Have you ever been wondered, “What is the best way to self-study Japanese?”
Actually, this is the question I have been asked by my students again and again. They are so motivated that they want to learn more. I am really proud of them. :)
However, it is a bit difficult for me, a teacher, to answer this question. I can give you some suggestions but I cannot give you the info based on my first-hand experience.
Who do you think the best person to answer this question? Yes, REAL LEARNERS. The real students who self-study Japanese Every Single Day. (I’m not kidding. They really do.)
So I asked my students, “What is your favorite Japanese tool when you learn Japanese outside of the classroom?”
And, guess what? I have overwhelmed to receive so many answers. They dedicated their time and energy to share their experience. I really appreciate their kindness.
I would like to share this valuable resource with you. I hope you get inspired what other learners actually use every day.
Here is the Category of 30+ Ways to Self-Study Japanese:
You can download “Japanese Self-study Tips” PDF.
Hiragana / Katakana
Memorize Hiragana and Katakana letters are the first steps of Japanese learning. If you memorize them, you can read Japanese text and show off your Japanese knowledge to your friends.
Some tools simply focus on memorizing kana (Hiragana and Katakana). Others provide various activities such as Kanji, vocabulary, grammar, listening, and comprehension.
Install Japanese language pack in your device
This is a foundation of your Japanese learning. Make your laptop/ tablet/ phone Japanese friendly environment. You can type romaji and get proper Japanese script. Go to Language Setting on your device and download Japanese Language Pack.
“It is useful. (Tom, intermediate)”
JED is an offline Japanese dictionary for Android. You can search using kanji, hiragana, katakana or romaji.
“Detail dictionary (translation, conjugate, example sentences etc) (Kaiyu, Beginner)
Tinycard is a free iOS app and works as e-flash cards. You can download from the ready-to-use animated collections or create your own deck. The pictures are cute!
“User-friendly, (nice user interface). It would be good to allow audio for pronunciations. (Jack, beginner)”
Kana mind (app)
Kana mind is a free Android and iOS app. You can practice Hiragana and Katakana recognition.
“It’s a flashcard app that has multiple options, as you become confident with kana character it increases difficulty. Because it treats yoon the same as regular characters you are tested more on yoon than regular characters! Try doing it on the train to work! (Doug, beginner)”
Kana town (app)
Kana town is a free Android and iOS app. You can practice full list of Hiragana and Katakana.
“It is a quiz to help memorise Hiragana characters and their modifications (dakuon, handakuon and yōon). Unlike a few others I tried this one isn’t multiple choice, instead you have to enter in each character in romaji making it a little bit harder. It also does the same for katakana characters and word bundles (although those require payments). You can choose to either practice random characters or just a selected few. All progress is saved and you can see how many times you have answered correctly (characters change from red to various stages of green and then to gold depending on how many times you give the correct answer) as well as an overall percentage. (Rachel, beginner)
Game style app to build essential Kana reading, vocabulary and conversation skills. It is a free app for iPhone and iPad.
“Games! and you can switch between Hiragana Katakana + romaji. The user interface is a bit complicated, though. (Jack, beginner)”
Obenkyo is Android & Chrome browser app to memorize hiragana, katakana, and kanji. You can also practice writing as writing recognition feature. This app is free.
“You can have test in 3 ways, multiple choice both ways or writing a character in romaji. They have experimented writing recognition. (Alberto, beginner)”
“Lots of kanji (recognition) practice. But writing feature is not very accurate. (Miranda, upper beginner)
Dr. Moku (Hiragana / Katakana) (app)
This app helps you learn Hiragana and Katakana. It shows animated stroke guides, words and phrases and quiz. There are lite and full versions.
“very useful (Lucy, beginner)”
Tengu Go (web & app)
Tengu Go is Kana and Kanji learning program and available both a website and Android & iOS app. It includes basic lessons, flashcards, dictionary and quiz. Kana version is free, and Kanji version is paid.
“It’s a little help to memorise Kana. (Martin, upper beginner)”
Realkana (web & app)
Realkana is a website & iOS app to practice hiragana and katakana recognition. You can check which kana you’d like to practice. The site is very simple, and you type in Romaji. The app is a paid product and has lots more features.
