Before you pack your bags and head off to Japan on a mission to master Japanese, or before committing yourself to an expensive classroom based course, let me bring Japan to you…for FREE! Thanks to the Internet there’s been a massive boom in user generated content and crowed sourced funding, we have what seems to be limitless access to free language resources; be it online tools, blogs, podcasts or videos no matter where in the world you live.
Gone are the days of carrying bulky textbooks and dictionaries. Your smartphone or tablet is all you’ll need to get to grips with listening, speaking, reading, and writing in Japanese. Believe it or not the problem is not a lack of tools these days, but an overwhelming amount of resources at our disposal.
Instead of wasting anymore of your precious study time, just choose some of my best resources below and get busy learning. I’ve probably spent hundreds of hours trying out various resources and collated them in this list so you don’t have to.
But no matter which online resources you choose make sure you stick to it; and remember always let your interest and fun guide your journey in mastering Japanese.
FluentU is one of my favourite sites for picking up everyday vocabulary whilst immersing yourself in real-life Japanese videos. The growing video library ranges from TV commercials, film trailers to children’s TV shows and sing-alongs, all helping you in taking your Japanese to the next level! The best part of FluentU, which makes it stand out from the crowed, is its use of interactive subtitles.
When playing a video you can hover over a word in the subtitle, it will automatically pause the video and give you the meaning of the word as well as an image and a voice reading the word…genius!
The videos are arranged by difficulty: Newbie, Elementary, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, Advanced and Native. That’s not all! Every word found in a video is listed separately, allowing you to learn and understand each word, and yet there is more! FluentU cleverly collates these words in to flashcards…there’s no forgetting stuff with FluentU.
The FluentU iPhone app is now available, android is on its way! Considering all the above and the relative inexpense of the premium subscription, this is the only online resource I actually recommend you pay for.
WaniKani is an online web application for learning Japanese kanji as well as vocabulary. The creators claim that the application can teach you around 1,700 kanji and 5,000 vocabulary words in about one to two years.
WaniKani is a “homebrew of radicals, mnemonics, space repetition system, and a kanji ordering that allows you to learn much more quickly and effectively compared to the traditional methods”.
The dashboard is neat and easy to navigate, clearly showing the number of lessons and reviews pending. You can easily remain motivated by monitoring your stats and if you’re really good you can brag about them via the inbuilt user forum.
Anki is an open source, free to use, multi-platform smartphone and desktop application which makes remembering things like vocabulary, grammar and sentence-order easy. Ankidroid the app version is free to download from Google Play.
Ankiweb, the desktop version is free to download from their website. Being open source means that there is a lot of free studying content available.
For Japanese, I recommend ‘Japanese Core 2000’. I use the ankidroid app when I’m on the go or when I’m having a lazy Sunday in bed!
Here’s another pretty cool site to help keep your head above water. The makers have based Memrise on three principles: Science, Fun and Community. In all honesty the ‘science’ used in Memrise isn’t anything extraordinary but that doesn’t mean it isn’t effective.
Similar to WaniKani and Anki, Memrise uses Spaced Repetition System or SRS. Coupled with memes that help form vivid, sensory memories.
You will very quickly realise that Memrise is all about testing, giving your brain just the right workout.
Do you love Anime? Are you learning Japanese? Well you’re in luck because anime-managa.jp, is a site for Japanese learners and anime/manga fans for FREE! This is an excellent e-learning site which never fails to give me an added incentive to study…reading Manga! I’ve come across similar sites but nothing matches anime-manga.jp.
It caters for a range of ability levels from beginner to advanced, so there’s no need to look for another site when you’ve completed a certain level. Let me get this straight, your not going to be sat watching anime (although it would be amazing if we all could absorb all the vocabulary this way) on anime-manga you learn “in a fun way through quizzes and games, choosing your own preferred study contents and method, according to your own level and interests.” By the way did I mention that it’s totally FREE? Check it out here.
We all need a good modern interactive dictionary, one that is actually fun to use. “Jisho is a powerful Japanese-English dictionary. It lets you find words, kanji, example sentences and more quickly and easily”. I recommend Jisho because it doesn’t just let you look up single words or kanji, but also helps you understand any Japanese text.
The team behind Jisho want to see it evolve in to Google Now or Wolfram Alpha for the Japanese language. I hear you there, thinking “All I want is a good but simple dictionary” worry not!
It doesn’t get any more simpler than pasting what you want to understand into Jisho, be it English, romaji, a single word or an entire paragraph of Japanese text, and it will search a myriad of data to help you understand the words, kanji and even grammar patterns.
Yasub is an outstanding example of what online collaboration along with open-source content can achieve. This site is a video content goldmine for Japanese learners of all abilities.
This is more than a video-sharing site; it’s a ‘Subtitling Platform for Fans’.
Have you ever come across a time when you’ve found an awesome Japanese video and subsequently tried to find a subtitled version of it to only give up? Well with Yasub, not only can you watch and create videos, you can also request subtitles for your favourite videos!
NicoNico (ニコニコ) is the Japanese ideophone for smiling, and it sure did put a smile on my face when I came across this video-sharing site. Niconico, Japan’s ninth most visited website, is Japan’s answer to YouTube.
Nicovideo is a brilliant resource for real life Japanese video content ranging from Sports and Politics to Science and Anime. Many videos are translated in to English by fans and on the right of each video is a chatroom where you can talk about the content.
Although this is a free service, you’ll need to register in order to watch the videos; having said that there is an option to have a paid premium membership for faster streaming.
So there you have it, my ultimate Japanese learning resource list at your disposal.
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You can contribute to this list by sharing your own favourite resources via the comments box below.