Japanese

The 15 Best Podcasts for Studying Japanese in 2021

People often assume that to study a language, you need to be working with a tutor, sitting in a classroom, or locked away in your room.

And while there are lots of good online Japanese courses, podcasts can serve a vital role in your studies. They can be an extremely effective way to improve your listening comprehension, along with other aspects of the language.

Better yet, they’re often more fun, free (or cheap), and more convenient than a lot of other resources. Though you may want to look for some more structure elsewhere.

This list will highlight some of the best podcasts for learning Japanese whether you’re at a beginner, intermediate, or advanced level.
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Mondly

Quick Review

2.7 

Summary:

Mondly is a language-learning app that teaches basic vocabulary and grammar structures. It seems most appropriate for learners with little to no exposure to their target language.

The activities mostly rely on passive recognition of vocabulary and phrases, and therefore are not very challenging. However, they are varied enough that you probably wouldn’t get bored with short, daily practice sessions.

Although I wouldn’t recommend Mondly to anyone looking to seriously learn a language, it may be appropriate for individuals studying languages with less available resources, or for individuals who are preparing to travel abroad.

Quality

Both the interface and the course itself could be designed better.

Thoroughness

It’s decent for learning vocabulary, but I thought a lot of the material wasn’t explained very well.

Value

It’s fairly inexpensive.

Price

There are three plans…
$9.99 per month for one language
$47.99 per year ($4/mo) for one language
$47.99 per year ($4/mo) for all languages

Strangely, I was able to access multiple languages even though I only signed up for one month at $9.99.

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Miageru

3.3 
Price: Free

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Fun fact: miageru means to raise your eyes upwards, to admire, or to respect. Yet it’s not entirely clear why this course is named Miageru, or who is supposed to be looking up to whom (or what).

Miageru contains basic, easy-to-understand explanations for beginner-level Japanese kana and grammar. It also has games to help you drill kana, kanji, vocabulary, and grammar. However, you’ll only learn how to recognize kana and kanji, not how to write them.

While a useful tool, Miageru is not the most well-organized platform. There’s no learning pathway, for example, and neither is there a section on essential Japanese phrases (greetings, directions, etc.). When we tried it out, there was no way to even learn how to say hello and introduce yourself.

To study kanji, you have to select sentences that you’re interested in learning. Studying a kanji in a sentence isn’t a bad idea: learning things in context will help you remember them. Yet this system does mean that you might learn things in an odd order.

Miageru claims it’s a replacement for Japanese courses and includes everything you need to know for JLPT N5. We’re not convinced because it misses out a lot of essential phrases. However, it’s a helpful supplementary resource for drilling beginner Japanese alongside a course or textbook.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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Japanese From Zero!

2.5 
Price: From $25/volume

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If you’re looking for an easy introduction to Japanese, you might like Japanese From Zero! It is engagingly written and has lots of information about Japanese culture, but it teaches the language at a snail’s pace.

In fact, it reminds us of storybooks designed to teach young children foreign languages, in that it mixes kana with romaji. You’ll see words written half in hiragana, half in romaji. And the entire first textbook won’t teach you any katakana or kanji at all.

There’s also an accompanying video course, YesJapan (review), which contains a ton of useful material. Ironically, in this course, kana and kanji are used.

For serious learners, we think there are better textbooks out there, such as Genki and Minna no Nihongo. But if you’re looking for the textbook equivalent of Duolingo, you might like Japanese From Zero! It’s an easy, fun way to learn the language while never feeling overwhelmed. You’ll make extremely slow progress – but it will still be progress.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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Minna no Nihongo

4.7 
Price: From $35 per volume

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Minna no Nihongo, along with Genki, is one of the most recommended Japanese textbooks you can find – and it lives up to expectations.

There are two beginner-level (shokyu) volumes that roughly correlate to A1–A2 or N5–N4 and two intermediate-level (chokyu) volumes that should take up to N2. Each textbook contains 25 chapters and will teach you grammar, vocabulary, and more. They also come with a CD.

Minna no Nihongo’s main selling point, especially at the beginner level, is that it’s generally more in-depth than other popular textbooks. Compared to Genki, it has more vocabulary and grammar, more exercises, and more accompanying workbooks, including ones specifically for kanji, reading, and writing.

That said, many students are put off by the lack of English in the main textbook. They are entirely in Japanese. You can buy the official Translation and Grammar Notes for each level in a variety of languages, including English, Mandarin, and Spanish. While purchasing two separate texts can be annoying, it also has its positives: you’re pushed to try to understand the Japanese first, plus it makes it more accessible for people who don’t have English as a first language.

You should also learn the kana before getting started with Minna no Nihongo. If you’ve yet to study this, apps like Skritter (review), Scripts (review), and LingoDeer (review) will help you pick it up.

If you’re planning to move to Japan, or want to learn the language as thoroughly as possible, then Minna no Nihongo is a great starting point. You’ll get a strong understanding of the grammar and learn a lot of vocabulary. However, if you’re looking for an easier entry point or don’t want to buy the official translation, check out our review of Genki.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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Wasabi Mini Review: Japanese Classes & Self-Study Lessons

4.2 
Price: Lesson packs from 3,780¥/month

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Wasabi is an online Japanese school that also publishes an impressive amount of free resources for beginner and intermediate learners. This includes grammar guides, graded readers with audio recordings, video lessons, and other self-study materials.

