phrases that you learn in this course.
The other thing to note is that the Pimsleur course focuses on a small core vocabulary of several hundred words per level so that you can lock them in at deep level and use them in an easy, almost unconscious manner.
If you go through all five levels of their courses, you are exposed to somewhere between 2,000-2,500 Japanese words. Something that should be kept in mind is that you might need to repeat a couple of lessons to help remember all of these words, but that’s something that happens no matter what course you use to learn a language.
- Perfect for beginners.
- Gets you speaking real Japanese quickly.
- Lessons are 30 minutes long, so it’s good for busy people.
- Gets you started on learning kanji.
- Focuses on several hundred words per level.
2. Rocket Japanese
Rocket Japanese is an incredibly interactive course that not only includes on lessons all aspects of the Japanese language, but it also utilizes many different testing methods so that you can practice the parts of the language that you want to learn the most.
There are three sections in Rocket Japanese with different types of lessons in each, and they all work together to help you understand the language.
The first section is the primary lesson where you listen to a short conversation in Japanese, and then the hosts explain the words and grammar that you just listened to. This is very similar to the format of the Pimsleur course, but the primary difference is the amount of practice exercises at the end of the lesson.
Also, you get to see the written Japanese as well, so you can practice reading and listening at the same time that you are going through the lesson.
After you’re done with the lesson, there are exercises designed to help you improve different aspects such as:
- Reading and writing.
- Vocabulary identification.
- Pronunciation improvement.
- Conversational practice.
- And several more as well.
Perhaps the single strongest aspect of the Rocket Japanese course is the built in recording function that allows you to test your pronunciation and then compare it to the native speaker.
Yes, there is a computer grading system that will give you a percentage rating on how well you did, but in addition to that I find that listen to your own voice and manually comparing it to the native helps you to make course corrections as needed.
The second section is actually a combination of grammar and culture. Usually it will start off by going into great detail on the rules of the grammar that were used in the first section’s conversation. If you enjoy learning how Japanese grammar works, then this part is perfect for you.
Then it moves on to talk a little bit about Japanese culture, history, trivia, or anything else that plays an important part of learning the Japanese language.
The third section teaches you how to read and write all of hiragana, all of katakana, and a fair amount of kanji in the later parts.
You will of course be doing these exercises through the computer, so you could say that it teaches you both how to write, and also how to type Japanese.
Now I do have to warn you that in the first level of Rocket Japanese (there are three in total) one of the speakers is actually a gentleman from England, and he speaks Japanese with an English accent.
This isn’t really an ideal situation, since it’s usually better to listen to native speakers of Japanese when learning it, but fortunately the second and third levels of Rocket Japanese (which both have much more content in them) are both native Japanese people, a lady and a man.
It starts off with total beginner material, and then every lesson builds from there until you get to the point where you can engage in everyday conversation with natives on a variety of topics, as well as read all Japanese kana, and a lot of the most common kanji.
- Good for beginners to intermediate level.
- Teaches all aspects of Japanese (reading, writing, speaking, listening, and culture).
- One of the speakers in Level-1 has an English accent.
If I could sum up JapanesePod101.com in a two words it would be these: Massive content!
This course has (arguably) the largest selection of material to learn Japanese from, which starts out at the “absolute beginner” level and zips right on to the “advanced” part, and then goes to finish off with some bonus stuff.
Now like the name indicates, the primary method that is used to teach you Japanese is through podcasts. Basically there will be a lesson such as a grammar point, or a short dialog that you will hear, and most of the audio lesson will be spent going over it and providing explanations.
However, the really good news is that there are transcripts provided as well so that you can read the Japanese that you listen to and really lock the information in.
In addition to that, when you access the lesson online there are specific parts in each section that are dedicated to helping you understand specific things such as:
- Lesson Notes
- The transcript
- And more, depending on the lesson
In addition to the above methods, they also have some video lessons of native Japanese speaking that you can watch and then learn from, which is a great way to use visual cues of “what’s going on” in order to understand the message behind the what is being said.
There are also a lot of additional features that you can take advantage of (did I mention they have a lot of stuff?) such as flash cards, high frequency word lists, and of course tutors that can do a live session with you so that you get the exact answers to any questions you may have.
Basically, if you can think of it, then the chances are pretty good that JapanesePod101.com has it included.
