Whether it’s studying for the JLPT, preparing for a vacation in Japan, or an affinity for Japanese culture, there are lots of reasons people are learning Japanese.
Study options for Japanese learners are many; one of the most popular and quickly-growing types of resources is the language app. People often favor apps because they afford the learner a lot of flexibility and tend to be inexpensive or free. That said, they don’t always make the most comprehensive solutions and are usually best used as supplementary resources.
In this post, we’ll take a look at some of our favorite Japanese language apps, organized by category. The list we’ve compiled is nowhere near comprehensive, but it’s a good sample of the many we’ve tested as well as some popular alternatives.
Best for Practicing Oral Communication Skills: Pimsleur
Best Interactive Course: Lingodeer
Best for Thorough Instruction: Human Japanese
Best for Grammar Practice: Bunpo
Most Engaging Vocabulary Practice: Memrise
Most Versatile Option for Vocabulary Practice: Anki
Best for Learning Vocabulary from Context: Clozemaster
Best Dictionary App: Takoboto
Best Podcast-Style Lessons: JapanesePod101
Best for Side-by-Side Reading: Beelinguapp
Best for Using Reading as a Study Tool: Tangoristo
Best for Story-Based Learning: Satori Reader
Best Original Free Reading Content: Manga Method
Best Japanese Radio App: Radio Japan
Best for Pronunciation Feedback: Speechling
Best for Writing Feedback: italki
Best for Finding a Tutor: italki
Best for Quick Questions: HiNative
While many Japanese language apps specialize in teaching one or two aspects of the language, the apps in this category use a curriculum and make an attempt at teaching several. They almost certainly end up teaching some skills better than others, but they can make a reasonable option for beginners looking for a more comprehensive way to start out with the language.
Not a fan of grammar rules? This app might be up your alley. The Pimsleur philosophy has learners practice the language by using it, grammar instruction left behind completely. Naturally, this method will appeal more to some than others. Those that need to know the why behind the way things are should look elsewhere. This also isn’t a good option for becoming proficient in written Japanese.
While it has its downsides, it’s hard to ignore the fact that this app gets users producing the language orally right away. This is great for building confidence in Japanese and starting to practice pronunciation right away. You’ll also get loads of listening practice starting almost immediately. Review.
Apps that gamify the learning experience can be a refreshing change of pace for learners who aren’t fond of a textbook-style approach, and Lingodeer falls into this category. It manages to achieve a good balance between fun activities and quality instruction. It especially stands out in the category of Asian languages, somewhere other similar apps often fall short.
It may not be totally free like insanely popular Duolingo, but it has better audio and grammar explanations. For Japanese, it’s really no contest between the two. Review.
Human Japanese was created by a small dedicated team, and it shows. The app is extremely thorough, with explanations for just about everything every step of the way. It takes the absolute beginner through learning how to read and write with an engaging and personable writing style.
In many ways, it´s essentially an interactive textbook. The material is all presented via text, and you´ll do a fair amount of reading. There are animated writing instructions with stroke order for teaching Kana and Kanji, and there are some basic quizzes and practice activities to help you test your knowledge.
Although this resource is very thorough in its instructions, you´ll probably need to find some extra methods for committing what you learn to memory. Practice opportunities are what Human Japanese lacks most. Review.
We haven’t had the chance to fully test this one, but it’s a popular app that’s convenient and fun to use. Through interactive lesson activities and lots of grammar explanations, users are able to learn and practice material at any of the JLPT levels.
It’s pretty comprehensive in that you can start from the beginning with the Japanese alphabet and theoretically progress all the way to material at the JLPT N1 level. Built-in study tools include SRS flashcard review, a Japanese dictionary/translator, and grammar quizzes. Bunpo Plus is a paid subscription with some additional features.
There are a ton of Japanese apps that function as general courses. Here are some options that are commonly recommended but not necessarily our favorites.
It’s free, wildly popular, and fun to use, but Asian languages aren’t its strong suit. There are better options for learning Japanese. Review.
This resource feels a bit like a textbook in that there’s a lot of reading involved and the lessons are all text-based. You’ll get some good practice, but you’ll have to wade through a bunch of English to get it. Review.
The Rocket Languages series is a popular one that offers decent courses for general practice in some languages, but Asian languages aren’t its forte. Review.
Busuu has got a cool social feature, a great layout, and some really good courses. Its Asian-language courses, however, aren’t the best out there. Review.
The edX courses are free online university courses, meaning the instruction is likely to be thorough and potentially on the formal side. Learners can usually pay for a certificate upon completion.
This is another source for online courses, though only some of them are free. It’s worth keeping an eye out for sales, as courses here are frequently offered at massive discounts.
The Mango Languages courses are easy to use, with a nice interface and some quality exercises, but it’s lacking in the way of grammar explanations. Best for learners at the beginner or intermediate level. Review.
Mondly could make a good resource for someone preparing for a vacation in Japan, but it won’t help you learn more than the basics and some vocabulary. Review.
Its immersive approach has made it one of the more famous language resources out there, but it’s very repetitive and won’t supply you with any explanations. This isn’t the best way for most people to learn Japanese. Review.
