30 Best And Worst Online Japanese Courses For 2020

  • Written byIchika Yamamoto
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30 Best And Worst Online Japanese Courses For 2020

Looking for the best online Japanese courses or classes?

The good news is that there are tons of great options for Japanese learners. 🙂

Japanese is one of the most popular foreign language choices in the world – so much so that Japanese education is a totally drowned and overwhelmed market.

It’s easy to see why so many people want to learn Japanese – travel to Japan is on everyone’s bucket list – but it’s also an extremely important language for business and career advancement in so many sectors. There’s also the enormous popularity of anime!

For those living in the US, Japanese enables you to communicate with your neighbors since so many Japanese speakers live here.

Plus it’s just a really fun language to speak. 🙂

Today I’m going to sum up the best (and worst) of all the popular online Japanese courses for you (I’ve had the chance to use most of these courses).

I’ll give you my informed opinion as a native Japanese speaker.

Below you’ll find pros and cons for each course, pricing and a brief summary. If there’s a review written about a product on this site, I’ll link to it.

Some are affiliate linked – most aren’t.

NOTE: Some of the items listed below probably aren’t exactly considered “courses” or classes for Japanese. The reason I’ve included them is that they’re popular enough Japanese tools to be included.

DISCLAIMER: The comments below are personal opinions.

The best Japanese courses online (most popular Japanese resources)

1. Rocket Japanese

Rocket Japanese

Cost: Starts from $99.95 (auto-applied discount)

Summary: Rocket Japanese is perfectly suited to the structured learner type – those looking for a straight progression from the basics (incl. Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana) right through to the advanced level material. It’s always been the top of my recommendations for Japanese learners.

I should note however that you don’t have to learn in a straight progression and can choose your own path if you prefer.

The course is primarily made up of podcasts that teach Japanese in a fun, clear and relaxing way but there also natural dialogues and plenty of other content delivery styles within the courses. Rocket Japanese’s 3 courses cover all language skills equally well, and their inbuilt voice recognition is very accurate (it uses Google’s superior Web Speech technology).

If you’re looking for an all-in-one Japanese course option, Rocket Japanese is it.

Also check out this Rocket Japanese review.

What I like:

  • 3 full, comprehensive levels ranging from beginner to advanced
  • Ideal for learners wanting structure in their course learning (though not restrained by it), it has a very clear linear progression
  • Courses cover all 4 major skills evenly (listening, speaking, reading, different Japanese writing systems)
  • Students are motivated by the inbuilt leaderboard

What I don’t like:

  • Lack of video

UNIQUE OFFER: If you sign up to my mailing list (use the ‘Join The Guild’ form below) and select Japanese as your language option, I’ll send you a personal offer for Rocket Japanese that’s exclusive to my email subscribers.


2. Japanese Uncovered

Japanese Uncovered

Cost: One time purchase of $297.

Summary: Japanese Uncovered is another unique way to learn the Japanese language. Olly Richard’s program begins by immediately throwing you into an easy Japanese story and you learn through a “Guided Discovery” method.

Instead of just learning about grammar rules, learners come across them through fictional narrative. It provides a fun and unique way of learning a language, though is slightly expensive.

What I like:

  • Lessons center around a story to make learning fun
  • Clear instructions with lots of practice
  • Students take control of their own learning

What I don’t like:

  • Information can be overwhelming for new learners
  • Seemingly unrelated grammar points thrown into lessons
  • Price is quite high

3. JapanesePod101

JapanesePod101

Cost: Starts as low as $4 a month.

Summary: JapanesePod101 is a brilliant online resource for learning Japanese (especially listening comprehension). If you’re taking a trip to Japan and want to understand the natives, this might be the course for you.

JapanesePod101 uses audio lessons similar to podcasts. Lessons are suitable for beginners through more advanced levels. The instruction not only includes listening skills but also incorporates essential vocabulary and grammar with loads of other useful features.

See this JapanesePod101 review.

