8 Great Free Apps for Studying Japanese

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Japanese Study Apps
March 12, 2015

Smartphones. Almost a necessity in modern life – and a divisive one at that. With constant notifications, we are so easily dragged out of present surroundings and into that welcoming pixelated glow. Distractions aside – and I’m speaking as a chronic Facebook, Twitter and Instagram addict – there are some very useful apps for studying Japanese.

The best news of all is that these magical tools needn’t cost you a single yen. Which is particularly great whenever you are reminded of how much it costs to have a smartphone in Japan. So let’s check out the options.

The Flashcard Fiend: Anki

You are studying Japanese and you haven’t been using a Anki/Ankidroid or some other similar flashcard program? Please share your study methods with us mere mortals as Anki is basically a shortcut to vocabulary heaven or the path to enlightenment. Take your pick.

anki

Anki allows you to import kanji and vocabulary ‘decks’ from popular textbooks or JLPT lists and then converts them into flashcards. These can range from just a word or kanji, to vocabulary placed in sentences to help you understand the context for it. These can come with audio cues and hilariously cheesy stock photos for extra fun.

When presented with a flashcard, think of the answer and then click to have it revealed. You can then self-mark from Again to Easy, with the time in which the card will be repeated listed alongside the options.

As well as being able to create your own decks, Anki comes with a range of useful features, including an answer timer and the ability to flip the questions and answers – this is particularly good for when you want to switch between reading kanji or vocabulary to being able to write them.

Anki can be used as an app, online or a desktop version. For creating decks, you might find it quicker to use the desktop version and then sync it with your device. Apologies to iOS users – you have to pay, but you’ll get your money’s worth.

The Sensei: Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese

This app will appeal to two kinds of students: 1) the self-studiers who are floating around in a grammatical abyss, looking for a structure to follow, or; 2) the Japanese language immersion students, who just can’t always grasp the meaning from context and examples given in class. Hands up who has craved a good old-fashioned explanation in their native language?

tae-kim

Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese is the answer to your prayers. It is packed with logically organised lessons, beautifully clear explanations, and conjugation tables, and there are even some exercises for the first chapters on basic grammar. A list of vocabulary used in examples is given for every lesson, with the kanji, readings and English meanings, allowing you to pick up new words whilst also seeing the grammar work in context. Even without referring to this list, all kanji are clickable and so you should never have to refer to a dictionary.

It’s not a game-app – it’s not supposed to be particularly fun or to help you with memorisation, but if you really want to understand something, Tae Kim is your sensei.

The Quizmaster: Obenkyo

Have you ever opened an app and immediately fell in love? No confusion over how to use it but swiping through screens as if you and it had been born together? That’s how I felt about Obenkyo (which is also available in French – great news for native Francophones).

obenkyo

Start from the basics of katakana and hiragana and advance through to kanji and vocabulary as it throws various ways to test you, from multiple choice to touch-screen writing, with English to Japanese or vice versa as answer options. Kanji lists can be displayed according to JLPT levels, making this the ultimate tool for helping your prepare for the exam. You can easily access a list of vocabulary, classified by word type as in a dictionary, with verbs, for example, being listed as ichidan/godan, and transitive/intransitive, etc.

Perhaps the star feature is the handwriting recogniser – it corrects not only your form but also your stroke order. If it makes a mistake in recognising your writing, you can easily tell it so, and your score will be adjusted accordingly.

A ‘find the missing particle’ feature is being trialled, which allows you to select the correct particle to fit a sentence, and subsequently provides a grammatical explanation. All kanji can be clicked to reveal their reading. The app has also imported Tae Kim’s guide for grammatical references. My only gripe would be that the multiple choice quizzes are often little silly – the question will demand a verb and then give several nouns and adjectives as answer options, making it very easy to guess which word is right!

The Dictionaries: imiwa?

Popular with gaijin iPhone users across Japan, imiwa? provides an offline dictionary with a variety of methods for finding words: not only can you search using romaji as well as Japanese characters, but you can look up kanji by SKIP (System of Kanji Indexing by Patterns), multi-radical and Chinese radical. Its clear interface allows for the easy creation of lists and favourites, as well as very simple copy to clipboard/export to email functions.

imiwa

It will appeal to those who don’t have English as their first language, as definitions and example sentences are listed in a variety of languages, including French, Spanish, German, Italian and Russian, although native English speakers may find the screen a little overly busy as a result. The other fantastic feature is an automatic look-up of any text that you have copied to clipboard. Browsing a website and don’t understand a word? Copy it, open imiwa?, and the results will be instantly displayed.

