So you want to learn Japanese online. But you aren't sure how to choose the best app to learn Japanese for you?
With so many apps out there for learning Japanese, you can have a hard time finding the ones that are worth your time. That's why I've put together this selection of the 21 best apps to learn Japanese.
Technology has drastically changed how we do things, making products more efficient, cheaper and faster. And that includes methods and materials for learning a foreign language.
In this post, you'll discover how mobile apps can boost your Japanese learning, no matter your level or budget! No need to find time in your schedule for lessons. You'll find apps for android and iOS and even some web versions.
Note: Apps are great, but if you really want to learn Japanese with confidence and fluency, you need a more comprehensive programme. My top recommendation is Japanese Uncovered, my beginner course that teaches you through stories, not rules. Click here to find out more and get a free trial of the method.
Anyway, back to the best apps to learn Japanese. Smartphone at the ready – let's get into the list.
The 21 Best Apps To Learn Japanese For Every Level And Budget
The internet is a goldmine when it comes to gathering information and learning. But the internet also has many flaws. Just like the inside of a goldmine, to find value you have to sift through tonnes of worthless rubble.
In this post, you'll discover where to find the 21 biggest, shiniest pieces of Japanese-learning gold. Plus you'll find out how to get the most out of these language apps. And why they are ten times better than whatever traditional method you are using right now.
Thanks to this list, you'll find the best app to learn Japanese for you that you can download right now to help you learn, regardless of your current level.
Japanese Dictionary Apps
1. Japanese Dictionary App Imiwa
The. Best. Free. Mobile. Dictionary. Ever.
Download this app to save yourself the $100+ your teacher wanted you to waste on an outdated electronic dictionary.
Imiwa is free but it packs in high-value content.
It's an offline Japanese dictionary with extensive Japanese-English entries (currently over 170,000). It's also filled with sentence examples and kanji stroke order indications.
You can expect Imiwa to be updated all the time. No pushy dictionary salesman trying to sell you the new edition of the Oxford Japanese-English dictionary every new year.
With Imiwa, you will be getting new entries and example sentences for free.
Imiwa's search system sets it apart from the competition. Both kanji and vocabulary can be searched either via keyboard input, radicals search or JLPT levels.
This is a key function. You can't learn Japanese at your successfully without it.
There is one more great thing about Imiwa. Just like the other 4 tools you will find in this article, Imiwa is just an app. It weighs nothing.
Advances in technology now mean a dictionary is something you can carry with yourself at any time, just like Imiwa.
Do you want some advice for making new friends in Japan? Don't bring an 800-page Japanese-English dictionary out and about with you!
The app is free. And awesome. Download it, play with it a little – you'll love it.
This Japanese dictionary app is only available on iOS. Sorry Android users!
But if you're an iOS user then you're in luck. Nihongo is not only an offline Japanese dictionary, but also a flashcard app and reading assistant.
One handy feature for overwhelmed learners is that words are marked as “common”, “uncommon”, or “rare”. So you'll know which ones you need to learn and which ones you can worry about later!
Even better, you can use “clippings”: this reading assistant lets you paste Japanese text from anywhere. And then after, the app adds furigana or romaji to every word. You can also tap on any word to see its definition.
What's more, The app also makes flashcard sets based on your search history and clippings – no more learning lists of random, decontextualised words!
This app has many raving fans. Yes people go crazy for this Japanese dictionary app, simply called “Japanese”.
It's more that just a dictionary app. Each entry comes with example sentences, common compounds, radicals, stroke order animations and Japanese verb conjugations. The interface is well-designed and easy to use.
What's more it's free!
You can also add new words to your “lists” and create flashcards. You can even find pre-made lists according to level and topic. The app also has great features for learning kanji. You can click on each kanji within a word to learn more about: different meaning, radicals, other words with this kanji.
Apps For Learning Japanese Vocab
4. Anki Flashcards App
Do you have a bad memory? Or do you just need a more effective way of memorising?
