In order to write this review, I subscribed to LinguaLift for one month. And, although they have courses available in Japanese, Hebrew, and Russian, I decided to focus this review on their Japanese course.
Having never previously attempted to learn Japanese I was very excited as to what was to come!
The jokey yet informative texts immediately appealed and I shot through quite a few lessons before realizing that I was barely learning any Japanese at all…
The course is very text-based and unfortunately, almost everything is written in English. This means that you’ll almost certainly learn at a slower pace than if you followed another course with a different approach.
Although LinguaLift claims to teach you how ‘to speak, write and read the language’, I saw almost no evidence that students will learn to speak or write using their approach as much of the focus is on teaching students how to read.
This is really where LinguaLift excels and it also teaches you an astounding amount about the culture of Japan and the context in which Japanese is used.
Unfortunately, the high monthly subscription cost means that I can’t recommend LinguaLift.
A good textbook would teach you much of the same content for a fraction of the price.
LinguaLift’s Japanese course consists of two sets of fifty lessons, the first being ‘Survive in Japanese’ and the second being ‘Get Around Japan’.
Each lesson follows on from the one before and so it is probably best to go chronologically.
The first set of fifty lessons teaches you how to read hiragana, katakana, and some kanji as well as how to construct some basic sentences. In addition to this, you learn some basic phrases such as how to introduce yourself, talk a little about your family and some simple questions to ask and answer.
Each lesson always follows the same format and as aforementioned it is a very text-heavy course.
The primer text takes you over a grammar point or some important vocabulary before you do a short assessment to see how much you took in. This usually takes the form of a multiple choice test where you select the correct answer.
After that, you have ‘Like a Local’ which is another text that teaches you all about a certain aspect of Japanese culture or about the language itself.
Once you have read this you then receive your ‘Cake’ which is usually a fun video or text about something typically Japanese. As you can see you really will come away from the course having learned a lot about Japan!
Level 2 or ‘Get Around Japan’ is organized slightly differently as the lessons come in sets with one task-based lesson being followed by a couple of grammar lessons that look at the key vocabulary and concepts that came up in the original lesson.
All of the fifty lessons in Level 2 are meant to be very practical as they look at topics such as how to get around Tokyo, how to make a dinner reservation and what to ask for at the pharmacy.
While the lessons in Level 2 are very similar to those in Level 1, there are a couple of extra features and you’ll find a lot more Japanese written in the primer text.
The ‘Assessment’ and ‘Like a Local’ sections are the same and these are followed by ‘Script’ and ‘Vocabulary’ sections where you see the kanji for a word and then have to select the right option from the multiple answers you have available.
Once you’ve accessed your LinguaLift account either through the free trial or by paying a monthly subscription to the course, you simply read through the introductory text which is welcoming and encouraging and brightened up with emojis.
After that it is time to get started with, well, the ‘Let’s Get Started’ lesson!
This ‘Primer text’ introduces you to a few useful expressions and at this early stage the words are written in the Latin alphabet and you can click on ‘show translation’ to see what it is exactly that they mean in English.
The words are also accompanied by a short audio clip you can play so that you can hear how the word is pronounced. Having gone through the text and clicked ‘done’ you are rewarded with your first medal which, it turns out, you get for doing almost anything and nothing at all.
Next follows a short assessment and if like me you’re a complete beginner, you too may feel a bit taken aback at your first bit of Japanese! The assessments take the form of a short multiple response quiz where you simply have to select the right option to fill in the blank and the first lesson only asks you that one question.
Next up is the ‘Like a Local’ section which is a text that introduces you to some aspect of Japanese culture and throughout the course, these are always in English.
Following this interesting and informative text is the Vocabulary section which shows you the words and phrases you went over in the Primer text. Once again, there is a short quiz to see how much you remember and again, you’ll have to fill in the blank with the correct answer.
The word is played out loud and when you choose the right answer an encouraging sound rings out.
The end of the lesson culminates in you being rewarded with cake which is usually a fun video or an interesting text about some part of Japanese culture.
As I continued to work through the early lessons I became a bit taken aback at how much English was used all of the time and how so much focus was placed on reading without any mention of speaking or writing coming up at all.
After the first five lessons I’d read about ten or fifteen pages of English and while I had learned quite a few interesting things about Japan’s rich cultural heritage; I really hadn’t been introduced to very much Japanese at all.
As aforementioned a lot of the focus was on learning how to read Japan’s three scripts and early on LinguaLift claims that students that stick with their method until Level 6 will know ‘more kanji than the average Japanese person’.
While the heavy focus on learning how to read probably makes this a possibility, I don’t think there are even 6 levels available for learners to work through!
While the use of Japanese is quite scant in the earlier lessons, it certainly picks up as the course progresses although the texts remain predominantly in English right until the end of Level 2.
I was also disappointed to find that every single lesson looks almost identical to the others. This makes it quite boring to go through despite the engaging manner in which the texts are written. Making matters worse, every single exercise is in the format of a fill in the blank or select the right answer question, which I thought was quite unimaginative.
One nice feature of LinguaLift which I thought was really useful is that any kanji you come across you can click on it and it’ll come up with a translation for it as well as a definition and an audio clip so that you can hear how it is pronounced.
