This article is a review of JapanesePod101.com, an online resource for learning Japanese through audio podcasts.
In this review, I'll take you inside the premium members area and show you the main features of the website, then give you my honest assessment of the quality of the product, so you can decide whether it's right for you.
JapanesePod101 Review: Summary
- Very substantial – tonnes of lessons for all levels
- Easy to use lesson format – audio lessons and handy mobile app
- Plenty of Kana practice material – Japanese writing system
- Dialogues are too short
- Too much “lesson” content, not enough Japanese!
- Excessive advertising, up-selling, and cross-promoting related products, even after you sign up
A premium JapanesePod101 subscription costs $180 USD per year.
JapanesePod101 is a good, engaging resource, especially for beginners and lower levels.
Their bite-sized approach to study materials makes it an ideal option for busy people – especially those who prefer to study on the go. It’s by no means a shortcut, though, and you’ll need self-discipline to get through it.
(My top recommendation for Japanese learners is Japanese Uncovered, which teaches you through StoryLearning®. Click here to find out about Japanese Uncovered now.)
What Is JapanesePod101?
JapanesePod101 is an online subscription programme for Japanese language learners of all proficiency levels.
Subscribers get access to an extensive library of Japanese audio and video lessons, as well as a significant number of other learning tools, such as Japanese flashcards, Kanji character practice sheets and an English-Japanese audio dictionary.
All of the content included in the premium subscription is available to access through a web browser or through a handy mobile app.
A Look Inside JapanesePod101
Lessons in JapanesePod101 are organised by fluency levels. Each level has different ‘seasons’, or sets of lessons. In each set, you’ll find anything from 1 to over 100 lessons.
This amounts to literally hundreds of Japanese podcast lessons, making JapanesePod101 a pretty substantial resource.
That said, with so much content to choose from, it's difficult to know where to begin.
One feature that helps is called ‘Learning Paths'. These paths allow you to tailor-make your experience based on your current level and course goals.
From a search bar, you can choose topics and skill categories. For example, absolute beginners can choose from learning paths like ‘Can Introduce Yourself’, ‘Japanese Body Language and Gestures, or ‘Introduction to Japanese Kanji'.
I like this idea because it makes it easier for you to pick a starting point. It also gives you a clear picture of what you'll have learnt once you complete a learning path.
What's Included In Each Lesson?
Each lesson contains 3 audio tracks:
- Full Lesson Audio
- Review Track
- Dialogue Only Track
Each lesson normally follows the same format:
- Dialogue in Japanese
- Repetition of the dialogue with a translation
- Explanation of new vocabulary
- Explanation of new grammar
- Discussion of the story and cultural insight
Once you've completed the main lesson, you can use the review and dialogue-only tracks to practice what you've learned.
The review track is for quickly reviewing and practicing new vocabulary. The dialogue track allows you to simply replay the Japanese dialogue and skip all of the explanations.
This is the track I recommend you work with the most.
Let's take a look at some of the other more advanced features of JapanesePod101 that you'll find in premium subscriptions…
For me, the most valuable part of JapanesePod101 is the powerful extra features accompanying each lesson.
I love that the dialogue is in an interactive format: you can click on individual lines and hear the audio, both at natural speed and slowed down. You can also switch the text between Kanji, English, Romaji and Hiragana.
This works really well and is ideal for breaking down the dialogues into smaller parts, and reading along while you listen. This is great for your listening comprehension, but will also help with vocabulary and learning to read Kana.
Lastly, you get a list of vocabulary from the dialogue written in Kana, Romaji and English. Again, you can click on these words to hear the audio. There’s even a voice recorder for trying out your pronunciation (although it’s glitchy).
Another cool feature of JapanesePod101 is the personalised flashcard system.
You can choose the vocabulary you want to learn from your lessons and export it to the built-in flashcard system.
These flashcard decks are fully customisable and use a spaced-repetition system to help you learn new words. It’s a very user-friendly tool.
The big downside, though, is that these flashcards only show you words in isolation. It’s much more effective to learn words in context. Some flashcards do give you sample phrases, but they’re unrelated to the lessons and most times have no audio to hear. This is a pity, because it makes a potentially powerful flashcard tool practically useless.
