Best Apps for Total Japanese Beginners

Aug 28, 2010

After many false starts, I have made up my mind to really learn Japanese. This means learning both the spoken and written language, a huge challenge. I’ve been buying Japanese apps right and left, trying them, and keeping the winners. This list is about those that made the grade, the keepers. It’s for those who know NOTHING about Japanese and are starting from scratch.

Mirai Japanese

Focused on spoken Japanese, this app has a double use, as a read-along app, or as just audio. You can sit and read it with no sound, but it’s better to play the audio and read along. Better still, i like that you can set it to Play in audio mode and then listen in the car — you don’t absolutely have to be looking at the screen, in other words.
Mirai, creators of this app, are located in Japan and all the Japanese audio is done by native speakers. There’s plenty of repetition, much needed for learning any new language and especially for Japanese. The lite version was good, so I shelled out for the paid version and have been VERY satisfied. Excellent Japanese starter app.

Mirai Japanese
Mirai Japanese
Price: Free+

Lingolook JAPAN

Who wants to walk around a foreign country holding a phrase book?? That just screams “TOURIST!” to everyone who lives there. This app is basically a phrase book on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Now you can be a total Japanese language newb but still look cool, because you’re walking around holding your spiffy Apple mobile gadget instead of your beat-up phrase book. This is not an app for actually learning Japanese, but it does serve as a good companion to your studies. Mostly, it’s a phrase book and a good one at that. If it gets you out of just one embarrassing situation, or helps you get where you’re going in Japan even once, it was worth the price. And yes, you can learn from it… of course. But it’s less of a Teacher and more of a Dumbass Avoidance app. Get it.

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Momo’s Learning Japanese

Childish, loud, hysterically funny, but totally effective, this “kiddie” app is just good ol’ fun packaged as a teaching app for kids. The point is to learn the Japanese characters, collectively called “kana,” by actually drawing them with your finger or stylus. It’s brain-dead simple, but that’s the whole point! Every time you get a character right, it shouts encouraging phrases, so maybe use earphones if you’re on the train or bus. Kids absolutely love this thing, and I have to admit I do, too. The interface is great, the teaching method works, and you WILL learn the kana characters this way. Great educational fun.


Kanachan’s Kana Reference Table

Great tool for learning the kana — hiragana, katakana — the phonetic characters of the Japanese “alphabet.” The interface is excellent, and you can dive right into learning without delay. It works like a big flip-card table, with the added advantage of audio — you tap a character and a native speaker pronounces that character for you. The kana have variants you need to learn, and they are also available with the tap of an icon. You have a choice of “skins” and fonts as well, to get used to alternative kana appearances. Terrific well-done app, a must-have for any beginner in Japanese.


Study Japanese for iPad

Nice interface, interesting audio, and an effective teaching technique all served to pique my interest when I began using this app. The secret to learning the Japanese characters, called hiragana, katakana, and kanji, is memorization. This app drills you, but in a way I find oddly relaxing and easy. Ok, so it’s not raucous like the Momo app, and doesn’t drill your head with a diamond bit like the KanaFlip app, but it’s quite effective in its own way. Well worth its place on your language Short List.

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