In this article we look as some of the best online Japanese courses and classes. Japanese is one of the most popular foreign languages among native English speakers. Surprisingly though, there aren't as many resources available if you want to learn Japanese.
We hope to separate the wheat from the chaff and get you off and running with the best courses for learning Japanese, no matter your learning style!
Best of the Best Online Japanese courses
Rocket Japanese is the most comprehensive course available for anyone looking to learn Japanese online. The full language course will take you from absolute beginner to intermediate level. In Rocket Japanese you are taught using two lesson tracks: one to teach you vocabulary, and the other to teach you grammar. The vocabulary lessons are called interactive audio lessons. They are built around a recorded dialogue between two native speakers. Each lesson teaches pronunciation and points out key phrases and vocabulary. The lessons are designed to get you speaking from day one. The dialogues cover plausible everyday situations and supply you with phrases that can easily be used in a real conversation. Each lesson gives you the chance to role play as someone speaking Japanese. It's an effective way to cement the phrases into your brain. and build your language skills.
The grammar lessons are called Japanese language and culture lessons. They provide in depth explanations and examples of Japanese grammar. They also delve into cultural topics too. Often in the grammar lessons you will work with phrases similar to the ones in the interactive audio lessons.
Rocket Japanese's two lesson approach is really what sets it apart from other online Japanese language courses. There is something to said for learning grammar after you've already spent some time speaking the language. Traditional online Japanese language courses usually teach grammar first, and leave you to fend for yourself when it comes to speaking.
Rocket Japanese also teaches you how to read and write too. The first level of the course doesn't have any writing lessons, but once you get into levels two and three you will be working a lot with the written Japanese language.
Japanesepod101 started out a couple decades ago as a simple podcast for learning Japanese online. Since then is has grown into one of the largest resource hubs for anyone interested in learning Japanese as a foreign language. The mainstay of the site (which is also available as an app) are the Japanese podcast lessons. Each episode features a real conversation between native Japanese speakers. Two podcast hosts act as your personal Japanese teachers during each lesson. They introduce the dialogue, point out and explain new vocabulary and grammar, and also share insights into Japanese culture. The Japanese lessons come with full transcripts in English, romaji, as well as kana and kanji. Japanesepod101 lets you play back individual phrases and record yourself to compare your Japanese pronunciation to the person speaking. There are literally thousands of podcast episodes spread across five lesson tracts ranging from beginner to advanced. While the majority of the Japanese lessons focus on teaching you vocabulary and grammar; other lesson units also teach how to read and write kanji and kana, pronunciation, cultural etiquette, slang and more.
The site isn't limited to just Japanese language podcast episodes. There a ton of other language resources to discover too. There's a Japanese to English dictionary, video lessons, word frequency lists, kanji bank, space repetition flash cards, verb conjugation charts, downloadable eBooks, and a lot more. Japanesepod101 offers a free lifetime account and a premium account at a low cost monthly subscription (starting at $4).
Pimsleur is one of the oldest language programs on the market. There's a reason their courses have been around so long: they work. Pimsleur is an audio course that teaches you how speak and read Japanese. The secret sauce behind Pimsleur is their trademarked technique. You are taught whole phrases word by word and syllable by syllable (with a big emphasis on correct pronunciation). Then you are prompted to answer and ask questions using the phrases you've learned. You have a limited amount of time to response to each prompt before the correct response is given by a native Japanese speaker. This creates a sort of pressure to think of what to say before tie runs out. It's similar to the feeling you get when speaking with real people. Initially the lessons use a lot of English as they teach and explain Japanese. As the course progresses, English is used less and less until finally the lessons are completely in your target language. The situations presented in the course are centered on everyday situations you're likely to encounter in Japanese culture.
Pimsleur also includes reading lessons in their Japanese language course. You'll be taught hiragana, katakana, as well as characters. Initially you start reading Japanese phonetically using kana (learners don't always know the meaning of the word they read, but do know how they are pronounced). Then gradually you begin reading phrases from previous lessons and start to understand what you read.
Not too long ago Pimsleur was only available on CD rom. Now the course has been updated and is available on the new Pimsleur app. If you want to start speaking Japanese then it's definitely worth checking out!
