This is a follow up to a previous post, where I wrote about some Japanese language podcasts. I wanted to find some podcasts that were a little bit easier for those who might find some of the podcasts mentioned in my previous recommendation a bit too difficult to study with intensely.
These recommendations are almost entirely in Japanese, but have been produced by people who want to help others learn the language:
Nihongo con Teppei
Teppei speaks English and Spanish fluently and is a Japanese tutor on italki. His podcast is a conversational one in which he talks about aspects of his daily life and Japanese culture. Teppei almost always speaks in Japanese with the occasional English word. He speaks casually but will explain any certain words and phrases in simple Japanese.
Each episode is about 20 minutes long which I think is a good length – he releases about 2-3 episodes a week. I recommend the podcast for beginner learners who want something of a listening challenge or intermediate learners.
You can download the episodes from his website, or find the podcast on platforms like Spotify and iTunes.
JLPT stories is designed to improve your listening skills, with bitesize stories written and performed by native Japanese speakers. Each episode is targeted at a different level of the JLPT and is usually about 3 minutes long. There are a few different narrators and there is a good mix of male and female speakers (Japanese listening material tends to be female dominated in my experience).
The content varies but is usually about everyday topics. The speaking is at a natural speed, but for the lower levels of the JLPT there are more pauses in speech to allow learners to follow it more easily. It might still take you a couple of listens to catch everything though!
Download the episodes from the JLPT Stories website, or find the podcast on Stitcher, iTunes and Spotify. The website has a transcript with an English translation and explanation of some grammar points for all episodes. This gives you quite a few options in how you can use this resource to study, which I really like.
Let’s Learn Japanese from Small Talk
This is another conversational podcast run by two Japanese girls who are currently living in the UK. The aim of the podcast is to provide casual listening practice for Japanese learners. Each episode has a main theme (normally an aspect of Japanese culture) although sometimes they go off topic!
Like Teppei’s podcast, they speak as Japanese people actually speak but will clarify any tricky words and phrases, usually in Japanese and English. As a British person, it is interesting to hear about UK-Japan cultural differences from a Japanese perspective!
Again this is best suited to learners who are learning how to speak more casually in Japanese. There are lots of useful little phrases which I have picked up from this podcast and their twitter account.
I’ve linked to the podcast on Stitcher, but it is also available on iTunes and Spotify. There are vocabulary lists for the episodes on the podcast’s blog page, but from what I can see this is something they’ve started doing recently.
Nあ Casual Nihongo
If casual forms of Japanese are something you find difficult, then this is the podcast for you!
Nあ Casual Nihongo is hosted by Dai, who decided to create the podcast after working as an assistant Japanese language teacher in Australia. This podcast is in Japanese but is aimed at teaching learners a more natural way of speaking compared to what you get in textbooks. Each episode follows the same structure:
Answer a listening comprehension question
5 new Japanese phrases to learn (with explanations and examples)
Casual conversation (this gets repeated)
The conversations are a natural speed, which might take some getting used to. To make things easier, the podcast’s website also has a script for the conversation part of the episode, with the new phrases that are introduced highlighted for you. Clearly, a lot of hard work has gone into making the podcast accessible for learners who already have a bit of a foundation in grammar and vocabulary.
One thing – Dai is based in the Kansai area, so people interested in the Kansai dialect will find this useful!
I really like podcasts for listening practice – if you want to know how I use them in my studies check out this post.
Have you got any great podcast recommendations or tips on improving your listening? Please tell me in the comments.
I see a lot of people asking: is Duolingo any good for learning Japanese?
From my perspective as a long time Japanese learner, I believe that it can be a useful place to start learning the language.
However, if you are serious about learning Japanese, do not make Duolingo your only resource. As great as the app is for allowing you to practice Japanese and many other languages, it does have some limitations.
About Duolingo for Japanese
Duolingo is a free app for learning various languages. The Japanese course is designed to help you learn the basics through a number of lessons. Each lesson covers a different topic and introduces relevant vocabulary.
People who are not new to the language can take a proficiency test to jump ahead to later lessons.
Duolingo has you practicing new words in a few ways. Often this is by translating them from Japanese to English or vice versa, writing or rearranging sentences and filling in the missing word.
Duolingo has a crown system. By completing all of the lessons within a topic, you level up a crown for that topic. As your crown level increases, the complexity of the sentences does too.
Advantages and disadvantages of Duolingo for Japanese
What I like about the Duolingo Japanese course
There are some obvious benefits to learning Japanese with Duolingo:
It starts from teaching Hiragana. Katakana and kanji are gradually introduced, and they doesn’t use lots of romaji, except at the beginning.
The audio is clear. You can repeat it as much as you need to, which is great for shadowing. There are also sometimes options to hear the audio a little bit slower if you need it, by clicking on the button showing a tortoise.
Vocabulary is introduced by theme. With a new language, the amount of vocabulary to learn can feel overwhelming at times (particularly with Japanese). Introducing words and phrases by topic gives learners a better idea of how to form sentences around that topic.