This flashcard app helped me learn the most common 1,000 Japanese words in less than three months with only 30 minutes of study per day.
After six months, I had already passed the 2,500 mark.
Anki is a free SRS system available for studying flashcards both online and offline.
Of course, you could just make your own flashcards from real-life pen and paper. But do you really want to?
In Anki you can create your own. Or you can use one of the thousands of high-quality Japanese flashcard decks already provided.
There is no debate about SRS systems being the best tool to learn Japanese words. And Anki is one of the best SRS apps out there.
Anki does have one tiny flaw. The web version of Anki is free for all. And if you're an Android user the app is free for you. The downside is that Apple users will pay a fee to download a mobile version from the app store.
But to put this in perspective, if you can afford a $700 phone to watch cat videos, you can afford a $15 app to learn Japanese.
If you've never used an SRS system before, it might take you a couple of minutes to figure it out. Go and download it now and then let me know how much you love it.
Clozemaster is something between a game and a reading exercise. You're given loads of sentences and phrases and asked to fill in the missing Japanese word.
What’s great about Clozemaster is the use of context. Unlike some other apps, the words you learn are never to you in isolation. Instead, the main focus is to get you familiar with vocabulary in actual sentences and phrases.
Likewise, the app focuses on comprehensible input. That means nothing is ever too easy, but you can use context to help figure out the answer.
This helps you not only get familiar with new words, but also the words they come with and correct word order. As such, using Clozemaster can help give you a natural sense of how Japanese tends to structure itself, which makes reading texts much easier.
Mondly is another app for learning Japanese that’s best suited for the more goal-oriented learner. There are no games or points or progress bars. And the design is anything but flashy.
However, if you want to take a deeper dive into learning Japanese vocabulary and grammar, Mondly is great. The lessons start from basic phrases and core vocabulary and then build into more complicated topics.
What’s useful is that topics are focused on for longer and go into more depth than most other apps. Likewise, there are clear explanations of Japanese grammar points.
7. Lingo Deer
Lingo Deer is mainly an app for learning new words.
But it’s fun to use, making it a great way to recycle vocabulary or pick up some new expressions when you have a little downtime.
This is the kind of app that wouldn’t be much use on its own. But when used in conjunction with other apps and coursebooks, it can be a useful aid in your quest to become proficient in Japanese.
The concept of Busuu is simple, but definitely engaging for beginning and intermediate learners. You go through a series of mini-lessons to learn vocabulary and some grammar.
This is ideal if you want to cram a lot about basic words and phrases before a trip or want to do a quick refresher. The structure is great as well since every lesson builds very directly on the previous one.
There is another aspect to Busuu however. If you choose to get Busuu premium, then you get a whole lot more with the app. At this level, you can have your work graded by a native speaker with the expectation that you’ll grade someone else's.
It’s here that Busuu really stands out from the pack because you’ll get bits of information about how people really speak. And having more input from natives and knowing that you’re interacting with a real person makes learning Japanese feel more personal.
Apps To Learn Japanese Grammar
9. Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide
Learning Japanese without studying grammar is like buying IKEA furniture without nuts and bolts: you're going to have a lot of pieces of fancy wood, but every time you try to build something, it collapses to the ground.
Japanese grammar is a lot easier than that of other foreign languages. But there is a lot to learn. And I mean A LOT! Japanese grammar is simple, but plentiful.
The good thing though is that the percentage of grammar points you actually have to master is a lot smaller than you'd imagine.
So what's the best free resource to study the grammar you need to know?
I'll be honest with you – grammar is one thing in Japanese that isn't all fun and games. Unlike kanji and kana (the Japanese “alphabet”), there's no real easy way around it.
One top tip I'd give for learning Japanese grammar is this – find a clear systematic grammar guide that explains to you what you need to know. Tae Kim's app is just that.