What I like:

  • Tonnes of material for lower levels
  • Provides cultural insights
  • The more you advance, the less English is used

What I don’t like:

  • Content choices become less past the beginner level
  • Lots of (often annoying) talk in English at the lower levels
  • Site is slightly overwhelming with the amount of features offered

UNIQUE OFFER: Use the code MEZZOGUILD to save 25% on any of their Japanese course options.


4. Pimsleur

Pimsleur Japanese

Cost: $14.95 a month subscription (or $119.95 per level)

Summary: Pimsleur’s a timeless favorite for learning Japanese using spaced repetition recall. The lessons focus on practical vocabulary and expressions one might need in various scenarios. This includes greetings, common phrases, and vocabulary you might need when visiting Japan.

The Pimsleur method prepares you for the necessary Japanese you need to get by in your travels in a short period of time. This is one of the best online Japanese courses despite its age, and is an affordable program that can be subscribed to, or buy the full program which includes 30 lessons for $119.95.

Read this Pimsleur review.

What I like:

  • Pimsleur is a timeless masterpiece that is based on solid research in second language acquisition
  • The course only requires 30 minutes a day of studying
  • There is a lot of listening and repeating phrases for easy memorisation

What I don’t like:

  • Outdated scenario examples
  • Too much English

5. Glossika

Glossika Japanese

Cost: $30 a month.

Summary: Glossika’s one of the most unique and powerful learning tools available for Japanese. It advertises that learners will be able to speak the language better and quicker by using the latest in smart technology and adaptive learning. It uses a learning algorithm and has structured content. It comes with a 7-day free trial, but then has a $30 a month fee.

Suitable for all levels, though lower-level learners may find it difficult to understand in the beginning.

See this massive Glossika review and interview.

What I like:

  • Uses an intuitive, unique learning approach
  • The subscription allows you to learn other languages including Japanese
  • Focuses on heavy repetition

What I don’t like:

  • May be difficult to grasp for new learners
  • It doesn’t include any notes on grammar (which may not suit everyone)
  • Slightly higher priced monthly subscription

6. Mimic Method (Japanese Master Class)

Mimic Method Japanese

Cost: The Mimic Method costs $197 and provides users with lifelong access to their materials.

Summary: Mimic advertises a course that focuses completely on pronunciation (treating language like song). The program can be technical and difficult to get through, but if your only goal is to improve your pronunciation, it may good for you.

This program has a high price tag of $197 a pop.

Some of the information in this course can be found online for free. It’s easy to navigate and well-organized but it’s still quite expensive. One of the more unique Japanese methods around and has fantastic reviews.

What I like:

  • Some of the homework is interesting and unique for language courses
  • They provide in depth instruction on elemental sounds
  • It provides a different way to learn to speak a language

What I don’t like:

  • Not a lot of material for the price
  • Is not very engaging and doesn’t do much to keep interest
  • Needs to be supplemented with other resources

7. Mango Languages

Mango Japanese

Cost: $7.99 a month

Summary: Mango is a phenomenal and greatly underrated program for learning Japanese. In addition to Japanese, along with their monthly subscription, you get access to courses in 700 languages.

The design of this course is beautiful and it allows you to switch between literal and understood translations. It color codes words and lexical chunks to match the English translation which is great for visual learners. At $7.99 a month, it’s a steal in my opinion.

What I like:

  • It is easy to use and the program is beautifully designed
  • Focuses on lexical chunks rather than rules
  • Useful cultural and grammar components help you understand the language better

What I don’t like:

  • Minimal grammar focus
  • Lack of content depth for higher-level learners

8. FluentU

FluentU Japanese

Cost: FluentU costs $30 per month. Users can get 4 months free when signing up for a full year at $240

Summary: FluentU helps students learn Japanese through the use of real-world video content. The concept behind this style of instruction is to provide an immersive online ‘course’ (kind of).

Students learn by watching scenes from Japanese videos that pertain to real-life Japanese culture and it features Japanese and English interactive subtitling.

See this review of FluentU too.

