Below you will find JET-submitted tools for learning Japanese. If you have any suggestions, please send them to the Director of Professional and Education Development.
Memrise has an uncluttered interface which is easy on the eye. The Japanese courses available range from N5 to N1. As its name implies, Memrise is used for quick memorization of vocabulary, so don’t expect in depth explanations about nuances, nor any grammar practice. Most of the vocabulary come with mnemonics or funny pictures to aid your memory. Some come with voice clips. It’s a great way to make good use of commute times / down-times instead of surfing Facebook or playing Tsum Tsum. You can decide your own commitment, which could be as short as 5 min a day.
Tip: During the mini revision tests, instead of “tapping” the correct kanji (which could be easy giveaways), tap on the keyboard button which brings up your smartphone keyboard. This means you have to recall the vocabulary from memory and also know the correct pronunciation to type to generate the kanji.
Learning kanji can seem like a daunting task. There’s literally thousands of them, and even more than one way to read each one—where do you start? That’s where Wani-Kani comes in. Wani-Kani is an online service that makes learning kanji accessible. It begins with teaching you a collection of radicals—the building blocks of kanji. After you master those, you’ll learn kanji comprised of those radicals, followed by vocabulary words comprised of those kanji. Then you’re off to the next level! Each level—using refreshingly clever mnemonics and Spaced Repetition Software (SRS)—teaches you more and more radicals, kanji, and vocabulary. In all, there are sixty levels, which approximates 1.5 years and 2,000 kanji’s worth of content. However, even completing just a handful of the levels will greatly improve your reading ability.
Importantly, it does require a subscription fee after the first three levels (~$8 per month). But if you’re willing to spend that much on Netflix, it’s hard to argue against that price tag for such a convenient and digestible kanji-studying program.
There’s so much on this website! Audio tracks of native speakers, supplementary reading materials, video series’, kanji study lists, common word lists, and JLPT practice tests, with more being added all the time! Content wise it’s a no-brainer for value for the money.
Audio tracks can be downloaded to your phone or music player and listened to whenever you want, for example, when exercising or commuting. When you get the chance, you can read the supplementary lesson transcripts and grammar explanations when you’re at a computer or on your phone.
You can go through the levels step by step or mix and match. On the website, you can isolate lines of dialogue from the audio lessons and there is an option to record yourself speaking the sentences to compare with that of the native speakers.
One thing that is really cool is that the levels are not just Beginner-Intermediate-Advanced but Newbie, Beginner, Upper Beginner, and on and on up to Advanced level. There’s a real understanding on the website that language study can be microscopically incremental which is so encouraging.
Are you trying to learn Japanese but just can’t seem to stomach the courses? Looking for a fun, new approach to learning the language of the Rising Sun? Well then, try out “All Japanese All the Time” by blogger Khatzumoto! Khatzumoto learned Japanese in 18 months via 2 main methods: “1. The belief that I (one) could become fluent in Japanese 2. Constantly doing fun stuff in Japanese”. Learning Japanese, Khatz advocates, shouldn’t be some boring and tedious task of cramming. The best results happen when one has fun immersing themself with the language. His site is a reflection of that method and includes an immense amount of tips and tools to get you moving along on your Japanese language adventure. Due to the amount of information contained in the site, it would be best to click on the “Table of Contents” link at the top-left of the page when getting started.
Looking for a way to improve your Japanese reading skills and vocabulary, but can’t find anything beyond an elementary school maturity level? Try the news!
NHK has an “easy” news site with furigana and definitions built-in, and a new article every day. Perfect for your morning routine.
AnkiSRS is a spaced repetition system for reviewing vocabulary (or anything, really). You can download the program onto your laptop and/or your smartphone, and also review from anywhere with an internet connection via AnkiSRS.net. Anki makes creating and editing flashcard decks a breeze and has tutorial videos on their website explaining how. The Anki community has also created many shared decks available online, including JLPT kanji reviews, Genki I & II vocabulary reviews, Heisig kanji reviews, etc. Finally, Anki also allows you to add pictures and other media, providing an excellent way to learn your students names.
If you’re looking for a more entertaining method of learning Japanese, this is sure to please. Erin’s Challenge! is a video series of 25 Japanese lessons produced by the Japan Foundation. It is based on a situational syllabus with lessons covering the daily life of one exchange student’s experience at a Saitama High School. The website focuses heavily on listening and reading, and contains multiple language options (日本語, にんほご, nihongo, English), cultural lessons, and vocabulary-building exercises.
Check the website out at https://www.erin.ne.jp/en/!
Heisig’s method differs markedly from traditional rote-memorization techniques practiced in most courses. The course teaches the student to utilize all the constituent parts of a kanji’s written form, and a mnemonic device that Heisig refers to as “imaginative memory”.
Each kanji (and each non-kanji component) is assigned a unique keyword, a simple concept with a specific range of meaning. A kanji’s written form and its keyword are associated by imagining a scene or story connecting the meaning of the given kanji with the meanings of all the elements used to write that kanji.
The method requires the student to invent their own stories to associate the keyword meaning with the written form. The text presents detailed stories in Part I, proceeding through Part II with less verbose stories, encouraging the student to use the stories as practice for creating their own. After the 508 kanji in Parts I and II, the remainder of the kanji (Part III) have the component keywords but no stories. In cases where the reader may be easily confused or for difficult kanji, Heisig often provides a small story or hint.
All the kanji are analysed by components—Heisig terms these “primitives”—which may be traditional radicals, other kanji themselves or a collection of strokes not normally identified as independent entities. The basic primitives are introduced throughout the book, just as they are needed to learn the kanji that use them. This order is designed to introduce the kanji efficiently, from the primitives and kanji already learned, rather than the order of their frequency or the dictates of the jōyō grading. (From Wikipedia)
Genki teaches beginning Japanese grammar and vocabulary in a textbook format, with grammar reviews and exercises. It is also the basis for many beginner Japanese programs. The first two chapters only are in Romaji – the rest are in Kana and Kanji. Genki also provides Kanji reviews at the end of each book.
If you’re a fan of old games, you’ll probably love Kana Invaders. There are many versions available online (just google “kana invaders”), but one of the best appears to be here. This is a game modeled after the old Space Invaders, and prompts the user to recognize a kana (hiragana or katakana) and type it before the kana reaches the bottom of the screen. It’s a fun way to increase your kana recognition.
Rikaichan and Rikaikun, for Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome browsers, respectively, provide instant translation of Japanese within web pages. Just turn on the plug-in, roll your mouse over the kanji or kana of your choice, and an in-browser translation popup will appear.
If you used to play Dragon Warrior / Dragon Quest, you will probably love playing Slime Forest – a similar RPG where one must fight kanji-wielding slime. To win a battle, you must type the appropriate English or Japanese keyword. In a way, it’s much like the Heisig method, but the words seem to be a bit more accurate. The game also incorporates a spaced recognition system, as well as forced rest periods – similar to Anki. Note: This game won’t help you with writing kanji or the readings, but it will rapidly increase your recognition. The full version offers more than the free version.