Ten Japanese Learning Apps That Deliver!

By Donald Ash | Learn Japanese

Learning Japanese can be as fun as it is difficult or frustrating - especially if you're learning on your own.  Luckily, there are some extremely effective Japanese learning apps that can save you some headaches when you decide to strap in and go down this Japanese learning rabbit hole.  

Ten Japanese Learning Apps That Deliver - Thumbnail

If you've been studying Japanese for a while, no doubt you've encountered some of the very snags that all Japanese enthusiasts run into.  

Whether it's stumbling headfirst over some blasted Japanese particle, train-conductor-forcing kanji into your brain (and covering your ears so they don't escape), or just trying to figure out that last clever quip  One-Punch Man...because you think it's the best thing since sushi.

Trust me, I know your pain. Fortunately, there are some AMAZING Japanese apps out there that keep improving over time.

Today, let's take a look at ten popular Japanese apps that can help you make sense of the Japanese you're studying.  The majority of these are Japanese apps for iPhones (Google Play if you're an Android user), but this post will be updated over time as app, phones and how we study Japanese change at the speed of the internet.

Affiliate Link Disclosure

I know I do this every time I write one of these types of posts, but it's ALWAYS better to be upfront with my readers!

This post includes affiliate links to iTunes, so I do receive a commission when you purchase apps via this page. However, I only recommended apps that I have personally vetted & genuinely find useful.  

Now on to the apps! (Not listed in any order of importance)


Duolingo - Japanese Learning App

1. JAPANESE LEARNING APPS -  DUOLINGO DELIVERS

TYPE: Multipurpose Language App
COST: Freemium
With the free version of Duolingo, you get access to some great lessons, but you don't get access to everything.
Duolingo Plus (the paid version of this app) allows you ad-free offline access and the ability to unlock more content.
[$9.99/month, $47.99/6 months, $79.99/12 months]

First up is Duolingo, an app that I can't shut up about as of late - ask my friends! (irritated friends shake their heads in disapproval).

Duolingo is an app that teaches you a range of Japanese skills, without you even realizing it.  The lessons are theme-based (very similar to what Drops does with Japanese vocabulary).

Sounds simple enough, right?  

But it's the way they do it that makes all the difference.  This app quizzes you, makes you translate Japanese to English, makes you translate English to Japanese, makes you listen, and then some.

Passive apps where you just look at a screen and swipe are nice.  In many respects, that's exactly how flashcards work.  However, Duolingo takes an alternate, but effective approach to learning new Japanese words and concepts.

DUOLINGO HELPS WITH THESE JAPANESE SKILLS:

Duolingo Japanese App Pros

Duolingo Japanese App Cons

  • Duolingo is more of an active app, one that makes you use your brain.
  • Easy-to-use interface
  • Email reminders to stick to your Japanese studies
  • The very same email reminders that are so useful, can start to annoy you after a while
  • There are limits to the free material (but the app is so useful, paying is worth it)

Drops - Japanese Learning App

2. JAPANESE APPS - SHARPEN YOUR VOCAB WITH DROPS

TYPE: Vocabulary Acquisition App
COST: Freemium
-You have access to a limited number of topics with the free plan.
-Upgrading - [$7.99/month, $50.99 yearly, or $64.99 lifetime] gives you offline access, access to all topic, no ads, etc.

Drops is essentially a vocabulary builder for many different languages. Luckily, Japanese is one the languages that you can choose to study from. This learn Japanese app emphasizes connecting pictures to the words you're learning. So instead of simply reviewing a flashcard with a word and sound bit on it, you see a mentally sticky picture of the word, while hearing it pronounced in Japanese.

This application is effective as hell when you consider the fact that they also were pretty smart about making exercises just a tad more interactive, which I find better for retention.

DROPS HELPS WITH THESE JAPANESE SKILLS

Drops Japanse App Pros

  • Not sure if it's just me, but the images, design and sound effects make it downright relaxing to study words.
  • Words and kanji are feel easier to retain than with vocab apps that weren't as well thought-out.
  • The speaker's voice is clear and easy-to-understand.

Drops Japanese App Cons

  • As with many vocabulary apps, despite being more interactive, Drops can get to be repetitive.
  • It primarily hits only one aspect of your Japanese - vocab acquisition.

