Learn Japanese or Die

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

It’s summer, and unless you are at summer school you are probably worried (like the rest of us) that your Japanese skills are getting rusty.  After all, the fear of making a mistake in Japanese can sometimes prevent people from taking the risk of even speaking at all.  Still, just remember that you can be an expert in Japanese and still make mistakes.  Even if you are the Prime Minister of Japan! 

Last week, Prime Minister Abe rolled out a new blog as part of his effort to encourage women to join the workforce and play a greater role in both the economy and society.  Unfortunately, the website, which was otherwise in Japanese, carried the title “SHINE!”  

Read in English, it is a message of encouragement.  Read in Japanese, it is a simple command:  DIE!  

If you want to avoid making these and other mistakes, the Huffington Post recently published a nice compilation of Japanese language-learning Apps.  Here is the link:


I’m republishing their list and descriptions, along with some commentary that I’ve added in []s:

Mirai Japanese

A stellar textbook-type app, Mirai employs a "tutor" who reads out a script while you follow along. The explanations are thorough, and where Japanese words pop-up, which is unsurprisingly often, you can toggle them from rōmaji (English spelling) to Japanese writing. Having someone reading out pronunciation is especially useful, and the first 20 lessons are free! There's a similar app, Tae Kim's Learning Japanese, but which is not nearly as user-friendly.

Dr. Moku's Hiragana Mnemonic

Apologetically calling its own system "corny," Dr. Moku's Hiragana Mnemonic is a great app for memorizing Hiragana: the Japanese alphabet. It uses mnemonics: creating associations between words and ideas or pictures. For example, む is pronounced "mu" -- so they drew a picture of a cow into it. After a half hour, I was blazing through each exercise: highly recommended for beginners.

Human Japanese Live

Human Japanese Live is a favorite among students of Japanese. Setup like a textbook, divided up into chapters and exercises. It's made much better than its dead-tree counterpart by having soundbites attached to all characters and words, as well as other tricky parts of learning Japanese (like stroke order: the order and direction every line has to go in) laid out and easily understandable. A must-have, if you're serious about learning Japanese. [I actually have this app - it’s great, although very heavy on English explanations for grammar and usage.  It is must more of a textbook than most other apps]

Learn Japanese by MindSnacks

Some MindSnacks games, which do a range of languages, to be too simple to be helpful, but they've proven popular with a lot of others. The app gives you a series of games, and to win any of them relies on you getting familiar with Japanese words, written and spoken. Sounds good, but it's very much learning by rote -- which suits some people and not others.


iAnki isn't  a purpose-built Japanese app, but makes it onto this list for being a well-devised flashcard app. You download the app, create a log-in and then you can either create your flashcards or download some online. For Japanese there's a mix of flashcard playlists, "Japanese Clothing;" "Animals;" and "Hiragana;" among others.  [Anki is highly customizable and has been around for a long time; there are also many other apps that use its method.  The nice part is that it “learns” what cards you know and what cards you need more practice with]


iKnow is a great app to get invested in, by which I mean that while it doesn't offer anything better than Dr Moku for Hiragana, or iAnki for word memorising -- what it does do is offer an extensive and interesting course for learning Japanese. By now, you're already spoilt for choice with such courses, but as they say "variety is the spice of life:" if you don't take a fancy to Human Japanese Live, iKnow might be up your alley.


Memrise is a popular app with language learners (it has courses for Arabic, Chinese, as well as plenty of European languages). It's pretty much a case of linking words from one language to another, in this case English to Japanese. It's an effective way to remind yourself of vocab and is gamified so it's a little more fun: you get points for every correct answer. But there's some awkward ordering of words and sounds which makes it less than perfect.


This app really great dictionary for your phone: breaks-up words for pronunciation, explores conjugations and is very soft on people coming to the language for the first time. If you're getting serious about learning the language, this will be a potent tool in your arsenal.


And if you were offput by the price tag, imiwa? is in many respects the free version of the Japanese app. It's not quite as user-friendly, but given there's no charge and it gives detailed translations in several languages, it'd be a good place to start for someone just dipping their toe in. Frustratingly, neither of these apps have a sound function to hear how the words are pronounced. [Imiwa? is the favorite app of Japanese Table!   The nice feature is that if you select and copy text in one app (such as your web browser), when you switch to Imiwa? it automatically translates the word]