Best Japanese Lesson Programs
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As one of the 10 most spoken languages in the world, Japanese is a popular language for students of all ages. With more than 125 million people worldwide who use it on a daily basis, the opportunities for using Japanese are numerous, from business owners who are looking for a new partner in trade to middle schoolers who want to understand their favorite anime TV show without English subtitles.
Whether the only Japanese you know is "domo arigato" from Styx's classic 80's song, or you've got a basic grasp of conversational Japanese and want to take your skills to the next level, there are a number of programs that will allow you to learn the language from the comfort of your own home, car, or other location - without having to fit traditional classroom-based lessons into an already busy schedule.
Rocket Language's Japanese lessons program is well-rounded and effective, no matter whether you are a beginning student or hoping to take your current skills to the next level.
There are three levels offered by Rocket Languages for students who want to study Japanese:
Each level within the Japanese package contains the following:
Other Japanese course features include the My Vocab vocabulary builder, the Phrase Finder, progress tracking with badges and leaderboard access, lifetime course access, and three available "Survival Kits" that help students quickly master targeted vocabulary within specific conversational situations.
Rocket Japanese offers a 20-minute audio lesson and access to the student dashboard as a free trial with no credit card information required, along with several "Hear It Say It! Write It! Know It!" examples on the website. The audio lesson sample is, for lack of a better word, cute - a native English speaker and native Japanese speaker exchange friendly banter that introduces the Japanese program in an approachable way, and starts learners on their way to understanding a basic conversation with greetings, a small grammar lesson, and some numbers. We felt like we were sitting down with two fun, interesting people who were helping us learn Japanese as their friends.
We were thrilled to see that Rocket Japanese includes a detailed section of Writing Lessons that teach all three character systems (kanji, hiragana, katakana), for those students who need to learn to read and write in Japanese in addition to mastering conversational skills. And, the lessons include the Roman alphabet approximation of every spoken phrase, to give you an idea of how to pronounce it using the alphabet that is familiar to you.
We love Rocket Language's 100%, 60-day money-back guarantee, though you may not need it: more than 1,800 users have given the program a perfect five-star rating. And, don't let their pricing scare you: at the time of our review, there was a promotion offering a discount of 60% on all language programs, and we found similar significant discounts on other visits to the site.
Although it can be daunting to learn any new language, tackling one with sounds and characters that are completely unfamiliar can make you feel like it's an impossible task. Rocket Language's approach to learning Japanese feels like someone is holding your hand, talking you through the basics, and believing in your ability to master the language. We love their money-back guarantee and their well-rounded approach to teaching Japanese. Rocket Language's Japanese lessons earns our highest rating.
Transparent Language's Japanese lessons promise "radically better language learning, in one complete experience". Their approach is quite comprehensive, using listening exercises, grammar lessons, and speaking practice.
Prospective customers will appreciate the 14-day free trial of their online Japanese lessons, and only an email address is necessary to access it. Because many Transparent Language's users have commented that the program isn't as rigid in its structure, compared with other programs, it's a good idea to take advantage of the free trial to see if it's a good fit for your particularly learning style and language-learning goals.
Also, there are two different Japanese programs available - Japanese and Japanese Transliterated (also known as "For English Speakers") - that take two very different paths through Japanese. One starts with basic phrases with the English approximation of the pronunciation, while the other begins with learning the characters known as Hiragana, so you'll want to see which of the two approaches will get you to your goals.
Should you be unsatisfied with your software purchase or your subscription, Transparent Language offers a full refund for all of its products, within six months of purchase for any physical/downloaded product, and a full refund prior to the next billing cycle if you are a subscriber to one of the online plans.
And, if you are looking for a program that has a live help/lesson option, Transparent Language is one of the few Japanese lesson programs offers it. As you might imagine, it isn't cheap - $299 for an 8-week, customized online course that meets weekly, and/or $99 for 90 minutes of one-on-one online tutoring at your proficiency level - but it may be worth it to get the personalized attention of a native speaker to help you through any rough spots you encounter in your learning of Japanese.
Transparent Language's Japanese lessons earn high marks for providing two ways of learning the language and for their well-rounded approach to teaching. They are a solid choice for beginning - or improving - your ability to speak, read, and write in Japanese.
From mall kiosks to TV ads, Rosetta Stone is everywhere. Their foreign language programs, including their Japanese lessons, aim to teach you to speak a new language through "Dynamic Immersion": rather than using rote memorization or constant translating between English and Japanese, Rosetta Stone tries to get you to master the language naturally through repeated exposure - similar to how you learned to speak your first language.