3. JAPANESE APPS - LANGUAGE EXCHANGE WITH HELLO TALK

TYPE: Language Exchange Social Network App
COST: Freemium
You can have some great interactions with the free version of this app
The paid version gives you no ads. In addition, (according to HelloTalk) you get nine times more exposure than regular members. I guess that means the likelihood of having more frequent conversation increases as a paid member.  Makes sense.
[$4.99/month, $32.99/year, $74.99 lifetime]

Definitely one of the more creative Japanese learning apps on this list. While it doesn't train you to learn and understand Japanese in the traditional sense, this app is interesting because it connects you to community of native Japanese speakers (or whatever language you choose to learn). The concept makes a whole lot of sense. 

It's a messaging app designed for language exchange.

Sometimes the best way to pick up a language is by getting out there, making mistakes. The good thing about HelloTalk is that there's a chance to get these mistakes corrected by a native speaker. 

I only recently started trying Hello Talk, but I just got back my first response and it's like having native email pen pals at your fingertips.

HELLOTALK SIDE NOTE

One thing to note, is that this is very similar to an desktop app that was released many years ago called Lang-8.  
Lang-8 has an iOS app, too.  It's called HiNative.  Although I've never used it, I probably will just to test it.

As time goes on I will be updating this post. If I try another service, like HiNative (and I like it better) I'll add to this list and share my experiences.

HELLO TALK HELPS WITH THESE JAPANESE SKILLS

HelloTalk Pros

  • What's more effective than having a native speaker correcting your messages...for free?
  • You can see other people's corrected posts sometimes, and it can work wonders in helping you understand your own mistakes.
  • HelloTalk won't allow members to use it as a dating app.  Maybe that'll force you to focus on learning the language, instead of the beautiful woman you're talking to 🙂
  • Although it's in written form, this is an excellent way to pick up real-life, conversational Japanese.

HelloTalk Cons

  • You won't always get responses from people right away - sometime you may not get responses at all. 
  • There is a bit of a learning curve in how to effectively use this tool to benefit your Japanese.
  • That classic, language exchange problem, are you going to be using more English to help others than learning your target language - Japanese?

Memrise - Japanese Learning App

4. JAPANESE LEARNING APPS - MEMRISE - COURSE-BASED SRS

TYPE: Vocabulary Acquisition/SRS
​COST:

Memrise is a SRS (spaced repetitions system) app that helps people to acquire new words and new kanji in the shortest time possible.  This Japanese application is centered around "courses." Courses are to Memrise what decks are to Anki. It's generally a block of related information that you see as often as you can so that you can remember as much as you can.

The cool thing about he the "courses" in Memrise is that they're often tied to some of the very books that you may be using. This creates that perfect opportunity to learn the words in your textbook and actually keep them in your memory. 

MEMRISE HELPS WITH THESE JAPANESE SKILLS

Memrise Pros

  • Inputting answers is where's it's at these days. This trumps, what I like to term "educational dry humping" (A Japan Guy original).  Inputting answers encourages to jump in do stuff.
  • Memrise has weird pictures and sounds.  I LOVE IT! That's kind of stuff makes you remember things.
  • "Courses" are generally tied to some very popular book series like the Nihongo So-Matome (日本語総まとめ) books. 

Memrise Cons

  • The quality of the course you're studying depends on the person who uploaded it. You can have great decks like Wani Kani's Reverse Vocab deck but you can also have ones that aren't so great.
  • App isn't as user-friendly as it could be.  It feels like the desktop app is easier to navigate effectively.

Anki - Japanese Learning App

5. LEARN JAPANESE APP - ANKI "THE SRS O.G."

APP TYPE: Spaced Reptition System/Spaced Repetition Sofware
PRICE: $24.99

When you mention the term Spaced Repetition System, Spaced Repetition Software, or SRS, especially when it comes to learning Japanese - Anki ALWAYS comes up. It's like the original gangster of SRS systems. If SRS Japanese learning apps were the West Coast rap game, Anki would be the Chronic Album. 