Throughout the course, you get to hear a number of different speakers which is good although it is a shame that you don’t actually get to practice any speaking yourself.
Even Lesson 3 ‘Introducing Yourself’ doesn’t make any reference to actually speaking or introducing yourself to anyone!
It instead goes into the grammar and culture around introductions in Japan, making no reference as to how you yourself should practice the material and learn how to introduce yourself to someone in Japanese. The whole focus again was on the writing side of things.
The ‘Get Around Japan’ lessons are slightly better in this regard as some dialogues do pop up although there is again no way for you to practice them yourself and bizarrely no instructions are given as to what you are meant to do with the lesson.
Instead, you are taken through likely situations and dialogues that will arise in a certain setting.
The ‘At a Hospital’ lesson, for instance, says you’ll learn how to ‘say parts of the body and explain what’s wrong with them’ but you are just given the information and not told how to practice saying it or how to improve your pronunciation which seems a bit strange to me.
While the course certainly does progress in difficulty, it was a bit disappointing to see the Assessment, Script and Vocabulary sections remaining the same throughout all of the hundred lessons as they are all almost identical fill in the blank quizzes.
You are also greeted with a ‘well done!’ whether you get the quizzes right or not which detracts from what the encouraging music and bright colors are meant to achieve. One good feature amongst all of this is that at certain intervals it is time for your daily review and this goes over all of the material you’ve covered to date.
Although I quite enjoyed reading through its quirky and informative texts in the beginning, I started to get the feeling that I wasn’t making much progress and the repetitive nature of each lesson and heavy use of English started to grate a bit.
As someone who primarily learns languages to be able to communicate and speak with people, the lack of any speaking practice at all really put me off which was very disappointing.
Your communication skills would be improved much faster by finding a tutor on italki.
I didn’t even come away knowing the basics of how to hold a very simple conversation. LinguaLift didn’t do much to encourage this as all of the focus was placed on learning how to read with only passing mentions to speaking actually coming up.
While I think there are a lot of ways in which LinguaLift could improve, it has a number of good things about it and I’m certain that beginner learners will come away with a much greater knowledge and understanding of kanji as well as the cultural context in which Japanese is spoken.
If it was marketed as a course which teaches you how to read and understand Japanese script then I’d feel much more comfortable with what is on offer. Although, for the price quoted, I’d still find it hard to recommend it as a good textbook will cover much of the same material albeit in a less entertaining manner.
At the top of its price page, LinguaLift has ‘one price, no surprises’ emblazoned across the top of it and so one month’s subscription costs $29 and this gains you access to the three languages that the platform currently offers: Russian, Japanese and Hebrew.
If you decide to pay annually you save 40% and so pay $204 for the whole year rather than $349 if you pay each month individually. You can easily decide to cancel your subscription at any time and it only takes two clicks to stop your payments.
To see if you like LinguaLift’s method, you can sign up for a free lesson which will give you some idea as to how their approach works and whether you think it will suit your preferred way of learning a language.
This gives you free access to the first lesson of each level so you can see how the course progresses and whether the level it is pitched at is appropriate for you.
While beginner learners will almost certainly learn some Japanese (or whichever language they choose), I, unfortunately, don’t think that LinguaLift is that good of a resource and so serious language learners should probably look elsewhere.
Although it is quite well-designed and easy to use, the vast majority of the content is in English and so you end up reading endless texts while learning relatively little Japanese.
The content is not very interactive and the formulaic approach gets a bit old after a while. Each lesson only introduces you to a handful of new words and speaking practice doesn’t come up at all as far as I can see.
The ‘gamification’ aspect where little green ticks and circles appear when you complete a section also fails to entice you to study as you get told ‘Well done!’ even if you’ve got absolutely everything wrong.
While you may not learn how to speak Japanese, understand it in a spoken context or be able to write at all, LinguaLift does teach you how to read Japanese and that seemed to be the priority of the platform although they also do claim that they’ll ‘teach you how to speak, write and read the language’.
Indeed, most of the Level 1 content seemed to focus on teaching you how to read while Level 2 introduces you to some important grammar points.
Although you sadly won’t come away speaking Japanese, LinguaLift’s strong point is teaching you about the language and culture of Japan and you’ll certainly come away with a deeper insight into the country and its customs.
The texts are interesting and informative to read and there are lots of little jokes scattered throughout the platform. It’s just a shame that as almost everything is in English, you don’t actually come away having read or learned much Japanese despite having read ten pages of text.
More of an entertaining and informative online textbook than a course per se, LinguaLift is a really good resource if (and only if) your priority is to learn how to read Japanese scripts and gain a great understanding and insight into Japanese culture and traditions.
The lessons are all geared towards teaching you how to read and while they do this very well, very little effort is placed on teaching students how to speak Japanese or understand conversations.
The heavy use of English also means that students will probably progress slower than when using other resources. The repetitive nature of the lessons and exercises means that the quirky and generally quite fun writing style soon wears thin.
To stand any chance of learning Japanese, language learners would have to use LinguaLift alongside another resource or two and the price of $29 a month for what essentially amounts to a glorified textbook means that it is hard to recommend the platform to serious students looking to improve their Japanese.