So, you want to learn Japanese online?
Rocket Japanese is one of the biggest names out there when it comes to Japanese learning software.
You can study online or on their app. It’s an interactive, audio based course with a strong emphasis on speaking out loud.
I’ve worked through several lessons in order to bring you this honest Rocket Japanese review. I’ve tried to set out both the pros and the cons of Rocket Japanese here to give a balanced opinion.
If you’re interested in learning Japanese online, have a read through, check out the lesson screenshots below, and see if it could be right for you.
By the way, this review has been completely rewritten in January 2022 to reflect the most recent release of Rocket Japanese: the 2021 Edition. Rocket Japanese has a fairly major rehaul every few years, and the 2021 edition boasts all new course content and interface!
Rocket Japanese review: summary
|Price||$99.95 – $259.90|
|Access||Web browser, app (iOS and Android)|
|Summary||A comprehensive online Japanese course with an emphasis on speaking, listening and grammar.|
|Verdict||A good all-rounder for those who want a more traditional course for a one-off price.|
Rocket Japanese is an online language learning program for teaching beginner to advanced Japanese.
It is a self-paced program: you have full access to all lessons after purchase, and you work through the course at your own pace. There is no interaction with a teacher or other students; this is for those who want to learn Japanese on their own from home.
It is divided into three levels, which are available to purchase individually or as a package. The first, Level 1, is labelled ‘beginner to intermediate’ and they claim that you will reach a ‘good conversational level’ if you complete it.
The course is based around audio lessons and uses the traditional ‘listen and repeat’ methodology. There are also plenty of interactive resources on the website and app so you can quiz yourself, cram new vocabulary and so on.
The company has been around since 2005 and they do have literally thousands of great customer reviews, which you can see on their website!
Inside the Rocket Japanese lessons
Each module of Rocket Japanese is divided into lessons under three main categories: Interactive Audio Lessons, Language & Culture, and Writing. Working through all of these will give you a good grounding in listening, speaking, writing and grammar.
Let’s take a look at how the individual lessons are set up!
The core of each lesson is an audio track of 15 to 40 minutes. As you might expect, the lessons are shorter for beginners and longer at the more advanced levels.
Each audio lesson is structured around a short conversation in Japanese between two Japanese presenters, with an English speaking presenter on hand to translate and explain.
The presenters model the conversation and explain new words, grammar points and cultural insights.
Each conversation is based around an everyday situation you might encounter in Japan. Throughout the course you’ll cover everything from social events such as going to a sushi bar, karaoke place or cherry blossom viewing party, to practical situations that are essential if you live in Japan or ever plan to move there, such opening a bank account, visiting the doctor, and even attending a job interview.
You are encouraged to speak out loud as you listen, repeating the new words and phrases – don’t just repeat words in your head!
The conversations do model useful and natural Japanese, but most of the language (at least in the lessons I tried) is pretty formal. Fine if you’re learning Japanese for work, not if you’re hoping to learn more slang and ‘real Japanese’.
One criticism I had is that some of these audio lessons can be slo-o-o-o-w and a little boring. There is lots of talking in English in between the Japanese, and sometimes I wished they’d just get on with it!
Still, that’s a problem with most beginner level language courses – you can’t dive right in with fast and exciting conversations until you’ve mastered the basics. (One exception is JapanesePod101 – they really do try to make things engaging from the very first lessons.)
You can either listen to the audio lessons through the Rocket Japanese interface or app, or download it onto your phone or media player to listen on the go. Handy for commuters!
As you listen along, you can read a transcript of the conversation line by line, karaoke style! One minus point: this transcript is only in romaji (Roman characters) – fine for beginners, but a bit annoying at higher levels!
After you’ve finished the audio track, there are several ‘reinforcement activities’ to work through to practise what you’ve just learned.
These interactive features come with every audio lesson. After listening to the audio track, you’re encouraged to work through the extra activities to cement your learning.
I found that these activities are mostly very similar to each other, but that’s ok – one of the best ways to learn new words is to practise them over and over again in different situations. It can get a bit boring by the time you’ve worked through a few of these activities though. Perhaps it would be better to spread them over several days, rather than charging through in one sitting as I did!
- Play It! Replay and practise the conversation line by line. You can choose to roleplay as one of the characters in the conversation. You can also record your own voice and compare it to the native speaker’s recording, to improve your pronunciation. Note: it’s definitely useful to listen to your own voice played back at you, but I found the software’s system of ‘rating’ you wasn’t the most accurate – sometimes I made deliberate mistakes and got a rating of 100, other times it didn’t pick up what I said at all! You really have to rely on your own ear, comparing your recording to the native speaker.
