Wouldn’t it be nice if you could learn Japanese online from your home and for FREE? Many people who come to Japan struggle with the language. Of course that’s because It’s alien-looking script and rapid-fire syllables make it impossible for any non-Japanese people to master, right? Wrong. Japanese happens to be an incredibly logical and easily understood language when broken down and looked at properly. Some examples include; grammar that follows strict rules with almost no exceptions, a phonetic syllabary (meaning it is written as spoken and spoken as written except for kanji), doesn’t differentiate between one thing or a number of things and a single verb can make up a legit sentence.
Adding on to that, the fact that if your native language is English or another European language, there will be no confusion like there would be learning German or French. Essentially, learning Japanese is nowhere near as hard as people make it out to be! Here are the 10 free online resources to learn Japanese. These will help you pave the way to Japanese fluency.
Table of Contents
1) Resources to Learn Japanese Online #1: AJATT
2) Resources to Learn Japanese Online #2: Anki
3) Resources to Learn Japanese Online #3: Kanji Koohi
4) Resources to Learn Japanese Online #4: Tae Kim
5) Resources to Learn Japanese Online #5: Wikipedia
6) Resources to Learn Japanese Online #6: Rikaikun/Rikaichan
7) Resources to Learn Japanese Online #7: Japanesepod101
8) Resources to Learn Japanese Online #8: Imiwa?
9) Resources to Learn Japanese Online #9: Duolingo
10) Resources to Learn Japanese Online #10: Lang-8
11) Resources to Learn Japanese Online Runner-up #1: HTLAN
12) Resources to Learn Japanese Online Runner-up #2: Rhinospike
Resources to Learn Japanese Online for Free #1. AJATT
Website: All Japanese All The Time
For many learners of Japanese, this is where it all started… All Japanese All The Time. A young gentleman by the name of Khatzumoto became subjectively fluent in Japanese within roughly a year—while never having set foot in Japan. The small details have changed slightly over time, but regardless of the minutiae, the overall method remains the same; adding a ton of comprehensible sentences to a flash card system and reviewing daily. The original goal was 10,000 sentences, which is more than likely enough to be seeing a decent amount of grammar and instances of various vocabulary in use. Preferably native Japanese sentences made by natives for natives. Textbook sentences are fine, but might be slightly stiff and not account for social speaking conventions such as slang, abbreviation, idioms, etc. The best flash card software to use for this is more than likely the next item on this list.
Resources to Learn Japanese Online for Free #2. Anki
This will be the bread and butter of your Japanese learning experience. Anki is quite possibly the greatest weapon ever developed in the war against forgetfulness, reliance on short term memory, and rote repetition—the most boring way to learn. Plugging sentences, images, sounds, anything you need to remember into this sweet, sweet program and reviewing daily will help push all of that wonderful knowledge from short term memory, into long term memory. In essence, it’s not memorizing, but absorbing. It’s the difference between forgetting it in a few days and having it inside you forever. Remembering versus knowing. Anki is free for PC and there is an Android application called ankidroid, but the iOS version sadly isn’t free. There is currently an alternative called Ankiapp, but there are also countless other alternatives. A good one would be Quizlet.
Resources to Learn Japanese Online for Free #3. Kanji koohii
Website: Kanji Koohii
A companion for the essential kanji busting book ‘Remembering the Kanji’ by James W. Heisig. Using mnemonics to create bizarre and memorable stories using parts of the kanji turns out to be one of the easiest ways to get them down. ‘Why can I just use Anki for the kanji?’ You might be asking. Well, this is essentially the same thing, but with the option to share and use stories. Suppose you have a hard time coming up with the one-thousand-three-hundred-and-thirtieth story, it’s okay, because someone else already has, and they shared it. In fact, the shared stories are rated and the most popular ones are usually at the top of the list. Remembering the kanji can’t get any easier! However when you have the kanji down pat, it’s probably high time to move onto the meat of the language with the next item on the list.
Resources to Learn Japanese Online for Free #4. Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese
Website: Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese
Comprehensive, easy to get into, and most importantly, free. Tae Kim’s guide to Japanese grammar is a great way to start learning the basics. Once you have kanji and kana nailed this is a logical next step. With excellently written explanations and a companion app, Tae Kim’s grammar guide is almost like a free pass to the beginner level of the learning process. Plug all of the sentences in your chosen flash card system, review them until they’re second nature, and get ready to up the ante with something a little more interesting.
Resources to Learn Japanese Online for Free #5. Wikipedia
This might come as a surprise, but Wikipedia can be an excellent way to find new vocabulary, phrases and interesting articles. The best way to use this wonderful resource is to look up things that you already know. That way you can be sure of what you’re reading and more likely than not, you’ll get the gist of a lot more than you’d expect. There will be a ton of valuable sentences and vocabulary to copy and paste into your flash card system. There is of course one potential drawback; it’s browser based. That means spending a lot of time on copy and pasting into an online dictionary, right? Wrong. With the next item on the list, looking up words and phrases sans dictionaries becomes a breeze. Excellent.
Resources to Learn Japanese Online for Free #6. Rikaikun
Depending on your preferred browser, this extension is an absolute godsend. It allows the user to hover over any Japanese on the page and a pop up dictionary will do the rest. A nice simple way to make the most of this tool is to go over each word in the sentence, make sure it’s totally understood and then copy paste into your flash card system. Bingo.
