If you’re looking for a way to learn Japanese online, you’ve probably come across JapanesePod101.
JapanesePod101 is a giant of online Japanese lessons. They’ve been around for years, and they’ve delivered literally millions of Japanese lessons!
But can they help you learn Japanese? Let’s have a look. Here’s my honest review of JapanesePod101, plus a sneak look inside the premium members area!
What is JapanesePod101?
JapanesePod101 started out many years ago as Japanese language learning podcasts.
Now, their lessons are still based around a podcast format, but there are SO many extras on their site. If you only listen to the podcast tracks though iTunes, you’re missing out!
JapanesePod101 is now a huge language learning hub of video lessons, grammar lessons, quizzes, flashcards, printables, chance to interact with Japanese teachers and other students, as well as their traditional audio lessons.
JapanesePod101 is free to join. You can access all the newest lessons for free, forever. They also have various paid membership options, with a lot more benefits and materials.
Inside JapansePod101 Premium account
I am a Premium (paid) member of JapanesePod101 myself, so let’s have a look inside the membership area at some of the premium features.
When I first started using JapanesePod101 several years ago, the main drawback was that it was hard to navigate. There’s just so much material on there, it’s hard to know where to start.
One feature that helps you choose your way is the ‘lesson paths’ section.
The ‘lesson paths’ show you a recommended course of lessons based on your goals and needs. Are you learning Japanese for a trip to Japan? Do you need to know it for business? Are you preparing for the JLPT exam? Or do you just study Japanese for fun? ?
You can choose the best lesson path for you at one of these four levels:
- Absolute beginner
Let’s take a look at one of the suggested lesson paths for beginners:
Before You Travel: Survival Phrases
This is a selection of 100 lessons teaching you everything a beginner could need to know before going to Japan.
There are 100 lessons in this series, but you don’t have to take all of them! They’re arranged in order from the most basic and useful (how to say please and thank you), up to tricker situations (such as how to buy a pre-paid cell phone).
You can tackle the lessons in any order you want. You don’t have to start from 1, if you already know the basics.
Tap the big orange button at the top to add the course to your dashboard. This means you can find it easily the next time you log in. You can have several courses or lesson paths saved to your dashboard at one time.
What are the lessons like on JapanesePod101?
Each lesson on JapansePod101 is based around an audio track. The audio lessons are 5-20 minutes long, depending on the level. They usually teach a short dialogue in Japanese. Then they explain the new words and grammar points in the dialogue.
On the website, you can see lesson notes, a transcript of the dialogue, and lots of interactive features to help study the new words and phrases.
Let’s go into one of the lessons in our beginner path, Before You Travel: Survival Phrases, and have a look.
This lesson teaches you how to shop for souvenirs. Each lesson has a really slick interface. Those little buttons you see at the top have a load of useful functions. You can mark the lesson as complete, mark it as a favourite, add a note, download a pdf of lesson notes, or download the audio track.
Below you have the transcript for the main audio track. You can click on those tabs to switch between kanji, hiragana, romaji and English. So you can practise reading along, whatever your level! This is a really nice feature that I like a lot.
You can replay the dialogue line by line, so you can really take your time to listen, read, repeat until you’ve memorised it.
They also have this fun voice recorder function! I think this is great. You hear the native speaker on the audio saying a phrase, and then you record yourself saying the same thing. You can replay both tracks at the same time to hear the differences! This is such a great feature to improve your pronunciation and I’m really impressed with it.
Below, you can see all the new vocabulary words from the lesson. Again, you can replay one by one and you can try the voice recorder function to improve your pronunciation. You can also replay at half speed to get any tricky words. You might be able to see the little tabs on the right. They show you example sentences using your new words. When you see a word in a sentence, I think it really helps you understand how to use it.
You can add any of the new words to a flashcard deck or a quiz to test your memory.
There are also grammar notes and explanations of any new language points.
What can I learn on JapanesePod101?
JapanesePod101 covers absolutely anything you could want to learn in Japanese. There are courses for travelling, business, dating, living in Japan, doing a homestay, studying in Japan, and more. And of course, you don’t need to study for a particular reason. There are general pathways too.
There are also courses for JLPT levels N5, N4, N3 and N2.
JapanesePod101 also has a load of extra resources, which are not linked to any particular lesson!
Here are some of the best bonus resources:
- Cheat sheets pdfs. These are fun downloadable pdfs full of pictures and words around different topics. These are perfect for printing out and taking with you when travelling in Japan. They are all kinds of topics relevant to every day life, from school to dating! (Actually, these pdfs are available free to anyone. You don’t have to have a subscription to access. Check them out for free here.)
- Free ebooks. JapanesePod101 has produced a number of ebooks to help with specific aspects of Japanese. Some are free, and some you have to buy separately. Check out the free kanji ebook here.)
- Hiragana and katakana writing practise worksheets
- Grammar bank. Is there a particular grammar point that’s been bugging you lately? Search the bank and find a full explanation, with examples. You can also browse by JLPT level.
- Videos. The video series are also great. JapanesePod101 even have their own mini J-drama! You can watch the videos, and then of course read along and learn new words with the full transcripts underneath each video, the same as the audio lessons.
JapanesePod101: what’s good?
There’s a lot to love about JapanesePod101. Here are some of the main advantages:
- Range of lessons. There are literally thousands of lessons, so you’re bound to find something interesting at your level.
- Community. JapanesePod101 has a lot of students all over the world. There is a good sense of community and the teachers are really involved with the students. You can leave a comment at the end of any lesson, like a blog post, and one of the teachers will get back to you and answer any questions.
