Duolingo: Japanese

Duolingo: Japanese

Difficulty: ☠☠ (There is a catch though)
Rating: ✫✫✫ (I would give it 4 stars if your proficiency is higher_

So about a week or two ago, Duolingo (finally) released a Japanese module. Seeing as today I received an e-mail announcing it’s official release, I figured it was only fair that I write review on it now.

For those who don’t know, Duolingo is a free app which attempts to teach users a language through repetition of vocabulary and basic sentence structure. Each subject (sports, weather, family, etc) are a different module. Each module has several lessons. Each lesson has about a dozen questions (I believe some are shorter or longer than others). As you complete modules you unlock the ability to study further modules. You also gain XP and occasionally gems which can be used to buy convenience and aesthetic options from the shop. Once you complete a module, it is “At full strength” with five full bars. As the days pass, the bars begin to go down, encouraging you to redo the lessons before you forget what you learned. The speed at which the bars degrade is to some extent determined by how many mistakes you made while doing the tests.

At the time of writing this review, I am on a 12 day streak, have completed 23.8 modules and am about level 8 or 9 (not really certain where to check that…)

Pros:

  • The Repetition is Surprisingly Effective
  • The Module Subject Matter is Very Useful
  • The Lessons Never Feel Arduous or Painfully Long
  • It is Relatively Addicting
  • The 6 Types of Questions Helps With Memorization
  • I Have Noticed Dramatic Improvement in my Japanese Since Using
  • You get to practice writing, reading, AND listening skills which not many apps force you to do

Cons

  • Some Audio Cues Are Missing or Wrong in Certain Circumstances
  • It Uses a lot of Textbook Japanese, Not Natural Japanese
  • It Can be a Little TOO Picky Sometimes (You can’t say ‘a hospital’, you must say ‘THE hospital!'”
  • The amount of adds have upset some users (though honestly it is less obnoxious than some apps I’ve used)

Conclusion:

I want to point out, that at the time of writing this review, Duolingo Japanese is still VERY new and as such it would be unfair to act like this is all the app will ever be. However, AT THIS POINT, I would say that Duolingo Japanese is effective, but only if you have a decent grasp on the Japanese language already and DEFINITELY not to be used on it’s own.

While the app is INCREDIBLY simple and honestly you learn things without realizing you are learning it, I worry that the numerous false pronunciations, and more importantly, textbook case Japanese will create some bad habits for new Japanese learners which will be hard for them to break later on.

Again I hope that they polish these bugs out as time goes on as this IS an app I think holds a lot of potential, though maybe not quite ready for a language as complicated as Japanese yet. If you are a new user and still really want to use it, the more power to you! I think it’s great for seeing how sentence structure works in practice. BUT I really strongly suggest getting another Japanese grammar textbook to read on the side. It will save you a lot of pain in the future. (Read through this blog to find a number of textbooks and resources I recommend!)

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Wanikani

Wanikani

Difficulty: ☠ ☠ ☠

Rating:  ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical when I first heard about wanikani. Memorization has forever been my weakest skill, and in the two years I had been studying Japanese I had only managed to memorize three or four kanji…. though to be fair 食べる (ta-be-ru: to eat) is probably the most important word to learn when going to Japan in the first place! ^_^ That being said….

OH

MAN

GUYS!!!!

Wanikani is mindblowing! (in more ways than one!) In the first week of using it, my mind got crammed with over 60 kanji and 65 vocabulary words! IN A WEEK!!!!!! WITH MY BRAIN!!!

Wanikani uses a Spaced Repetition System which I’m thankful to see becoming a more popular system with self study sites. Spaced Repetition works on the concept of continuously testing you, spacing the questions you get right out further and further, and the ones you get wrong closer and closer. To put it in as simple an example as I can think of:

You are given 10 vocabulary words to memorize. On the test you get 5 right and 5 wrong. In 30 minutes you get tested on the 5 you got wrong of which you get 3 right. In 15 minutes you get tested on the 2 you got wrong of which you get 2 right. after another 15 minutes you get tested on the original 10.

Pros:

-Easy to use
-Great Aesthetic (I feel like I’m playing a cookie clicker for learning…)
-Leveling System makes it more fun
-HILARIOUS sense of humor (read it all guys)
-Very effective
-Has been very well researched and thought out
-It will correct you if you use the right reading for the kanji but not the one it’s looking for

Cons:

-A large commitment (You’ll want to use it at LEAST once a day)
Sometimes it can be a little picky about what answer you use. (It’s been a while and it’s been a long time technically are the same thing… stop marking me wrong! ಥ_ಥ )
(Recently I have Been Told That You Can Add Synonyms By Clicking “Add User Synonyms” on the Definition Page and it works!)
-Some of the radical menomics are a bit of a stretch… “ALL HAIL THE NARWAL!”

