Japanese

Shirabe Jisho

4.5 
Price: Free

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Shirabe Jisho is a Japanese Dictionary app for Apple users. You can search over 170,000 dictionary entries in both Japanese and English using handwriting, radicals, and romaji.

Each entry is comprehensive, with stroke order diagrams for several thousand Kanji and example sentences from the Tatoeba project. It also provides positive, negative, and masu conjugations when relevant. You can customize your own word list or choose from the pre-made lists that include common words, expressions, slang terms, colloquialisms, JLPT levels, and parts of speech. Unfortunately, the app uses text-to-speech pronunciation, but you can use Forvo on your desktop browser to listen to native speaker pronunciations for free.

The lists of similar kanji under each kanji entry are especially helpful to identify potential mix-ups. Although Shirabe Jisho’s breakdown of kanji components is not as comprehensive as in Kanji Study for Android, it still provides a helpful list of the basic components.

If you have both an Android and an Apple product, Kanji Study for Android is still your best bet. However, for Apple users, Shirabe Jisho is a 100% free and ad-free dictionary option that is well worth your time.

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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Casual Nihongo

3.5 
Price: Free

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Nあ~ Casual Nihongo is a podcast and website that teaches you how Japanese is used in casual contexts.

Most of the episodes feature short, spontaneous conversations between two people, recorded in a public setting. On the Casual Nihongo website, you can find full transcripts of these dialogues with notes on how to use new phrases in context. After March 2020, there are fewer transcriptions of the full dialogues, but you can still find notes on key questions and phrases.

The sound quality varies in each of the episodes — sometimes the voices are difficult to make out because of the background noise. Depending on your goal, this could be good training for listening comprehension, or it could be a little frustrating.

Although Dai, the creator, touches on a few different topics, such as gambling and job-hunting in Japan, most of the episodes focus on dating, which might not appeal to all audiences. However, if you want to learn some slang and familiarize yourself with casual conversations, Causal Nihongo could be an enjoyable, free option. Alternatively, you can also check out Japanese With Noriko or Small Talk in Japanese, which are both podcasts that cover a wide range of topics.

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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lexilogos

3.5 
Price: Free

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Although Lexilogos seems to have entirely neglected its aesthetics, it holds more than meets the eye. If you click on one of the 130+ languages listed at the bottom of the page, you will find a series of resources to support your studies. This is especially useful for less-studied languages, like Marathi, Basque, and Pashto. Although the lists don’t provide recommendations for applications, they do provide a list of dictionaries, keyboards, news sites, books, and research papers. Additionally, if you switch to the French version of the site, there are even more languages and resources available for you to explore.

Within each language’s page, there is also a dictionary search function. You will notice that more commonly studied languages will have dozens of dictionaries to choose from, while less commonly studied languages may only have one or two.

Overall, Lexilogos is a great option for finding resources for less commonly studied languages. They regularly update their site, so make sure to check back if you don’t find what you’re looking for the first time around.

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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Duolingo

Quick Review

Summary:

Duolingo is a super popular free language-learning app. It’s available for desktop as well as mobile and offers over 90 different language courses in over 20 different languages — there are currently 35 languages with English instruction. The Duolingo approach is gamified and easy to use, but the bite-sized lessons don’t offer much in the way of in-depth practice. The Duolingo tag line is “Learn a language in just five minutes a day.”

Quality

It’s easy and fun to use, but some pronunciation and grammar instruction is of low quality, especially for Asian languages.

Thoroughness

The app works well for learning the basics, but there’s little speaking practice and grammar instruction is limited.

Value

It’s a lot of content for free, but you’ll need to use supplementary resources.

Languages: Duolingo offers 35 language courses with English instruction, three of which are constructed languages. Courses are available in most popular languages, including Spanish, French, German, etc.

Price

Duolingo is totally free. Duolingo Plus offers a few additional features and is available for:

$12.99/month (paid monthly)
$6.99/month (12-month subscription)

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Rosetta Stone

Price: Subscriptions start at $35.97 for 3-months

Quick Review

2.7 

Summary:

Rosetta Stone is one of the most well-known resources for learning languages. It takes an immersive approach to teaching and is widely used by corporations and individuals alike. High levels of repetition and an absence of translations or explanations are hallmarks of the course.

A Rosetta Stone course could be most suitable for learners that don’t mind repetitive exercises and prefer to learn from pictures and context rather than translations and explanations. It’s probably not a good option for anyone wanting to significantly improve their speaking or writing skills, or those looking for an engaging course.

Quality

The platform is a bit clunky on desktop, but the material is accurate and presented clearly; lesson mechanics are fairly intuitive.

Thoroughnes

Without much opportunity to build your own sentences, I don’t think you’ll reach a conversational level with any notable speed.

Value

I think there are many more efficient and less expensive ways to learn a language.

Languages

There are courses in 25 different languages — popular ones like Spanish, French, German, Mandarin Chinese, and less-studied languages like Greek, Hebrew, and Swedish.

Price

Subscription Type Subscription Length Total Price* Price Per Month
One Language 3 Months $35.97 $11.99
All Languages 12 Months $179 $14.92
All Languages Lifetime $199 N/A

 

*This is the amount you’ll pay.