All of the lesson material is also available for download, in case you want physical copies of everything. These don’t offer anything new – they're just PDF versions of the lessons on the website. Nevertheless, people have different learning styles and some prefer to have everything printed off for later reading. If that’s you, this option is good to have.
Bonus PDFs For Beginners
In addition to the lessons, there are plenty of extra resources for beginners, which add value if you’re a first-time learner. Some are essentials, and others are just for interest.
When you're just starting out with Japanese, it's a tricky stage where you really need solid, reliable information on the basics (grammar, phonology, the writing system) and the last thing you want to do is hinder your progress by taking bits and pieces from various websites. Here, it's all in one place:
- Overviews of the language
- A Guide to Japanese Pronunciation
- Introduction to Japanese Grammar
- Japanese Verb Conjugation Charts
- Key Japanese Phrases
- Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana printable worksheets
- Fun elements like the blog and ‘Japanese video dramas’
Other Notable Features
A couple of other cool features include a quiz function, which gives you vocabulary and writing tests based on language from the lessons, and a handy online Japanese-English / English-Japanese dictionary with audio. And if you have ambitions to be certified, there’s a Japanese Language Proficiency Test practice section.
JapanesePod101 Review: What I Like
There are quite a few things about JapanesePod101 that I really like…
- It's a very substantial resource. There are plenty of lessons for all levels and the library is updated regularly with new material.
- The course is well-designed, with some pretty impressive content. It's not easy to source and produce graded material for an entire language course – particularly one with three different alphabets. Grammar points and vocabulary are repeated as you move into higher levels – a great way to reinforce what you've learnt.
- The podcast lessons are short and entertaining, so they're perfect if you’re someone who needs motivation to get going. One of the younger Japanese presenters, Risa, brings a lot of charm and fun to her videos.
- The difficulty levels are just right. Once you figure out your current level and get going, you'll find that the progression from level to level seems logical.
- Vocabulary is well selected and the dialogues are based on real-life situations. By that, I mean the lessons teach useful language (the kind of Japanese that's actually spoken by people in Japan).
- The line-by-line clickable dialogues with audio and translation, as well as Kanji, Romaji and Hiragana transcriptions, are AWESOME. For me, this interactive feature is the main benefit of the product. There’s also a voice recorder with each line to practice your pronunciation.
- The handy mobile app works on all your devices and allows you to listen to episodes easily on the go. You can save lessons to listen offline, and the line-by-line audio feature will work on your smartphone.
- Excellent writing instruction and practice. The resources for learning to read and write hiragana and katakana are impressive.
JapanesePod101 Review: What I Don't Like
For all the positives, there are also quite a few significant downsides to JapanesePod101:
- The podcasts use too much English and not enough Japanese. This is fine for beginners, but as you become more advanced, it gets rather frustrating. I certainly find that once I reach the higher levels of language, I start craving more substantial, interesting audios that will challenge my listening skills. If you’re like me, at that stage you'll probably be feeling that there's too much English in each episode compared to the amount of Japanese you're hearing. Even at the higher levels, the dialogues are all very short.
- The resources are sometimes not very polished, which is disappointing when you’ve paid good money for a course. The podcast and transcript editing are sometimes poor, and the information across the different study tools is not always consistent. For one, the vocabulary sections need a lot of attention. There are inaccurate translations, sample sentences that make little sense… For example, in the category “At The Gym”, you see many odd sentences like “The man is jumping on top of the mountain.” These aren’t deal-breaker issues, but they do leave you feeling somewhat neglected.
- The vocabulary lists and flashcards work with single words out of context, which is a big missed opportunity. It's much more effective to learn words in context. Regular readers will know that I bring this up often! Of course, you can see the words in context within the dialogues, and there are often sample sentences in the flashcard programme. But I'm a big believer in keeping words in full sentences at all times, especially when revising.
- More “teaching” than immersion. I can’t stress enough how essential immersion is for learning a language. In a 15-minute JapanesePod lesson, you’ll hear maybe 30 seconds of sustained listening to Japanese (the dialogue). The rest is teaching explanations of vocab and grammar. It isn't that the teaching isn't useful or good quality, but you need to spend more time simply listening to Japanese if you actually want to learn it! When there’s more opportunity for extensive listening, the rhythm of the language gets into your bones. Unfortunately, with these podcasts, I often still find myself thinking in English.