Word Dive is easy to use, and its short practice activities make it a convenient option, but you won’t get any grammar explanations or detailed instruction. Review.
In addition to its impressive library of free user-created content, Memrise stands out because it’s both effective and fun to use. Like most apps with a good flashcard feature, it uses spaced repetition (SRS) to help you practice the words you need the most help with. This is one of the fastest ways to commit new language items to long-term memory.
There’s a lot of free material on Memrise, including some access to the official Memrise Japanese courses, which include videos, pictures, and native speaker audio. Full access to these courses is available for a subscription. Review.
This is another flashcard app that uses spaced repetition to deliver powerful and efficient vocabulary practice. What makes it special is its high potential for customizability. With Anki, users can make their own decks of material they want to memorize. You can use images, audio, special tags, and tweak your study preferences until they’re just how you like them.
There is a bit of a learning curve with creating your own Anki decks, but there are also quite a few decks for learners of Japanese already made by other users. This is a good option for those that want to get started right away. With Japanese, you won’t have to create your own study decks if you don’t want to.
Clozemaster’s retro arcade feel sets it apart from other resources right away, but it’s also got a cool approach to teaching vocabulary. As the name suggests, this app teaches vocab through cloze deletion activities, presenting new vocabulary in the context of a sentence. This method gets users accustomed to seeing the words as they’re actually used.
The arcade aesthetic is present in just about every aspect of the app — completing exercises gains users points, propelling them through levels and leaderboards. The free version of this app offers a good amount of useful practice, and the premium version includes some extra features. Review.
This is one of the best offline Japanese dictionaries available. It’s got over 170,000 Japanese language entries with English translations, example sentences, and conjugated forms of verbs. There are also ready-made study lists, flashcards, history and favorites lists, and the ability to export words to the Anki app. This one does much more than simply provide definitions.
Here are some more apps focused on vocabulary acquisition that didn’t make our favorites. They each have their own merits and could be right for some people.
Upsides to this app are its entertaining interface and the chance to learn some good everyday vocabulary. Grammar lessons are lacking, however, and you won’t learn more than one verb form. It isn’t ideal for absolute beginners. Review.
StickyStudy is a flashcard app that makes it feel like you’re using real, physical flashcards. It uses SRS and provides solid Kanji practice.
This app uses SRS and gets users to make their own flashcards in the interest of making them more memorable. In-depth explanations are lacking, and some features are still being developed. Review.
uTalk is really only valuable as a way to learn a handful of set phrases and words before a trip, it doesn’t offer any depth or extra features. Review.
The amount of listening content available on JapanesePod101 is staggering, and while the lessons from ten years ago aren’t as good as the more recent ones, it’s still one of the best places to get Japanese listening practice.
It’s worth mentioning that this won’t be adequate as your only resource for learning Japanese. For listening practice though, there’s a lot to like. The huge amount of content means that there are quality lessons for learners at all levels, though the material at the advanced level isn’t quite as exceptional. Each audio lesson comes with detailed notes that make it easy to learn a great deal. Review.
These are web browser extensions for Chrome that share some functionality with LingQ and Readlang but are made specifically for Japanese. They are free to install and display the definitions of words you hover over with your mouse on any web page. You’ll also get some extra information about the Kanji you select, and there is support for text-to-speech playback.
Yomichan has the added benefit of allowing users to import material directly into Anki for later study. For iOS users, Rikaitan is a version that’s compatible with Safari.
Beelinguapp helps users interact with Japanese text by displaying it alongside their native language. This method is useful for seamlessly switching between the two languages to ensure you understand the material. You also have the option to hide the translated text to be sure you aren’t relying on it more than you need to.
The variety of material on the app is appealing — you’ll find everything from fairy tales to news stories. There’s also a “karaoke” function that allows users to follow along with an audio recording of the text, highlighting sentences as they’re spoken.
This Japanese reader app was created with language learners in mind and is one of the better options out there for the language. Its primary function is to help make the time you spend reading more efficient as a language study method. Instead of reading passively, you can sort articles by difficulty level, highlight vocabulary by JLPT level, bookmark words and documents, and of course, easily translate any word or phrase in the text.
This Japanese reader uses the power of narrative to make your study time engaging and efficient. Through several series of varying themes, articles and stories are posted weekly, often as a continuation of a storyline. The material is written for learners at a variety of levels, and native speaker audio is provided for each.
The platform offers helpful translations that carefully consider the context in which you encounter words, the SRS review option is good, and there are useful grammar explanations. You will need to be able to read at least basic Japanese to use this app efficiently. Review.
Best Original Free Reading Content
This resource offers entertaining manga stories with translations in many different languages, Japanese included. It’s a community-driven project that accepts translation and audio-recording contributions from users. This makes it free to use and also means that new content is continuously being updated. Stories come with high-quality illustrations and are a fun way to get some practice with Japanese.
It might not be a feasible option for beginners, but listening to Japanese radio can make a great addition to fill out your study plan. Listening to native material is one of the best ways to get used to the way the language sounds as it’s actually spoken. It’s also a great way to get some cultural insights to deepen your understanding and relationship with the language.
