I was recently given complete access to all 3 levels of the popular Rocket Japanese online course for review.
As a language learning series that’s been around for over 13 years and describes itself as a “recognized leader”, I wanted to delve into its course content, features and method to ask the question:
“Just how effective is it?”
Most importantly, I want to help you determine how well (or not) Rocket Japanese can get you speaking the language fluently.
Now I should start this by saying that my initial expectations of Rocket Japanese weren’t great – I had major issues with spammy marketers that turned me off the product for ages. I’ll explain this in just a moment.
Despite my earlier poor expectations, I am glad that I took the time to sample it.
Rocket Japanese is arguably one of the most comprehensive audio courses for Japanese available (in terms of its sheer volume of material).
In other words, there’s a tonne of content in all 3 levels of the program combined.
The lesson approach is quite different from other programs in that grammar is not explicitly taught but rather it’s demonstrated through natural audio dialogue and a podcast-style lesson format.
It uses what I refer to as the ‘chunking approach’ which means that lessons are delivered contextually in bite-size pieces making it easier to memorize. I’ll explain this below.
While pricing may be an issue for some people, there’s a big difference in value for money between the lowest tier (Premium: 95 lessons) and highest tier (Combo: 277 lessons) that is worth considering if you’re looking for a more long-term product (277 lessons will potentially give you years worth of Japanese content).
I’ll go into more detail about this below.
Here’s a quick video demo that I made last year of the 2016 edition (heavily improved in the new 2017 edition) exploring the French, Spanish and Arabic versions:
The layout for Rocket Japanese is essentially the same except that the Japanese edition comes with extensive writing lessons for Hiragana (see below).
As a side note, Rocket’s also available in the following languages: French, Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, Arabic (Egyptian), Italian, Hindi, German, Chinese (Mandarin), Sign Language (American) and English (for Spanish speakers).
What does Rocket Japanese have to compete with anyway?
I guess I should start this by pointing out that in terms of online course material, there’s still very little competition out there for the Japanese language currently.
I’ve listed most of it on my Japanese resource page here.
This is surprising given the popularity and importance of Japanese as a tourism and business language.
With the possible exception of JapanesePod101 (which is a less comprehensive, podcast-style audio course), Rocket Japanese stands out as one of the only worthy contenders for online course options. This may change in time.
Then there are options like Rosetta Stone (see my unfavorable review here), Pimsleur and Assimil which are decent products for specific approaches and styles of learning but don’t suit those of us looking for a linear course.
Rocket Japanese is a comprehensive and structured/linear course that suits any ‘flexible’ learning style.
Spammy marketers damage the reputation of Rocket Japanese
As I mentioned above, I didn’t want to go near this product for a number of years because I was so turned off by the spammers who constantly use deceitful marketing tactics with Rocket products.
If you’ve landed here on this page after looking around for Rocket Japanese reviews, you’ve probably had to wade through a load of untrustworthy spam to get here. People trying to make a buck on a product with a generous commission scheme in place.
Thankfully, as I’ve discovered, these abuses aren’t condoned or produced by Rocket Languages.
Rocket Japanese is, as you’ll see below, a high quality language course that’s had its reputation hurt by careless marketers.
Honest disclosure on my part: I use some affiliate links on this site which means I do get a percentage on sales if I refer people to them, including Rocket Japanese. This helps me continue to provide high quality language content to my readers.
But what’s more important to me is to continue to maintain my site’s high level of trust and accuracy in the information I give.
A close look at the quality and comprehensiveness of Rocket Japanese
A quick side-by-side comparison between Rocket Japanese and a competitor like Rosetta Stone (see my review here) reveals a stark difference in comprehensiveness and quality.
Rocket Japanese teaches various levels of formality in Japanese (Rocket focuses on very formal language), and as I already mentioned, the sheer volume of content is huge in Rocket. So much so that I’m confident you could get years of value out of a high tier membership.
The audio dialogues are 100% natural Japanese – vital for improving listening comprehension skills.
The course covers areas such as sport, literature, many topics specific to Japan (e.g. Japanese addresses, formal and humble speech, おく ‘oku’ helping verb), business and more.
All accompanied by downloadable audio in natural Japanese.
There are four individual sections (five if you include the flashcards) – ‘Language and Culture’, ‘Interactive Audio’, ‘Writing Lessons’ and ‘Survival Kit’.