However, all of this content can make it a little hard to know how you should progress through the material. It’s pretty easy to get lost, or feel like you need to go through each and every single lesson so that you can understand the later ones, but this isn’t necessarily the right way to use the course.
I think that if you have a pretty good idea of what level you’re currently at, then you should go to the lessons in that part first and choose the topics that you find most interesting.
Once you’re done with the lesson, go ahead and move on to another one, but feel free to come back and revisit an earlier lesson to practice how much you still remember.
I personally like to study Japanese on my computer, so I can listen and read the language, but JapanesePod101.com is versatile, so you can also download lessons and take the on the go (in your car, while running, etc).
Be sure to take full advantage of the technology that they offer in order to maximize your study sessions.
In short, this course will provide you with tons of useful content, and it is then up to you to make the most out of it.
- Good for absolute beginners to all the way up to advanced level.
- An incredible large library of Japanese content to learn from.
- You can improve your listen, reading, and conversation sills (with the tutor) among others.
- It’s easy to get lost or not know how to proceed through the material.
- The advanced section has noticeably less material than the earlier levels (understandably)
4. Glossika Japanese
Now we get to the heavy hitting courses for learning Japanese. This one (and the next) aren’t very well-known to the general language learning community, but they are incredibly powerful at helping you to improve your Japanese.
But let me be clear, you’re going to have to work at it. You are going to have to put in the daily effort and time with these courses in order to see improvement because they are serious business.
But if you are willing to do the work and put in the time, your abilities in Japanese will be transformed.
The Glossika Japanese course is designed to help you break through to spoken fluency in Japanese. To break it down to its most simple form, you’re going to be listening to a lot of natural, full Japanese sentences and then repeating them exactly the same way you heard them.
There are additional techniques that you can use with Glossika, such as listening to a sentence and then writing down what you heard, or recording yourself and comparing it to the native’s pronunciation, but at its heart this course it all about getting you to listen and then speak full Japanese sentences, at the natural speed that a native uses.
Pretty heavy stuff, but incredibly exciting too!
Now when I say “speaking a lot” I’m talking about tens of thousands of sentences (over the course of a couple months).
Think about a person who lifts weights. Every time they do one repetition, it counts as “one rep of exercise.”
Now what happens if that person does 50,000 reps in a year? They gain a strong, good-looking body as a result of this hard work. Nobody is surprised at the result, nor do they doubt it’s effectiveness because the results are clearly seen.
Glossika is just like that, but for the spoken language.
Once you’ve listened to and then spoken 50,000 sentences, you will be confident in your abilities to communicate naturally and fluidly.
Personally I think that you should keep going until you break 100,000 sentence reps, but that’s just my personal bias because that was my personal goal when I used it.
But getting back to the Glossika Japanese course…
The sentences are chosen based on their grammatical structures (and common vocabulary) so that you get lots of exposure to the kind of phrases that people actually use in real life. Then an algorithm decides which sentences need to be reviewed and practiced each day, so that you’re always working efficiently, and you don’t waste any time.
What Glossika uses is called a “decreasing interval system” which simply means that the same words ad sentences are used several times per lesson, and in subsequent lessons, so that you brain gets a lot of exposure to them and is able to assimilate them naturally.
The nice thing is that you don’t have to worry about any of that computational stuff. The Glossika program takes care of all the back-end, heavy lifting so that you can focus all of your time and attention on the Japanese language.
Now, I’ve said that Glossika truly shines when it comes to the verbal part of the language, but it actually uses the written parts of Japanese as well for each sentence so that you can see how they are spelled.
So if you are already familiar with how to read Japanese, then you can use it to build upon and improve your existing knowledge, but the course doesn’t explicitly teach how to read Japanese, so it’s not super helpful for people who are beginners.
Glossika also doesn’t explain how the grammar of Japanese works, since it takes a more top down kind of approach by giving you lots of sentences with their English translations, and then allows your brain to naturally pick out the patterns.
This can be really frustrating for people who are just starting out with Japanese, but on the other hand it’s perfect for people who already know the essential Japanese grammar, and are instead looking to break through to fluency.
Honestly, I would have say that this course is not something I would recommend for people who are just starting out with Japanese due to the initial difficulty level of the stuff that it doesn’t go over.