The app, however, isn’t as slick as it could be. It does not have a handwriting look-up function for searching unknown kanji. This can be circumnavigated easily enough by switching to the iOS inbuilt Chinese keyboard, but it’s an unnecessary faff. Finally, users might be frustrated by the inability to pause the stroke order when viewing demonstration animations.

The Dictionaries: Akebi

Akebi is a huge dictionary, with a vast array of examples. It has a clear handwriting and radical search function, with the option to mix a variety of methods to find words composed of several kanji, making it a very flexible tool.

akebi

It also offers a ‘Show Words with this Kanji’ function, which is great when you come across a familiar character but you can’t quite place it, or if you want to easily see variations of the same word. Its stroke order animations are particularly useful, allowing you to toggle numbers on and off, pause and repeat easily.

That said, the user interface is hardly an aesthetic feat and its not immediately intuitive. Furthermore, a large database can be a more of a hindrance than a help because it often lists the same word with different kanji without giving any indication of which is the most common usage. Some really old-fashioned and archaic Japanese contained within it so watch out!

The Dictionaries: Japanese (by renzo Inc.)

Out of the three dictionaries, Japanese takes first prize for design, with a beautiful, clear interface. It understands how a user thinks: on opening, it presents you with a search bar to immediately type in, but also a handwriting, kanji component and SKIP search option, all on the same page.

japanese

It contains an audio clip for all entries and has the clearest layout for examples with hiragana above the kanji used and each kanji displayed underneath with their meanings. Overtaking both imiwa? and Akebi on the development front, it has an incredibly useful list of conjugations for every verb.

Japanese features a built-in study system, but it’s not as good as the one that Anki has.

The Kanji King: Kanji Recognizer

This little app may be simple but that’s where its strength lies. We’ve all been there – staring at some unknown kanji as if we can wring its meaning out of it with our eyes. Kanji Recognizer is made just for those moments, enabling you to swiftly handwrite the kanji and obtain its readings, radicals, strokes, and basic meanings. You can then export to Anki or immediately look it up in your dictionary for compounds and examples of its use.

kani-recognizer

I’ve found it to be the best app at recognising handwritten kanji, and so I use it whenever my dictionary app cannot interpret my kanji squiggles or when I only want a kanji reading, rather than a detailed explanation of its meaning. Its simple interface and layout also make it very quick to use.

The Jack-of-all-Trades: Google Translate

So this may not be a Japanese-specific app, but for translating longer texts and getting the general gist, Google Translate is invaluable. There will be times when your dictionary app doesn’t contain a word or phrase and you’ll need to double check it.

google_translate

It also has some really interesting experimental search options. In addition to handwriting, you can use your phone camera to scan words to translate and you can also test out its audio recognition software, in which it will then speak its translation back to you in your chosen language.

Wanna Splash Some Cash?

Both Human Japanese and Japanese Sensei are popular apps that contain lessons as well as quizzes and learning activities. For more dictionary options for iOS, try Midori.

Skritter is an excellent kanji learning tool that improves your writing as well as your reading ability. Choose from lists or make your own and then let it test you on meaning, reading and, importantly, writing. There are significant differences between the Android and iOS versions. Android has an extra feature, which allows you to preview the entire kanji or get a hint for the next stroke – this is incredibly useful when faced with a completely unknown kanji. However, its interface for adding words to a custom list is clunky and best done through the desktop version. By comparison, kanji can be easily added in the iOS version, which automatically searches for the reading and English translation.

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Your Entry to Japan.
  • chiie00

    I’ve been using Obekyo for months now. Its great. You must be really patient on reading those boring black and white notes because it helps. Believe me.

  • And this is something I’d like an answer from the developers on. Free for desktop platforms, free for Android, $25 for iOS. I bought it because I do actually believe in it, but it strikes me as a pretty shitty play by the developers.