“It lets you start with just a few Hiragana characters to test yourself. When you’ve learnt these then you can add a few (Rajipal, beginner)”
Damemoto is a part of the website, “コドモゴ (kodomogo).” It is a Japanese site to support Japanese children learn Japanese. The website and apps are written in Japanese. So it might be a bit difficult to know how to use it.
When you go to the site, you can see a big apple picture and the title 【アプリ(apuri)】, which means “application.” You select “iOS” or “Android” and tap the app you choose.
Hiragana and Katakana apps are free, but each Kanji level based on Japanese elementary school have lite and full versions.
“Apps to help learn writing, I have been using the hiragana one. The apps are all in Japanese so it takes a bit of stumbling around to learn how to use it, though. (Christine, beginner)”
Learn Japanese to survive! Hiragana Battle (app)
Hiragana battle is an RPG style Hiragana learning game for PC and Mac. Memorizing Hiragana is not boring anymore! You can also learn words, phrases, and basic grammar. It is a paid program. Katakana version will be released in 2017.
“It makes learning hiragana into a classic RPG game it’s an adventure. It is only Hiragana but would be good if it included katakana. (Ben, Beginner)
Human Japanese (app)
Human Japanese is an online self-study program. You can learn Kana, vocabulary and sentence structures with recordings. You can try lite version and purchase full products suitable for your device. There are lite and full versions.
“It keeps you interested in learning Hiragana and Katakana. Best application I’ve ever used. It comes with a story along. I would love to see Human Japanese teach Kanji someday. がんばってください. (Ilias, Beginner)
“You can download the ‘lite’ version of the app to try it first. The explanations of sentence structure is very easy to understand and interesting, and lots of Japanese conversation to read and listen to. Learn about Japanese culture as well as you progress through the chapters. (Luke, Upper beginner)
Learn Katakana: the Ultimate Guide by Tofugu.com (Blog)
Tofugu is the most popular blog site among Japanese learners. It features Japanese culture and language in a fun way. Tofugu provides some Japanese language guides in their post. This is one of them.
“looks good to learn Katakana and other things. (Alberto, Beginner)”
Kanaflash cards by White Rabbit Press (physical flashcards)
White Rabbit Press is a part of White Rabbit Japan, Japanese products exporter. WRP creates Japanese language learning tools such as flash cards and Kanji posters.
“Kana flash cards. They give helpful ways to try and remember the kana and also words containing them. The flash cards are my favourite as they can be used quickly in a variety of ways to study (Christine, Beginner)”
Hiragana / Katakana Learning Course (Website)
I created these free courses for you. In these courses, you can learn how to read Hiragana and Katakana readings step by step. You can download Hiragana and Katakana table PDFs, listen to the audio, and do some quizzes. These courses cover all the rules of Hiragana and Katakana reading, such as long vowels and Katakana only sounds. You can also download e-flashcards, which allows you to memorize each letter and sound together without using romaji.
“The flash cards are very useful. I used them while I was exercising at a gym. (Paul, beginner)”
“Using flash cards are addictive. It’s easy to use. I found it better not to use romaji when I memorize Hiragana because the alphabet is distractive. (Alison, beginner)”
Kanji learning has some steps. First, you need to recognize each character with meaning. Second, learn stroke order and pronunciations. Third, memorize words including a target kanji and read them. Simple apps provide character recognition activities, but the most important step is the third one. Kanji learning is a part of vocabulary building!
Meguro Language Centre (language school website)
Meguro Language Centre is a famous Japanese language school. Not only provide professional lessons, but they also give you tons of free study materials, such as grammar worksheets, listening materials flashcards so on. These resources are developed by professional and native Japanese teachers.
You can also register free email course to learn Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. Kanji course covers 120 basic kanji characters.
“Lots of free help for new learners. I’d recommend starting to learn kanji asap, it takes time but it’ll help with you vocabulary and is easier to learn if you do it along with the rest of the course. (Tom, Intermediate)”
Teach yourself Read-Write Japanese Script (book)
This book shows you a step-by-step guide how to read kanji characters. It contains kanji history, various practices to memorize kanji without hassle.
“You could probably just read this book cover to cover it is so interesting and you’ll inadvertently learn dozens of kanji. If you actually make an effort to remember them as you go (I did so with with the aid of Anki) you’ll learn over 130 plus even more with compound kanji. (Luke, Upper beginner)
Japanese Kanji study (app)
This Android app uses kanji font which looks similar to handwriting, to help you write kanji correctly. You can get detailed information, drawing practice quiz and flashcard style drilling. You can download it for free and upgrade later if you would like.
