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iPhone apps for learning Japanese

There are many different ways you can learn a foreign language such as Japanese. There are classes, textbooks, CDs, applications for your PC or Mac, podcasts, language exchanges etc. Now you can learn Japanese on your iPhone and iPod Touch as well.

I’ve tried many different iPhone Japanese learning apps and am going to review the five apps that are still installed on my iPod Touch! In other words the apps that I found useful enough to keep.

Human Japanese – Version 2.0

Human Japanese is a bit like an interactive textbook. It has chapters covering loads of topics such as verbs, questions, numbers, kana (hiragana / katakana) and particles. In the current version there are 40 chapters dedicated to learning Japanese and another 6 chapters of cultural information about Japan.

human japanese iphone

Human Japanese works you through the various chapters starting from complete beginner level. As well as reading the Japanese words, each word or phrase can be clicked on to allow you to hear how a Japanese person would pronounce it – very useful.

To help cement what you have learnt many of the chapters have multiple-choice quizzes where you can test your English to Japanese and Japanese to English skills.

This is a very well put together application. There is a free version available to download from the app store with a limited number of lessons. If you like it you can buy the full version.

Download from iTunes: Human Japanese – Brak Software

Kotoba Japanese Dictionary

If you are learning Japanese then you’ll definitely need a dictionary. Paper dictionaries can be slow to use and are bulky to carry around.

To solve these problems you can get Kotaba – it is a full Japanese dictionary for free!

As you’d expect there is a search facility where you can type in an English word and you’ll get a list of results in a few seconds. You can also type in the Romanised version of the Japanese word (e.g. watashi, chika) and you’ll get the Japanese words that match.

Kotoba Japanese dictionary iphone

For Japanese words Kotoba will give you the Kana version (in either Hiragana or Katakana), the Romanised version (useful if you haven’t yet learnt the kana) and the Kanji. For words that are composed of multiple Kanji the dictionary will break the Kanji down into their component parts.

For each Kanji Kotaba gives you a whole list of supplemental information which can be useful if you want to look the Kanji up in a textbook.

If you want to save a word for later then you can add it to your ‘favourites’ list – a great feature when you are trying to learn the language. There is also a history list that shows you which words you have recently viewed.

I have just one suggestion for a future version – that is to allow the favourites list to be exported or saved – I’d find it quite handy to be able to save the list to my laptop or print it out.

I can’t fault this iPhone Japanese dictionary – it is free and extremely useful.

Download from iTunes: Kotoba! (Japanese dictionary) – Pierre-Phi di Costanzo

Japanese Pod 101 – Newbie Lessons 1-25

This iPhone / iPod Touch app comes from the people at Japanese Pod 101 who do great podcasts for learning Japanese. They have loads of podcasts available to download for free and more learning material available for people who subscribe.

They have released some of their more structured lessons in the form of iPhone applications.

If you do a search for these applications it is a bit confusing to work out which app to get. There are a whole series of applications from them with very similar sounding names and very little description as to the content. For example some of the apps are listed as ‘begginner’ and others as ‘newbie’. Is one of these supposed to be more advanced than the other? I’ve no idea – but I took a chance with the Newbie lessons 1-25.

This has 25 different audio lessons – each is about 6-8 minutes long. You are meant to follow the lessons from the beginning. For each lesson you can listed to the audio as a single track or you can play it line by line. There is also a brief write up for each lesson, vocabulary lists, flashcards and grammar points. Words that you have trouble with can be saved to the Word Bank to look at later.

japanesepod101 newbie 1-25 iphone

As with all the learning material from japanesepod101 this is a good course to help your learn Japanese. The audio has been put together very professionally.

There are a few suggestions that I have for the makers to make this better.

  • Make it easier to distinguish between the many apps with very similar names. It is confusing working out which one to buy in the app store.
  • The audio lessons are very professional with proper voice actors and good sound quality. However the lesson write-ups look like they have been done in Notepad. They could do with some formatting to make them look better.
  • The 25 lessons don’t have proper names – they are just called ‘Lesson 1’, ‘Lesson 2’ etc. They should have names that indicate the topic of the lesson to make it easier to find the one you want when you go back through them later.
  • As the audio is in an app rather than as an MP3 playing through the normal iPod music player you have to keep the iPhone/iPod Touch screen on to listen to it. It you press the power button to switch the screen off (as you would when listening to music) the audio stops. I imagine that there is nothing that can be done to fix this as I don’t think Apple allow apps to run when the screen is switched off. However I’ve found that it is still possible to listen to the podcasts when my iPod is in my pocket as fortunately the play/pause button is very small.