Anki is the quintessential SRS. It was my introduction to spaced repetition because it was recommended to me by so many successful Japanese students.  This is an app based on a "deck" system. This decks are like stacks of virtual flashcards. The software is set up so that you study more of the cards you don't remember and less of the ones you do.  If you can block of the time to be consistent with your decks and actually study with this SRS. You'll learn so much. 

ANKI HELPS WITH THESE JAPANESE SKILLS

Anki Pros

  • There are very few SRSs that are as trusted as this one
  • Desktop version of Anki is free and INCREDIBLY USEFUL!
  • Great way to instantly breakthrough your learning overwhelm and have a system to follow - so at the very least you're acquiring new words.

Anki Cons

  • Deck quality and accuracy are dependent on who uploads the deck.
  • At $24.99 Anki falls on the expensive side (as far as apps go) - but the value you get from it is worth every penny.

iKanji Touch - Japanese Learning App

6. iKANJI - LEARN JAPANESE KANJI APP

TYPE: Japanese Kanji App/SRS
COST: $5.99

iKanji was one of the first apps I used to start improving my kanji. It's fun, engaging, and effective. This app systematically groups together kanji that you will need if a) you're studying for the 日本能力試験 (Japanese language proficiency test) or b) you want to know the essential JOYO kanji that a Japanese child learns from first grade to high school.

You'll find lists out everything you need to know in iKanji, which is very helpful. It also has a built in spaced repetition system that gets you studying the kanji you struggle with most.

iKANJI BUILDS THESE JAPANESE SKILLS

iKanji Pros

  • This app is engaging, fun, and effective.
  • Seeing the list of JLPT kanji right in front of you is very useful for those of us taking the test. 
  • A colorful, clean, easy-to-use interface.

iKanji Cons

  • The "Teach Me These Kanji" function falls short.  I don't ever finish doing these feeling like I know the kanji backwards and forwards.
  • Feels like there should be more emphasis on the compounds than learning the on-yomi and kun-yomi.

Skritter - Japanese Learning App

7. JAPANESE LEARNING APPS - LEARN MORE KANJI WITH SKRITTER

TYPE: Japanse Kanji App
COST: Freemium 
Skritter Japanese offers a free trial and allows you to freely review what you cover in that trial (as long as you like)
Upgrading allows you to go all in with your kanji studies [$14.99/month, $59.99/6 months, $99.99/ 1 year, $179.99 / 2 years]

Though I hate to admit it, Skritter was one of those apps that I had written off as a bandwagon app, that was just trying to make some extra cash from the iTunes App Store. Sure all app developers want their software to do well. But I was pleasantly surprised by Skritter.  It's a kanji app that forces you to come up with the symbols in your own head and write them in the correct order.

In addition, Skritter links the kanji you're learning to compounds, so you end up seeing the kanji how it would actually be used. I started with just the free trial. However, this is one of the few apps that I'm willing to dish out some money for.  I really just want to see if it continues to make the kanji stick as well as they have been with my early testing of the app. 

SKRITTER BUILDS THESE JAPANESE SKILLS

Skritter Pros

  • Learn kanji via compounds instead of isolated on-yomi and kun-yomi
  • Colorful, easy-to-use, non-intimidating interface
  • There's an emphasis on both writing and reading the kanji you're learning.

Skritter Cons

  • I do not like the sound effects. They really start to grate your nerves after a while (get past that, though, and you have a solid kanji app in your hands)
  • You can sometimes cheat the writing checker with a random stroke here or there.

Japanese by Renzo, Inc. - Japanese Learning Apps

8. LEARN JAPANESE APPS - JAPANESE BY RENZO INC.

TYPE: Japanese Dictionary App
COST: Free!

Pure gold! That's how I'd describe this app. It's the Japanese dictionary I've been using for at least six years now.  And you know what? I use at least once a day, maybe even more than that if I'm really in my studying zone.  Of this list of apps, this is the one I use the most!

Japanese by renzo Inc. was an app that I gladly paid for back when I first bought it. But Japanese is now a free app.  Honestly, I was worried when the app went from paid to free. Was the quality of the app going to suffer?

I'm glad to say that this Japanese dictionary app is the best it's ever been and you'd be hard-pressed to find a dictionary that even comes close.  Incredibly powerful stuff.