1. Language and Culture focuses on grammar and finer cultural points.
2. Interactive Audio contains all of the high quality dialogue lessons delivered in a podcast-style format.
3. Writing Lessons teach you Japanese Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji.
4. And the Survival Kit contains core lessons on vital topics in Japanese (a good place to start actually).
The Rocket Japanese lessons are presented in a humorous way too unique to each language edition. This ensures that the lessons are not dull or boring and that they don’t follow a standard ‘cookie-cutter’ approach like RS or Pimsleur.
As mentioned above, Rocket Japanese’s audio content and comprehensiveness is outstanding and without any real market competition.
The Rocket Japanese writing lessons are for learning Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji
Like the Chinese edition, Rocket Japanese is one of the only courses they have where there’s a substantial literacy component.
And this makes sense: in order to live in Japan, do business or visit for any decent length of time, being able to read the characters is a vital skill. There are 4 types of writing in Japanese:
- Kanji (Chinese characters)
- Hiragana (phonetic spelling for Japanese words)
- Katakana (phonetic spelling for foreign words)
- Romaji (transliteration using English letters)
Rocket Japanese spends the majority of its writing lessons on Kanji; the entire level 2 and 3 all focus solely on this writing system. This is because these characters are the most time-consuming to learn.
Premium Level 1 introduces Hiragana and Katakana for a total of 20 lessons which I feel is more than adequate to learn.
The videos are clear enough to follow but personally I would have preferred a more interactive experience with a teacher on video explaining as well as demonstrating the process of writing characters.
The Rocket Japanese community forum isn’t as active as it could/should be
The forum is really hit and miss with the different Rocket Language editions.
Some are very active and others not active at all.
The whole purpose of the forum is to create an active community where students can help each other or ask questions of native speakers. Unfortunately, the Rocket Japanese community isn’t overly active.
For example, I saw several questions by learners go unanswered for months before another learner or native speaker responded.
This may be due to the fact that there are many other active Japanese learning communities online or it may be that most members of Rocket Japanese simply prefer not to use it.
I’m sure that most people who sign up for an online course like Rocket Japanese do so because they prefer to work in isolation or at their own pace however.
Rocket Japanese comes with a free mobile app that’s as good as (if not better than) the web version
Rocket Japanese (like the other editions) comes with a free iOS and Android mobile app.
The app provides mobile access to the exact same content as the standard web version but is in my opinion even nicer to use. It runs perfectly, loads faster and is an all-round pleasure to use.
In fact the mobile app is so good that I can’t believe they don’t charge people to use it.
If you commute regularly, you’ll find the convenience of being able to access your Japanese course content from the app very handy.
The Google Web Speech API works very well too so the voice recognition feature is also available on mobile.
With Rocket Japanese, you can download the entire course and use it offline
Most other competitors restrict the way you can use their course content.
For example, Rosetta Stone Japanese can only be used in the software itself or online and you can’t save individual parts of the course to listen to later.
With Rocket Japanese, every single lesson and lesson component can be downloaded for later use. The MP3’s and PDF’s are yours.
This is one of the program’s biggest selling points: you own what you pay for.
Don’t want to use the online course or app anymore? Download everything and save it.
Print the lesson PDF’s. Put the MP3’s on a listening device.
Too many companies restrict access to content that consumers have already paid for.
The Rocket Japanese ‘My Vocab’ tool and extrinsic motivators
Two nifty features that don’t get enough attention in my opinion are the ‘My Vocab’ section and the gamified leaderboards.
The ‘My Vocab’ tool basically acts as a course glossary of terms and expressions where you can search for absolutely anything in English OR Japanese, and it will scan the enormous amount of course content for those terms/expressions.
For example, if you search “house”, you’ll get every mention of “house” in the entire course including within contextual sentences.
You can then add these words to an in-built flashcard deck to practice or save them for later review.
The leaderboards are also there to help motivate you to have study streaks (similar to Duolingo) by competing with other members. You do this by earning points for various accomplishments throughout the course.
It’s a great little motivator to keep you on track with your Japanese.
In summary: Rocket Japanese has a few flaws but it still stands out as the most comprehensive and useful online audio course available
Especially with all three tiers.
Though on the higher end of the price scale, Rocket Japanese offers potentially years of value out of a lifetime membership.
A trove of natural audio dialogues + full downloadability and a free mobile app make it a no-brainer for any serious Japanese learner.
Some features need to be improved but overall I’m happy to recommend it.
You can hear samples of the Rocket Japanese course by clicking here.
Ever used Rocket Japanese before? Share your thoughts below.
Reviewed by Donovan Nagel.