Rosetta Stone Japanese has a short, complimentary demo you can use to get a feel for how this immersion approach works. You hear several phrases and see them written in Japanese, and then match the sounds you hear with the appropriate picture. Unfortunately, that's the extent of the free demo; we would have liked to see more about how Rosetta Stone approaches the language overall, especially given the distinct character/alphabet system used to write in Japanese. Competitor sites almost always allow prospective students to see a sample lesson from start to finish, along with a preview of the actual interface used for learning the language, and we felt that would have been helpful in getting a clearer picture of how, exactly, Rosetta Stone teaches concepts beyond basic vocabulary/sound matching.
Rosetta Stone recently lowered their pricing (which was often as high as $400 or more for the CD version of their language programs), and their satisfaction guarantee/return policy has also seen some improvements. Previously, their 30-day, no risk, money-back guarantee only applied to their CD products; it now includes any of Rosetta Stone's Personal or Homeschool editions, from online subscription to downloads and CD-ROMs.
With thousands of students who have used Rosetta Stone for learning languages, reviews vary. On the one hand, you have students who describe the program as useful, worth the investment, and fun. But, others feel that Rosetta Stone falls short in delivering a genuinely immersive experience, and they felt that they didn't come away with the level of mastery they expected after using the program. Of course, the best way to experience a true immersion in Japanese is to spend time with native speakers, preferably in Japan itself - but it's still a worthwhile objective to get students as close to that as possible without having to leave home.
Rosetta Stone earns high marks for their improved pricing and return policy, and for the significant number of students who have successfully mastered a new language using their program, That rating would easily increase with a more robust free trial for prospective students, so that customers can get a better feel for how Rosetta Stone would teach them Japanese.
Living Language's four-step approach to studying Japanese includes Build a Foundation, Progress with Confidence, Retain What You've Learned, and Achieve Your Goals. For over 65 years, the techniques they originally developed for the US State Department have been available for students to master a strong foundation of essential words and phrases, moving smoothly to full sentences and conversations, and eventually being able to use Japanese conversationally in a variety of real-world situations.
There are two primary approaches to learning Japanese with Living Language, and students can take advantage of both of them if they desire: Japanese Essential and Complete, which consist of lessons given through books and audio CDs, and the Japanese Online Course.
Living Language has a free Language Lab available to all visitors to their website, with no credit card or email needed to access it. This Language Lab allows you to get a good overview of the topics in the Japanese lessons, and some simple games for practicing vocabulary. Although we enjoyed learning some basic Japanese phrases using the flashcards included in the Essential Expressions (Lesson 1 in the Language Lab), it didn't give us a feel for how the lessons themselves are taught.
We liked that the vocabulary could be taught with the English approximation of the pronunciation (tip: make sure to set "romaji" to the on position at the bottom of the flash cards in order to see how it would be read using the Roman alphabet). But, it would have been more helpful to have access to a complete lesson, to see how Living Language approaches Japanese lessons as a whole. Because Living Languages currently offers no satisfaction guarantee or return policy, we suggest that students consider one of the lower-priced packages or subscriptions first, to see if their teaching structure is a good fit.
On the other hand. Living Language's e-Tutoring is a fantastic value-add to their Japanese lessons. Many reviews of Living Language's programs include praise for the flexibility and effectiveness of working one-on-one with a native speaker; having that resource while learning Japanese could be particularly helpful, given that it may be difficult for you to find someone local to help you with your studies.
Whether or not Living Language is a good match for your learning style may depend on your goals and motivation. While most of the programs in our review require mastery of one topic before moving on to a new one, Living Language lets you move around freely between subjects. If you're easily distracted - or discouraged - you may find that freedom less than helpful as you try to learn Japanese. But, if you prefer to have the freedom of learning any topic you need at the time - Asking Directions or At a Restaurant, for example - Learning Language's Japanese lessons may be just what you need.
Pimsleur is well-known when it comes to foreign language instruction. Although their language lessons focus almost entirely on learning by hearing, Pimsleur's Japanese lessons include a reading booklet and three booklets on culture notes; this is especially important given that Japanese is character-based and does not use the Roman alphabet that most learners recognize.
If you'd like to try Pimsleur's approach to learning Japanese, you can get a free 30-minute introductory lesson by entering your name, zip code, email address, and reason for studying the language (for fun, for business, and so on). We found that the free lesson was easy to follow and helped us understand some basic principles, vocabulary, and sounds in Japanese.