- Fun. JapanesePod101 has a sense of humour! The teachers are always energetic and funny. You will learn jokes in Japanese and enjoy the lessons.
- Up to date. JapanesePod101 talk a lot about current Japanese culture and slang. You will learn more about ‘real Japan’ than studying from a textbook.
- Learning methods. With podcasts, online lessons, an app, a YouTube channel, ebooks and more, you can learn in the format that helps you. This makes it easy to learn on the go and stick with your lessons, even on busy days.
JapanesePod101: what’s bad?
Here are some of the cons to studying with JapanesePod101:
- Too much information! It can be difficult to know how to navigate JapanesePod101. There is just too much available on their site, and sometimes it’s not well organised. It’s easy to miss some of the great features (for example, I only discovered the video dramas while researching this review!)
- Aggressive marketing. Once you become a free member, they will email you a lot asking you to upgrade your membership. You don’t have to – you really do get a free lifetime account, with access to loads to features, without paying a penny! But the upsell can get a bit annoying. (Hint: don’t pay full price straight away. JapanesePod101 have frequent sales. They’ll email you a discount code if you wait a few days. Also, you can turn off marketing emails in your member section.)
- Subscription model. The pay-monthly model means that if you stop studying and forget to cancel, you’ll waste money. It’s much more cost effective to pay for 1 or 2 years up front. I wish there was a lifetime membership option though.
How much does JapanesePod101 cost?
JapanesePod101 works on a subscription model. This means you pay per month for access to the site. They have a number of different payment options, depending on the level of access.
You can pay monthly, or pay for 3, 6, 12 or 24 months in advance. The longer the period, the cheaper it will be!
I recommend always buying a 24 month subscription if you can, because it will work out a lot cheaper per month.
The best way to compare prices and plans is to check this chart.
JapanesePod101 free account
JapanesePod101 often advertises that you can learn Japanese for free. So, what exactly do you get with a free account? And if you can really learn Japanese for free, why would anyone pay for premium membership?
Well, JapanesePod101 releases 3 to 5 new audio and video lessons each week. These new lessons are completely free to all users. They remain free for 3 weeks.
Then, they go into the archives. Paying members can access the archives and listen to any lesson whenever they want. But free members can only listen to the last 3 weeks of lessons.
So, if you just study each lesson as soon as it comes out, maybe the free plan is enough for you.
If you sometimes take breaks from studying, or you want to study more quickly than new lessons are published, you might want to pay to access the full library of lessons, and study at your own pace.
Free members also get a lot of other benefits, such as free word of the day emails, and free word lists for special occasions such as holidays.
Here’s the full list of what you get for free:
- New audio and video lessons every week – 3-5 new, free lessons a week
- The first 3 lessons of every single series – 100+ lessons in total
- New Daily Dose of Japanese lessons – a new free lesson every day
- Japanese Word of the Day lessons – a new free lesson every day
- Throwback Thursday lessons – a free random lesson every Thursday
- The Innovative Language 101 App for the Android, iPhone and iPad
- The 100 Most Common Words List to get a head-start on learning vocabulary
- Vocabulary and phrase lists for topics, themes and holidays
- Bonus resources and mobile apps in the Japanese resources section
And here’s more information from JapanesePod101 themselves, talking about what free membership includes.
JapanesePod101 basic vs premium
If you decide to pay for JapanesePod101, you have a choice: Basic, Premium or Premium Plus membership. You can see a full breakdown of what’s available at each level here.
Basic membership gives you full access to the audio and video lesson archives, plus basic lesson notes.
The full audio transcripts, line-by-line playback, and pronunciation tools that we saw above are only available to Premium members.
Premium Plus membership gives you full access to absolutely everything on the site, plus one-on-one contact with a personal Japanese tutor! You get unique lesson plans designed just for you, and you can send over your questions any time you want. It’s the most expensive of JapanesePod101’s services, but it’s still a steal compared to paying for most personal tutors.
What is the JapanesePod101 $1 offer?
Straight after signing up as a new user, you will have the chance to try premium for 1 month for $1. You can also get a free Japanese ebook of your choice from their shop.
I think this is a really great offer for the value of the free book alone!
All users get 7 days to try out premium for free without the $1 offer, but if you don’t have much free time, the 1 month offer gives you a lot more time to explore the site before making a decision.
After the month is up, your $1 membership will automatically turn into a $25 membership UNLESS you unsubscribe. So be careful! If you don’t want to pay the full price, remember to cancel your subscription. You can do that at any time in your account area.
Even if you do want to continue your subscription, remember that it’s cheaper to pay for 12 or 24 months in advance, instead of $25 monthly.
The $1 offer only appears once. If you don’t sign up when you get the chance, you’re out of luck.
Is JapanesePod101 worth it?
I’ve used JapanesePod101 for years, and I can say yes – for me it’s worth it.
JapanesePod101 is a genuine site with thousands of hours of lessons, and lots of other helpful resources.
For me, I love studying with podcasts because it’s the easiest way to fit Japanese into my day. I listen to podcasts on my way to work and when I’m walking somewhere. Then, I come back and study the PDF lesson notes at home when I’ve got time.
Even on busy days, it’s really easy to fit in a 20 minute audio track from JapanesePod101.
I also love the searchable grammar bank. I used this a lot when I was preparing for my JLPT exams.
The price of JapanesePod101 varies a lot, depending on the length of subscription, and if you use any coupon codes! I have usually used a coupon code and bought the longest subscription available. This gets the cost down to less than $5 per month. Personally, I think this is amazing value, compared to the cost of taking classes or private lessons.
Have you used JapanesePod101? What do you think? Let us know in the comments!