Good Online Japanese classes and courses
Watching movies, anime, tv shows, and news is fun and effective way to learn Japanese language and culture. But for beginner and even intermediate students it can be hard to learn Japanese with video. You often find yourself wanting to switch between English and Japanese subtitles, or you have to constantly pause the video and go look up a word's definition. This is where FluentU comes in.
FluentU teaches languages through video through their site and app. They feature videos from Japanese movies, tv, news, online videos, and more. You can toggle Japanese subtitles and English subtitles. You can click any word in the subtitle and you will be instantly given a definition as well as a list of example sentences. You can even make flashcards from the word using the onsite flashcard system. FluentU is great for learning new vocabulary or practice what you're already familiar with.
Italki is the world’s largest marketplace of online language teachers. Lessons range from 30 minutes to an hour and a half long (but are typically one hour). Teachers provide their own language learning materials like pdf textbooks, video or audio files, shared documents, and more. At the time of writing this article there are well over 600 teachers on Italki offering online Japanese courses. Each teacher follows their own method of teaching and they set their own price. It’s worth it to shop around and find the best online language teacher for you.
Though Italk is mainly known for its paid online language lessons, there are also a ton of useful free resources available for anyone looking to learn Japanese. Italki lets you browse the profiles of other users based on their native language and the language they’re learning, and message them. The idea is to find someone fluent in your target language who is themselves learning English, so you can practice your respective target languages together. There are a lot of Japanese students on the site learning English, so If you want a Japanese speaking partner Italki is definitely worth checking out.
Italki also features an online public notebook, where you can write journal entries in Japanese and have them corrected by a native Japanese speaker (this is great for writing practice) There’s also a language learning blog and public forum where you can ask other users fun questions about Japanese culture and language.
*with purchase of $20 or more. After you complete your first lesson 10 free Italki credits will be added to your account at no cost.
Glossika is an AI driven platform that helps you develop your speaking and listening skills. Like every other course on this list, Glossika teaches Japanese vocabulary and grammar. Unlike most other courses, Glossika also puts a huge emphasis on teaching syntax. Syntax is the way words and phrases are formed to create longer sentences. Good Japanese syntax would mean you know the right words to use, and you know where to use them in a natural sentence. If you think of the analogy of a wooden house vocabulary would be the wood, grammar would be the nails and tools, and syntax would be the instructions you use to put everything together.
Glossika's Japanese lessons never teach a word or grammar rule in isolation. You will always be working with complete phrases (that’s where syntax comes in). The course functions like a foreign language workout program. There are three exercise types that make up Glossika Japanese: listen & repeat training, helpful interpretation training, and dictation training. Each day you complete one training session. Together these training exercises are an excellent way to practice Japanese in a holistic way.
With Glossika students will learn Japanese phrases, but the course doesn’t dive that deep into grammar.
Still, there’s something to be said for conversational language learning. If you want to start using basic conversational Japanese, then Glossika is worth looking at.
FSI Japanese Courses
FSI Japanese courses are a series of language learning courses that were developed by the US Foreign Service Institute to teach and train American diplomats and personnel who work abroad. These Japanese courses are in the public domain and free to download and use. For each course there is a textbook and accompanying audio. These courses are heavily audio based, and students will be listening to and repeating Japanese phrases over and over (not unlike Pimsleur). To be honest the courses can feel repetitive and even dull at times. Even so the method works. If you have the discipline and tenacity to work through these Japanese learning courses your ability to speak and understand Japanese will improve significantly. Depending on the course the content can feel dated and the vocabulary a bit on the formal side (you won’t find any slang or overly casual speech here).
As mentioned before, the courses come at no cost and are legal to download and be used by anyone. At the very least they’re worth looking at.
EDX Online Courses
EDX is an online learning platform created by MIT and Harvard. It offers college level courses across a wide variety of topics. The courses on EDX are taught by professors and professionals from universities around the world. Some of the courses on EDX are free, while others you have to pay money to attend. Currently EDX hosts a series of free beginner Japanese courses taught by professors from Waseda University in Japan.