A nice feature in this section is that you can choose which script to read in (change this in your settings).
- Extra vocabulary section: study and replay new words one by one. Again, you can use the voice recorder to check your pronunciation.
- Flashcards: test yourself on the lesson’s new vocab. Rate your answers based on how easy you found them so you can easily go back and review the harder words. One thing I don’t like is that you can only test yourself on words from the current lesson, so you’ll have to go back to previous lessons to review older words.
- Hear it! Say it! To improve your listening skills. Listen to a word and record yourself saying it – without seeing it written down,.
- Know it! – read a phrase in English, and record yourself saying it in Japanese. Tests your translation and speaking abilities.
- Quiz – multiple choice questions based on your new knowledge.
- ‘Extra testing’– this section has activities in the Japanese scripts (hiragana, katakana, and kanji). Since everybody comes to the course with different abilities/interests in the Japanese script, these activities are optional.
Language and culture lessons
‘Language and culture’ lessons go into more depth on language and cultural points that couldn’t be covered during the audio lessons.
Essentially, these are in-depth grammar lessons but I think they’re trying to avoid scaring you off by using the word ‘grammar’!
Overall, I found these explanations to be pretty solid.
Unlike the main audio lessons, these lessons are text based. You’ll need to sit down and study them properly, like a traditional textbook. Unlike the audio lessons, you can’t fit these in while driving!
Still, these written lessons contain lots of interactive opportunities to listen and record yourself, to stop them being too dry.
Each ‘language and culture’ lesson focuses 90% on a grammar/language topic but then they each have a short box at the end focusing on a cultural topic. These mini cultural lessons contain useful information for anyone planning to visit Japan in person.
But I did feel they were a bit random in the way they were just dumped at the end of the grammar lessons!
In previous editions of Rocket Japanese, you could download a PDF of the written lessons to print or study at a later date, but that seems to be removed from the 2022 version.
Probably not a big loss – there are so many interactive features, it makes much more sense to study online if at all possible.
Each module ends with writing lessons. You’ll learn the three Japanese writing systems one at at time: hiragana, katakana and kanji. Each lesson introduces just a few new characters at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed.
There are videos or animations demonstrating how to write each character, and of course audio guides to the pronunciation.
I felt that the writing lessons are fairly well integrated throughout the main course. Unlike JapanesePod101, where (depending on the pathway you choose) the writing lessons can seem like an optional extra but not really part of the course.
I would have liked to see printable writing worksheets (although you can find these in other places) and also more activities to drill the kana.
Here are some of the ‘extra’ features on Rocket Japanese that don’t form part of the actual lessons:
- Forum: Rocket Japanese has a forum, with the idea that you can run your questions or comments by other students and professional tutors. Nice idea in theory but sadly it’s pretty much dead. The latest post at the time of writing was three months old! However, I noticed that past posts did seem to get a response from Rocket Japanese tutors when required.
- Survival kit: these are special modules for cramming vocabulary related to certain topics such as food, health and travel. Ideal if you’re planning a trip or need to brush up on essential Japanese quickly. These survival kits actually sell separately on the Rocket Languages website for $49.95 each, but you can choose one or more (depending on package) as a free gift when you buy the full course.
- Progress tracker: gamification is a useful way to keep up your motivation in language learning. Rocket Japanese awards points for completing activities, and there’s a leaderboard where you can compare your progress to other users. You can also set yourself a daily points goal to keep on track. Also, you can also track your streak (how many days in a row you’ve studied).
- Custom flashcards: find this under the ‘tools’ section. You can create your own flashcard sets, and see those that other users have shared! I found some useful sets here for drilling colours, hiragana and more.
- Notes: you can take notes alongside each lesson and review them all from the ‘tools’ section.
Rocket Japanese pros and cons
So, now you’ve got an idea of what a typical lesson is like with Rocket Japanese. It wouldn’t be a proper review without summarising the pros and cons!
- Lots of emphasis on speaking and pronunciation
- Covers useful, real life situations for people visiting or living in Japan
- Comprehensive course that integrates most of the main areas of Japanese study (listening, speaking, writing, grammar)
- Very interactive and lots of features to keep you engaged
- Useful videos and animations for learning how to write
- One-off cost, no hidden upgrades or additional fees. You also get access to all future updates.
- Audio lessons are slow paced and sometimes boring, with too much English
- No easy way to review previous vocab
- Expensive one-off cost. Actually, I think Rocket Japanese is good value for what you get, but if money’s an issue you might be better off going for a monthly subscription based course instead
- Inactive forum
- Not much reading practise (but you can always get your reading materials elsewhere)
- As with learning any language on your own, you won’t get any ‘real life’ speaking practise. But to make up for it, there is the voice recognition software to improve your accent and lots of emphasis on listening and repeating. You can always supplement the course by finding language exchange partners on HelloTalk or Italki.