Although Pimsleur's Japanese lessons include audio lessons to help students learn to read Hiragana, along with a reading booklet, those components are not likely to leave students with a solid understanding of written Japanese. If your reasons for learning the language include being able to read or write it, Pimsleur's heavy emphasis on audio learning may not be enough to help you achieve your goals.
Another area where Pimsleur comes up short in comparison with its competitors is the satisfaction guarantee, or lack thereof. Pimsleur chooses to offer a Proficiency Guarantee instead, which has very specific terms: users must purchase Pimsleur's Level I program and take a novice-level test after you complete the course. This exam is available through an independent testing company accessed through a link on the Pimsleur website (which, at the time of our review, gave us a 404 error). Only if you fail that exam will you be able to get a full refund.
Finally, Pimsleur costs much more than other providers of Japanese lessons. Although their audio lessons have great reviews, we're not sure that the benefits they offer are worth the hefty $450 and $970 price tags, especially compared with other top-rated programs we considered that offer multiple approaches to learning (audio, visual, speech recognition, and so on). We strongly suggest that prospective customers not only try the audio sample prior to purchasing Pimsleur's program, but also that they check for any special offers or discounts that may be available from time to time.
LingQ (pronounced like the word "link") takes readings from actual Japanese print material such as books and newspaper articles, downloading audio lessons to review, and connections with native speaker helpers and tutors as the foundation of its Japanese lessons.
We like that LingQ lets students have access to their site for free, up to a point. But, our free trial for Japanese left us very confused. When we clicked on "New Course" to add Japanese, we got a list of courses to choose from, such as "Japanese Newbie Lessons" and "Steve's Easy Introduction to Japanese". There was no guidance as to which course to choose, and they all seemed to be created by users rather than following a methodical, research-based approach to teaching Japanese. Even more confusing was when we chose the first set of lessons listed and went to the first set of instructions, only to find that the explanation text was in Portuguese!
We also had a hard time making sense of LingQ's paid connection system. A one-on-one conversation with a native speaker costs $5 for 15 minutes, and a 100-word writing correction costs $5 (with no explanation as to how Japanese writing would be counted, by characters or in some other way?). It might be more economical to find a friendly volunteer online rather than paying for connections through LingQ.
Given the confusing nature of LingQ's Japanese program, we highly recommend that students make full use of the free features before making a commitment to the paid subscriptions. Students learning Japanese for the first time are likely to find one of our more highly-rated programs more straightforward and easier to navigate.
Strokes Easy Learning Japanese 100 for Beginners is a course delivered on CD-ROM and audio CD, including 100 dialogues that cover everyday situations. The software includes a pronunciation trainer, dictionary, printable book, and vocabulary trainer, while the audio CD covers the 100 dialogues taught on the CD-ROM.
The Japanese 100 for Beginners supposedly conforms to the European Framework for Languages (Levels A1, A2, and B2), and there is a downloadable set of three free test lessons. However, a number of issues with the site left us feeling less than confident that downloading those lessons would be wise.
First, when clicking on the link for "Program information", we were brought to a completely blank page. Next, the "Shipping & Returns" page only listed costs for shipping the product within and outside of Europe and gave no information regarding any return policy whatsoever. Finally, numerous grammatical errors and other typos left us feeling like buying Stroke's Japanese 100 for Beginners would be a risky purchase - but it was apparently sold out at the time of our review.
Strokes Easy Learning also fails to impress with respect to their mobile apps; not only do they not offer an app for practicing Japanese, but their apps for other languages haven't been updated in over two years and have almost no reviews.
When considering Japanese lessons, we encourage you to consider one of the more highly-rated programs that we evaluated.
When choosing a Japanese language program, you should explore what each system and method has to offer and whether or not it will help you reach your goals. Some Japanese lessons focus solely on conversational ability, using audio lessons to teach, while others use a variety of ways to teach reading and writing in addition to speaking the language.
Of particular interest with respect to Japanese is the written language. You'll want to determine if reading and writing is a priority, as not all programs include this aspect of language learning in their lessons. There are three basic scripts used in written Japanese:
As you can see, written Japanese is considerably more complex than English and other languages based on the more familiar Roman alphabet (such as Spanish, French, and German), so it's important to know how each program addresses the written component of Japanese if you'll need to be able to read and write it yourself.
In general, there are several things to consider when choosing a program for your Japanese lessons. These include:
TopConsumerReviews.com has reviewed and ranked the best Japanese Lessons available today. We hope these reviews help you to move quickly beyond "konnichiwa" and "sayonara" and towards a comfortable fluency level in the Japanese language!
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