- Vocabulary lists from the lessons don't always contain all the useful words from the dialogues. Often, they're just words that are related to the topic. While there's no harm in seeing related vocabulary, the fact that you haven't heard it in the dialogue makes it a bit random. You’re also less likely to remember these ‘extra’ words later. As for the missing vocabulary, you can do a dictionary search to get the words, but it's unnecessary and interrupts the user experience.
- There is a lot of advertising, up-selling, and cross-promoting related products, even after you’ve paid for the product. Not only is this annoying, but the on-site banners are visually distracting and definitely detract from the user experience.
- Information overload. There’s an astonishing amount of information on JapanesePod101 – not surprising as it was the original LanguagePod course and has had 15 years of input. But as cool as some individual elements appear, the ‘whole’ is far more than you need to learn Japanese.
How Much Does JapanesePod 101 Cost & Is It Worth It?
JapanesePod101 works on a freemium model. This means that it's free to create an account and use some of the early lessons, but most of the best lessons and features are only available after you pay.
There are various different subscriber options and as you might as expect, the longer you subscribe for, the cheaper the deal. I do find the prices quite reasonable, though.
If you take a one-year premium subscription as our baseline – this costs $180. That's a lot more than the cost of a book, but substantially less than other commercial products like Rosetta Stone ($399) or Pimsleur ($345 per 30-lesson level), for example.
Overall, I think JapanesePod101.com is a substantial and well-made resource for learning Japanese that's easy to consume. And, despite my issues with the teaching format, I think you'll find it useful if you decide to sign up.
However, if you're looking for a comprehensive beginner programme that will take you all the way to the intermediate level in Japanese, using a much more fun, engaging and effective method, then I have something that might suit you better…
Japanese Uncovered: A Better Alternative To JapanesePod101
While JapanesePod101 is reasonably well-structured and has plenty of lesson content, it's not the most fun Japanese programme.
That's where Japanese Uncovered is different.
Japanese Uncovered is a comprehensive online beginner course, that takes you from a complete beginner in Japanese up to an intermediate level. And it's fuelled by a fun and unique method called StoryLearning®.
StoryLearning is an immersive process that was invented to teach you languages naturally. It’s so natural, in fact, that it’s based on how human beings learn their native language.
In the course, you'll learn through an exciting original story in Japanese, written especially for beginner learners… illustrations included!
Even though you learn through story, you have a teacher and experienced language learner at your side, all the way through the course, giving explanations in English and tips to help you learn the material fast.
Uncovered teaches all of the key aspects of the language: reading, listening, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, speaking and writing. So, by the time you've finished, you'll be a confident intermediate-level Japanese speaker, ready to go out and actually use your Japanese in the real world!
What You Get With Uncovered
- Complete 20-module course to learn to speak Japanese with confidence through StoryLearning™. This is a method that relies on your brain's natural way of learning.
- 100+ video lessons with your experienced Japanese teacher, taking you from beginner up to the start of B1 level. You'll learn with the same method that's attracted worldwide attention, from the BBC, Independent, Open University, European Commission, El País, and more!
- Learn to read hiragana effortlessly, and learn some katakana and kanji.
- Learn about Japanese honorifics (keigo) in a natural way.
- Discover the secrets I used to learn 8 languages, and how to use them yourself to speak Japanese with confidence – easily joining in conversations with native speakers.
- Fully downloadable programme so you can learn faster – anywhere, any time, and on any device… even without an internet connection!
- Complete learning material, including audiobook, translations, printable worksheets… everything you need to get started and find success with your language learning!
- Expert pronunciation training videos, so you can perfect your pronunciation and speak like a native from the start.
- Money-back guarantee, so you can buy without risk today, and get a full refund if you don't love it.
If you're determined to learn Japanese and are looking for the most fun and effective Japanese course around, I'm confident you'll love Uncovered!
Ready to start? Click here to find out more about Japanese Uncovered and start your language learning journey.