Conclusion:

Kanji is one of the largest fears of ANY Japanese learner… in fact even for some Japanese people I’ve spoken to. It is very natural to want to rebel “WHY DO I EVEN HAVE TO LEARN THIS KANJI!?!? CAN’T I JUST GET BY WITH HIRAGANA???” and to some extent you can…. but you will ALWAYS be limited until you take it on. On top of that, I’ve found a surprising number of “quirks” in the Japanese language have started making more sense as I’ve started studying Kanji. From counters, to verb forms, when you start to grasp how kanji works, these overly complicated systems begin to make a lot more sense!

Learning kanji is very important. I can’t suggest it enough. But on top of this it is also a HUGE commitment! If you’re willing to take that on, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a resource quite as indispensable as Wanikani! But it will only be as effective as you are willing to commit to it!

Give it a try! The first three out of sixty levels are free (which, before you complain will teach you more kanji and vocab than most students learn in their first year) and after that you can decide if the subscription is worth it or not! For me I do not regret it. It’s a site I hope to use for a long time to come!

Tofugu

Tofugu

Difficulty:  ☠ ☠

Rating:  ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

Tofugu is a (relatively tongue in cheek) blog which covers a variety of topics for people interested in Japanese or Japan. Run by some enjoyably geeky people, you can enjoy reading posts, resources, or my personal favourite, get a weekly message from them with a list of their top Japanese-y things they’ve enjoyed this week.

They’re enjoyable, informational, and well written. Not much else to say other than look them up!

Erin’s Challenge: Japan Foundation

Erin’s Challenge: Japan Foundation

Difficulty:  ☠ ☠

Rating:  ✫ ✫ ✫

Erin’s Challenge is a short video series describing the adventures of a high school transfer student who comes to Japan. The acting is okay. Ironically I find the side characters to be my favourites. It is also interesting how while the basic lessons follow Erin, the advanced lesson’s follow Erin’s Japanese friends during the same time line. (AKA Lesson 1 basic happens at the same time as Lesson 1 Advanced though with different people)

There is also a pretty advanced subtitle version so you follow along with subtitles in Romaji, English, Kana, or Kanji. Reading while listening does help a lot so I highly suggest it!

Finally there is a cute feature added on where for the basic lessons there is an animated manga version of each episode that I had to admit was pretty enjoyable to read. I kind of wish they had it for the Advanced version as well!

There is not really much else to say about the site. It has flashcards, and a few other standard features. But at the same time I found it pretty enjoyable! Give it a shot if you have an afternoon!

Japanesepod101

Japanesepod101

Difficulty:  ☠ –  ☠ ☠ ☠ ☠ ☠

Rating:  ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

I have been with Japanesepod101.com for about 2-3 years now and have had basic and premium membership both. I am going to state my one qualm with the site up front so we can get it over with…. you are going to get a TON of e-mails from these guys and they will seem very spammy… but if you can get passed that it’s worth it!

Japanesepod101 has been going for quite a few years now and as such it has a TON of videos and podcasts for various levels of Japanese proficiency. I mean a TON! I have been here 3 years and I’m still not done! (though I have relistened to a ton as well… If you are unsure about joining, I suggest checking out their channel on youtube which they have been getting a lot better at keeping updated as of late. My favourite lessons are still the original ones with Peter and his team as I really found the three of them had the most natural chemistry, but their new host Risa is also equally enjoyable to listen to.

They have a variety of lessons, from grammar, to writing, to Japanese culture, and my favourite part is that they tend to have fun with it. There are times when acting seems forced or such, but there is rarely a time when you can’t tell the actors are enjoyably bouncing off of each other!

Their top level membership will let you have access to a teacher who will give you weekly assignments, and while that in itself is a fairly nice concept, I would appreciate it if it was more a tutor relationship where you felt more open to discuss issues and questions vs simply “Do the assignment. Okay here’s what was wrong” Because of this I can’t QUITE suggest the premium plus membership unless you have the time or desire to do more assignments, but anything below that is more than worth the annual fee!

Tuttle Concise Japanese Dictionary

Tuttle Concise Japanese Dictionary

Difficulty:  ☠ ☠

Rating:  ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

It is very easy to find yourself asking “In this day of internet and smart phone apps… Would I really need a dictionary around?” Let me answer that one for you… You need a dictionary around! 9 times out of 10 you may get away with using the apps, but that 10th time you find yourself scrambling for a word, you find yourself being very thankful for having this one on your shelf.

Reasons I like the Tuttle one? It’s concise…. (it’s in the name!) It’s organized by the English alphabet in both cases, and it has almost always had the word I was looking for! Good enough for me! Good enough for you! Enjoy!

Spark Charts Japanese Vocabulary

Spark Charts Japanese Vocabulary

Difficulty:

Rating:  ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

This is a chart I always keep close by! The Sparkcharts chart is a binder sized insert which contains a number of cheat notes useful to the beginning Japanese learner. From pronunciation, to numbers, to dates and times, weather, greetings, colours, directions, body parts, relationships, clothing, health, adjectives, adverbs, and more, this chart is chock full of useful vocab that is incredibly easy to forget. My personal favourite is the “Verb” section which I do wish was about twice the size that it is. I cannot tell you how many times I have paused a conversation with someone to quickly and subtly flip through this insert. It has saved my butt countless times, and I hope it will for you as well!