What I like:

  • This is a great option for learners who don’t enjoy a lot of reading.
  • There is a two-week free trial available.

What I don’t like:

  • The downside is that it does not offer any live instruction and the learning environment is very non-traditional (even compared to a typical online course) which may not be ideal for all learners.

9. Mondly

Mondly Japanese

Cost: Starts at $9.99/month.

Summary: Mondly offers courses for loads of different languages and is similar in style to Busuu, Duolingo, and Babbel. Even hints of Rosetta Stone in its delivery.

It’s a beautifully-designed web app and a pleasure to navigate the course content.

Some of the courses aren’t that great (e.g. Arabic) but Japanese and others are done really well.

What I like:

  • Great for learning a lot of vocabulary
  • Daily lessons, weekly quizzes, monthly challenges
  • Encourages you to practice daily
  • Vocabulary drilled effectively

What I don’t like:

  • Content and exercises are the same for all levels
  • Mostly passive exercises
  • Order of lessons and topics not designed well
  • Interface not user friendly and unappealing

10. Rapid Japanese (Earworms MBT)

Rapid Japanese

Cost: $24.95 on Amazon

Summary: Rapid Japanese (Earworms Musical Brain Trainer) is a research-based, unique concept for getting languages “stuck” in your head by using catchy music tracks.

The general gist is that you listen to phrases and words repeated over and over with a music track playing behind it, and the song (and language) get stuck (what they call “earworms”).

It’s surprisingly effective for learning Japanese.

See this Earworms MBT review.

What I like:

  • Really unique concept
  • Stuck song syndrome does wonders for getting language phrases “stuck” in your head
  • Inexpensive

What I don’t like:

  • Doesn’t suit advanced learners of Japanese

Other awesome online Japanese courses

I’ve mentioned my personal preferences for Japanese above but there are loads of other quality online course options for Japanese.

Keep reading.

11. News in Slow Japanese

Cost: Starts at $16.90 a month.

Summary: One of the more unique ways to learn Japanese, News in Slow Japanese, is one of the best online Japanese courses taught through podcasts. Introductory courses prepare beginners for understanding the language.

As learners progress, they began developing greater comprehension as they listen to the news spoken in slow Japanese. This online Japanese course uses diverse tools that include transcripts, lessons, quizzes, and pronunciation via a computer or phone app for about $17 to $27 a month.

What I like:

  • Provides an innovative way to learn Japanese
  • Learn about news and cultural events
  • Immersive learning created by journalists and linguists

What I don’t like:

  • May be challenging for beginners
  • Is more suited for those that have some knowledge of Japanese
  • Not ideal for visual learners

12. italki (for Japanese)

italki

Cost: Varies widely. Can go as low as $4 an hour.

Summary: italki connects Japanese learners with teachers and tutors. As with similar services, it doesn’t provide curriculum or content to instructors.

What italki has going for it is its extremely well-vetted instructors. italki has a great reputation online as being the place to hire Japanese tutors and conversation partners.

Teachers succeed on italki through client feedback, meaning low quality teachers simply will not cut it on the platform.

Read this massive italki review for more info.

What I like:

  • Facilitates great connections with expert Japanese teachers

What I don’t like:

  • No set curriculum means you could be paired with an inexperienced new teacher not yet weeded out by italki’s review system

UNIQUE OFFER: If you sign up to italki using this link and take a lesson, you’ll get a bonus Japanese lesson for free.


13. Human Japanese

Human Japanese

Cost: Desktop versions are $18.99, tablet version is $14.99 and mobile apps are $9.99 (Beginner or Intermediate editions)

Summary: You wouldn’t think it by looking at their website, but this is an incredible program for learning Japanese. It’s extremely comprehensive and could be described as a “digital textbook” of soughts.

Unfortunately, Human Japanese is a downloadable program that must be installed and there’s no way to easily use it on Ubuntu (Windows + Mac only) without emulation.