If you're serious about learning Japanese, I'd still recommend using an online course with video lessons like Japanese Uncovered which is designed to take you from beginner to intermediate level through the power of story.
However, if you are on a shoestring budget, this app will be enough to help you.
Apps To Learn The Japanese Alphabet
10. Learn Hiragana & Katakana Mnemonics With Dr Moku
What blew my mind was how Dr Moku drilled the kana into my head through funny mnemonics in just a couple of hours.
In this app, Dr Moku associates all the kana with funny pictures, which make it impossible for you to forget them.
My personal favourite is how he turned “?” into a cow making a smelly yellow mustard fart. Watch the app trailer to get an idea of how funny this actually gets.
If you have used Anki before, you know already how powerful mnemonic tools are.
Rote memorisation when compared to mnemonic hacks is like hot air balloons versus airplanes in terms of efficiency.
When was the last time you flew over the Atlantic Ocean in a hot air balloon? Mnemonics are much more useful for learning vast amounts of information.
With this app, you can practise writing and recognising characters as well as learning the way they are pronounced. You can choose to learn from pre-made lists.
But one of the best features is that it allows you to create lists of your own.
You have to pay a subscription for the full app. But if you’re serious about Japanese, a six-month or one-year subscription is good value. And it’s more than worth it! Click here to get 10% off your first Skritter purchase.
Apps For Japanese Listening And Reading
12. NHK Easy Japanese News
Odds are, you don't live in Japan. If you do, good for you.
If you don't, it might be hard to constantly find interesting Japanese content to read and learn from.
Here's the problem with most of the Japanese reading material online – it's either too easy or too difficult.
Content designed for beginners is dumbed-down and over-simplified. More advanced content is, well, designed for native speakers.
The NHK Easy Japanese News app is the most successful attempt I've seen so far at finding a happy medium.
It is a simple way to practice your Japanese reading skills every single day, while actually learning real relevant information about the world.
The app also has free audio features, allowing you to get a wider spectrum of training.
The best way to use apps like this one without being overwhelmed is to set a timer on your phone and just do 15 minutes a day.
Don't worry about how much you learn every time, just focus on putting in the time.
The improvement you will see is going to surprise you. A lot.
13. JapanesePod 101
Japanese Pod 101 is more traditional. But it’s still a useful resource that can help you with your Japanese learning. It’s been around for a while, and its advantage lies in the amount of material it now contains.
There are loads of lessons based on dialogues that you can use to improve your listening and reading skills, increase your vocabulary and work on your grammar.
You have to pay for a subscription. But some of the plans are very reasonable. And you can try it for a week for free, meaning you’ve got nothing to lose. Another useful app that’s well worth checking out.
Here’s another app that is full of great content that allows you to learn real Japanese in context. A far cry from the unsophisticated vocab list-style apps of the not-too-distant past.
You’ll find reading texts for all levels written in Japanese characters. You can read them or you can listen to the texts being read out, and any new vocabulary items are highlighted and explained.
There are loads of other features to help you learn, too, including a new word bank, a playlist of your favourite lessons and more. This app is another great example of how much more advanced resources for Japanese have become compared to only a few years ago.
15. Fluent U
FluentU immerses users right away in Japanese language and culture, while being much more fun than traditional textbooks.
With FluentU, you get real-world videos, including news, movie trailers, show clips, and music videos that are turned into language learning lessons.
If you're looking for an app that will help you take the step from book learning to real-life communication, this will be right up your alley!
Japanese Apps To Connect With Native Speakers
No app to learn Japanese can replace actually talking with a native speaker. And that is actually what iTalki let's you do.
If you’re looking for a language partner to practice your Japanese with, then look no further. They have a committed community of users so that you can practice Japanese with a native speaker.
To get going, you can either find a tutor or do a language exchange and then take it from there.
17. Hello Talk
HelloTalk puts language learners together to help each other practise. So if you’re looking for a Japanese native speaker to set up a language exchange, this is another great option.
