The Best 7 Android Apps for learning Japanese

I review Japanese learning apps on this blog fairly often, but in reality there are only a small number of Japanese learning apps that I have regularly used on my language journey so far. There are also a few apps that I wish I’d had access to when I was a beginner. For that reason, I thought I would put together a list of the best Android apps out there for learning Japanese!

The best thing is that these apps are either free or available at a low cost. As I almost exclusively use Android devices, this list was made with Android users in mind, but actually, many of these are available on the Apple Store too.

 

top-android-apps-learning-japanese

 

 

1) An app to introduce you to Japanese: Lingodeer

Cost: free; also available on iOS

 

If you like the idea of using an app like Duolingo, then I recommend trying out Lingodeer instead. Lingodeer was initially aimed at those learning Mandarin, Korean or Japanese (French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Vietnamese are also available) and so the lessons are tailored towards these languages in a better way than Duolingo.

Lingodeer starts by teaching hiragana and katakana, which makes it a great choice for absolute beginners. Like Duolingo, the app has a number of lessons increasing in complexity covering a number of different themes. Each lesson starts out with some grammar notes (called ‘Learning Tips’), then a number of smaller topics covering a few grammar points and vocabulary under the given theme. You also have the ability to toggle the use of kanji, furigana and romaji within the lessons if you wish.

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When it comes to the lesson quizzes, the app tests your understanding in a few different ways. Successfully passing the quizzes earns you XP, and allows you to move on to the next lesson. Similarly, there isn’t a heavy reliance on English for learning new vocabulary; instead, the focus is on using lots of images to convey meanings. There is a ‘Test Out’ feature which allows you to skip ahead if you can pass the tests.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using Lingodeer as a resource on its own, but I think it is a great way to supplement learning using another textbook. Alternatively, I think it is a nice app to use if you have taken a break from Japanese and perhaps want to review the basics before starting new material.

 

2) The textbook app: Human Japanese

Cost: Human Japanese Lite is free, full version £8.99; also available on iOS

 

Speaking of textbook style apps, I would highly recommend the app Human Japanese.

This app has a textbook style app that takes you through hiragana, katakana and the basics of Japanese grammar. All aspects of the language are explained in a very clear and straightforward manner, imparting a lot of information designed to give as much context as possible to what you are learning. The grammar lessons are also supplemented with relevant information on Japanese culture – you cannot understand the language without understanding the culture after all!

This short video gives you an overview of what Human Japanese is all about:

A lot of time and effort has clearly gone into Human Japanese – the quality of the app is great. All example sentences have crisp audio and example sentences have ‘ingredients’ which break down the sentence into its component parts, which is useful as sentences get more complex.

The full version of the app is not free and requires a one-off payment, but there is plenty of free content for Japanese newbies to work through to see if the app is appropriate for them before making a commitment. Looking at the content of the textbook, Human Japanese provides a solid foundation on which learners can continue to build on. I’ve written about Human Japanese in a previous post so I recommend checking that out if you would like to learn more.

 

3) The best Japanese dictionary app: Akebi

Cost: free

 

I have tried a number of free Japanese dictionary apps available on Android, but Akebi is by far my favourite. Again, this is another app that I have written a post about on this blog.

The sheer number of features that Akebi has makes it a great learner friendly app. These include:

  • Inbuilt Japanese keyboard – no worrying about switching keyboards just to look something up
  • Detailed kanji information (including frequency, JLPT level, words containing that kanji)
  • Handwriting recognition and ability to search by radicals
  • Deconjugation – if you look up a verb in the te-form, it will find the verb in its dictionary form along with meanings and other useful information
  • Full functionality offline, perfect for when I am avoiding the internet during study sessions!
  • Example sentences

One of my favourite features relates to Anki; whenever I use the app to look up new words, I can immediately add them to a flashcard deck of my choice in Anki to review later.

Overall, I find that it has the right balance of user-friendly interface and powerful features that make it the perfect companion for Japanese learners at all levels.

 

4) The best app for practicing Japanese with native speakers: HelloTalk

Cost: free; also available on iOS

 

One of the biggest issues Japanese learners tend to have if they are not living in Japan is lack of access to native speakers. Fortunately, language exchange apps like HelloTalk are the next best thing to address this issue.

When you sign up for an account, you can select the languages you are interested in learning, as well as the languages you can speak. You can then post a message to native speakers of the language you are learning and find an exchange partner. When speaking with your language partner, you can post in your target language or record audio/ have a video call.