The online classes are one-to-one and typically taught in Japanese, although they will allocate you a teacher who speaks English if you request it. You need to purchase the classes in monthly packs, with a minimum of two per month. There’s no upper limit.

Meanwhile, you can study by yourself without classes using their self-study materials – although, of course, you’ll miss out on the practice opportunities and personalized feedback. These materials are written in English and contain clear, easy-to-follow breakdowns of Japanese grammar, pronunciation, and more. There are no exercises, however, so you’ll have to drill the material on your own.

Whether you take classes with them or not, Wasabi is worth bookmarking. There’s an enormous amount of free, quality resources for beginner and intermediate-level Japanese students. You could use them to supplement courses and textbooks or even to structure your independent studies.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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Japanese For Busy People

2.5 
Price: From $27/volume

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Japanese For Busy People is a popular textbook series, but unless you’re set on learning business vocabulary, we think there are better books available.

The biggest issue with this series is that you won’t learn how to write Japanese in the standard version, which only uses romaji. This not only makes it impossible to read or write, but also means learning the pronunciation is much harder. You can purchase a kana version of the textbook instead, but even that doesn’t teach kanji until the second volume.

The grammar explanations are quite superficial, while the vocabulary is limited and tends to be business-oriented. If you’re learning Japanese to travel, watch anime, or study in Japan, you might become frustrated with the material.

In its favor, it includes a variety of exercises and practice drills. However, we believe there are better Japanese textbooks available. We recommend trying Genki or Minna no Nihongo instead.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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Samidori

3.7 
Price: Free

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samidori is a free online Japanese course from the University of Kyoto, and as you might expect, it’s a comprehensive, well-organized introduction to the language.

There is an extensive range of lessons from absolute beginner up to lower intermediate. They cover the kana, grammar, vocabulary, listening, and reading. However, there are no writing or speaking activities, and although you’ll learn to recognize them, you won’t be taught how to write any kanji. Higher levels also contain fewer lessons than the lower levels.

Most of the lessons follow the same format: the lesson topic and vocabulary are introduced in both Japanese and English, then there are example sentences, audio recordings for the vocabulary and example sentences, and finally practice questions.

For beginners, samidori is a decent introduction to Japanese, although you’ll want to pair it with kanji studies and writing and speaking practice. Intermediate learners, however, will likely want to use it as a supplementary resource only.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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Go! Go! Nihon & Akamonkai Online Japanese Course

2.7 
Price: 90,000¥

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This 12-week beginners Japanese course attempts to recreates the experience of enrolling at a Japanese language school, but from the comfort of your home. You’ll get three to four hours worth of work, including homework, Monday to Friday for almost three months, plus access to a community forum – but it comes at a very high cost.

The course is designed to let you pass the JLPT N5  exam, which means you’ll learn the kana, 80 kanji, 1,000 words, and basic survival Japanese for introducing yourself, shopping, expressing opinions, and so on.

The lessons make use of text, video, downloadable worksheets, audio files, slideshows that break down grammar, and more. You’re prompted to repeat dialogue and participate in role-plays, and you’ll get the answers to your homework the following morning.

However, it’s eye-wateringly expensive. The school justifies it because of the admittedly very high price of studying intensive Japanese courses in Japan. But of course, it’s not really the same as attending a Japanese language school. You’re still studying alone, even though there are learner forums. There’s no pronunciation feedback or group work, just like there aren’t any opportunities to use Japanese outside of the classroom.

If you’re happy with the price point and have four hours free each day, then this course might be a good choice for you. However, there are lots more Japanese courses to choose from, most of which are more affordable. Alternatively, you could study a textbook such as Minna no Nihongo or Genki with the help of an online teacher.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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BunPro

Price: Freemium; subscriptions from $3/month

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BunPro – not to be confused with Bunpo (review) – is a flashcard-based website and app that focuses on grammar. It’s best used as a supplementary resource, and BunPro knows it.

In fact, as you go through the flashcards, BunPro will recommend websites where you can learn more about the grammatical feature or word in question, as well as the page number you should go to in certain textbooks. And as well as opting for the standard course order that seems to correspond with the JLPT, you can choose to study the flashcards in pathways that correspond with Genki, Minna no Nihongo, Tae Kim, and more.

You can dip in and out of the pathways as you wish, and add and remove content from your flashcard reviews. Each level is divided into sublevels and themes, which makes it easy to spot material you don’t yet know. There are also community discussions about the different grammar points.

You could skip the textbooks and just study with BunPro, although it would be a much more superficial introduction to Japanese. What’s more, you would need additional resources for the kana, kanji, vocabulary, and reading, writing, listening and speaking practice.

The clue’s in the name, after all: BunPro wants to help you become a pro at Japanese bunpō or grammar. It doesn’t do much else, but as a supplementary grammar resource, it’s a great tool.

The current rating is our best estimate. We haven’t had the opportunity yet to more thoroughly evaluate this resource, as we do for our full reviews.

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