This app also includes a few extra features that Tandem (see belowdoesn’t have.
One thing I love is that it allows you to post “moments” with your comments in Japanese (or any other language). Then other users can see your moments and give you a “like” – and they can even correct any mistakes in what you’ve written.
Language learning requires plenty of input, that’s how we learn, and many of the apps above are perfect for that part. But you also need to practise what you’ve studied, and that’s where Tandem comes in.
This app is not specifically for learning Japanese. It’s an app that connects you with language learners from around the world to practise together. In fact, you can use it to find speakers of almost any language.
The Classic Language Learning Apps
I have to mention Duolingo, the world’s most popular language-learning app. The thing about Duolingo is, when used alone, it’s not actually that useful.
Some of the sentences it gives you can be pretty bizarre, and it’s light on grammar. And compared to some of the other apps on my list, it now feels quite dated.
However, if you do a couple of lessons each day, it can help fix vocab in your head as well as teach you a few new words. And just for that reason, it’s still worth using.
20. Rosetta Stone
Rosetta Stone is another well-known company with a long history of teaching learners of many languages.
One approach that sets the Rosetta Stone app apart from many others on this list is that it teaches Japanese in Japanese, rather than in English (or another native language).
Rosetta Stone also employs tutors for private lessons, allowing you to practice speaking right away. This app is a good choice if you're a visual learner, but some people do find the exercises a bit tedious. By the way, if you're hesitating between Duolingo and Rosetta Stone, check out this post for an honest comparison.
Memrise is a nice mid point between the fun and the practical. Content-wise, it’s got a lot going for it in terms of learning vocabulary and conversational phrases that you’ll actually use.
These are often supplemented with videos of native speakers to help you adjust to listening to the Japanese words as they’re spoken. So you learn reading and listening at the same time! One of the best aspects of Memrise is that you can make a personalized lesson to challenge yourself.
Like some other language-learning apps, Memrise has an element of gamification to it. There are badges, points, and streaks that track how many days you’ve made consistent practice. Memrise is a great place to start if you want to learn Japanese with a lot of positive reinforcement.
Best Apps To Learn Japanese, Whenever, Wherever
So there you have it – the 21 best apps to learn Japanese out there to help you learn Japanese online whenever and wherever is convenient for you.
There's no denying that apps have become part of the toolkit to learn languages. They make it easy to fit in a bit of language learning throughout your day, during dead time like commuting for instance.
And of course, there's no contest for convenience between a huge paper dictionary and an app like Imiwa. Or a set of hundreds of paper flashcards to carry around and an app like Anki.
But an app won't do the hard work for you of speaking the language.
You can't fluent in Japanese just by using an app.
For that, you'll need something more comprehensive. That's why I created…
Japanese Uncovered is my comprehensive beginner programme teaches you to speak Japanese through the power of story.
It's not an app, but you can still use it on ANY device – computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet.
This comprehensive beginner programme teaches you Japanese through a fun and natural method that makes learning a pleasure, and grammar a breeze!
It goes far deeper than the Japanese smartphone apps listed above and will give you a very thorough grounding in Japanese.
You see, language apps might appear flashy and modern…
But they lack the depth you need to truly master Japanese.
The only way to achieve a high level of Japanese is to immerse yourself in Japanese language! And that's what you do in Uncovered by learning through story from Day 1.
With stories, you can:
- Learn Japanese faster through immersion, instead of rote learning
- Memorise vocabulary more easily, by seeing it in context
- Learn grammar naturally, not through rules!
- Understand Japanese more easily, thanks to lots of reading and listening practice
Watch this video clip to see how the learning emerges from the story in Japanese Uncovered:
Pretty effective, right?
To find out more about Japanese Uncovered or to enrol in the programme, click here.
Looking for more helpful Japanese learning tips?
Check out 42 of the best ways to learn Japanese as recommended by successful language learners and polyglots from around the world.