What I like:

  • Very comprehensive application for learning Japanese
  • Inexpensive

What I don’t like:

  • Pricing doesn’t really make sense (but it’s still quite cheap)
  • Only offers a downloadable application, rather than a web version

14. Satori Reader

Satori Reader

Cost: $9 per month or $89 per year

Summary: Satori Reader is created by the same people behind Human Japanese, so it’s no surprise that they’ve put a lot of attention into its depth.

Satori is a comprehension builder that focuses on reading and listening. It’s basically an assisted reader with included audio and spaced-repetition. You can click on individual words to get translations and conjugation explanations.

What I like:

  • Story-based program which is unique and excellent for people wanting to read Japanese better
  • Audio is excellent

What I don’t like:

  • A little pricey for an assisted reader

15. Decks

Memrise Decks Japanese

Cost: Free

Summary: Decks (the free subdomain of Memrise) is one of the more popular online Japanese courses. This course may be best for those looking for a refresher or for those who are interested in building a strong vocabulary in Japanese. It’s main premise is flashcards and repetition.

For a free online Japanese course, Decks is well-designed. It covers lots of topics but you will probably need additional resources to become fluent in Japanese. The Memrise premium course can be purchased for $9 a month or $59 a year (but free Decks are great).

What I like:

  • Repetition makes it easy to learn words
  • More fun than traditional flashcard apps
  • Many courses to choose from

What I don’t like:

  • Should be used with other resources or upgrade to the paying version
  • Not a main tool for learning Japanese

16. Marugoto

Marugoto

Cost: Free

Summary: I really like Marugoto and find it hard to believe the Japan Foundation offers this one for free. It offers scenario-based lessons, covers the relevant vocab of the lesson (with pictures and audio), and follow-up questions.

It’s a really site that doesn’t cost anything and useful for all levels of Japanese.

What I like:

  • Japanese native speaker audio is fantastic
  • Includes other main languages (for non-English speakers)
  • Quite comprehensive
  • Costs nothing to use

What I don’t like:

  • Clunky design is confusing to navigate

17. Lingodeer

Lingodeer Japanese

Cost: Starts at $9 a month

Summary: Similar to Slow News in Japanese, Lingodeer also uses an app. Lingodeer used to be free but now charges a moderate fee ranging from around $9 a month to $42 a year.

A less known app than Duolingo, this app teaches Japanese by utilizing a wide variety of exercises. The nice part about it is that the lessons are in small, manageable chunks. The audio quality is good for an app and the wide selection of lessons keeps learning interesting.

What I like:

  • Developed by teachers and contains a grammar-based curriculum
  • Provides detailed explanations
  • Downloadable Knowledge Cards

What I don’t like:

  • Organization of the content could be better
  • Program does not effectively develop oral skills

18. Nihongo

Nihongo Master

Cost: $19.99 monthly, $99.99 per 6 months or $159.99 yearly

Summary: Nihongo delivers Japanese lessons in a colorful, humorous way and has an enormous database of lesson material. One of the more comprehensive courses for Japanese available.

My only gripe with it is that it’s overpriced.

What I like:

  • Huge amount of Japanese lesson content
  • Extensive Japanese dictionary for vocab and Kanji
  • Helpful community

What I don’t like:

  • Way overpriced

19. Coursera online Japanese courses

Coursera Japanese

Cost: Prices vary widely.

Summary: Coursera courses are for those who have passion for learning Japanese and need a little help for staying on track. These online Japanese courses are offered by Saint Petersburg State University (Department of Japan Studies).

The courses offer a variety of lessons involving learners from various parts of the world. This online Japanese course teaches basic Japanese with a specialization in vocabulary.

Additionally, learners can enroll in Coursera for college credit. There’s even financial aid for those who can’t afford to pay for it.

What I like:

  • Allows people from around the world to be immersed in Japanese-speaking cultures
  • Accredited courses

What I don’t like:

  • You have to go through Saint Petersburg State University to enroll

Online Japanese courses that are lower on my list and not personally recommended

Some online Japanese courses are popular but not in my opinion, not very good.

I’ve listed them all here (if you disagree, comment below).