The Radio Japan app gives access to over 1,000 stations, making it likely you’ll find a few stations that interest you. Topics covered include sports, music, news, talk shows, and more. You will have to sit through the occasional ad, but this app is free.
LingQ is an app for language learners looking to get reading practice. It works similarly to Tangoristo and Satori Reader but supports several different languages. Review.
FluentU takes content from Youtube and adds interactive subtitles. Access to videos with authentic Japanese is useful, but this one isn’t quite worth the price. Review.
Audiobooks are full of potential for good listening practice. Audible has options specifically for Japanese language learners as well as books in Japanese.
Flowlingo helps users interact with content in Japanese by making it easy to look up words as you read or to interact with subtitles when watching videos.
Speechling is a stand-out resource when it comes to getting feedback on pronunciation. It’s an area in which a lot of language apps simply fall short. Instead of relying on voice recognition technology, which has its shortcomings, Speechling gets real humans involved. The process involves mimicking native speakers to try and sound as natural as possible and then having your pronunciation evaluated by a teacher.
A free membership with the site enables you to submit a limited number of recordings to be evaluated each month. Paying for a premium membership means you’ll be able to submit an unlimited number of recordings each month and gain access to a few extra features. Review.
Writing in any foreign language can be a daunting prospect, especially if it uses a completely different writing system. Sentence construction and vocabulary aside, learners of Japanese will first have to master the different writing systems. Fortunately, there are apps that help learners with just that.
Write It! Japanese teaches Hiragana and Katakana stroke order and provides practice opportunities by having the user draw the character on their phone, stroke by stroke. There are also customizable tests and stars for completing challenges to keep things interesting. It’s a good option for learning the basics of the writing system.
Skritter is an even more powerful option that teaches Kanji in addition to Kana. This one is better suited to the learner that’s more committed to learning to write in Japanese. It’s also more expensive. Skritter review.
Once you’re familiar with the Japanese writing systems, you’ll be able to put more of your thoughts into writing. You’ll probably still need some help crafting grammatically correct, natural-sounding sentences, though. To this end, feedback from real humans that are proficient in Japanese is hard to beat.
italki may be known best for its function as a massive online tutor directory, but its Exercise feature is a solid option for learners looking to get good writing practice. Here’s how it works: users can post a piece of writing in Japanese to have it corrected by others. This feature is free and a good way to get feedback on the things a spellchecker can’t help you with. Review. Right now get a $10 credit with your first purchase.
Another option you might consider for getting feedback is LangCorrect. It was designed specifically with writing feedback in mind and is free, but its community isn’t quite as big as italki’s.
This is one of the better places to find a Japanese language teacher online. It’s also got some cool extra features.
The number of teachers scheduling lessons on italki is one of its greatest advantages. For Japanese alone, there are over 450 available tutors. This is great for the language learner — finding a tutor with a price, schedule, and teaching style that fits your preferences should be no problem at all. The platform has convenient search filters which make this process even easier.
The app also has a free community features section. While it isn’t as seamless or feature-rich as dedicated language exchange apps, plenty of people use it as a way to meet interested language partners. Messaging a Japanese-speaker that’s learning your native language is really easy, and it’s free. Review. Right now get a $10 credit with your first purchase.
Both of these apps work really well for anyone interested in accessible language exchange. They’re essentially social chat apps with a strong language-learning bent. It’s easy to find tons of viable language partners on either app, and each has built-in language tools to help you communicate.
The differences between the two are largely stylistic, and they both have extra language instruction available for a subscription. Where HelloTalk has more of a cartoony feel, Tandem is sleek and trendy. The extra language instruction on HelloTalk is in the form of audio lessons, and Tandem offers a tutoring service, but these apps are probably best used for their language exchange features. HelloTalk review. Tandem review.
You definitely won’t be able to make this one your only study resource, but it can make an incredibly useful tool. HiNative connects language learners with questions to people that are proficient in that language. It’s the perfect resource for getting quick answers to questions you can’t look up in a dictionary or textbook.
The way it works is pretty simple. Post a Japanese-related question and wait for a response. There are some pre-made question templates to make the process smoother, and getting a response usually happens very quickly. Of course, there’s always the possibility that random people on the internet will give inaccurate advice, but it’s a rare occurrence on this site. Review.
Similar to italki, Verbling is a quality directory of online tutors. The platform requires higher credentials than other platforms, meaning fewer teachers and slightly higher prices. Review.
Another online tutor directory, Preply has a huge number of teachers at often very low prices. Keep in mind that it doesn’t pay its teachers very much and not at all for trial lessons. Review.
Speaky is a social language exchange app centered around chatting. It’s got built-in language tools and a large community, but many users aren’t focused on language practice. Review.
It’s worth mentioning again, this list doesn’t even come close to covering every Japanese app out there. It also doesn’t cover a lot of really great resources that simply aren’t available as apps.
Oftentimes, it’s necessary to take advantage of more than just one resource in your mission to learn a language. A lot of the apps in this post are seriously useful, but they’re also usually best when used in conjunction with other practice methods. That said, the number of options is incredible; you should have no trouble finding one or two that work for you.