- There’s no placement test. Rocket Japanese is suitable for all levels, from beginner to advanced. However, if you already know a little bit of Japanese, it might not be clear where to begin. Having said that, you do have full access to all modules from the start, so you can easily jump about until you find a level that suits you – there’s no need to work your way through from the beginning.
Rocket Japanese cost
Rocket Japanese has three levels. You can buy them one by one, or all together. The standard price per level is $149.95 (USD). But you will be offered a coupon when you do your free trial, bringing the price down to $99.95 for Level 1.
At least, this coupon was automatically applied at the time of writing, but be aware this offer could end!
If you choose to buy all three levels in one go, you can snap them up for $259.90. Yes, it’s a big upfront cost but if you’re serious about learning Japanese I’d say it’s worth it. It covers 380 hours of lesson time. Think how much you’d spend on college classes or private tutors for that many lessons!
Overall I do think Rocket Japanese is worth the cost and provides good value considering the amount of quality content.
All packages have lifetime access, and that includes any future updates.
They also have a 60 day money back guarantee, no questions asked – simply email customer support for a full refund.
And of course, you can check it out with a free trial before you buy.
Rocket Japanese vs JapanesePod101
Well, I’d say the main difference is that Rocket Japanese is a more traditional, clearly defined, linear course. You simply work through all the lessons from A to Z.
JapanesePod101 has literally thousands of lessons – which is both an advantage, and disadvantage! Their lessons are divided into ‘pathways’ focusing on different topics for different levels. The pathways mean that if you are studying with a particular goal in mind (e.g. travel, business, JLPT, even dating!) you will be able to focus on lessons on that topic.
With Rocket Japanese, you have no choice of lessons. This is better if you think you might be overwhelmed by JapanesePod’s 100s of pathways and you want someone to tell you exactly what to study next! But you might find that some of the lessons are not relevant to your goals or interests.
Rocket Japanese requires a one time payment and gives you access for life. JapanesePod101 is based on a monthly subscription model, and costs as little as $4 per month. (Well, actually, there’s also a free lifetime membership, but you need to pay to access the full lesson catalogue.)
Rocket Japanese does seem more expensive – but in the long run it may work out cheaper. It all depends on the funds you have available, and how long you think you’ll study for. Personally I think both are great value for the amount of content and resources.
From what I’ve experienced, JapanesePod101 is a lot more fun. Sorry, Rocket Japanese presenters!
Rocket’s material is good but it feels a lot drier, giving off traditional textbook vibes. JapanesePod101 go out of their way to come up with crazy situations and funny dialogues. They use a lot more modern Japanese and slang, and also talk more about modern/popular Japanese culture. Although you will find business-oriented pathways too.
Overall I would say that if you just want a general course (with the stress of choice removed) perhaps Rocket Japanese is better. If you want a more modern, dynamic course, or you have specific goals/needs, go with JapanesePod101.
Rocket Japanese review: conclusion
Overall, I’m impressed with Rocket Japanese. It’s not my personal favourite Japanese course, but I think it’s a very solid option for learning Japanese on your own!
There’s a big emphasis on speaking Japanese, making good use of the microphone/recording feature. Reading and writing are more integrated into the main course, compared to many Japanese courses where it seems to be almost an afterthought. They also have nice explanations of grammar and culture.
Although it’s possible to just study with the audio lessons while you’re out and about, to get full benefits from this course you should sit down and study at your home computer.
The course covers a lot of ‘real life’ Japanese situations. It’s suited to people who plan to visit Japan for travel or work.
It’s a fairly ‘traditional’ course in structure and content. This could be a positive or a negative, depending on your mindset!
In conclusion, Rocket Japanese will appeal to learners who want a balanced, well structured course to learn speaking, listening, writing and grammar.
If you’re interested, why not give the free trial a whirl? You can test it out for seven days, no credit card needed.
The trial includes lessons from each of the three levels inside the full version of the course. So if you already know some Japanese you can see which level might be right for you.
All you need is an email address. You don’t need to give a credit card or any other payment details, so there’s no danger of a charge if you forget to cancel.
You can sign up for your free trial right here:
Good luck in your Japanese language learning journey!
See some of my other Japanese course reviews here:
Rebecca is the founder of Team Japanese. She spent two years teaching English in Ehime, Japan. Now back in the UK, she spends her time blogging, self-studying Japanese and wrangling a very genki toddler.