“practice kanji and learn compound character vocabulary with it ( for example, the other day I practiced: 校 ー 学校， 中学校，校長. etc. I find it helps to practice a kanji and then see lots of examples in actual words, as otherwise I never learn how to read words because of kunyomi and onyomi. (Jordan, Intermediate)”
“They are all track your learning and focus on things you are bad at (Paul, Upper beginner)”
Wanikani is a kanji learning application based on spaced repetition system like Anki or Memrise. You can learn 2,000 kanji characters and vocabulary. As it’s a part of Tofugu brand, the design looks lovely. It’s a subscription based product.
“This is a tool with a subscription fee, but it does have a free trial. It teaches you Kanji by teaching you the radicals which make up the different Kanji, and then showing you the kanji. This approach uses mnemonics to help you remember them. It also introduces vocabulary which uses the kanji you’ve learnt. It tests you on the things you’ve learnt after increasingly long time spans when you get them right, to help you remember better. The way it also shows you how the kanji is used in vocabulary. Sometimes the mnemonics are a bit odd, but you can use your own ones too. Typos are only taken into account in the kanji meaning, not the reading. You can get a browser extension which lets you get around this, though. (Carmilla, Upper beginner)”
“It’s Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) which means that it learns from you how well you know a word or kanji, and if you know it well, it doesn’t ask you to revise it, if you don’t know it, you are asked to revise it often. This makes learning very efficient and satisfying! Learning Kanji doesn’t have to be as painful as it first seems. The more you learn, the easier it is to learn more as your brain learns to recognize the substructures (radicals). If you are learning Kanji, I recommend you read this:https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/kanji-study-methods/ and consider which method will work best for you, bearing in mind that the method that Japanese children use in elementary school is rarely the most efficient for Adult westerners. (Ben, Intermediate)”
Grammar is important to understand the Japanese language. It’s a bit harder to learn by yourself than memorizing Kana and Kanji, but you can do it with the good textbook(s).
Minna no Nihongo(book)
The most popular and established Japanese textbook series. It’s richer and more informative than other textbooks. It’s not designed for self-learning, however. If you use it in a class with your teacher, you can use it to revise.
“Very informative. (Camen, Beginner)”
Japanese for busy people (book)
Japanese for busy people is designed for “busy” students who want to learn essential Japanese effectively. This textbook is created by Association for Japanese Language Teaching (AJALT), a public interest corporation authorized by the Japanese Prime Minister. The website also provides some Japanese online resources. You can buy it from Amazon or other bookstores.
“It eases you into it, charts for hiragana/ katakana. (Sam, Beginner)”
“Great when used as a group (Christine, Beginner)”
Easy Japanese NHK (website)
NHK is Japan’s national public broadcasting organization. This website provides free Japanese lessons with audio, texts, exercises and so many resources.
“Useful for vocabulary (anonymous student, upper beginner)
Textfugu (online textbook)
Textfugu is an online textbook for self-learners. This is also a part of Tofugu brand and the design is cheerful and bright. You can buy it as a monthly or a lifetime membership.
“For self-leaning grammar (fun approach with lots of videos, jokes, and useful sentences) it is different from other textbooks as it is aimed at self-learners and therefore focuses on a big issue that self-learners have – motivation. (Ben, Intermediate)”
Tae Kim’s Learning Japanese (web, book, and app)
Tae Kim is perhaps the most famous Japanese learner as he wrote the Japanese Grammar Guide as a resource for those who would like to understand Japanese grammar. You can buy the book through Amazon, download a free pdf version or use Android or iOS app version for free.
“Good for general grammar rules and comes with massive vocabulary (Ilias, Beginner)”
Practice Japanese by yourself (DIY)
Nowadays we rely on shiny objects like apps or programs too much, but a simple method, like writing a learning diary or making up sentences would be the most powerful way to digest what you have learned and use Japanese as often as you wish.
