For this review, I subscribed to their course and tested it out myself.
Similarly, although I think JapanesePod101 is a solid resource for improving listening skills, I recognize that it’s not ideal as a standalone course, so was hoping to find that there.
After logging in for the first time, I was immediately greeted with a plethora of different courses and was amazed to see the variety available as grammar, vocabulary and conversation classes all jumped out at me.
I, unfortunately, ended up just as disappointed if not more so, as the twenty-nine courses and thousand+ lessons included in the Supercourse all looked almost identical and weren’t very engaging to go through.
Despite there being so much content; speaking, reading long texts and understanding conversations were all overlooked for the most part and it instead amounted to the most in-depth grammar course ever.
While there is absolutely loads of content to go through, learners using it would have to be very serious and diligent and be prepared to read endless pages without being asked to produce much Japanese as there are almost no exercises for you to do.
In addition to this, you would need to hire a teacher online if you ever wanted to have any conversation practice.
You do however come away with a much greater understanding of Japanese grammar, pronunciation and how the language is really spoken in everyday life.
Nihongo Shark’s Hacking Japanese Supercourse includes access to twenty-nine courses and there are over a thousand lessons for you to work through.
According to Nihongo Shark, the bundle of courses takes you right from the most basic level where you’re just starting to familiarize yourself with simple words and phrases, through the intermediate stage right up until you’re speaking advanced Japanese.
While certain courses focus solely on teaching you how to read and write, others give you an in-depth look at grammar and teach you how to pronounce the words you’re learning.
Along the way, you’re given tips and advice on how to make the most of all of the material at your disposition.
All in all, there is absolutely loads for you to work through and the resources on offer vary as some lessons involve flashcards while others get you listening to audio clips or practicing your kanji.
The Supercourse is split into four phases with each section progressing in difficulty and the amount of Japanese used in the classes.
For instance, the ‘Journey to the Dojo’ phase teaches you how to read kana as well as the grammar basics and at the end of it, you’ll be able to start having some simple conversations in Japanese.
The final phase, ‘Follow your Destiny’, teaches you the most advanced grammar rules and Nihongo Shark says that at the end you should be able to get by completely in Japanese.
Each of the various courses that make up each phase has lots of different lessons for you to work through and as you may have been able to tell from the names, there are a lot of jokes and humor sprinkled throughout.
Most of the lessons have long texts and grammar explanations for you to read through and only the Toby in Tokyo course is different in this respect as here you’ll find twelve video lessons.
Despite all of the content and various courses, there is very little asked of students in terms of exercises and quizzes as you are rather told everything and are not asked to produce much Japanese.
Once you’ve signed up, you’re taken directly to an overview of what the Hacking Japanese Supercourse involves. This outlines the journey you’re about to go on and gives you links to a couple of pages which will help you out if you ever get confused as to what you’re meant to do next.
In all honesty, it is a bit confusing and overwhelming at the start as there are links to twenty-nine different courses on the page!
As the Supercourse assumes that you’re a beginner, you don’t need to choose any settings or preferences but more advanced learners can skip ahead once they’ve figured out how everything works. This ‘HJS Core’ course is where you start off and it basically amounts to a long introduction and roadmap as to what the course entails.
So once you’ve read the Overview, click ‘complete and continue’ at the top of the page and this will take you on to an introduction section which tells you about Niko, the founder of Nihongo Shark and his journey learning Japanese.
These early pages also tell you about the language, whether it is hard to learn and gives you some tips and advice to bear in mind when working through all the material.
A brief roadmap of what you can expect to learn in each phase is also included. If you complete phase four then you should be able to enjoy manga, video games and tv shows in Japanese as well as get by in a group setting with friends.
After this comes the ‘Prepping for your adventure’ part of the course and here you’re given tips on how to motivate yourself and keep up your studies with an emphasis being placed on learn – review – practice.
Throughout the texts, Niko’s humor shines through and it’s all written in a very personable and engaging manner without losing focus of what it’s trying to teach you.
From here on, the rest of the HJS Core course looks at each section of each learning phase in a bit more detail, telling you what to expect and what you can hope to get out of the material.
It, unfortunately, doesn’t clearly lead on to wherever you’re meant to actually start learning Japanese but I’m assuming it’s the Kana Mastery course.
This course teaches you how to read, write and pronounce both hiragana and katakana. By the end of it, you’ll have learned around 700 words.
So what does a lesson look like?
The first lesson with material for you to work through is ‘Why Japanese is mad easy to pronounce’ and this somewhat confusingly begins with a very long tangent although it is related to the lesson.
As there’s no real introduction until after the tangent, it seems a bit of a strange way to begin your first steps into learning Japanese.
After this, however, the lesson is very useful and straightforward as it takes you through how to pronounce all of the vowels and consonants in Japanese. There are lots of audio clips for you to go through to hear what each of them sounds like.
It also teaches you how to make each sound with each consonant which I thought was really useful and well-done.
In the next few lessons in the pronunciation section of the course, Niko gives some tips and tricks on how to make the sounds of the language as well as lots of invaluable insight on what mistakes to avoid and how you can sound as natural as possible.