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Small Talk in Japanese

4.2 
Price: Free

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Small Talk in Japanese is a podcast for intermediate to advanced Japanese learners to practice listening to real Japanese conversations. Typically the conversations are held by two enthusiastic Japanese friends who discuss topics relevant to Japanese culture and daily life.

Each episode is about 45 minutes long, during which the narrators speak at a relatively natural speed, but not so fast that intermediate learners would struggle to make out each word. The last 5 minutes are dedicated to reviewing the new vocabulary mentioned during the episode. During this review, sometimes one of the narrators explains the new words in Japanese, other times she will provide a direct translation into English. You can also find this vocabulary list on the Small Talk in Japanese blog — if you do visit the site, however, don’t be deceived by the “sign up” function at the top — this will simply sign you up for your own blog, rather than give you extra podcast benefits.

Overall, Small Talk in Japanese is an excellent resource for practicing listening comprehension. You can also check out Japanese With Noriko if you would like more structure in your learning.

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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Polly Lingual

Price: Freemium, yearly subscriptions start at $2.99/mo

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Polly Lingual is a phrasebook app and website with a series of basic word lists, flashcards, and memory games. Some of the phrases are pronounced by native speakers, while others use text-to-voice.

Unlike other phrasebook apps that focus on phrases alone, Polly Lingual introduces the basic alphabet in languages with non-romanized scripts. You can quiz yourself on the basic vowels and consonants in Russian, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese, and Arabic. Polly Lingual may be helpful for a quick review of what you’ve already learned, but if you’re keen on learning to write a new script, you may want to check out Write It! or Write Me.

There are also Polly Ambassadors — tutors who will provide short videos of language learning tips throughout the site. You can send them a personal message or hire them as a private tutor.

Overall, Polly Lingual only teaches basic phrases and will probably not help you learn how to construct your own sentences. If you’re just beginning to learn another language, check out French in Action, Red Kalinka (Russian), Chinesefor.us, 90 Day Korean, Portuguese lab, or Pimsleur to get more out of your time. Also, Italki will give you more options for private tutors, if that’s what you’re looking for.

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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YouGlish

Price: Free

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YouGlish is a website that has indexed millions of video clips to put words in context for language learners. After searching for a word in your target language, you will see a YouTube video with subtitles and your target word highlighted in yellow. When you have heard the word, you can continue listening to the video or move on to the next example. You can also slow down the speed of the audio, click on a sentence in the transcript to replay it, or skip backwards 5 seconds to listen again. Sometimes you can watch over 1000 videos with your target word, other times there may only be a couple dozen available.

Some languages also allow you to choose between different regional dialects, such as: French from Canada or France; Chinese from Taiwan or China; and Spanish from Spain or Latin America.

You will need to search for the word in your target language, so you can check out WordReference or Linguee to get a translation. Forvo also provides audio clips of native speaker pronunciation, but with YouGlish, you can practice listening to these words in context.

If you want help with reading the subtitles, you can download Readlang for on-screen translations. The Zhongwen Chrome extension will be better for Chinese learners, as it provides the pronunciation of each character as well as a definition.

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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Conversations - IWTYAL

3.5 
Price: $197

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Conversations by I Will Teach You a Language is a downloadable program that uses Comprehensible input (CI) as a strategy to improve your language level. Comprehensible input is when you consume second language material that is just above your current level, which in IWTYAL’s case, is about A2-B1 on the CEFR scale.

The Conversations program includes material of a manageable length with full transcripts and English translations. It is 20 chapters long and follows six characters, two of whom have just moved to the countryside from the big city. You will listen to realistic dialogues between the characters and learn everyday colloquialisms and slang. The characters have a variety of accents within each language, and they speak at a relatively natural speed. The series has the same content in each language, but there are variations based on cultural differences.

IWTYAL probably has good quality materials, but it is quite expensive compared to other CI resources. Intermediate learners can check out innerFrench, Japanese With Noriko, Russian With Max, and Dreaming Spanish for some high-quality, free alternatives. Chinese learners might want to check out Du Chinese and The Chairman’s Bao for graded readers with audio. 

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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Jisho

3.8 
Price: Free

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Jisho is an online Japanese dictionary that provides words in context, in addition to definitions, example sentences, audio recordings by native speakers, and stroke order diagrams. Occasionally it will also display collocations and verb conjugations. The example sentences come from Tatoeba, so you may want to double-check that they are correct, as sometimes Tatoeba contributors write in a language in which they are not proficient. The audio files come from WaniKani, whose review you can read here.

You can search for single words in romaji, hiragana, kanji, radicals, English, or by directly drawing the character on the screen. If you search full sentences in hiragana and kanji, the site will identify the different words, phrases, and particles, and link you to each part’s definition. If you want to contribute to the dictionary, you can register as an editor to edit existing entries or add new ones. They also have a Chrome extension, Jisho Pitcher, which shows you the Japanese pitch accents on Jisho’s website.

Overall, Jisho is a decent dictionary to help you learn Japanese in context. However, you may want to check out Kanji Study mobile app for a slightly more organized interface.

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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