“Just write some notes or read something each day to use your new grammar and vocabulary. it’s easier for a teacher to help if it’s stuff you’ve only done a week or 2 ago and you have questions. (Tom, Intermediate)”
“What I find helpful is making sentences with any vocab/grammatical structures that I’m learning, it helps solidify stuff you’ve just learnt. It’s helped me with everything, so learning hiragana and katakana I’d write down how I think a word is spelt in a simple sentence and then check what you’ve written, and with vocab and grammar you can make up a sentence with specific words or structures in and then go back and check, so using what I’ve just learnt in daily life really helps me i.e. if I’m going to the shops, I’ll say that in Japanese. You can use it to learn everything at once, you can make up a sentence with kanji, a verb, a grammatical structure and a word you’re learning in one go and see how it turns out. This way isn’t very helpful for reading and listening practice, it’s mainly for speaking and writing. (Hayley, Intermediate)”
“Learning Diary is good for vocabulary, writing (hiragana etc) and motivation. I can do at my own pace. It consolidates learning. There are not many online materials that make it easy to keep a learning diary or to enhance it with extra features or links. If you keep a diary with learning achievements and difficulties, you should become a better learner. (Rob, Beginner)”
Asuka Sensei’s Japanese Course (Online Course)
This is a series of courses created by me. You can master Japanese grammar with video tutorials and exercises, just 10 mins a day. You can also practice reading, listening, speaking and writing exercises to expand your Japanese skills. This is an all-in-one course for self-learners, who cannot find high-quality Japanese lessons in their local area, who would like to revise their Japanese knowledge, or who would like to take their Japanese skill to the next level.
“It is quite satisfying ticking off the sections, feeling like some progress is being made. The format of a high number of examples is very efficient; as I can pause the video before the answer is given, and give my own answer, and go through many examples quickly this way. (Ben, Upper beginner)”
“Going over these modules has really helped me to improve vocabulary and to try and memorize. (Anonymous student, Beginner)”
“Lots of relatable examples and not too many things were introduced at once. The little tests were useful too. This was better than the Minna no Nihongo books. (Anonymous student, Upper beginner)”
When you write Japanese, you may wonder whether it is a natural Japanese sentence or not. Here is a free solution to check your writing.
lang-8.com (social network)
Lang-8 is a free language exchange social network. You write a journal and native speakers will check it. You also check other learner’s journal for return.
hinative.com (Q&A platform)
Hinative is a part of Lang-8 team. It focuses Q&A platform. You can ask questions to native speakers and get answers.
“Both Lang-8 and HiNative let you post in Japanese, and have native speakers correct your work. Its free! All you need to do is correct other people’s English in return. This is invaluable for learning “does this sound natural?” as textbooks and dictionaries cannot answer this. (Ben, Intermediate)”
Many students find listening difficult. You may find these tools are useful.
Earworms Learn Japanese (audio / app / audiobooks)
Earworms use the power of music to stick Japanese words and phrases into your head. Go to the website and check a sample track. If you have tons of time to commute, listening Japanese with music would be a great learning experience.
“Learn useful sentences and words for different scenarios (most of which you will find yourself in if you have a trip to Japan) while listening to conversations along to the music. It sounds odd, but it really works – I used almost everything in volumes 1 and 2 (a CD each) regularly during my trip to Japan earlier this year. Highly recommended – I borrowed both volumes (CDs plus vocal booklets) from my local library, or you can download as mp3s from the site. (Luke, Upper beginner)”
Japanese Pod 101 (program)
Japanese Pod 101 focuses on casual style Japanese learning. They produce lots of materials including videos and podcasts. There are a free version and three paid subscription levels.
*Note: At their webpage, you cannot access any information unless you register your email. You can check some of their materials at their YouTube channel and podcast.
“Good for listening. (David, Beginner)”
Fun Japanese Listening (podcast)
This is the podcast hosted by me. You can practice listening precisely as the current series of this podcast focuses on dictation. You can download a question sheet, an answer sheet and a translation sheet from the website. Once you get everything, listen to an episode of the podcast and fill in the blanks. You will be amazed how accurately you can listen after doing this exercises.
“ありがとうございます！All my congratulations for your site and Podcast! They are very well done and very useful for learning Japanese. (Yukikoff, Beginner)”
“The podcasts and materials are fun! (David, Beginner)”
The two “King” tools
There are two “King” tools among all tools. They are essential and powerful for your self-study. Both of them are an e-flashcard program with spaced repetition system to memorize information easily and quickly. You can use them to build your vocabulary, remember sentence structures, mini-listening exercises and more! However, there is one notable difference, ready-made vs. DIY. Let’s check.
