When it comes to learning Japanese, there are various approaches you can take. Some rely solely on textbooks, while others find watching anime or Japanese movies with English subtitles or even listening to easy Japanese songs for their next karaoke session, helpful for practice. Ideally, a combination of these methods can be beneficial as they cover different language skills such as reading, listening, writing, and speaking.
A fun and interactive way to learn Japanese is through games. Not just games in Japanese but games that are specifically designed to teach the language and offer a unique approach to language learning. While we have previously discussed the topic in 5 Games on Steam to Learn Japanese, there are even more options to explore, including a few card games.
1. Say What?
Say What? is a language-learning card game originally focused on Cantonese. It was made to help preserve the language and make it more accessible to people who want to learn it. Lilian Lee, the creator of the game, found she could learn languages quickly by combining silly words and phrases, which makes learning a new language more fun and less intimidating.
The Japanese version of Say What? contains 52 beautifully detailed playing cards, including 24 verb cards and 24 noun cards. The game’s goal is to act out silly phrases like in charades. The team that guesses the correct phrase scores a point. For example, combine the noun-card watashi wa…desu (I am) with the verb-card tonderu soseji (flying sausage), and you have watshi wa tonderu soseji (I am a flying sausage). How you will relay that to your team is entirely up to you.
If you’re an English teacher in Japan, Say What? can also be a very silly game to use in the classroom. Just remove some of the more “adult” words like yakuza (gangster) and oshiri (buttocks). Say What? also has an online audio resource if you’re unsure how to pronounce a word.
JGO is the Japanese version of the popular AGO ESL card game series. It’s a 54-card deck aimed at learning simple question-and-answer sentences in Japanese. Included also are 18″ action cards” thrown into the mix, like hantai mawari (turn around, reverse). Cards feature different grammar points and structures, often with blank spaces for answers.
Each card is illustrated for context and uses hiragana (Japanese writing) or katakana (Japanese writing for foreign words), and a few have kanji (Japanese characters). Cards also have romaji (Romanized spelling) to help you pronounce Japanese words.
The game plays a lot like UNO, a famous card game that uses colors. In JGO, players receive cards left to right and, on their turn, play cards that match the previous card’s rank or color. When playing a question card, you ask the next player a question using the card as a guide. The first player to use all their cards wins. It’s a simple but effective and fun way to learn basic Japanese. Only level 1 is currently available, but level 2 is on the way.
Shashingo is a cute game about exploring a Tokyo-inspired city with a camera. Every photograph you take translates the object into Japanese and English to give learners cultural context. For example, stroll by a bright cafe in the game and take a photograph of the coffee on the counter, and you’ll receive a digital picture with the words (and audio) “コーヒー” and “Coffee.” It’s almost like taking a virtual vacation to Japan.
In this way, you can make your own custom flashcards, and even save pictures in a photo book. As you progress, you’ll unlock filters and effects. There is also an unlockable “find-mode,” which tests players on their knowledge of words.
Ryan Pocock, the developer, was inspired to create the game because he wanted to give others a fun and immersive way to learn Japanese. Although the game is still in development, he says the game will include content from the N5 and N4 levels of the JLPT, as well as common phrases.
4. So To Speak
So To Speak is a unique puzzle game that challenges players to translate Japanese signs and conversations on visual clues and context. You explore a 2D simulation of Japan and drag words onto signs and speech bubbles. For example, the entrance to a station might be missing the word 入口 (iriguchi), or entrance, and you must place that word in the empty box.
However, the game doesn’t hold your hand by telling you what the Japanese words mean. You have to figure it out on your own. The game is for people who are not the biggest fan of memorizing flash cards. The developer, Erik Andersen, says the idea is inspired by his time in Japan, where he started picking up words on signs based on context.
The game has soothing music and a relaxing pace. There isn’t a rush to learn all the Japanese as soon as possible. It currently has more than 400 words, and players will start by learning words, but eventually move on to complex sentences. Although currently still in development, Andersen plans to release the game in 2023.
- Steam Page (demo available)
Koe is a JRPG with learning Japanese as the core gameplay that has been in development for almost 10 years and, hopefully, is finally coming out at the end of 2023. Koe was backed on Kickstarter for nearly $100,000 and has seen several art and gameplay changes.
Koe promises gameplay inspired by Dragon Quest, Pokemon and Final Fantasy and a full story-driven, traditional JRPG experience with random battles, bosses, pets, wizards, cities and houses. Koe will also be completely voiced in Japanese.
You’ll use Japanese words to attack, heal and grind experience points. It’s a traditional turn-based battle system. As you learn Japanese, the words become abilities and powers in battle. For example, use the Japanese word katana, and the traditional samurai sword will appear to slice your enemy.
What games have you played for learning Japanese? What’s the best? Let us know in the comments!