HelloTalk has expanded into a sort of social network for language learners. You can now post status updates on your profile called ‘Moments’, which other members can correct any language mistakes for you.

The above Youtube video by Reina Scully gives a good overview of how the app can be used to study Japanese.

HelloTalk has a couple of handy features for language learners. For example, as Reina mentions in her video, the Translate feature allows you to see translations from your target language by tapping any word or phrase. In addition, the Notepad feature also enables you to save a message or recording for later practice.

I think HelloTalk is a great way to find a language partner or even to practice your reading skills by reading other users’ Moments.

 

5) The best reading assistant app: TangoRisto

Cost: free, ad free version requires one off payment of £4.29; also available on iOS

 

Reading in Japanese can be a scary experience at first, but TangoRisto is a great app to build your confidence. TangoRisto draws together articles from NHK News Easy among other sources which you can read via the app.

Screenshot 2017-09-12 at 20.09.14

As you can see from the screenshots, the interface is crisp, clean and very user friendly. Once in an article, a quick tap of a word brings up its reading and meaning. Like Akebi, tapping a conjugated verb will bring up the dictionary form of the verb with a note to indicate the form it has within the text (eg. passive tense, past tense). You can then bookmark these words to revise in the Vocabulary Review part of the app.

I like the ability to only highlight and/or show the furigana for words at certain JLPT levels as chosen in the settings, as well as the ability to save articles for offline reading. There is also a Text Analyzer tool, where you can paste Japanese text into the textbox; by then clicking ‘Analyze’, you can click on any word to find its readings and meanings.

Considering that this app is free to use, it is a quality resource for Japanese reading practice. It is definitely an app that I wish had been around sooner, especially when preparing for the JLPT tests!

I have a post reviewing TangoRisto which might be worth reading if you want to know more about the app.

 

6) The best app for vocabulary reviews: Anki

Cost: free; also available on iOS (for a price)

 

I haven’t always been a fan of Anki, but it is on my list because when used correctly it can be a very powerful tool. Whilst there is a free Anki app available on Android, Anki is available on a number of mobile and desktop platforms.

Anki (anki is the Japanese word for ‘memorisation’) is a spaced repetition flashcard app that has a high degree of customisation. Putting together your own flashcard decks tailored to the type of Japanese content you want to study (ie. from your favourite TV show, video game or novel) is a great way to learn Japanese and stay motivated.

There is a bit of time required to experiment with what kind of flashcard set up works best for you. If making your own flashcard decks sounds like too much trouble, there are some great flashcard decks available for download via the Shared Decks. Some of my favourite shared decks are the Kanji Damage deck and the Core 2000 vocabulary decks.

This video by Landon Epps gives a nice overview of some of the features Anki has and how Japanese learners can use it to review vocabulary.

Anki is a great app because it can be used to help memorise all sorts of things, not just the Japanese language. If you like looking at data, there are all sorts of statistics you can look into regarding your learning and progress for each flashcard deck.

 

7) Best app for Kanji: Kanji Study

Cost: limited content is free, full app costs £11.99; older version of app available on iOS

 

If you are looking for an app to specifically help you with kanji, look no further than Kanji Study. I love the user interface, and there are so many features to help you customise your kanji learning experience.

You can choose to tackle kanji in any order of your choice, but the default is the order in which Japanese children learn Joyo kanji at school by year. You can then break down each level into smaller groups of your choice. In the ‘Study’ mode, each kanji has its own page showing the stroke order, radicals, common readings, useful vocabulary and example sentences to help reinforce the meaning. If you long press a word, you then get the option to add it to an Anki deck or look it up via another website such as jisho.org – both very useful features!

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You can then choose to review the kanji via flashcards, multiple choice quizzes or writing challenges. These tests are highly customisable so that you can tailor your study sessions to focus on your weaknesses. The app also allows you to practice writing kanji. I like that the app uses a very readable kanji font which is much closer to how kanji would be handwritten rather than a typed font.

It is possible to set a daily study target, and you can set notification reminders to make sure you don’t miss a study session.

The beginner level kanji content is free, however access to all kanji requires a one-off cost of £11.99. All in all, I highly recommend this app because the quality of the app is top-notch.