Memrise is the very popular e-flashcard program. It is available on the website and Android and iOS app. It’s free to use. You download one of the ready-made courses and use it regularly. Every course is different, so the choice is up to you!
Do you want to start as soon as possible? Do you love ready-made deck? Then Memrise is for you! You can choose tons of courses to practice.
“uses the same vocab as Minna no Nihongo. Broken into the same chapters. がんばって！(Anonymous student, Upper beginner)”
“Start Memrise for vocab early & stick with it! Catching up is hard. (Paul, Upper Beginner)”
“free, offeres reading, writing and listening, keeps you learnnings you find more difficult and only takes five minutes a day. The pronunciation is sometimes not perfect but it’s still good practice (Lucy, Beginner)”
“Flash card style learning. It keeps record of what you can remember and what you can’t, so flashes the harder ones more often. (Kathrine, Beginner)”
“It works like flashcards + keeps track of difficult words so you can focus on them more. Try Memrise! J (Phoebe, Beginner)”
“This website allows users to create and use flashcards to help memorize languages among other useful and fun info. What’s unique about it is that it will remind me to revise ‘mems’ that I’ve already learnt, reinforcing my memory of the word, phrase or character. It uses an interesting ‘plant-and-water’ metaphor to describe learning as planting the memory and watering as revision. The more you water, the later the ‘mem’ needs revision. They also have an app for apple and android, which I use very often. When it comes to Japanese, this is arguably one of the best ways to learn how to read hiragana and katakana. It absolutely amazed me on how quick I understood the characters after reading a few words. I think it took me about a week to learn those kana sets! Additionally, It’s quite satisfying knowing how to spell a word during the ‘watering’ phase.
While it is great, it’s not the Japanese learning tool to end all tools. Firstly, there’s no option to practice or demonstrate kana writing, which is why I can read and speak basic kana but not write it. Secondly, no matter how many words or phrases I can learn, I never remember all of them from the top of my head. I think the reason why I know basic kana over the many words I worked on was because I was using my kana memory to read the words I was learning and revising. In other words, what I memorize needs to be put into context (used and heard outside of Memrise) for them to be properly remembered. Finally, you have to be very careful on how much you memorize. If you learn too much (like I did!) you will end up with too many ‘mems’ to revise therefore having to balance planting with watering. Overall, Memrise is great for memorizing things but not fully practicing the language itself, which is why I attend the classes. (Oliver, Beginner)”
Anki is also the very popular e-flashcard program. It’s available on the website, PC, Mac, Android and iOS app. It’s free except iOS version. You can download decks someone created, but the main feature of Anki is to make your own multimedia deck. You can create a simple text-based deck or multimedia, like video and audio based deck. You can build your own study deck and practice anytime, anywhere.
Do you want to build your own deck? Do you love to create or DIY based on your need? Then Anki is for you! You can add a new card easily, so when you encounter a new word or phrase, you can write it down and practice it.
“This tool is free! I find it’s really helpful to put in whole sentences with grammar you’ve learnt, since having to try and recall how to say an English sentence in Japanese is really good for remembering the grammar in the long term. How modifiable it is. But it’s not always very intuitive to use when setting things up. (Carmilla, Upper Beginner)”
“You can make your own flash cards, or download packs (including みんなの日本語 chapters) and once you get into the flow you can easily practice 200+ words a day by doing 10 to 15 minutes (or less!) I also use this for kanji reading practice, making my own flash cards of characters I have learned. I use the desktop version for my laptop which is free and allows you to create your own cards/decks. (Luke, Upper Beginner)”
“Mostly vocab with Anki. Lots of decks made by others. It’s difficult to use but very customizable. But it’s hard to use, good for technically minded people. がんばって！(David, Beginner)”
The main problem of Anki is that it’s a bit difficult to use for a non-tech person like me, to be honest. Luckily, one of my tech-talents, Carmilla san, created excellent Anki tutorial.
Click here to go to the Anki tutorial!
You can download “Japanese Self-study Tips” PDF.
What are your favorite tools? Do you have any recommendation?
Please write in the comment section below and tell me!