At its core, this app is a Japanese. However, it's become so much more over time.  It's a VERY effective SRS flashcard system & flashcard deck creator, furthermore it's one of the most reliable Japanese translator apps out there, a reference tool, a JLPT guide...you name it. 

JAPANESE by renzo Inc. BUILDS THESE JAPANESE SKILLS

Japanese Pros

  • Because it's free, the value on this app is through the roof. Compared to other apps that cost WAY more, this feels like stealing.
  • SRS with stats related to what you've studied, what you've memorized, and what you've learned.
  • The text/translate function rocks.  You copy and paste and get furigana on top of all of your kanji & kanji compounds.

Japanese Cons

  • The kanji handwriting feature is still not perfect, but because it's so much better than it used to be, it's a minor complaint.
  • Where's the causative passive on the vocabulary conjugations???

Imiwa? - Japanese learning apps

9. JAPANESE LEARNING APPS - IMIWA? 

TYPE: Japanese Dictionary
COST: Free!

We can't mention Japanese dictionary apps without mentioning Imiwa? It's the go-to dictionary for so many Japanese learners and it's easy to see why. Imiwa? Is a simpler, but still VERY effective, Japanese dictionary. Despite it being less robust, it has everything you need to lookup the words and kanji you need when you get stuck on something.

Imiwa? is also a great way to see what kanji radicals look like - if you're kanji studies are leading you down that road.

IMIWA? BUILDS THESE JAPANESE SKILLS

Imiwa Pros

  • An easy and effective way to find just about any word you need to know
  • Includes causative passive form in verb conjugations- THANK YOU!
  • Supports multiple languages
  • May give you a little more insight into how kanji & radicals  work

Imiwa Cons

  • Simple, but design and interface aren't the cleanest/most user-friendly things in the world
  • It's just a Japanese dictionary - no real additional functionality

Japanese Conjugation - Japanese Learning Apps

10. JAPANESE APPS - JAPANESE GRAMMAR CONJUGATION DRILLS

TYPE: Quiz App
COST: ​Free!

You probably won't find this app on many (if any) best of Japanese learning apps for your iphone.  I stumbled upon the app by accident after going to one of my very first, official, Japanese classes. I hadn't been practicing so, I was tripping over conjugation while I was speaking.  I came across this app, and it was EXACTLY what I needed. 

No bells. No whistles. Just quiz questions about verb conjugation. Crazy targeted but crazy effective.

JAPANESE GRAMMAR CONJUGATION DRILL
HELPS WITH THESE JAPANESE SKILLS

Japanese Conjugation Grammar Drill Pros

  • As simple as it possibly gets
  • Perfect if you really want to get a handle on how to conjugate verbs properly
  • Totally free!

Japanese Conjugation Grammar Drill Cons

  • App doesn't have the causative passive form, which is unfortunate since this is a conjugation-focused application. 

Which One Is The Best App To Learn Japanese?

So which of these is the best app to learn Japanese?  The one that works best FOR YOU! I may find an app useful that doesn't resonate with your learning style.  And it's important to be honest with yourself about that.

For example, with Japanese textbooks, I heard everyone and their mother recommending Heisig's Remembering the Kanji. While it's not a bad book, It wasn't right for me.  Treat apps the same way. Test until you find what works.

Should I Buy All of These Japanese Apps at Once?

You can. BUT don't recommend it. It's not necessary to get all of these apps at once.  Find some aspect of your Japanese that you want to improve RIGHT NOW! Focus for a while on improving that thing before you buy up the entire app store. 

Keep in mind that these apps are just tools to help you reach your Japanese goals. How many you have doesn't really matter. The apps won't put the time in for you, they won't study for you, they won't find that study flow state for you. 

You have to do that.

But I'm confident that if you do, your Japanese will improve more than you ever thought possible.  I'm not preaching, either
(Donnie takes out his textbook and iPhone) I'm here studying right alongside you.

WHAT ARE YOUR
TOP THREE
LEARN JAPANESE APPS?

My list isn't (by any means) the definitive list of learn Japanese apps. If you saw any of these apps that you really like to use, please share your experience in the comments below.

If there's a Japanese learning app that's not on this list and you really like it, tell us about it 🙂

Share your top three in the comments section below!

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Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last ten years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
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