 

Honourable mentions

There are a lot of apps which are great alternatives to some of the apps on my top 7 list:

Hello Talk -> HiNative

HiNative is fairly similar to Hello Talk, but I find HiNative better for learning about the current trends or asking questions about the culture of your target language. You can read my full review of HiNative here.

 

Anki -> Memrise/ iKnow

If you prefer an app that makes use of spaced repetition with a more user-friendly interface, then I recommend checking out Memrise or iKnow.

Memrise has its own starter courses for the Japanese language, however, I cannot comment on their quality as I have not tried this out for myself yet. Instead, I like to use the Memrise app to study some of the courses created by other users for certain aspects of Japanese, such as JTalkOnline’s keigo course. Recently Memrise has made it difficult to search for these user-generated vocabulary courses (via the app anyway – they are still easy to find via the website), which is a slight annoyance.

iKnow requires a monthly subscription (a free trial is available), but I think the Core 1000/ 3000/ 6000 vocabulary decks help build a good grounding in Japanese knowledge if you are not interested in making your own vocabulary flashcards.

 

Akebi -> Tangorin

Tangorin is another free dictionary app available on both Android and iOS, which also works fully offline.

 

TangoRisto -> Mondo

Mondo is another reading assistant app aimed to help Japanese learners. Mondo tends to pull its reading content from different sources compared to TangoRisto, and there is some original articles and dialogues that can only be read on the app. I’ve covered how Mondo works in an earlier blog post.

 

So that is my list of the best apps available for learning Japanese on Android. Do you agree with my list, or is there a glaring omission? Please tell me in the comments 🙂

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Hayakuchi Kotoba: Japanese Tongue Twisters

Tonguetwisters

I was watching videos on Youtube and came across a video on Japanese tongue twisters. I am terrible at tongue twisters in English (my native language) – I can just about say ‘She sells seashells by the seashore’ without messing up!

Because of this, I had shied away from tongue twisters in Japanese, but watching a video on tongue twisters made me realise that learning tongue twisters are not only fun but also useful Japanese speaking practice.

Benefits of learning tongue twisters

Tongue twisters are often seen as something for children, and therefore not worth learning as an adult. This is partly because tongue twisters were invented as a way for children to enjoy practicing tricky sounds. Similarly, TV presenters often use tongue twisters as a warm up to improve pronunciation.

There are definite benefits from practicing tongue twisters:

  • It gets you used to the sounds of Japanese which may not exist in your native language
  • You train your muscle memory on the subtle differences between similar sounds. By having to make these similar sounds so closely together within the same phrase, your mouth muscles get used to the slight changes in mouth movements required to say them effectively.
  • You learn to hear the difference between similar sounds used within the same word or phrase, eg. かく vs きゃく.
  • They are fun! Learning something silly in Japanese is bound to be more interesting and therefore easier to remember than ‘田中さんは日本人です’. Plus, even if you mess up you can be forgiven as tongue twisters are difficult for native speakers too!
  • You get bragging rights – it is pretty satisfying to finally get them right after a lot of practice (especially if you are terrible at tongue twisters like me)

 

Japanese Tongue Twisters

The Japanese term for tongue twisters is 早口言葉.

There are a whole bunch of Japanese tongue twisters out there – this Japanese website has a whole bunch for you to practice!

早口言葉

はやくちことば

Hayakuchi kotoba

Literally ‘fast mouth words’

I definitely recommend practicing these with a Japanese friend or language partner as it is great fun to share with other language learners. Alternatively, you could use HiNative or HelloTalk to record yourself and get feedback on how you did.

If like me, you do not have as much time to practice speaking, I think this is a great way of practicing the sounds of Japanese by yourself in just a few minutes every day. YouTube is a great source of audio to find people to mimic and to compare your own pronunciation against.

An example is this video by JapanesePod101, which covers some of the most well-known Japanese tongue twisters.

It is worth saying that tongue twisters do not always make perfect sense, so are not the best to use to study in depth. Here are 5 of my favorite 早口言葉 that are not featured in the JapanesePod101 video that are also popular (with very rough English translations):

 

東京特許許可局

とうきょうとっきょきょかきょく

Tokyo Patent Office

 

裏庭には二羽、庭には二羽鶏がいる

うらにわにはにわ、にわにはにわにわとりがいる

There are two chickens in the rear garden, and two chickens in the other garden

 

この猫ここの猫の子猫この子猫ね

このねこここのねこのこねここのこねこね

This kitten is the cat of the cat here, this kitten

 

隣の客はよく柿食う客だ

となりのきゃくはよくかきをくうきゃくだ

The neighbour’s guest is a guest who often eats persimmons

 

蛙ぴょこぴょこ3ぴょこぴょこ、合わせてぴょこぴょこ6ぴょこぴょこ

かえるぴょこぴょこみぴょこぴょこ、あわせてぴょこぴょこむぴょこぴょこ

The frogs jump three times, all together they jump six times

 

What is your favourite tongue twister (in Japanese or any other language)? Let me know in the comments!