20. FSI Japanese

FSI Japanese

Cost: Free

Summary: FSI (Foreign Service Institute) is a government entity that trains diplomats and government officials in foreign languages. It offers a Japanese course that’s currently available online to download for free (includes audio).

The problem with the FSI material is that it’s literally been around for almost a century.

So although you can download some comprehensive, detailed Japanese courses for free with audio, be aware that the material is literally photocopied booklets that were typed up on typewriters making it almost illegible.

If you’re patient, there’s some good value in the FSI courses but it’s so dated that I personally wouldn’t bother.

What I like:

  • Being a US government entity that trains diplomats, FSI naturally has incredible course depth.
  • Free and easy to download lesson + audio on many sites.

What I don’t like:

  • Very old course.
  • PDF material is still just a photocopy of the original, typewritten paper so it’s dreadful to read.

21. edX

edX Japanese

Cost: The 12-week class is free itself, while the certificate of completion will cost you $49.

Summary: edX functions like a classroom, offering courses covering pronunciation, spelling, grammar, and vocabulary. edX is best suited to those looking for a traditional language learning experience that mimics a condense college course. If this structure is what you are looking for, this is the best online Japanese course for you.

Similar to a college course, edX offers to connect students to one another utilizing a discussion board. If you’re a fan of online courses that function like college classes, edX comes about as close to mimicking them as possible without being an actual university course.

What I like:

  • edX offers a conventional online classroom feel.

What I don’t like:

  • While self-paced, enrolment is strict and classes are offered on a set basis. Missing the enrolment window means waiting for the next round of classes, just as with college courses.

22. Udemy Japanese Courses

Udemy Japanese courses

Cost: Pricing varies depending on the specific course selected.

Summary: Udemy is a very popular online course platform and currently serves over 350,000 Japanese language students.

One of the best features of Udemy is that students can choose from a wide range of Japanese language courses so they can find one that is tailored to their needs.

Udemy can help students find the right course as well after the student takes a short survey.

What I like:

  • The courses provided feature expert-level instructors and every course includes a 30-day money-back guarantee.

What I don’t like:

  • The downside of this option is that there is an overwhelming number of Japanese class options to choose from, which may not be ideal for students who are looking for a more convenient, ready-to-go option.
  • Quality varies greatly.

23. WaniKani

WaniKani Japanese

Cost: $9 per month, $89 per year or $299 lifetime

Summary: WaniKani is an excellent resource for learning Kanji and Japanese vocabulary through its own SRS-based system.

It teaches using a unique method of mnemonics and intelligent strengths tracking.

What I like:

  • High quality, native Japanese speaker audio
  • Covers a full range of level-appropriate, Japanese content (incl. advanced)
  • Intelligent AI adapts to your learning
  • Community forum

What I don’t like:

  • Not overly comprehensive
  • Slightly pricey for what it offers

24. IMABI

Cost: Free

Summary: IMABI appears to be Japanese language blog on a very dated design but its comprehensiveness is impressive. It covers literally everything from absolute beginner to advanced Japanese.

The only problem with this resource (apart from its ancient design) is the lack of audio.

What I like:

  • Extremely comprehensive from absolute beginner right up to advanced Japanese
  • Covers each aspect of Japanese in great detail

What I don’t like:

  • Terribly dated design and awful navigation
  • Lack of audio makes it far less useful than it could be

25. NHK World - Japan

Cost: Free to use

Summary: Japan’s only public broadcaster, NHK World offers a basic Japanese course for free that uses comics, including video components.

Writing systems are covered and the video lessons are easy and fun to digest. However, there’s not a whole lot in terms of depth.

What I like:

  • Doesn’t cost anything
  • Includes the option of using an app

What I don’t like:

  • Clunky design makes the website annoying to use
  • Lightweight content and not overly suitable for higher-level learners of Japanese

26. Elon.io

Cost: Free

Summary: Elon.io is a customizable, SRS-based platform for learning Japanese (and a few other languages). It’s a pretty simple interface but it covers quite a lot of Japanese content at no cost.