But if you are at the intermediate level of Japanese, then this is probably exactly what you need to break through to fluency!
- Perfect for people at the intermediate level.
- Algorithm decides which sentences need reviewed each day (efficient use of time).
- Specifically designed to help people break through to spoken fluency.
- Doesn’t teach how to read Japanese.
- Doesn’t explain how grammar works.
5. LingQ Japanese
The final online Japanese course that I want to talk about is called LingQ (pronounced “link”) and it was created by Steve Kaufmann who speaks 16 languages as of now (he is constantly learning new ones) and about 10 of those languages he learned through this exact course.
I’m pretty sure he created LingQ for himself, but then decided to share it with us too!
Basically, the way that you learn Japanese through LingQ is by doing lots of reading and listening on material that you can both comprehend, and that you find interesting.
Understanding the messages that are being conveyed in Japanese is the primary principle behind the input hypothesis for language learning, and by choosing material that we find interesting, we are that much more motivated to stick with it until the end.
This idea of reading and listening a lot isn’t anything new, but what LingQ does specifically, that I have yet to see anywhere else, is that when you encounter a new word that you’ve never seen before, you can click on it and then select (or create) the definition for the new word, and save it.
That way the next time you encounter this word or phrase again, you can instantly see what it means!
This is incredibly powerful for several reasons, but the primary one is that instead of spending one or two minutes looking up every single new word that you read, you can do it in mere seconds.
Think about how many new words are in a typical Japanese book.
Is it 1,000?
Is it 5,000?
It’s a lot, and that’s the main reason why learning through books has always been so hard and inefficient: You spend all of your time looking things up, and none of it actually engaging with the language!
But LingQ fixes that major problem because looking up new words only takes a few seconds the first time, and then even less each time you see that same new word again.
To summarize this particular point (which is a biggie): LingQ allows you to spend all of your time engaging with the materials, instead of looking up the new words in dictionaries, which allows you to become fluent that much faster.
The other powerful thing that LingQ does is it allows you to import digital books and audio books that you personally own, so that you can choose the exact material that you study and learn from.
If you’re asking yourself right now “is this how I can learn Japanese from the Harry Potter books?” then you are spot on!
I am doing this personally myself, and I can’t tell you how nice it is to get enjoy a great story you love, and oh by the way LEARN Japanese at the same time!
But having said all of that, there are a couple things that LingQ is currently weak at when it comes to the Japanese language.
The first of these is the available content that you can choose from in the public lessons section. It’s rather limited for Japanese since it’s not one of the more popular foreign languages. This means that you will need to get a hold of the books that you want to learn from yourself, then upload them to your account.
The other thing is that the computer program that scans and detects words isn’t always the best at determining where one Japanese word ends and the next one begins. I would say that about 10% of the time the computer gets it slightly wrong and tries to take a piece of one word and tie it into the next one when it shouldn’t.
This isn’t a huge problem if you’re already at an intermediate level with Japanese and are able to intuitively know where one Japanese word ends, and can then look it up to verify your hunch. But if you are a beginner, then this will probably become very annoying for you and (unfortunately) become a big headache.
Having said all of that though, this is one of the very few courses out there that can take you all the way to fluency (in fact, that’s one of their motto’s!).
The primary reason is because you learn primary through native content, both reading and listening, so it’s 100% accurate to how Japanese people actually use the language in the real world.
By the way, you can also get help from live tutors as well! So this course should have you covered when you are ready to begin speaking too!
- Good for intermediates since you learn from native Japanese content.
- Ability to import you own eBooks and Audiobooks to learn from (Harry Potter, for example).
- The ability to look up and save new words in a matter of seconds.
- The computer program has trouble distinguishing what a word is (~10% of the time).
- A limited amount of compelling content already available.
Which One Are You Going to Try Out First?
Now you have a pretty good idea on how these courses work and what they can do for you.
You also know how to try them out for yourself (totally FREE) so that you can get a real hands-on experience for their techniques and methods.
Hopefully I have helped you to understand how they work and given you an idea on which would be the best one for you, but if not, then let me know by leaving a comment below.
Remember, you get to try them all for free so take action, and take action now!
Best of luck to you, 頑張れ！
Have you already tried any of these courses before? What was your experience with them?
Did you like them, or did you think there were some points they could have done a better job at? Let me know what a comment down below!