Overall this is a good set of Japanese lessons – but a few tweaks to the app could make it much better.

Download from iTunes: Pocket Japanese – Newbie I (1-25) – Innovative Language Learning, LLC

Japanese Essentials by AccelaStudy

There are different ways of remembering foreign language vocabulary. One way is to use flashcards that show you a Japanese or English word. You have to then recall the translation.

This is what Japanese Essentials does. It has categories of word lists that you can choose from (shopping, colours, numbers, etc). You can choose which ones to revise and test yourself on them.

accelastudy japanese learning iphone

Japanese audio for each word is provided so you can hear how the words are pronounced.

You can choose to study the flashcards one by one, do spaced repetition and do a quiz.

This is a very simple application but does what it does well. There is a free version with a limited number of words and categories, and a full (paid version) with 2100 words in 65 categories.

Download from iTunes: AccelaStudy® Japanese | English – Renkara Media Group, Inc.

Beginning Japanese Words & Phrases

Japanese Words and Phrases is an interesting app which allows you to learn in several ways.

There are many categories containing lists of words. You can look at the whole list, or learn the list one by one using flash cards. Japanese audio for each word or phrase is provided. Words can be saved to the Study Bank for later. When you have learnt the words you can test yourself using the built in quizes.

japanese words and phrases iphone

As well as the words and phrases you can work through the built in lessons on a number of topics.

There are lessons on the Hiragana and Katakana phonetic alphabets which if you are serious about Japanese you’ll definitely need to learn.

Then there is a Grammar Fast Track 100 containing 100 pages of information, each one about a particular grammar point. For example one is about verb forms and another is about counters.

There is a lesson that gives an introduction to a small number of Kanji, and there are some miscellaneous lessons on family words and polite Japanese amongst others.

I don’t find I use the flashcards much but I have been finding the grammar lessons interesting – Japanese grammar can be tricky!

There is a free version of this app available with a limited subset of features and the full version has everything described above. Another recommended app for your iPhone if you want to learn Japanese.

Download from iTunes: Japanese Phrases & Lessons – TheJapanesePage.com


Reader Feedback

8 Responses to “iPhone apps for learning Japanese”

  1. japanese words says:

    Great list. I think for being a free program kotoba is really great. Not to mention they are still updating it.

  2. tayker says:

    I’m glad I came across this when I did – I have all these apps, and podcast subscribed now. I’d like to know what your thoughts are on the iKana app for the iPhone/iPod Touch. Now if I could find a similar article/blog post with Spanish and Chinese app recommendations. :)

  3. McGaijin says:

    May we humbly recommend our iPhone/iPodTouch app “Learn Hiragana Now!” – with this you should be able to learn to read and write hiragana within a few hours.

    It’s fast, fun, and easier than you ever thought possible!

    Information, screenshots, and demo video:
    http://mcgaijinsoftware.wordpress.com/learn-hiragana-now/

    iTunes Link:
    Learn Hiragana Now! – McGaijin Software

  4. Pitto says:

    I’m a japanese major and always found it difficult to get faster at reading katakana. Therefor I made an iphone app (Kata-Touch). It’s a time based puzzle game. I’m also working on a hiragana version. Feel free to try it out, you can find it in the app store.

  5. Hman says:

    Completely hooked on Katatouch now. Love it.

  6. Ross says:

    Nice list. Kotoba in particular is a great (free!) dictionary.

    May I also suggest Japanese Flash, a flash card style study application w/ 145,000+ words, 50,000 example sentences, a fast dictionary, and 180 different vocab sets.

    http://www.japaneseflash.com

    You may also like Rikai Browser, which brings rikaichan like functionality to the iPhone and iPad: http://longweekendmobile.com/get-our-apps/rikai-browser-for-ipad/

    Full Disclosure: I am one of the developers of these apps. But we think they are awesome.

    Good luck in your Japanese study.

  7. Oliver says:

    Also check out http://www.japanese-flashcards.com/

    It has some nice features like your own word lists, mouseover explanations, a loop flashcard feature, a text analyzer and a new text every week.

  8. Ann says:

    Thanks for the nice lists. “Japanese Lessons with Kurara-sensei” ( http://japanese-kurara.com/help/ )is also worth downloading. It’s the game-style app and fun and easy to continue.I’m an absolute beginner but I’ve already learned some basic phrases already.

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