It encourages you to make language learning a daily habit. Doing a little bit each day is much more effective than once a week. I think the Duolingo streak is a fun way to try and stay consistent with your learning.
The Duolingo community is friendly and helpful. During lessons, you can click on the comments button to see discussions regarding sentence translations.
If you are competitive, it is easy to compete against friends or other learners on the Duolingo leaderboard.
What I don’t like about the Duolingo Japanese course
On the other hand, the disadvantages of the Japanese course as I see it are:
Grammar is not explained at all (in the app, that is). Duolingo relies on inference to learn grammar, ie. by seeing a sentence pattern repeatedly you will work out what it means. This is usually fine for languages with a similar structure to English. Unfortunately, Japanese grammar is so different from English that it is hard to pick up on the differences simply from observing phrases in two languages.
For example, when Duolingo gives you the sentence:
= I am American
I would want to know why the Japanese doesn’t include the word ‘I’.
Fortunately, the desktop version does have grammar notes, which can be viewed before you start a lesson.
I think that these explanations are clear and cover a lot of the basics. However, sometimes the sentence patterns change within the same lesson but lack any explanations on why this happens.
An example of this that is introduced in the Food lesson is the sentence:
ごはんは食べません= I don’t eat rice
I would be confused as to why は is being suddenly used rather than を. Even on the Desktop app, the notes prior to this lesson introduce を as an object marker and there is no mention of how は could be used at all. I think it would be particularly difficult to pick up particle usage from the course.
The comments section goes a long way in filling some of the gaps in grammar explanations.
Having said that, I would be a little wary of some of the comments. After all, they are from fellow learners who may unintentionally give out incorrect information.
This is why a lot of Japanese learners would benefit from using other resources for grammar alongside Duolingo.
When it comes to hiragana, katakana and kanji, the focus is on recognition. Together with the fact that most questions are multiple choice, it is easy to think that you have learned all the kana when you are not studying it on a deeper level.
The introduction of katakana and kanji feels abrupt without explanation (again, I am referring to the app). This would be very confusing to learners without any background on how the various writing systems work.
It would be good for the app to explain how the pronunciations of kanji can vary – for example, 何 kanji is introduced within the first few lessons, but it appears in example sentences as both なに and なん.
Similarly, some vocabulary needs explanations, especially since a lot of English words can correlate to a number of different words in Japanese. Sometimes water is 水, sometimes it appears as お水.
Example sentences and their translations can feel a little off.
Part of this is because some Japanese phrases do not have an English equivalent. I have seen a noticeable improvement in this since the Japanese course was first released in beta. This is because of the many people who have been reporting suggestions on what should be accepted, which Duolingo have then added to the course.
Of course, this is a tough issue to address, but Japanese learners should be aware that the phrase Duolingo tells them is not necessarily the definitive answer in all situations.
What I think Duolingo needs to continue improving on is giving greater flexibility when it comes to writing the right answer. Japanese can be quite ambiguous, so there are many ways to interpret even the simplest sentences.
Overall impressions of Duolingo for Japanese
Overall I feel that Duolingo is a fantastic starting point for those who are interested in learning Japanese. However in my opinion, the cookie-cutter format that Duolingo uses isn’t really compatible with the Japanese language.
By completing the whole tree, you are going to cover a lot of basic Japanese vocabulary, kanji and grammar. The sentences that you cover do increase in complexity but you will most likely reach an upper beginner level (JLPT N5) by the end.
This is great if you are thinking of travelling to Japan in the future. In fact, the last lesson on the Japanese language tree (at the time of writing) is about the Olympics!
If you like the style of Duolingo, but want to try something that addresses some of the issues I raised above, then I recommend checking out Lingodeer. Lingodeer is an app which has a similar format to Duolingo, but is more tailored to East Asian languages. I wrote about the app in my post on the best 7 Japanese learning apps on Android.
By writing this post, I do not mean to discourage people from learning Japanese if Duolingo is their only option. The more people study Japanese, the better! Japanese is a relatively recent addition to Duolingo and there are updates and improvements being made all the time.
I do however think it is important to be aware of the limitations of the course as I see it at the time of writing. At least you can be aware of what things you may need to be careful of or learn via another resources.
What to do alongside or after the Duolingo Japanese course
If you do have a long term goal of learning Japanese beyond beginner level, here are my top tips on making the most of Duolingo Japanese.
1) Use the Desktop version of the course
The desktop version of the course is going to help you understand the structure of Japanese much better than trying to guess grammatical rules.
I do think that it is best to study basic Japanese grammar from other resources where you can. Sometimes grammar makes more sense when you can see the same topic explained in different ways.
Speaking/ Writing – Italki, Hello Talk, Japanese classes, language exchanges and meetups
I want to end this post by saying that I believe that the most important thing in language learning is consistency in your studies rather than what resources you use (although some are definitely better than others!).