It’s a fairly grammar-intensive course but includes audio and helpful exercises.

What I like:

  • Includes clear audio in the lessons
  • Interactive quizzes
  • Doesn’t cost anything to use

What I don’t like:

  • Dated, very slow website with an old design

27. Michel Thomas Japanese

Michel Thomas Japanese

Cost: Starts from $11.99

Summary: Michel Thomas is one of the most overrated Japanese courses available in my opinion.

This strictly audio course was developed by Michel Thomas, a Polish linguist who spoke 10 languages.

This course uses no writing or memorizing – it simply builds your Japanese knowledge through teacher-led sessions. Grammar and vocabulary are discussed but are not the emphasis of the lessons.

Read this amazing review of Michel Thomas.

What I like:

  • No need to write or memorize
  • Grammar is introduced naturally and gradually

What I don’t like:

  • Teacher-led.
  • Constant error corrections.
  • Does not prepare Japanese students for real conversations and listening comprehension

28. Busuu

Busuu Japanese

Cost: Starts at $5.83 a month.

Summary: Busuu is another program that’s similar to Babbel, Duolingo, and Lingodeer, however it isn’t structured as well as the other courses and has less instruction in vocabulary before the important components begin.

The overall design of Busuu is beautiful but it just lacks depth.

There is a free version of Busuu which features a language exchange section. This is a good choice. However, their subscription service which charges over $8 a month with a three-month minimum, may not be a good value for the money.

What I like:

  • Learning platform is well designed
  • Language exchange is a free, easy-to-use app
  • Very popular online learning program

What I don’t like:

  • Program lessons leave a lot to be desired
  • Not enough pronunciation and grammar
  • Better courses available for free

29. Rosetta Stone Japanese

Rosetta Stone Japanese

Cost: Starts at $6.49 a month.

Summary: Rosetta Stone is the biggest household name in language learning and one of the most popular courses for learning Japanese.

The strength of Rosetta lies in its unique immersion process. Since there is no translation or explicit grammar, you must learn vocabulary, grammar and speaking skills through intuition. The course intuitively promotes learning Japanese through simple language patterns for a low subscription cost.

See this incredibly popular review of Rosetta Stone.

What I like:

  • No need to memorize long rules and words
  • Unique learning style that uses your intuition
  • Easy to recognise the language patterns

What I don’t like:

  • Is off-putting to people looking for explanations of Japanese grammar
  • Inappropriate images and visual cues

30. Duolingo Japanese

Duolingo Japanese

Cost: Free.

Summary: Duolingo is now a household name, and is being used as a supplemental program by school in their language courses. It’s fun and free although it does have a paid subscription upgrade that removes adds and has extra resources for a few bucks a month.

The idea behind Duolingo is that they make learning Japanese fun and keep students coming back every day through a gamified learning. Japanese is learned through a variety of exercises and lots of repetition.

Not a fan personally but it’s free.

Check out this comparison of Duolingo and Babbel.

What I like:

  • Interactive lessons let you speak and listen in Japanese
  • Offers competitive events between friends and interaction with other users
  • Its great for an introduction to the language and learning the basics

What I don’t like:

  • The audio voice can sound a bit unnatural
  • Not really comprehensive enough to become fluent

Summary: Best online Japanese courses

This list covers just about every online Japanese course option currently available (comment below if I’ve missed something).

No matter which Japanese course you go for, you need daily Japanese practice with native speakers – ideally in person if you can (even more ideal if you can do it abroad).

But if finding native speakers near you isn’t feasible, then italki is an incredible platform to find really affordable practice partners and tutors.

Overall, your success is determined by your own determination.

Even if you had every course on this list and more, you can still fail at Japanese without the right motivation and consistency.

Likewise, even poor Japanese courses can be powerful in the hands of someone with the right attitude and learning style.

If you’re looking for tips on how to learn Japanese and overcoming various language learning struggles, make sure to subscribe below by ‘Joining the Guild’.


Know of a Japanese course that I didn’t mention?

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Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
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