    • KingKong

      The android version is developed by a third party, not the same people who maintain the desktop/web/iOS version.

      • Well that’s at least part of an answer, but doesn’t explain still why only one available version costs anything. They could at least spread the cost around a bit.

    • Debi Stevenson

      Developers have to pay tech people sometimes,or for Japanese grammar professors to check their work, and also for licensing, so not everyone can put it out there for free. I’m working on my next one, but haven’t broke even on my first ones yet.
      (Japanese Verb Master, kana or romaji versions, Apple).

      • I get that, and I typically don’t mind paying for an app at all. But 25$ Just feels like the developers have an axe to grind and want to stick it to anyone with an Apple device.

    • onewhereitry

      probably because you also pay for Apple to publish your app on AppStore, unlike in Google Play where you can publish your work without paying.

  • I haven’t bought Human Japanese 1 or 2 YET(♥!) but I have both the demos and they are phenomenal! I have learned more from the demos than any one free app out there!

    The guy that writes to you in the app explains everything in a very natural way! But this is a list of Free Apps, so it makes sense that it’s not on here but a definite must have!

    Anyone out there should really try the free demos! No Regrets!

  • Oh, I’m so sorry! I’m an Android/ desktop user – had no reason to suspect they’d charge (a fairly hefty fee) on iOS Thanks for pointing this out – I’ll update it. But I highly recommend either paying the money or using the free desktop version – Anki really is a fantastic tool.

  • Oh, that’s where they’re hiding! Thanks for pointing this out, will update the article ^^

  • Debi Stevenson

    If you have Apple, try Japanese Verb Master for conjugations ! There’s two: romaji and kana versions. Has ALL verb conjugations, like ” I wish I could have said”, etc. and some keigo also.

  • Gregory Stewart

    “英辞郎 on the Web” is a fantastic free app available for iOS. (Don’t know about Android, sorry.) It will search the Net for examples of whatever you input and display the usages so that you can see how words and expressions are used.

  • pedroosan

    This seems more of an article of what the author uses, than trying to really list all the biggest ones out there.
    Missing WWWJDIC app which is by same developer as kanjirecognizer and has the latter built into it.
    I cannot even bring myself to trying any other dictionary app after having used wwwjdic.

    • Reana K.

      Imiwa? Uses jim breen’s jdict. Is that the same as wwwjdic

  • Oliver Rose

    Hey! You forgot Kanji Connect and Kanji Crush, 2 awesome online/mobile study puzzzle games you can check out via http://www.kanjigames.com !

  • ktcintokyo

    Kanji Senpai

  • Isaiah Eddington

    Obenkyo was my favorite back when had a phone. It has a whole catalog, i think!
    I had two others which i’ve forgotten the name of, but will tell when I remember.

  • Charley

    A friend of mine created an app called YOMIWA. It allows you to read kanjis through the camera. Just point the camera towards the kanji and it will instantly give you its translation. It also has a drawing feature and a “freezing” mode so you can freeze the image of the kanji you are reading.
    It is great and really usefull!

    • Hirari

      YES! I use this app all the time when reading in Japanese! This app is definitely the best one out there.

  • Giacomo Petrini

    For Hiragana and Katakana There is also mine:

    https://itunes.apple.com/ch/app/kana-learn/id839995585?l=it&mt=8

  • Hirari

    Tried Skitter, and suprisingly loved it. This is great for lower intermediate level like me. It’s easy to use and I can follow its logic really well. Helped me to learn to write more kanji which has always been a problem.

  • Reana K.

    I previously had an app for conjugating Japanese verbs on my iPhone but it seems to have disappeared under my nose. It was so useful and easy to use. You scroll on one side to select the verb and then scroll on the other side for the various conjugations of the verb. It was a free app but I don’t see it in the App Store anymore. And it’s not listed in the apps that I previously purchased so I cannot download it from the cloud again. Something strange….

  • arek bak

    Vocabies app is a new but really cool. it supports Japanese language I mean pronunciation to listen to. and You can create lists of worrds with kanji too to practice both: meanings and characters.

    Go to Google Play Store and type vocabies it will be there:)

  • Paul McKenna

    I’m looking for an app with pre-made reading materials using high frequency Japanese, similar to the readings on the J proficiency test. Any ideas?