There is going to be an update to the Japanese course on Duolingo very soon (known as Japanese 2.0). This update will significantly increase the number of skills, kanji learnt and grammar that you learn. I look forward to giving it another try when it is officially released!
Duendecat is similar to Mainichi, which I mentioned in my first post on Chrome extensions. This extension will show a random Japanese sentence/ hiragana/ katakana/ word/ kanji when you open a new tab.
Extensions that allow you to study when you open a new tab are a great way to get in a little extra practice. I’m a big fan of studying Japanese through sentences, so I really like that Duendecat has this option as the default.
Initially, the sentence will appear in Japanese on its own. However, clicking on the Japanese sentence will make the English translation appear. I’ve found that there is a wide range of sentences covering various levels of formality.
As you can see, furigana is provided above each kanji. Hovering over the kanji gives you the onyomi and kunyomi readings as well as a short English translation. If you use Wanikani to study kanji, then this is even more useful. You are able to set the difficulty of the sentence to match your Wanikani level. To set this up, just go to the options and add in your Wanikani API key.
By the way, the Duendecat website works in a similar way to the extension. You can study a range of sentences that are within your Wanikani level.
I think that the extension is a good one for beginners as they master hiragana, katakana and move on to kanji. I highly recommend it if you plan on using Wanikani.
I am a big fan of the Rikaikun extension, but I have found it less and less reliable recently. Fortunately, there is an alternative, called Yomichan. Having switched to this, I can say that this is one of the very best Chrome extensions for Japanese learners to have installed.
Like Rikaikun, when the extension is enabled, you can hover over a Japanese word to get its furigana reading and English meaning. Yomichan requires you to hold shift and hover over a word.
You can then click on any of the kanji you look up to learn more about it:
If you just want to look up a word, you can use the Search function to look words up and get the same information.
Yomichan has a few additional features that set it apart from Rikaikun. Firstly, native speaker audio is available for a lot of words. Secondly, Yomichan offers integration with Anki (using a plugin called AnkiConnect), allowing you to instantly create flashcards from the words you look up.
For Yomichan to work you need to install at least one dictionary from their website which is very straightforward. JMDict is going to cover the majority of words you might need to look up, and is available in a number of languages besides English. There are other kanji, slang and name dictionaries available to download too. You can also import your own dictionary files using Yomichan Import.
Clearly a lot of hard work has gone into making this extension and it is an amazing tool for Japanese learners. It happens to be free but donations can be made via the homepage if you are able to.
Dual language subtitles are really useful because it allows you to compare the differences in structure between the two languages. I had wished that you could enable two sets of subtitles on Netflix, and now you can with LLN: Language Learning with Netflix. If you are familiar with Viki’s learn mode, then this is pretty similar.
Subtitles are given in your target language with a translation into English. There are a few other options which this short video describes:
LLN supports a wide range of languages. Unfortunately at the time of writing, the integrated dictionary available for other languages does not support Chinese, Japanese or Korean.
This leads me to my alternative recommendation, Subadub.
Subadub is a bit different from LLN since Subadub provides enhanced language subtitles for your target language.
The subtitles in subadub are readable text, which means you can copy and paste them. You can also use this in tandem with Yomichan to look up vocabulary and then add it to Anki.
The subtitles can also be downloaded in full if you like to make flashcards to study with. I think Subadub is a great resource for an intermediate level learner as a way of getting used to only having Japanese subtitles.
So those are my latest discoveries when it comes to Google Chrome Extensions for Japanese learners. Are there any extensions that you find useful (related to language learning or not)? Please tell me in the comments!
It is said that Japanese pronunciation is easy for native English speakers, but I think that this can make them complacent. Whilst a lot of sounds in Japanese also exist in English, there are still lots of differences between these sounds. This means that there are still quite a few difficult words to say in Japanese.
This was actually a useful exercise for me, because it got me thinking about the types of sounds I need to keep working on to improve my pronunciation.
I then came across the following video by JapanesePod101 which brought up a lot of similar sounding words to my list.
I’m assuming a lot of these words are trickier for those that only speak English. However, I think 暖かい -> 暖かくなかった would be on most people’s lists – I can never remember if I have said enough た’s!
That word aside, I can pretty much characterise my difficult Japanese words into about three rough categories:
Words which mix w- and r- sounds:
笑われた わらわれた was laughed at
現れる あらわれる to appear
As a child, I always used to struggle with differentiating w- and r- sounds in English; for instance, I remember pronouncing “rainbow” as “wainbow” by accident quite a lot! This is quite common with young children and you usually grow out of it.
For some reason when it comes to Japanese I get tongue tied when I have to quickly switch between w- and r- sounds!
Words that have ‘n’ as a consonant in the middle
恋愛 れんあい love
範囲 はんい extent, scope
全員 ぜんいん all members
婚約 こんやく engagement
雰囲気 ふんいき mood, ambience
‘N’ often sounds like its English counterpart, but depending on its position within words it can sound more like a ‘m’ or a ‘ng’.
