Japanese Learning Apps

Ever since I traveled to Japan almost ten years ago, I've wanted to go back. When I go back, I want to be more prepared language-wise. I can only understand the most basic of greetings and phrases when spoken and cannot read any Japanese, so I figured it is time to fix that! I have so far tried three learning programs and would like to share my thoughts.

Tako 

Tako is a smartphone app where you play as a young octopus (Tako) learning how to write from his Sensei (also an octopus). The game presents several characters at a time per level and teaches the user how to write them, beginning with tracing and then incorporating the characters into games for both writing and recognition (differentiation of characters). I personally love this app as is adds an element of fun to the learning process and makes it easy to learn how characters across the alphabets are written. It also has express lessons and a practice feature so that you can truly master your writing.
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Likes: Fun, easy way to learn the Japanese alphabets, good for reading and listening recognition of characters. It feels like a good first step into learning Japanese. It is also FREE!
Dislikes: There is no incorporation of words or stringing characters together, so the learning feels a bit disembodied

Memrise

This app has been heavily featured on Facebook for not only teaching Japanese, but a wide variety of languages. This one is marketed as a game as well, but honestly feels more like a set of learning modules.  The one thing I like about this app is quick integration of useful words and phrases. It will teach a few characters by sight and sound and then string them together to form a word or phrase. Unlike Tako, all of the characters are available on a provided keyboard rather than written. This app utilizes typing, flash cards, matching, and even videos of native speakers as teaching tools. It can detect which words you have trouble with and spend more time on them and provide memorization tools (ex. Tsukarete means tired. The hint would be Sue is tired of karate). Some of these seem a bit silly, but work!
My biggest concern with this app is that it often goes too fast, especially when learning longer words and phrases. The order of lessons also seems a bit random. To be fair, this might be because I'm using the free version, as opposed to the unlocked version, which is a subscription of $59.99 per year and comes with more learning tools.
Likes: Side by side learning of characters and applicable words and phrases, multiple learners no tools used together to provided a more complete learning experience
Dislikes: The pace can be a bit fast, the free version seems a bit limited and has quite a few ads, the full version is too highly priced

Rosetta Stone

Finally, we come to the tried and true method of language learning, Rosetta Stone. The first thing I noticed about this program is that it is complete immersion, meaning that everything is written in Japanese and you are only given sound, Japanese text, and pictures to learn. This was extremely daunting at first and I had to put it down after about an hour of frustration. I couldn't read what was on the screen and I couldn't make distinct sound to character connections, so it became very difficult when it prompted to have what was on the screen read out loud.
I have since tried it again and have had better luck with it. The immersive style of learning, while still intimidating, is actually a nice way to learn. It really is like having a teacher and you can go at your own pace. I like that it teaches you to read, listen, and speak, making it a more reactive and almost conversational learning experience than the previous two programs.
Likes: Extremely detailed and personalized learning experience, meaningful lessons and lesson progression (building-block style)
Dislikes: Immediate immersion, I would have liked to see preliminary lessons on the alphabets (which are included in a sort of cheat sheet, but not outright taught), the cost is quite high ($179 for modules 1-3).
I am currently using all three of these to learn, especially because they are all portable. I have already noticed a marked improvement in understanding written and verbal japanese when watching shows (Terrace House, anyone?), and am truly enjoying the learning process.
I hope that this article has been helpful and has provided a few stepping stones if you want to begin your journey in learning Japanese.

Jessie H