  • Aentik Sparda Ten-no

    hmm nah as a japanese speaker and more specific from martal artist iaidoka noup never use google as a main or dependant thing to use google try more to learn with native teachers use google as one of your last fonts not as main, it can confuse more than liberate your doubts.

  • WhiteSiroi777

    Is there an app that can show/flip kanji on my desktop every 10 secs or so?
    Thank you.

  • Can anyone recommend a Japanese-Korean dictionary? Much obliged.

  • Ada Choi

    Great!! all the apps are really help full. I think there are lots of way to learn, but its depend open you, which one is easy for you. I am also learning Hiragana and i am choosing Flash Cards for learning and got it from CardDia with the help of my friend. thanks.

  • Raymond G. Giguere

    Hi I really liked Anki and Sensei which I just tried after reading your article.

    I also really have to recommend the website https://www.erin.ne.jp/en/ which you could also use from your smartphone, it has a lot of videos with subtitles where you can turn on/off kanji, hiragana, romaji and English individually.

    As regards to learning kanji I prefer any app that forces me to write rather than one that shows me flashcards. I found an app on Android called Oxford Kanji Tutor which presents you with the English and romaji/hiragana, and requires you to write the character. For me this really augmented my understanding of the characters.

  • João Paulo Leandro Teodoro Luz

    Aedict for android is a great opition as well, comes with a lot of resources.

  • ad0ri

    but they only developed the app until the n4.. and they are not planning to improve it soon…

  • Roland Davison

    I am astonished that Duolingo has not been mentioned in this list. Completely free, and available on iOS and Android.

    • Simbeline

      Duolingo is great for beginners but less great for intermediate learners. Same with Memrise and other similar apps. I like that this list is for people of all levels.

  • tbrucia

    You have to be kidding about Google Translate, right? I have tried to figure out my (Japanese) daughter-in-law’s postings of Facebook using Google Translate and I might as well have done Japanese > Basque as Japanese > English. A disaster. It amazes me that Google even let Japanese > English out of the the lab.

  • John M Scott

    JA Sensei is my number 1 above all these. I could go on for paragraphs on all of its features and just how incredibly helpful, easy to use and the amount of options and features it has. Hiragana, katakana, kanji, vocabulary, numbers, particles, lessons…. read, write and audio on everything too.

    • Sara ♚

      Hi! I can’t find that app, is it really for iOS? Could you please send me the link? Thank you very much

  • Joaquin Pellegrino

    For those stuck with a Windos Phones, there’s and app called Tango Master in the store, it’s great, I’d even say it’s the best one I’ve tried, is the only regret I have after switching back to android.

    It’s got dictionaries, flashcards and quizzes all in one app, and it has a tracker which divides the content into what’s included on each level of the Japanese Languages Proficiency Test, so you can focus on what you need to learn and also track your progress.

  • Hell’s Hound Haruka

    I an offended that JA Sensei isn’t on here.

    • Sara ♚

      Hi! I can’t find that app, is it for iOS? Could you please send me the link? Thank you very much

  • Simbeline

    For an iOS quiz app, I like “Japanesequiz” because it doesn’t suffer from the exact problem you mention obenkyo having. I most use the kanji quiz, and it’s multiple choice options are similar to the JLPT where it chooses multiple similar-looking kanji, or multiple similar pronunciations, etc. Quite a good quiz app.

  • pimo

    I would recommend Mondo. You can practice reading skills

    • Håkon Ruud

      Thanks alot!

  • Anga

    hello talk is wonderful to practice with mothertongue people

  • For studying kana, includes mnemonics, strokes, tips and flash cards game: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/kana-memorize/id1184225723

  • Alain Roy

    Midori, anyone?

  • sensei

    There is non-free learning app called. it is not cheap but I found it quite useful.

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/japanese-sensei-deluxe/id332692247?mt=8

  • Tess de la Serna

    I use “Japanese” dictionary everday. I love it!

  • Jessica Marie Tan

    Flashcard Vocab = Kotoba
    Dictionary = Jsho
    I also download Conjugation Japanese
    and JLPT Quiz

  • I would add the paid Human Japanese app for both Android and iOS which is really worth 5* of all time.
    http://www.cyber-pursuit.com

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