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Best Japanese Learning Apps: 8 Tools for Language Mastery

Post: Monday April 10, 2017

Whether you are studying at home or newly arrived in the country, the Japanese language can seem impossible to those just starting to learn it. That said, there's one simple way to survive no matter how little time you have: All you need is a smartphone and a couple of apps to help you memorize vocabulary, write kanji or understand grammar. With a few of these in your pocket you can simply pull out your phone whenever you're on the train, waiting for an appointment or find yourself unable to understand something, and before long you'll be learning the lingo. There's a range of free language applications for every level and purpose - here are eight of the best Japanese learning apps to get you started.

Learn Japanese

8 Best Japanese Learning Apps from Google Translate to Memrise and More

1) Google Translate

Google Translate

The jack-of-all-trades of language apps, what Translate lacks in precision it makes up for in versatility. While not great at translating long pieces of text, it has a huge volume of words and several useful features all in one place. It can translate text from photos or in real-time using an augmented reality feature - fantastic when you want to quickly translate a sign or the ingredients on a product at the supermarket, for instance. You can use the audio function to speak for you, and it has audio recognition software too. It even lets you draw kanji characters with your finger and then tells you the meaning. While there are better apps for learning Japanese, this one is totally practical -- you'll find yourself clicking on it more often than most.

2) Jsho (Android)

Jsho (Android)

When it comes to apps for learning Japanese as well as using it, dictionaries are essential. Jsho a no-fuss, offline dictionary app that is extensive and precise - it does one job very well. Its visual simplicity makes it easy to use, and it also has a range of functions. For instance, you can enter a sentence and it will identify and translate each individual word. It also displays correct kanji stroke order, allows you to filter results by noun, verb, adjective, etc., and has flexible search methods, such as by radical or stroke, or using the wildcard function that lets you search for a word when you can only remember part of it. If you are an Anki user (below), Jsho also allows you to add any entry to your Anki flashcards.

3) Midori (iPhone)

Midori (iPhone)

While it's helpful to have apps to learn Japanese with, you have to know what you want. For those who feel up to tackling the challenge of kanji, this offline dictionary has a broad range of features and a huge database of 12,000 kanji (half with stroke order displayed) and hundreds of thousands of words, including place, product and company names. There are several ways to look up words, including by handwriting or wildcard. Example sentences put the words in context, and there is an audio feature for correct pronunciation. You can create your own bookmarks to form flashcards, or study the pre-existing lists that include all JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) levels and use SRS (spaced repetition system).

4) Imiwa? (iPhone)

Imiwa? (iPhone)

Imiwa? is another excellent offline dictionary app that has a few points of difference from the above. Firstly, if English is not your native language, you'll appreciate that definitions are provided in seven other languages, including French, Russian, Spanish and Korean. Search methods include SKIP (which organizes kanji based on pattern rather than radical) as well as being able to search by radical, romaji, hiragana or katakana, although it has no handwriting function. There is an excellent sentence database plus JLPT vocabulary lists and verb conjugation charts. Plus, you can favorite items for individual study.

5) Obenkyo (Android)

Obenkyo (Android)

This is a great all-round learning app that lets you practice via quizzes. Obenkyo is one of the best Japanese learning apps in that it accommodates all levels, from beginner through to advanced N1 material. You can study kanji, vocabulary, grammar and writing all in a single app and it tests you in various ways, from multiple choice to handwriting. The writing function is top-notch, correcting both your form and your stroke order and letting you tell it if it's made a mistake in recognition. Available in both French and English, this app is simple to use and includes Tae Kim's grammar guide (below) for reference.

6) Anki (Android and iPhone)

Anki (Android and iPhone)

This flashcard app is not only for languages, but among the apps for learning Japanese kanji and vocabulary, it is known to be extremely effective. "Anki" actually means, "to memorize," and this app helps you toward that aim. You can build your own vocab decks or download other people's (and share your own). The decks are entirely customizable: choose how to structure them, whether to include audio or images, how many you want to study, and how often. Choose to flip the questions and answers, mark how easy or difficult you found a card, and switch on an answer timer. It also allows your to sync with multiple devices so that you can study anywhere, anytime.

7) Memrise (Android and iPhone)

Memrise (Android and iPhone)

Not a few apps for learning Japanese focus on drilling vocabulary, and this one is a particularly popular variation. Memrise, which lives up to it's name, is a bit like a game as you get points for correct answers, with a simple and friendly layout. It makes use of SRS (spaced repetition system), which is very effective for remembering things long-term. There are plenty of user-made decks and while you can create your own decks as well, Memrise is wonderful if you simply want something to get started with right away.

8) Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese (Android, iPhone)

Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese (Android, iPhone)

In terms of grammar resources, Tae Kim is one of the best Japanese learning apps you'll find online - and now there's a mobile app too. It's called Learning Japanese and it's a great on-the-go reference for when you want to quickly revise a grammar point or get your head around something you don't understand. The lessons break things down in a clear, logical manner and instructions from beginner to advanced are provided; what's more, all kanji are clickable. Whether you don't have time to attend classes or simply want to supplement the classes you are attending, this is an excellent tool.

9) Bonus!! NHK News Web Easy

Bonus!! NHK News Web Easy

So far you have learned about some great Japanese learning apps for practical everyday tasks and study-but what about actually putting your vocabulary and kanji study into practice? One way to improve your reading skills is NHK News Web Easy. There are no English translations provided, but the stories are relatively simple and hiragana characters are written over the kanji, making each word easier to look up and understand. You might use this tool for comprehensive study or just read the stories during your commute and see how much you can process. Exercises like reading the news are a satisfying way to put all that time spent with your flashcards and grammar to use.

The Best Japanese Learning Apps are Just a Download Away


This list is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to apps for learning Japanese language-there are plenty more out there. Take a few for a test drive, and once you've found something you like and continue to use it, you can watch your abilities progress. Before long you might find yourself able to read, understand and even converse when you are traveling around Japan! Of course, there are plenty of apps tailored to that journey as well.

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