Sound more like a Japanese native with Aidzuchi (filler words)

We all have moments when we are struggling for that word or phrase during a conversation – but how do we express that in Japanese?

In normal Japanese conversation, you are bound to have come across something called aidzuchi (相槌/ あいづち). Aidzuchi does not translate well into English but refers to filler words, such as um, erm, like, well that we use all the time when speaking to keep the flow of a conversation going.

Some examples of filler words you might hear include:

へー, うん, え, うわ, そうですね, さすが, なるほど, その通り, 本当に, やっぱり

These short words or phrases do not necessarily have a distinct meaning on their own, but are super powerful phrases for Japanese learners to make use of. There’s nothing worse than producing an accurate sentence in Japanese, only to end up saying “erm” in the middle of it!

When used well, it has the double benefit of increasing the fluency of your speech, whilst giving you a bit more time to think about what to say next.

Compared to English, aidzuchi is much more common in Japanese as it is used to show that you are paying close attention to what is being said (it does not necessarily mean you agree with it). Nodding also counts as aidzuchi!

 

Types of Filler Words

They can serve several purposes in Japanese:

  1. As affirmation, eg. うん, 確かに, よかったね, すごいね
  2. Expressing agreement, eg. 私はそう思う, まったくです
  3. Expressing surprise, eg. へぇ, まじで
  4. Inviting the other speaker to elaborate, eg. それで, そしたら, それから

This video by Wakuwaku Japanese gives a great overview of useful aidzuchi you can drop in to casual conversation:

 

Common Japanese Filler Words

Here are some of the most common filler words you will encounter:

あの/ ano

This is often used at the start of a sentence when trying to get someone’s attention, as in “Excuse me”. It is also often used instead of “um” in the middle of speech.

 

はい・ええ・うん (hai/ ee / un)

As in “yes”, but really just used to indicate that you are listening (think “uh-huh” in English).

 

そうですね/ sou desu ne

This phrase (and variants of it) can have many purposes. In the context of a conversation it often means “yes, I hear your point of view”.

 

It can also be used when someone has asked a question and you are thinking of an answer (like えぇと below).

 

えぇと/ eeto

This little word is basically used in place of “Hmm” or “let me see”, ie. used when thinking about what to say next.

 

へー・えー・うわ (hee / eee/ uwa)

Used when expressing surprise and/or shock at something

 

本当(ほんとう)・まじで (hontou/ majide)

Both of these phrases mean “really” used to express surprise. まじで is more casual sounding of the two.

 

なるほど・そうなんです (naruhodo / sou nan desu)

Used when you have been given an explanation for something – could be translated along the lines of “I see”, “I get it” or “That makes sense”.

 

やっぱり/ yappari

やっぱり is a more casual form of やはり. It is often used in response to something you expected to hear.

This word can have different nuances depending on the situation – this post by Maggie Sensei explains it better than I can!

 

確かに(たしかに)/ tashika ni

This phrase means “surely” or “certainly” and shows that you agree with the speaker’s opinion.

 

その通り(そのとおり)/ sonotoori

This is used to express agreement what the other speaker has said and has the meaning of “exactly” or “that’s right”.

 

Instant messaging apps such as LINE often have stickers (called スタンプ) which might remind you of useful aidzuchi when chatting with a friend.

Line Stamp Chocotto

Source: https://twitter.com/CHOCOTTO16

So the next time you are practising conversation and get stuck thinking of an appropriate response, try adding in some aidzuchi!

***One thing to note: as in English, the overuse of filler words tends to come across as very casual. For this reason, I would refrain from using too much aidzuchi in formal situations and with people senior to you.

A good way to show that you are listening to what is being said without using aidzuchi is to paraphrase what the speaker has said, and end the sentence with ね (“right”). This is also a great way to confirm that you have understood information correctly as a language learner!