Next follows the writing section of the course which includes lots of explanations about how Japanese works in terms of writing its various scripts.
It is only in the ‘Kana Destruction Kit’ part of the Kana Mastery course that we are actually asked to produce anything in Japanese. Unfortunately, it’s not very engaging as we’re simply meant to download and listen to the audios of how Kana are pronounced before slowly working our way through 700 commonly used vocabulary words.
By listening to them and writing down the kana of what we hear, with practice and repetition we should be able to learn all of the hiragana and katakana as well as the words themselves.
So now that we’ve looked at some of what the Hacking Japanese Supercourse has to offer, what do some of the other courses look like and what are some of the positives and negatives of using all the material?
Although I came away a bit disappointed with the Kana Mastery course, there was lots of useful information packed into it and learners would certainly gain a lot of insight into how Japanese is written, read and pronounced. For instance, there are lots of tips on how to sound like a native and you’re also told how to avoid making common mistakes.
While Niko writes in an engaging and informal manner and certainly goes into a lot of depth, it still appeared a little bit too much like a textbook for my liking and after all the explanations the course basically boils down to – memorize all these kana.
Whether through flashcards or audio files, it doesn’t sound the most inspiring and engaging method to me as he recommends going through them around fifty times.
If you are dedicated and motivated enough though, you’ll come away knowing 700 commonly used words, how to pronounce them perfectly and you’ll also have learned all the hiragana and katakana as well as how to write all the characters.
Not bad if you put in the time!
Intrigued by its name, I next had a look at the Bunkai Beast course.
Niko is again very encouraging right from the start and I like that he tells you what you’ll learn at the very beginning of the course.
To make the most of this one you really need to have quite a good grasp of hiragana and katakana and so it builds on the Kana Mastery course we just looked at.
What follows are lots of lectures on various aspects of Japanese grammar and Niko is great at explaining how it all works and what differences there are in comparison with English. Audio files of the words and sentences that he uses as an example accompany any explanations and he is also great at answering any questions in the comment section at the end of each lesson.
Each lecture also builds on the one before and so there is a very coherent feel to it as you progress through the lectures.
A criticism again is that I went through seventeen lectures before actually being asked to produce even just a couple of example sentences.
As such, I didn’t find it very engaging or interactive and I don’t honestly know if I could complete the whole course by simply reading through all the grammar points. There are over a hundred lectures in the course for you to work through and they all have a nearly identical look about them which makes it a bit monotonous after a while.
If you do decide to take the course, I’d recommend using italki’s Notebooks section to practice these grammar points by writing and getting feedback from a Japanese speaker (it’s free).
Niko does explain everything very clearly though and the depth he goes into is impressive. I saw quite a lot of people commenting on how useful his explanations were.
The course though basically ends up being a more personable version of a Japanese textbook which you simply have to read through. There is very little for you to engage with apart from a small exercise that is thrown up every now and again.
In contrast to the HJS Core, Kana Mastery and Bunkai Beast courses that we have just looked at, the Toby in Tokyo course is less text heavy and takes the form of short anime videos.
Varying between 30 seconds and two minutes in length, the videos have lots of different characters for you to listen to and the conversations are quite short and to the point. The language used isn’t too complicated which is ideal if you’re a beginner and you can also follow the conversations with the script that is provided in both English and Japanese.
These scripts are accompanied by audio of everything that is said in the video so you can listen to them in isolation which is very useful as the conversation goes quite quickly. You can also slow down the video to half-speed and this really helps you to hear how they say each word and sentence.
Another great feature of this course is that Niko goes through each video and provides a breakdown of what is going on, looks at the cultural context and also explains how the grammar works and any vocabulary points that come up.
He goes into great depth and it usually takes him around ten to twenty-five minutes to go through the short videos. There are twelve of these anime videos for you to work through and although they’re not the most fun videos in the world to watch, you will learn a lot from them and it makes a nice break from the other text-heavy materials.
The Hacking Japanese Supercourse also gives you access to Niko’s Daily Lessons (NDL) and there are now around 800 or more lessons for you to work through. These sometimes look at pronunciation points, grammar, the culture of Japan and specific vocabulary that you’ll need in certain situations.
The example sentences are again written in English and Japanese which is very useful and they give a thorough walk-through of how to use the material discussed in the lesson. They are again written in an informal, personable and encouraging manner.
While later courses do have a slight increase in the amount of Japanese used, there aren’t any lessons solely in Japanese and the formula again stays the same as you are introduced to some short sentences or grammar points for you to learn.
This is a shame and there are again no exercises or quizzes for you to do and you’re never really called on to practice or show what you’ve been learning.
Despite the twenty-nine different courses and the probably thousands of lessons available within the Hacking Japanese Supercourse, it all looks very similar and unfortunately isn’t very engaging to work through.
It does, however, offer up a very comprehensive look at Japanese grammar and how the language works. In many respects, it’s similar to a course textbook.
I came away pretty disappointed however as you are explained a lot and asked to read an insane amount but aren’t encouraged to present or practice anything – apart from essentially memorizing endless words and phrases or grammar points.
Given just how extensive this course is, I am frankly astonished that so little is asked of the students and exercises only popped up very very infrequently.