Resources to Learn Japanese Online for Free #7. JapanesePod101
So far the focus has been mainly kanji, vocabulary acquisition, grammar and sentence study but another vital skill remains. Listening. It’s almost impossible to downplay the importance of listening practice when learning a new language. Outside of meeting real people and having real conversations, this is probably the best option. With a whole series split up into different levels and featuring different grammar points and themes, Japanesepod101 is a fantastic resource that everyone should know about.
Resources to Learn Japanese Online for Free #8. Imiwa?
Imiwa? is a dictionary app for iOS and Android that has a number of very useful features. Among them, searching for kanji by radical and stroke count is one that saves a lot of time. Then there’s the copy paste function that automatically translates any sentences on your clipboard. The dictionary is a little bit particular with spelling and won’t search for near misses, but it is very thorough and includes example sentences and a detailed breakdown of any kanji.
Resources to Learn Japanese Online for Free #9. Duolingo
As far as self study goes, textbooks and endless pages of unintelligible gibberish can be disheartening. However, Duolingo is a fun, free app that starts from the ground and works it’s way up to more difficult patterns and instances of language over time. It’s game-like, rewarding gems and points for correct answers, levels passes and daily streaks.
Resources to Learn Japanese Online for Free #10. Lang-8
After all of this reading, learning, drilling, practicing—input basically; there’s just one thing left on the agenda. Output. The question is, where and how can you output? Making friends online is always a recommended first step, but it’s unlikely that an online chat partner is going to rigorously correct any grammar mistakes. That’s where Lang-8 comes in. Users can write short posts, diaries, stories, anything you can think of in your target language, and other users will correct it. Suppose you’re feeling so inclined and generous, you can even do the same in return. It’s a nice community and there’s no need to fear judgement or feel embarrassed. Win-win.
Runner-up #1. How-to-learn-any-language
Website: How to learn any language
This site is incredible. Simply put, it’s perhaps one of the best collections of resources on the web. The only reason it’s a runner up though is that while the amount of knowledge and resources is deep, it isn’t very focused and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. There is a language log forum though that’s extremely interesting. There are a million different ways to set up your learning experience and members of this board have that down to a tee.
Runner-up #2. Rhinospike
So far reading, listening and writing have been mentioned but there’s one skill missing, speaking. Speaking isn’t necessarily so useful at first, especially since you can’t really do it without knowing much language. It’s also maybe not a great idea to start speaking before you’re fully conscious of the sounds of Japanese. A mistake a lot of beginners make is trying to speak Japanese with the pronunciation and intonation of their mother language. Big mistake. It’s extremely difficult to go back and fix bad habits once they’ve formed, but it’s much easier to form good habits from the beginning. When ready to start speaking though, Rhinospike is a site that lets users upload audio clips for other users to listen to and offer advice.
Putting it all together
So now, after going through the epic list above, the recommended resources are clear, but how are they best used? In what order? How often? Which is most important? There are the real questions. Here are some potential answers.
In what order should I use them?
First of all, you should tear off the bandaid and start with kanji. Regardless of what other people say, it’s the most worthwhile use of time in the beginning when you’re still fresh and full of motivation. There are two schools of thought when it comes to this particular issue, that kanji should be learned before anything else, even the simplest of greetings in Japanese so as to avoid any confusion. The other is that the kanji can be learned alongside phrases and grammar.
Suppose we start with the kanji only, once we are done learning what the 2000 odd kanji characters mean, we can start learning the kana and how to read the kanji. That way we completely eliminate the reliance on romaji (Roman alphabet) for reading Japanese. This is one of the best things you can do. On the other hand, if we learn phrases and vocabulary without kanji or kana, you’ll still have to go back and relearn the words when you come to associate kanji with them. That’s a big lose-lose with regards to time efficiency.
How often should I use them?
That totally depends on the person. But a good rule of thumb is to at least aim to expose yourself to Japanese as much as you can in your downtime. For example, reading a comic on the train, listening to podcasts when driving or doing chores. All of the time that is usually spent browsing the internet or completing mindless tasks can be an opportunity to improve. That said, daily practice is obviously the ideal, even if just for an hour or two.
Which is most important?
Again, that completely depends on the person. The reason being, do what you love. Do what you do in your native language, in Japanese. Either that or do what you want to be able to do, in Japanese. You play video games? Do it in Japanese. You read comics? Yes, do it in Japanese. Movies? You could watch Japanese dubbed movies but… it’s not always great. Anime or Japanese dramas are great though. The point is, if you want to be able to text people, learning to read and write will be most important. If you want to watch movies and anime, then listening and comprehension will be pretty important. Regardless though, vocabulary acquisition is a must.
All in all learning Japanese is as easy or difficult as you make it. The key takeaway is that as long as it’s fun, it’s probably working. A lot of people very often suffer from paralysis by analysis. Spending hours and hours reading up on the best study methods, the fastest way to acquire vocabulary, how to have perfect pronunciation and so on. Two hours of reading articles on how to learn Japanese could be so much better spent actually learning it. So, what are you doing here, go on, take the list and methods outlined above and set out on your Japanese learning adventure. Good luck and がんばってください!
If you ever want to go to a dentist or clinic but you are struggling with Japanese, visit our Top 10 English Speaking Dentist and Clinics in Tokyo as well!