What is Busuu Japanese? The App Review

When it comes to learning Japanese, there is a huge question: Where do you start? Do you pick up books at the local store? Do you enroll in a class at the nearby university? Or do you hit up some websites on the internet?

These days, there are tons of different options you can use to learn Japanese. Some of them are free to use, and others have to be bought in order to gain full access.

There is one language course in particular that is free to get started, premium to unlock everything, 14 different languages that you can learn, and is accessible on both the phone and the computer.

Its name is Busuu.

What is Busuu Japanese? I started using the free version some months earlier, and then picked up the premium version just a short while ago. I primarily use it on my phone when I’m not at my computer.

Let’s get right into it!

How Does Busuu Teach Japanese?

Busuu takes a vocabulary based approach to language learning. What that means is that they teach you how to learn Japanese one word at a time. What’s great about this method is that they pair each word with a picture that represents the new word in order to engage your visual memory while learning.

This sounds a lot like Rosetta Stone’s approach, and it is, but the difference is that Busuu provides an English translation alongside the new word so that you can understand it. This is not super important when the picture is just an apple, but it becomes vital when it’s something abstract like laziness.

One thing I’ll note however, is that it uses British English and not American English. So the translations might seem a little off if you’re from the U.S. like myself. For example, the Japanese word for “register” is レジ (reji), but the English translation provided is “till”…

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a register referred to as a “till” before in my life! They also call a shopping cart a “trolly,” so you just have to be aware that there will be one or two words that you run into like that.

What’s really great, and something that I don’t see all that often, is that each new word is put into a sentence that you can read and listen to in order to see how it functions with other words from a grammar point of view. All you have to do is click on the “Listen to key phrase” button to see it.

I love this! I have said before that learning Japanese within the context of a sentence is a superior way to learn, not only because do you learn useful phrases that you can actually use in real life, but also because it promotes learning the grammar of the language intrinsically.

Believe it or not, your brain is actually set up to figure out the grammar of new languages by the way that they’re used.

There are three primary sections that teach you Japanese, and one final, special one. They are…

The 3 Methods, Plus 1

Each lesson is based on an overall topic. That topic is then broken down into subtopics which are presented within the three methods.

The first method is what I explained above with the new vocabulary and accompanying pictures. There are tests every few slides to see if you have retained the new information that you just learned, but it’s nothing too intensive.

The second section is, in my opinion, super cool! It’s basically a text message conversation between two people using the new words from the first section.

What’s really great about this part is that the focus is on the vocabulary that you’ve just picked up, but there are some other words and grammar things that you can easily pick up as well.

After going through the texts, there is a brief test for that section of course. Also, I don’t think that I said this before, but everything has been recorded by native speakers so you can hear how the words sound while you are reading it.

The third and final section is really just a bunch of tests. Lots of multiple choice questions and such that will require you to use both recognition and recall from earlier.

And at the very, very end is conversations with natives! This is a newer part of the course that allows you to either talk in Japanese and record it, or type in Japanese to answer a question or two. You then turn it in and wait for a native Japanese person to review your submission and provide corrections or alternative suggestions.

This part is fantastic as you can often get recommendations to your answer in order to sound more natural in your dialog. In the past, you used to have to hire a native Japanese tutor or go to Japan in order to get this kind or help, but now you can do it from anywhere in the world, while being on your smart phone!

Free vs. Premium and the downsides

There is a free version that I highly recommend you try out to see if you like it, but you will only be able to do a few of the early lessons as more of the higher stuff is restricted to premium members only.

Premium is not too expensive, it’s about the same monthly cost of other services like Netflix or Hulu.

Personally, I would rather pay once and have it forever, but I can totally understand why you have to have a subscription in order to access it. You don’t just get Japanese, you get all 14 languages! And there’s really no other options.

So if you’re an aspiring polyglot, then this is perfect! But if you are only interested in learning Japanese then it might be more than you are really looking for.

As for the things I don’t really like, I’m actually not wild about the whole “categories” approach to language learning.

I understand that it’s great to be able to say “today I learned all the colors in Japanese” or something like that. You get a feeling of accomplishment that truly is motivating for continuing your studies.

But the problem with that approach is something that is known as “interference” of new information. What it means is that you brain has a harder time keeping new information separate from each other when it all sounds alike, or all has a similar meaning.