While a lot of time and effort has been put into it and there is a progression from one course to another, I think you would have to be a very diligent and serious student to work through all of the material without getting overwhelmed or bored.
With all that it offers, there is very little focus placed on speaking (despite the in-depth look at pronunciation at the beginning) and the only ‘course’ that looks at getting you to have a conversation encourages you to look for teachers on other platforms.
I understand that it may not be feasible to give students tutoring with their course, but students could still be encouraged to record themselves speaking, and even share it with the community.
Basically, anything that gets students to speak aloud, write, and practice what they’ve learned would make a huge difference.
While I was originally shocked at how cheap Nihongo Shark was for all the content that it offered, after working through quite a number of the lessons I now actually think it risks being a bit expensive.
This is because you essentially get a slightly more humorous version of a textbook.
I think Nihongo Shark’s Hacking Japanese Supercourse has a lot going for it. There’s an excellent base of well-written content. If they were to go back into it and include significantly more exercises for you to practice the content, it could be an outstanding course.
However, as it stands now, I would only really recommend it to very serious students who love grammar, are very committed to learning the language, and recognize that they’ll need to find other resources to practice what they’ve learned.
While there are a few different options available to language learners when it comes to signing up for the Hacking Japanese Supercourse, Nihongo Shark also offers a couple of different free courses if you want to give them a go before deciding whether to subscribe.
Although the ‘How to Learn Japanese’ course is admittedly more tips and tricks on how to learn the language, it is still useful to go through and can point you in the direction of some resources that might help you on your journey.
The ‘Kana Mastery’ course is also free for you to try out and this will teach you how to read, write and pronounce various words and phrases. They are both included in the bundle of courses that make up the Hacking Japanese Supercourse and are a great way to see whether Nihongo Shark’s teaching approach will suit your learning needs.
When it comes to payment options for the supercourse, you can either pay month by month or by year.
For a basic subscription to the course, you’ll get access to the HJS Walkthrough and lots of different courses that range from the Kana Mastery Course we saw above to a Caveman Convo Course, a Bunkai Beast Grammar Course, a 2K Functional Vocabulary Course and more.
There really is a lot included and this will already get you to a good level if you follow the courses diligently. If you pay month by month, the basic subscription costs $14 and if you sign up for the whole year then it works out at only $12 a month.
The HJS Premium course includes everything from the basic package as well as a whole lot more. This means you gain access to the Toby in Tokyo Video Course, numerous grammar courses, a Travel Japanese course and over 700 of Niko’s Daily Lessons which are continuously being added to.
These are delivered in an informal manner and teach you a lot of Japanese that wouldn’t come up in a lot of courses and you also learn about the culture of Japan at the same time.
If you pay per month, this bundle of courses costs $22 and it is slightly cheaper if you sign up for a year as this then drops to $20. For annual subscriptions, there is a 14-day money back guarantee if you’re not happy with your purchase.
As you will have noticed from the screenshots, there is also an HJS Lifetime subscription offer whereby you pay $999 and that gains you access to all of the material and any future updates for life.
While I was originally gobsmacked that Niko was offering up all this material which contains so many courses and lessons for such a cheap price, I am now not too sure if either the Basic or Premium subscriptions are worth it as so much of the material is very similar and isn’t much different than a textbook.
With the Basic subscription, you certainly will learn a lot as a beginner – it just might not be that fun. A number of the courses also pretty much amount to tips and tricks on how to learn Japanese and then point you to another resource for you to use.
The Kana Mastery course, for instance, gives you endless audios to listen to and flashcards to work through but then you’re pretty much left by yourself. The Caveman Convo course also points you to hiring a teacher online but off of Nihongo Shark and the Kanji Mastery course again essentially leaves you to work through endless flashcards by yourself.
The Basic subscription does, however, get you access to the Bunkai Beast grammar course and this has over a hundred in-depth grammar lessons for you to work through. While I found them to all look very similar and that they weren’t very engaging to work through, I did see quite a lot of people commenting about how they were super useful and they seemed very happy with them.
While students will make progress with this course, I think a good coursebook and some online conversation classes would probably take you just as far although you may not get as much insight into the culture of Japan and how the language actually works in everyday life.
I’m actually quite sad at how my experience working through the Hacking Japanese Supercourse went.
With intriguing course names, Niko’s humorous, encouraging and engaging writing style and what appeared to be an incredible amount of different content to go through, I really thought it was going to be loads of fun.
Instead, I came away very disappointed at how all of the courses were so similar, that there was a massive focus on grammar and that I had to read so much English without being asked to produce much of anything in Japanese.
As such I find it hard to recommend Nihongo Shark although serious learners will certainly learn everything there is to know about Japanese grammar as well as the context in which the language is spoken.
If you manage to motivate yourself to follow the classes, you’ll also come away knowing how to read and write the Japanese alphabets although you will need to look elsewhere if you want to practice your conversation skills.
While it didn’t appeal to my preferred learning style, I would say that it is still worth checking out what Nihongo Shark is all about and you have nothing to lose by signing up to one of their free courses to get a taste of what it’s like.