In addition, the other thing that I find difficult is not blending the sounds together when ‘n’ is followed by a vowel. For example, ‘renai’ should be pronounced so that the sounds ‘ren’ and ‘ai’ are separate – unfortunately it often comes out as ‘ren nai’ or ‘renai’.
Words which have lots of r sounds, especially include ‘rya’/ ‘ryu’/ ‘ryo’
旅行 りょこう travel
料理 りょうり cooking
My pronunciation of the Japanese R has improved with some practice, but I struggle a lot with the ’rya’ and ‘ryo’ sounds in particular.
Words with ‘n’ followed by ‘r’
遠慮 えんりょ reserve, constraint
Further examples – 心理 しんり/ state of mind, 管理 かんり/ management, control
As this is very much a work in progress for me, I am still looking at various methods to improve my pronunciation. There are a couple of things that I think are helping so far.
Train your ears and your mouth
Firstly, I’ve been reading about how I should be making the sounds in terms of mouth shape and tongue movement. When I listen to spoken Japanese now, I pay more attention to how the sounds are made, especially for difficult Japanese words.
I think that this ear training is an important first step in making your pronunciation more accurate. Dogen’s course mentioned above covers this in a lot of detail and is helping me a lot. I’ve also been dedicating some time to shadowing, which I am intending to write about in another post. I’ve been using Japanese tongue twisters as a warm upexercise!
Record myself and listen back to it
One thing I might do more often is to record myself speaking – as embarassing as it feels to do this, it is much easier to pick up on your own mistakes this way.
I’ve been learning Japanese for a relatively long time and so these bad pronunciation habits are probably ingrained into how I speak. For this reason, I am not expecting quick results and intend to focus on developing a regular pronunciation practice routine in order to improve how I sound in Japanese.
Remember, just because you find certain words difficult now doesn’t mean that you will never be able to pronounce them more accurately!
I imagine that a lot of these words will be much easier for speakers of other languages. I often hear that Japanese pronunciation is easy for Spanish speakers.
Which words do you find difficult to pronounce? Do you think the languages you already speak help you with Japanese pronunciation? Let me know in the comments!
Welcome to ‘Appy Mondays, my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the JLPT listening practice app Ohayou.
How the Ohayou app works
When you first log into the app, you have to create an account with an email and password or link the app to a social media account. I decided to go with the first option. Whichever you choose, the app should automatically log you in whenever you access it after this.
The listening tests are grouped by JLPT level, and on the far right there are non-JLPT specific listening exercises too. Each JLPT level has a number of tests, which have to be downloaded before they can be accessed. Fortunately, downloading is usually very quick.
There are various types of language questions, which correspond to the types of listening questions you will encounter in the JLPT:
Depending on the level of the JLPT you are working towards, the types of listening questions you get in the exam will vary. Fortunately, the Ohayou app has pretty much all of the listening question types in the test. The non-JLPT listening exercises include practice for hiragana and katakana, as well as counting and calculations in Japanese.
Once the test has been downloaded, you can jump into listening practice. Each test has 20 questions which follow the format of the JLPT test, which are multiple choice. For lower levels of the JLPT the answers may be pictures, but they will be entirely in Japanese otherwise.
Clicking the ‘Check’ button after listening to the question show you if you answered correctly. You can then choose to listen to the question again or continue on to the next one. You can also rewind or fast forward 10 or 20 seconds using the arrows, which is really helpful if you need to hear a particular sentence again.
My thoughts on Ohayou
Ohayou is a very convenient app for JLPT listening practice and is a great app to help build confidence for the listening section of the exam. For all of the listening exercises I tried, the audio was very clear too.
One of my biggest tips for the listening section of the JLPT is to familiarise yourself with the format of the exam. The listening comprehension tests are the same as those you find in the JLPT so anyone preparing to take the test (especially for the first time) will find this very useful.
The non-JLPT exercises were a bit of a mixed bag for me. I thought that the hiragana and katakana tests were good – I would recommend them to those who had just finished learning the scripts and want to test their listening skills.
I tried the tests relating to counters, which I think are useful especially for reviewing common but irregular counters like ひとり and ここのつ, but the audio quality was not as good as the JLPT tests. It sounded as if the audio had been recorded from someone’s TV or perhaps had been recorded with the TV on in the background. Needless to say, this kind of distracting noise could just as easily happen in a real-life situation, but I found it a bit disappointing.
I need to mention that whilst the app is free to use, additional features can be bought with for money, although these features can be ‘paid’ for using points you gain by using the app.
You can pay 400 points (US $2.99) to remove ads permanently, and 1000 points (US $4.99) to view all transcripts and access to one-click definitions of any word. For once, it is nice to come across a freemium app that does not require a monthly subscription!
Completing the tests for the first time earned me 2 points each, so at that rate earning enough points to unlock the premium features in full is probably near impossible without paying for them. There was also the option to earn 5 points by watching a video ad, but despite watching a couple of ads my points total never increased.