If that is a topic that you’d like to know more about, then I’ll point you to Gabriel Wyner’s post on it. This is the guy I learned about it from, and his is also the author of the book Fluent Forever, so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the topic.

Also, and this is a common complaint I’ve had with other study materials, Busuu doesn’t really prompt you to speak Japanese while you are using it to learn. I don’t think that this is really a huge problem, as you can just speak out loud yourself after you hear the Japanese words, but most people won’t do that on their own. Usually a person has to be told to, or required to speak Japanese before they will do it.

It’s one of those things where you really do have to speak Japanese in order to get better at actually speaking Japanese. I know, right? What a concept!

Probably the top two things that students have trouble with are learning all of those crazy Kanji, and having conversations with people in Japanese.

So don’t let that happen to you! Practice The Shadowing Technique when you use Busuu to learn so that you can further ingrain the information into your neural networks.

Now it’s Your Turn

Now you know my thoughts on it. Are you interesting in checking it out for yourself?

Try out Busuu by clicking here.

One final thing about Busuu is that the name of the company comes from the name of a language that has less than ten speakers left in the world. This is kind of a cool idea for the name of a company that teaches languages, except there is one little problem when it comes to Japanese.

The word Busuu sounds identical to the Japanese word ブス which is a huge insult towards women!

What the heck!?

If you want to know more about that, then check out my post on Japanese swear words here.

Otherwise, if you enjoyed this post, then leave a like!

And let me know what you guys think! Have you tried Busuu before? Does it seem like a good way to learn Japanese? Leave me a comment and let me know!


  • Amy

    I have always wanted to learn to speak Japanese and this looks amazing! I tried Rosetta Stone but didn’t like the fact that there was no English translation. Busuu seems to have the translation, and I love that each word is put into a sentence that I can hear and translate and see how the word is used in grammar. The fact that I can speak with a native Japanese is so cool.

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Amy, I know exactly what you mean. The Rosetta Stone approach works when it’s just a single item (like a noun) but it really breaks down when it presents more complicated sentences. 

      The great thing about Busuu is that there are translations provided for when you need them, but you don’t have to use them unless you want to. It is entirely possible that you could go through it only using the Japanese words and audio provided if you really wanted to do it that way.

      The only thing I would say is that Busuu might come across as a little overwhelming if you are just starting out, but I believe that if you take your time and redo any sections that you feel you haven’t yet mastered, then it should work out just fine for you.

  • Derek

    Hi Nick,

    I’ve always wanted to learn Japanese because it’ll help when I decide to travel around in Japan 🙂 I’m grateful that I stumbled upon your page because I’ve been looking for something like this! Thank you for this comprehensive review of the Busuu app! I found it extremely helpful and it makes me more confident to learn not only Japanese, but also other languages!

    • Nick Hoyt

      Hey Derek, that is awesome! Japan is a pretty monolingual country with the natives speaking only Japanese for the most part. So if you can learn even a little of their language for when you’re over there, it will go a long way and you’ll make a great impression too. 

      There are tons of great resources to learn, and Busuu is one that a lot of people don’t really know about. So I’m glad that you were able to learn a little bit about them from my review.

  • Israel

    Hey Nick!

    Busuu seems a really good way to learn Japanese.

    I’ve lately been interested on learning an exotic language such as Chinese or Japanese… and I guess I’m more attracted to the second one.

    This system where they use graphic content to reinforce visual memory is very interesting, since it’s better to remember words this way.

    This looks really cool, I’ll take a closer look at it.

    Thanks a lot for your insights on this. 😉

    • Nick Hoyt

      I know what you mean. When I was younger I always had an affinity for the Asian languages, but I wasn’t totally sure if I wanted to learn Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. That is until I started getting in things like anime and manga, at which point the choice became clear.

      Yeah the pictures work really well for nouns and verbs, although it is a little harder for them to represent abstract concepts like “reliability” and such. Sill, we use pictures to learn as kids and we never really outgrow that model of learning. That’s one of the reasons that things like TV can be so mesmerizing.

      Buy yeah, give it a shot. It’s might feel like a little much at first if you are 100% new to Japanese, but as long as you take your time you should do fine with it. 

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