In addition to Japanese language courses, EDX also has several courses on Japanese culture, history, and even business. This includes a two part course on Postwar Tokyo, a Japanese business management class, and a course on Japanese folklore.
Kanji study is essentially a course for reading and writing Japanese made available as an app. The app is designed to take learners from the level of absolute beginner to an advanced level in Japanese reading (according to the N5-N1 levels of JLPT). The course offers free Japanese lessons on kana, radicals, and 80 of the most common characters for the beginner level. If you want to start studying at a higher level you will need to make a one time cost of $12.99 (not bad for the price) Each of the higher levels on the app teach anywhere from 200 to 300 Kanji. There are ten levels on the app.
Minato by the Japan Foundation
Minato offers free self-study courses for Japanese. Courses are categorized by difficulty level or by topic. Lessons are largely text based and feature common conversational phrases. There are also lessons on hiragana, katakana and kanji. There's even a course for learning common phrases from anime and magna!
Marugoto is an online Japanese course for beginners. It uses a combination of audio, video, and exercises in its Japanese lessons. All audio and video is done by native speakers. This program is a great option for students who want learn Japanese as a beginner.
Learn the Japanese language with IMABI
IMABI is less an online course, and more like a free online reference tool. It features dense and no nonsense lessons on Japanese grammar (and some content on vocab too). Students won't find any activities, exercises, or games here. The information here isn't the most fun, but it is helpful.
Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese
Take Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese is a free online Japanese grammar course written in layman’s terms. Tae Kim breaks down the mystery behind the language as explicitly as he can. Sentences are broken down into their smaller grammatical parts, and example phrases are abundant. It’s the ultimate grammar reference guide, and throughout your Japanese language learning journey you will find yourself coming back to it to review again and again. Want to know the best part about Tae Kim’s guide? It doesn't cost anything! You can find it on his website, or download the Tae Kim app.
The Lingodeer Japanese course is built around topical units such as nature, food, shapes, family, etc. Each unit has anywhere from 2-5 lessons. Lessons are similar to what you might expect from an app like Duolingo or Babbel (albeit better catered to Asian languages). Learners practice vocabulary by completing a set of exercises like fill in the blank, matching, listening comprehension, and translation. Lingodeer is a good way to get your feet wet in the language and review what you already know. You can start learning with the beginner units for free. Some premium features available at an extra cost.
Similar to Italki, Verbling is a site that connects language learners with teachers for one on one online courses. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two sites is that Verbling courses exclusively use the site’s own platform for video lessons (whereas Italki teachers usually use Skype). Verbling’s platform makes it easy to take notes, share files, and even make flashcards while learning with a teacher. These features are included in the lesson price. Unfortunately Verbling doesn’t have the free community features found on Italki. Aside from occasional online articles, you won’t find any resources on Verbling besides their courses. Each teacher on Verbling sets their own price.
Any casual reader of our blog knows that we are big fans of the Duolingo online courses and apps. However, their Japanese course falls a bit short.
For starters Duolingo doesn't put much effort in teaching written Japanese lessons. Japanese characters make an appearance in the course, but they're an after thought at best. Moreover, the differences between kanji, hiragana, and katakana isn't always clear. If this app was all you had to learn Japanese, you might not ever understand how written Japanese works.
Grammar is also a bit problematic. The sentence structure isn't always clear from the exercises. Many of the nuances of the Japanese language are never covered. Exercises are often so easy to guess that they require little brain power from learners. As a result a lot of information you're learning doesn't stick and your language skills can suffer for it.
Honestly Rosetta Stone has never been our favorite language learning platform. Their courses have some value if you're learning a language from the Romantic family like Spanish or French. But if you're learning Japanese, the Rosetta Stone method falls flat on its face. Their method follows a strict no translation and no explanation policy.
The cost of RS is high relative to other learning resources.
Often learners walk away with more questions than answers, as it's often not clear precisely what a specific Japanese phrase means. Also writing systems like Japanese need to be explained in order to be taught to native English speakers. The price for the program is also high compared to others. Needless to say we don't recommend Rosetta Stone as a Japanese learning course.