In the app’s defense, it is possible to purchase the transcript for individual questions or tests. So if there is a particular test that you are struggling with, you can spend 15 points to purchase the transcript. I would be wary about becoming overly reliant on transcripts for listening practice, as you will not have that benefit in the actual test. Generally, I found that if I got any answers wrong, listening to the question a couple more times made it clear where I went wrong.
I can’t really see the value of paying the $2.99 to remove ads – I didn’t think that the ads were intrusive enough to justify it. Having access to all transcripts for $4.99 could be useful, especially if you are planning on taking all levels of the JLPT in turn (and so would be using the app quite a lot).
The cost of learning with textbooks can be a barrier to those who are just starting to learn Japanese. However, there are plenty of online Japanese resources which are great no matter what your budget is.
Most people are told that in order to study Japanese they should make their way through Genki textbooks 1 and 2. There is of course nothing wrong with this method (it is tried and tested after all).
Unfortunately Genki books are not cheap at around £40 (over $50) for the textbook. This doesn’t include the costs of additional materials such as the workbooks either! So if your funds are limited, buying a Genki is not an affordable option for people studying on their own.
Online Japanese Resources to the rescue!
On the other hand, the internet is packed with online Japanese resources that are actually pretty good! So I thought it would be a good idea to introduce some websites to help those looking to study Japanese without a textbook. When I think back to the Japanese language classes I have attended, textbooks were never used so I definitely think it is possible to self-study without using a textbook.
Having said that, I believe textbooks are useful because they provide a methodical framework in which to work your way through learning the basics of a language. Online resources do not always provide this same framework to follow, which can make it difficult to know what to study next. Fortunately, most of the ones I mention in the below list do not have this issue.
I recommend looking at grammar lists for the beginner level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT for short). Even if you aren’t planning on sitting the exam, you can get a feel for essential grammar and vocabulary. If you are new to Japanese your focus should be on essential words and phrases, sentence structure and how particles work. Check out my How to start learning Japanese page to get some further ideas and resources.
Here is a list of various online Japanese resources that I think learners can work through like a regular textbook. You could also use this as supplementary material to a textbook or class that you are already studying with.
Tae Kim – Probably the most well known on the list and for a good reason. Tae Kim’s website offers a comprehensive introduction to Japanese. It also tries to take a different approach to a lot of textbooks. It is being updated all the time too.
Imabi – This is a great place to start if Tae Kim isn’t for you. This online grammar guide starts from the beginning of learning Japanese right up to advanced level. The website is split into beginner, intermediate and advanced conten. Each level is split into a number of lessons, enabling you to work your way through the website just like a textbook. Best of all this is entirely free – needless to say, this is a must visit resource!
Erin’s Challenge – if you’re a visual learner you may find supplementing your study with this website useful. Erin’s Challenge is a website put together by the Japan Foundation. The website has a series of videos featuring Erin, who becomes a school exchange student in Japan. Each short video covers a different topic as she gets used to her new life in Japan. These also have explanations of key grammar points and phrases used which you can then test yourself on.
Marugoto – The Japan Foundation website has a number of free online courses aimed at those self-studying Japanese called Marugoto. Different courses with suit different learners depending on your goal. If you aim is to build practical communication skills in Japanese then I recommend the ‘Katsudoo’ course. However if you want to study Japanese in more depth then choose the ‘Katsudoo & Rikai’ course.
Human Japanese – Whilst not free in its entirety, the ‘lite’ version of this app is free. Fortunately the free content gives a pretty good indication of the app’s approach to learning Japanese. I’ve written a separate post reviewing this app as I think it is worth the cost of entry for complete beginners to Japanese.
Lingodeer – this (free!) app is more like Duolingo in style. You follow a series of lessons covering different aspects of vocabulary and grammar. Having said that, it covers topics in a way that makes it very accessible for Japanese learners. You can then follow up the lessons with some of the sites below to reinforce your understanding of the content. It also does a pretty good job of testing you on the content of the lessons in different ways, which is really important when self-studying.
It’s always good to have somewhere else to check out grammar explanations if they are not making sense straight away. Here’s a list of online Japanese resources you might find useful:
Jgram – I think of Jgram as a database of Japanese grammar points which the community contributes to. You can search for grammar points by the (old) JLPT levels or use the search function to look up something specific. Each entry has notes and example sentences which is helpful for getting a new perspective on a grammar point.
Maggie Sensei – Everything on the website is presented in a really fun and easy to digest way. As well as explanations of grammar points, you will also find posts on aspects of Japanese culture. I also like that vocabulary is listed by theme rather than difficulty.
Wasabi – Wasabi’s online grammar reference is similar to Tae Kim in layout and style. I think Wasabi’s guide is particularly good for learning to distinguish between grammar points which have similar English meanings.
Japanistry – The Japanistry grammar guide works quite similarly to the Tae Kim guide but is a great reference site for the foundations of Japanese grammar.
