Smartphone apps are one of your best secret weapons in your mission to learn Japanese.
Even busy people have a lot of free time during their day in small chunks in between other tasks.
Traveling to school, commuting to work, waiting in line, waiting for a friend: don’t waste this time mindlessly scrolling through your news feed – you could be learning Japanese!
Most learning Japanese apps are designed to be used in such moments. They have short, bite-sized lessons which are easy to tap into in a spare five minutes.
Here’s our pick of the best apps to learn Japanese fast:
If your main goal is to learn to speak conversational Japanese, this app could be your best friend. HelloTalk is a language exchange app which aims to connect language learners all over the world. Simply create a profile with your native language and the language you’re learning, and you can connect with a Japanese speaker who wants to learn English (or any other language you can teach).
Once you’ve found a partner, you can send text messages, voice messages and even make free video calls through the app. The app has some nice features to help your partner correct your grammar and other mistakes easily.
Best for: speaking, writing, conversational Japanese
Price: free (with in-app purchases to unlock certain features, such as adding more than one language)
Pimsleur Japanese is a renowned language course with a focus on getting you speaking Japanese fast! The course is audio-only. Each lesson is a 30 minute audio recording that gets you listening, repeating and taking part in Japanese conversations.
This app is excellent for people who want to learn Japanese by audio lessons. It’s a great way to make use of time while driving or doing chores, for example. There are no written components to this course, which is great for some people but difficult for others, so be sure to think about your personal learning style!
This course is recommended for people who want to become confident in speaking Japanese for every day situations, for example before taking a trip to Japan. It’s suitable for complete beginners through to intermediate learners.
Best for: speaking and listening
Available on: iOS and Android. Sign up online for your free trial first.
Price: $19.95 monthly subscription or $150 per level one-off cost. You take take a free trial here to see if it works for you (cancel within a week if you don’t want to be charged).
If you’re looking for an all-round course, Rocket Japanese is one of the best apps for learning Japanese out there. This is the app version of the popular Rocket Japanese interactive online course. It offers a complete course in all aspects of Japanese: audio lessons, vocabulary, quizzes, writing and culture lessons.
The Rocket Japanese course works best at a computer for full functionality, but the app version is a great complement that lets you access all the same content on the go. The flashcards and quizzes are particularly useful on the app version.
Best for: listening, reading, writing, speaking, grammar
Price: unlimited free access to selected lessons when you sign up online here. Access to the premium version starts at $99.95 but comes as part of the full online course – there’s no separate pricing for the app. This is a one-off fee and once you’re a member, you have lifetime access. No repeating yearly subscriptions to worry about!
FluentU is a unique concept for a language learning app based on video content. With this app, you learn Japanese through authentic content that Japanese people watch online, like music videos, documentaries, movie trailers and many other things, including the Japanese versions of famous songs and movies.
The videos are taken from YouTube and the FluentU team add interactive subtitles. Hover over each word in the subtitles to learn more about it. You can even add new words to a list and create your own quizzes of vocabulary you want to remember. Great for people who want to learn with authentic content, and especially for auditory learners.
Best for: listening
Available on: Currently iOS only. An Android version is in the works.
Price: 15 day free trial. After that, sign up for a plan starting $15 per month
Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese
This is the app version of the popular online grammar guide by Tae Kim. It’s set out like an eBook and is easy to navigate through the different chapters. The guide covers loads of different topics and structures, from beginner to advanced level.
Note that this is just a grammar guide, not a complete course. It’s not going to teach you Japanese by itself, but it is a very useful reference tool if you are learning Japanese from other sources.
Best for: grammar
Imiwa? is hands down the best Japanese dictionary app for iPhones. As well as all the standard features you would expect from a dictionary app, it has some incredibly useful special features such as the copy and paste text analyser, and the ability to create your own themed word lists.
It’s also a great app for learning kanji. You can see lists of kanji by Japanese school grade or JLPT level, and it has a nice handwriting animation for each kanji to teach you the essential stroke order. You can read my full review of Imiwa? here.
Best for: dictionary
Available on: iOS
Anki is a flashcard app which has helped millions of people study dozens of subjects! The app is one of the most famous systems based on SRS (spaced repetition software). SRS flashcards calculate when to show you a card again based on how easy or difficult it was for you to remember it.
This is based on research that shows that the memorisation is most effective when you try to recall something just as you’re on the point of forgetting it.
It can really help you learn Japanese fast because you don’t waste time reviewing before you need to. Also, it’s so easy to use on the go that you can easily study Japanese in small five-minute chunks throughout the day, which is great for retention.
You can create your own flashcards in Anki, or you can download premade card decks shared by other users. Anki can be used for learning any topic, but it is particularly popular with the Japanese language learning community, which means there are hundreds of premade decks covering essential Japanese kanji and vocabulary. This makes it one of the most popular apps for learning Japanese.
Best for: flashcards, vocabulary
Price: you can download the desktop version for free, and the Android version is also free. The iOS version has a one-off fee of around $25 dollars.
Best apps to learn Japanese
This was our roundup of the top 7 apps to learn Japanese. We hope you found it useful. Do you have any favourite learn Japanese apps that we haven’t covered? Let us know in the comments and we’ll include it in a future roundup!