日本語の森 (Nihongo no Mori) – This YouTube channel has lots of videos on grammar points aimed at all levels of Japanese learners. The playlist that I’ve linked to called ‘Ekubo Basic Japanese Lessons’ starts from the very beginning, but there are a number of playlists focused on different levels of the JLPT.
Worksheets and Quizzes
MLC Japanese – full of handy printable worksheets and quizzes. There is a lot of content for JLPT N5 & N4 in particular, but you can find study plans and JLPT material for the upper levels (old levels level 2 and level 1).
Memrise – has a number of electronic flashcard decks, including decks on the main textbooks including Genki, Tae Kim’s guide and the JLPT.
Japanesetest4you – This is an all round useful website for learners, with grammar and vocabulary lists for each level of the JLPT. You can practice a bunch of mock questions online.
JPDrills – JPDrills is pretty new to the game, but from what I’ve seen is pretty good. Access to the full website requires a subscription, but you can sign up to practice a bunch of Japanese questions for free. This is a helpful resource if you are working towards the JLPT.
The above are all websites that I have tried and thought could be useful for other learners. If you are looking for even more online Japanese resources, check out my Japanese Resource Masterpost!
If you are committed to studying Japanese for the long term, you might be thinking about buying an electronic dictionary, commonly known as 電子辞書 /denshi jisho. I own one of these electronic dictionaries, but for some time I struggled to decide whether I really needed one. Therefore, I thought it might be helpful to put together a post for those who are about to make a similar decision.
A quick note: if you are just starting out with learning Japanese, I suggest sticking to free online dictionary resources that are beginner friendly – I recommend the website Jisho.org, or the Akebi dictionary app.
About Denshi Jisho
If you’ve been to Japan and visited a Japanese electronics store like Yamada Denki, you’ve probably come across rows of 電子辞書 denshi jisho, aimed at students and businessmen learning English and other languages.
As educational gadgets go, these little things can be pretty expensive, with top models costing hundreds of pounds. Two of the main companies that produce these electronic dictionaries are Casio and Sharp.
The denshi jisho I have is a Casio model that I purchased about 5 years ago. I tend to use it alongside free resources depending on what I am studying.
Advantages of having a Denshi Jisho
A lot of Japanese learners reading this might be thinking, “why would I want to have a dictionary when I have a smartphone?”
Here are some of the main advantages of having an electronic dictionary:
Access to multiple dictionaries. Models nowadays contain more dictionaries than you can shake a stick at, with a number of Japanese dictionaries, Japanese-English dictionaries, and other helpful dictionaries dedicated to kanji and kotowaza amongst other things all in one.
Durable. Naturally, electronic dictionaries are not only more portable but will cope better with being thrown into a bag to take to Japanese class, for example, than a paper dictionary.
Quick and easy to search and ‘jump’ between dictionaries. It’s super easy to switch dictionaries (eg. between a Japanese-English and a Japanese-Japanese dictionary) if you want to learn more about a word.
No chance of getting distracted. I find that when using my phone to look things up during a study session, I’m highly likely to check social media.
Certain models have additional features such as handwriting input, touch screens and a SD card slot for access to even more dictionaries.
Obviously, there is some benefit to having lots of dictionaries all wrapped up into one gadget, but in the age of smartphones is an electronic dictionary still a worthy purchase for Japanese learners?
In my opinion, the usefulness of an electronic dictionary does depend on how you study the language.
What to ask yourself before buying an electronic dictionary
Before committing to an investment in an electronic dictionary, it is wise to consider the following three questions:
What Japanese level are you at currently?
As I mentioned at the beginning, the usefulness of a denshi jisho only really comes into its own once you have reached an intermediate level in Japanese, no matter what your language goal.
Buying a Japanese dictionary in Japan, of course, means that you have a whole new gadget to get used to without a manual in English to help you. A lot of features on the model I have are intuitive and fortunately with a bit of playing around it is quite easy to work out how to look things up.
As a gadget aimed at Japanese natives, there are more dictionaries and resources solely in Japanese rather than Japanese-English/ other languages.
Therefore if you are, for example, at a stage where you are looking at moving towards using a Japanese-Japanese dictionary, you will find much better value in purchasing an electronic dictionary.
How intensively do you study Japanese?
Whether I reach for my electronic dictionary or my or my phone depends on what I am looking up. I find the specialised functions of a dictionary the most useful when I am looking up more than one word (eg. Perhaps when I am starting to read a new book).
The backlit screen and easy zoom buttons make reading definitions really simple, and if a word uses a kanji I have not come across before I am able to click on it and find out the stroke order much more easily. In addition, because I can choose from a number of different dictionaries it is easy to cross reference meanings and get more example sentences, whereas on my phone I would have to bring up each dictionary website individually.
A crucial benefit of the model I have is that it has a touchscreen where I can write kanji using the stylus. I have found this much more accurate than the equivalent apps I have on other devices, especially if I am having to look up a lot of unfamiliar kanji.
Even basic models will allow you to jump between different dictionaries easily, so if this is a function you think you would make use of then an electronic dictionary may be for you.
What are your Japanese language goals?
Your value for money for an electronic dictionary is going to depend on what level of proficiency you are aiming for in Japanese.
It is worth noting here that the dictionaries you have on these gadgets will not have more casual or recent buzzwords; for this type of vocabulary, the internet is definitely your best friend.
If having a high level of literacy is part of your language goal – for example studying in a Japanese university, or pursuing a specialist profession in Japan – then an electronic dictionary is more likely to be a wise long-term investment.
Based on the above considerations, the types of people who I think would make the most out of electronic Japanese dictionaries would be those that are already at an intermediate level, who are perhaps in a situation where they are studying towards becoming proficient in Japanese for professional purposes.
This isn’t to say that you should not buy a Japanese dictionary if you do not fit the previous description, but given the expense involved, I think you may want to first consider borrowing a model from a Japanese friend if possible and see how useful you find it. I personally found my model on eBay, so looking online for a cheap electronic dictionary is another good option for keeping the costs down.
However if your budget cannot stretch to buying one just yet, do not worry as there are some great Japanese dictionary apps and websites out there which cost very little or are free, such as Jisho and Akebi mentioned earlier.
This is a continuation of the list of my favourite free online Japanese reading resources for those who are relatively new to the language. Part 1 is a list of non-fiction resources, but if you find prefer reading Japanese fiction, then this is the article for you!
Those specifically interested in children’s materials should take a look at my post on children’s stories in Japanese which goes into detail on free or very cheap resources you can use.
As with my first post, I have a list of links below with a little bit of an explanation as to why I recommend each one.
This website has a variety of resources for Japanese language learners, but I specifically recommend that beginners take a look at some of the beginner level dialogues (there are also a few essays about Japanese culture in the reading section as well). I’ve included it on this list because even if you’ve just finished with hiragana, you can start reading these useful dialogues.
Both the essays and the dialogues are good for reading practice as each allows you to set the kanji and English translations on or off. As a beginner, you do not always want to jump into reading long articles, and therefore dialogues are a particularly good way of ensuring you are picking up the correct situational words and phrases across various topics.
Wasabi has five stories (a mixture of Japanese classics and traditional Western stories like Jack and the Beanstalk) broken down into a number of lessons that split the story up into shorter sections. Each lesson has Japanese audio (at both slow speed and normal speed), furigana, English translations and a vocabulary list – perfect for a study session!
Wasabi recommends these story lessons at N4 level learners and I think this series offers a good entry point for upper beginners to start learning about famous Japanese stories.
This website has a small collection of classic Japanese children’s stories. These stories are so often referenced in other media that it is always a good idea to read them at least once! All stories on the site come with furigana for all kanji used as well as lists of key vocabulary and phrases.
What is particularly great about the website is that each story has a sentence by sentence English translation. I would say that due to the line by line translations, the English does not always flow naturally. However, this is actually extremely useful for beginners since you can compare grammar and sentence structure between the two languages.
If you cannot get enough of children’s stories, Hukumusume is the website for you. Do not be put off by the fact that this is aimed at Japanese children, because it still remains a good resource for Japanese learners. Each story is accompanied by audio, which makes the stories good for reading and listening practice. What’s more, the website has over 40 Japanese stories that are bilingual (Japanese and English) and are written entirely in hiragana.
The website has a much bigger range of stories in Japanese only, although there is no furigana. Therefore having a plugin like Rikaichan here is recommended for looking up unknown words quickly.
There are children’s stories from around the world on this website so you may prefer to start with a story from the 世界の昔話 section – here you can select stories from a country of your choice and focus on stories you are already familiar with.
Satori Reader is from the people behind Human Japanese and is a great resource for those wanting to read a range of materials in Japanese. The website has a number of different story series, as well as dialogues for different situations.
Each series has a number of stories within them, which have difficulty ratings. The articles on the site are great for beginners and above because the range of features means that it is possible to follow any of the stories.
Once you select a story, you will be able to see the text and click on any word or phrase for an English translation (including conjugated verbs). As you can see from the image below, options to toggle kanji, furigana and spaces between words on or off are available. There is also audio for the article as a whole and for each sentence – ideal for shadowing.
The translations and notes provided are extremely useful as they are both specific to the words you highlight, and the context of the sentence or phrase it is used in. You can comment on the article when any questions you may have, and one of the team will provide an explanation.
When you sign up for an account, you can access some of these stories for free, although a paid subscription is required to read all of the website’s content. Satori Reader now has an app for iOS and Android which looks great for reading practice on the go.
Aozora is a directory of Japanese literature that is now out of copyright. You can find a huge variety of literature from some of the most famous writers of the last century, including Osamu Dazai and Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Since they are out of copyright, you are free to download the stories and convert them so that you can read them on your Kindle – this website already has Aozora stories in an ebook-friendly MOBI format.
The website is entirely in Japanese so I would recommend that beginners look up the kanji for a specific author using the search box, and then choose a story that way. As you might expect, Japanese from the early 20th century is different from how it is today, so choosing the right author and the right story can be tricky.
There is no shortage of Japanese learning resources online, but finding reading materials for Japanese beginners outside of textbooks can be really difficult. This is something I really struggled with when I had just started to learn Japanese, and found pretty much all native materials to be far too complicated – it was incredibly demotivating.
For that reason, I really wanted to put a list of resources together that is aimed at those who have recently begun learning the language. Here are a few of my favourites that are appropriate for JLPT level N5-N4 learners.
**Note** This is a two-part post, with this post focusing on non-fiction articles. If you are looking for articles that are a bit different to the above then please check out Part 2 in the series, which are mostly resources for Japanese fiction.
Similarly, if studying with children’s books appeals to you, then I have written a whole post dedicated to reading and listening resources for children’s stories.
This is a free web news magazine with short and interesting articles aimed at Japanese beginners up to intermediate level (corresponding to between JLPT N5 and N3). You can filter by JLPT level, or narrow down articles by topic if you prefer. If you click on certain pieces of vocabulary you can check the kanji reading and English meaning.
Translations of each article are available in English, Vietnamese or Chinese – just hover over the name of the language under each Japanese sentence to read its translation. The articles have a lot of pictures and Japanese audio which all in all makes it a great place to read interesting stories about Japan.
Like Watanoc, this is a website run by the Japan Foundation with short articles on Japanese culture in simple Japanese. It is an excellent site for practicing your reading comprehension as you have to option to add furigana, hide the vocabulary lists and there is also a mini quiz at the end of each article to test your understanding.
All articles have pictures and short video clips as well as the Japanese audio which provides a fun multimedia experience. The articles are grouped by topic, so you can easily focus on something that you are interested in.
There is no indication of the level of language used, but I believe that the articles are very accessible to N5 and N4 level learners. If you do get stuck, you can easily switch the website language from Japanese to English by clicking the button in the top-right corner.
If you’ve taken a look at a newspaper article in Japanese, you’ll know that it is often full of tricky formal grammar structures and vocabulary. Fortunately, NHK News Web Easy is a website that has recent news stories written in simple Japanese.
The articles are an ideal length for the beginner and get you used to the style of newspaper articles in Japanese. Each article allows you to read the news articles with furigana readings (or not if you fancy a bigger challenge!). I like that the names mentioned in the articles are highlighted in different colours depending on whether it is the name or a person or place.
As you can see from the image, you are able to watch a short video and listen to an audio version of the article. NHK News Web Easy is a highly recommended resource which is ideal for practicing your reading and listening skills, as well as to keep up with current events in Japan.
This website has been around for a fairly long time, but still remains a really good resource for Japanese learners. There are a lot of learning materials on the Coscom website, but I particularly recommend the Weather Forecast and the Headline News articles for upper beginners (in terms of vocabulary and grammar I’d estimate this to be around N4 level) on the left side-bar.
Both pages are comprehensive in content as they have the option to view the articles in romaji, kana or kanji and also include Japanese audio. Below each article, you can see a sentence by sentence breakdown of the article where you can see the vocabulary and grammar points used.
Unfortunately, only the most recent articles are available for free but it is worth checking the website every week or so for new material to read.
The English language Matcha Magazine website is a Japanese travel magazine full of recommendations for places to visit and things to do in Japan.
I recently discovered that if you click on the languages drop-down menu, you can change the website language from English to やさしい日本語. This allows you to read the same types of travel articles but in simpler Japanese compared to the Japanese version of the website. I would estimate the difficulty of the language used to be appropriate for upper beginner to intermediate learners (JLPT N4 and above).
Each article comes with furigana and English for some of the katakana words (this is pretty useful as some words can be incredibly difficult to work out!). This website is a bit more difficult to study with since it does not have English meanings for vocabulary on the same page. However, you can always refer to the English language versions of each article to check your comprehension.
I recommend using a reading assistant such as Rikaichan(Firefox)/ Rikaikun (Google Chrome) or japanese.io to quickly look up English meanings.
When I was at upper beginner level, I was always searching for kids’ versions of newspaper articles in Japanese online. Unfortunately a lot of this material is behind a paywall for major newspapers in Japan, but Yahoo does still have some articles for free on their website.
Since these articles are aimed at Japanese children, they do not come with furigana readings but are short and written using simpler grammar. As with Matcha JP, using a reading assistant tool will help make reading sessions a breeze. I recommend this website for those who are JLPT N4 and above.
So that is my list so far – I am always updating and adding to this list as I discover new resources. I also (try to) keep my Japanese Masterpost page updated with reading resources.
With these being online resources (and so subject to disappear from websites suddenly), I usually save a copy of the articles I read for offline viewing using a tool such as Pocket or Evernote. I used to print out a lot of articles so that I could scribble down notes relating to the grammar and vocabulary used.
What do you like to read in Japanese? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments!