The 14 best online courses and apps to learn and speak Japanese, according to a fluent speaker

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Japanese Language Learning IPhone 4x3

Whether you love Japanese literature and cinema or hope to travel to Japan someday, learning the language can be a great way to feel more connected to the culture (and spend any free time at home right now). Japanese has also seen a steady uptick in learners, reaching close to 4 million, according to a 2018 survey from the Japan Foundation, making it potentially easier to find fellow Japanese language students to practice with online.

Learning Japanese can be daunting – it’s ranked as one of the hardest languages to learn by the US Foreign Service Institute. It has a lot of moving parts, from mastering the three different writing systems (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) to learning grammar that’s structured differently than English. 

Luckily, tools and apps for learning Japanese abound, from robust online courses to quick kanji flashcards. Many of these options are free or have free trials; others offer certification to add to your LinkedIn or resume. Whether you’re interested in casual self-study or intensive, university-style cramming, there’s a platform for you. 

14 online courses, apps, and resources to learn Japanese:

Online courses

Image of a city in Japan seen from above

Steps in Japanese for Beginners (edX)

edX offers a beginner program through Waseda University, perhaps Japan’s most famous private university. The three self-paced courses included in the series introduce practical Japanese, everyday expressions, and phrases for building relationships with others. All of the courses are free to audit, though paid completion certificates are available for each course ($49-$99) and the full, 4-5 month certificate program costs $222.30.

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Japanese for Beginners (Coursera)

Coursera’s free Japanese for Beginners course is great for those who want a college class-type experience, online. This 20-hour course is taught over a series of videos, exercises, and quizzes and covers basic grammar, vocabulary, and writing skills. Learners who like this course can proceed to Japanese for Beginners 2.

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Online Japanese Beginner Course (Udemy)

Udemy has a number of Japanese classes for a fee (and often on sale), but something that stands out is their targeted classes for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) across all five test levels. Additionally, they offer specialized classes like business Japanese or kanji mastery. In particular, the Online Japanese Beginner Course is one of the top-rated intro Japanese courses on the platform.

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Japanese Course for Absolute Beginners (Skillshare)

At Skillshare, a wide variety of instructors offer Japanese courses on a number of topics, such as travel Japanese, writing hiragana, and beginner Japanese. There are both free and paid classes, with paid classes available under a free trial for seven days. The quality varies widely, but you can see an introductory video and read a description to get a feeling for the teacher’s style. 

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Platforms and websites

Image of a few people walking through a street in Japan

Tofugu

The popular Tofugu website and blog about learning Japanese spawned WaniKani, a web-based application for learning kanji and vocabulary. The WaniKani system uses repetition and mnemonics along with digital flashcards. The funny mnemonics and cute illustrations will make you chuckle — but will also help you to remember tricky characters. The first three levels are free, then there’s a choice of a monthly ($9), yearly ($89), or lifetime ($299) subscription.

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Duolingo (Japanese)

The popular language app Duolingo offers gamified learning with a cute owl mascot to cheer you along. Since the courses are crowdsourced, some of the translations can be strange (and often hilarious). One nice feature that many other platforms don’t offer is that you can test out of lower levels so that you don’t spend time going through material you already know. The app is totally free and can be used on iOS, Android, or desktop. An ad-free version is available for $6.99/month after a free 14-day trial.

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Rosetta Stone (Japanese)

Rosetta Stone is the original name in computer-based language learning, and you can use their app on both desktop and handheld devices. Lessons are chunked in 5-30 minute spurts, so it’s easy to do a little at a time. Prices start at $7.99/month, and there’s a free seven-day trial. The software offers support for vocabulary, grammar, writing, pronunciation, and listening, and is good for beginner through intermediate learners. 

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Mango

The Mango platform offers dozens of language courses, including Japanese. A single language subscription is $7.99/month, and there’s a free trial lesson so you can get a feel for the interface. The site also points out that many organizations such as libraries offer access to Mango for free, and provides a search engine to look for nearby access. The interactive course offers spoken English explanations, with native speaker pronunciation examples. The application is available on web browsers, iOS, and Android.

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Online tutors

Image of a Japanese temple entrance

italki (Japanese)

The platform italki matches students with teachers for live one-on-one lessons. Prices vary greatly, but many fall between $10-20 an hour. With almost six hundred Japanese tutors on the site, you should be able to find someone who suits your learning goals, interests, and skill level. The site differentiates between community tutors who teach informally and professional tutors with official teaching qualifications. After choosing your tutor, you can book a lesson and pay, then meet over the video chat software (such as Zoom, Hangouts, or FaceTime) of your choice.

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Cafe Talk

Cafe Talk also offers various languages and skills, but as it originates in Japan, the site has a large number of Japanese tutors and lessons, offered live. You can set search parameters around the tutor’s qualifications, country of origin, residence, gender, and whether or not they offer a free trial lesson. After settling on a tutor, you book and pay for the lesson, then meet via Skype. Registration is free, and you only pay for the lessons you reserve.

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Other resources

Jizo-ji Temple Pond Garden

Japanese dictionaries such as Imiwa?, Jisho, and WWWJDIC

When built-in catch-all translation apps just won’t cut it, turn to a Japanese-specific online dictionary. Both Jisho and Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC are powerful web-based dictionaries with an impressive depth and breadth of entries considering their simple interfaces. The WWWJDIC offers numerous specialist dictionaries and a name database, while Jisho allows you to hand draw characters and search. If you’re looking for an iOS app, turn to Imiwa?, a free dictionary that has definitions in not only English, but also French, German, and Russian. 

Akiko Suzuki’s Twitter

Japanese teacher Akiko Kitamura offers Japanese lessons for a fee, but she also regularly posts vocabulary words and phrases on her Twitter account that reflect the issues of the day. She’s a fun follow for bite-sized vocabulary lessons.

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10 free or affordable online courses, apps, and books to learn Russian, from Duolingo to Rosetta Stone

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Russian Language Learning IPhone 4x3

During the pandemic, many people are using the extra time at home to learn a new language (or brush up on an old one). 

If you’re interested in learning Russian, there are two things you should consider. First, figure out what you are learning the language for. Do you want to be able to read “Anna Karenina” in its original language? Watch “Solaris” without captions? Speak to a loved one in their native language? Deciding which facet of the language you most want to focus on – writing, reading, listening, or speaking – will aid you in finding a curriculum and the best courses for your needs.

You should also prepare to learn a new alphabet. Russian uses Cyrillic, an alphabet system that tends to look deceptively like your standard ABCDs. For instance, the “H” letter in Russian actually makes an “N” sound, while a backwards “N” symbol ( “и”) makes an “eee” sound. Russian is also a gendered language, meaning nouns, verbs, and adjectives have to be in accordance with feminine, masculine, or neutral genders. 

However, don’t get discouraged. Any challenges you might encounter are worth the work of opening yourself up to a wonderful language, steeped in a rich and storied history with over 258 million speakers worldwide.

With that, here are the 10 best online resources to kick off (or resume) your Russian-learning. 

Here are 10 free or affordable online courses, apps, books, and videos to learn Russian:

For reading and writing

Russia St. Basil's Cathedral skyline

Price: Free

Length: 80 modules 

Duolingo has a solid reputation for being a reliable language-learning application, and for good reason: its fun, gamified content still teaches you a lot. Each module focuses on a specific subject, ranging from places to common phrases. The more you advance, the more specific the modules grow. Another helpful facet of Duolingo is that it challenges you to practice everyday, offering incentives in the form of “XP points” which are a great way to track your progress and keep you practicing. All in all, it’s a great application if your focus is to learn the basics of how to read and write. 

Price: Free

Length: Varies

If apps aren’t your thing and you prefer clicking around a website, this one is the best of the best. With 38 grammar modules, 18 phrase lessons, 16 quizzes, and plenty of games, this website offers enough resources to get you started. Beginning with the alphabet and general Russian sounds, you will be able to practice reading different phrases across a range of topics, ranging from family to school to countries and nationalities.

Price: Free with 7-day trial; $49 a month to keep learning after trial ends

Length: About 4 months (4 courses total)

Coursera courses are often offered by universities, which is helpful as you have the opportunity to hear real-life, practical diction. Most courses resemble ones you would take in a college-setting: that is to say, they offer quizzes, readings, and video instructions. Coursera courses are similar to Duolingo in the fact that there is little opportunity to practice your speech; the main difference between the two is that Coursera requires longer learning sessions, as each module takes around 1-2 hours to complete, while Duolingo is more short-term and can be used while on the go. Recognizing which method works best for you will help you decide between the two (although you can certainly do both in tandem!) 

Price: $31.49 on Amazon

Length: 234 pages

Having a physical textbook can help immensely with your language learning, and “Sputnik” can act as a fantastic supplement to any one of the aforementioned apps. Written by Dr. Julia Rochtchina, who also developed the Russian For Everyone website, this textbook offers concise explanations for common grammar and vocabulary questions, and provides subsequent work problems. It’s also great if you’re looking for a screen-less learning option.

For speaking and listening

Russian nesting dolls

Price: $20 a month (the more months you register for, the less it costs per month); there are some free modules as well 

Length: Varies based on the class

Babbel has a voice recognition feature which helps it stand out from the other learning platforms on this list. While using it via the Babbel website, you have an option to vocalize words and get feedback on your pronunciation — it’s not as effective as speaking with another human being, of course, but it’s certainly a start and can help you pin down the Russian sounds that don’t exist in English. The module exercises resemble the ones found in Duolingo (i.e. matching Russian words to their English translations; matching Russian words to pictures), so if you like Duolingo’s structure but want more speech practice, Babbel might be a great fit.

Price: Free with 7-day trial; $14.99 a month to keep learning after trial ends

Length: Varies

Rosetta Stone is one of the oldest language-learning resources around, and its continued relevance is testimony to its merit. Rosetta Stone offers many resources in order to immerse you in Russian as you’re studying it: you’ll have phrasebooks, audio companions, and moduled courses as guides. What is most valuable about Rosetta Stone is that it offers live tutoring sessions where you can practice your speech and pronunciation. It’s an invaluable tool for truly learning Russian (though it does cost extra).

Price: Free 

Length: Videos range from 2 minutes to 1 hour in length

Like learning a language through watching TV, these free YouTube videos are great in combination with some of the other courses listed in this article: for example, they can pair well with an app like Duolingo or Babbel, where there isn’t much verbal instruction going your way. The videos cover many different topics, from the alphabet to specific conversational phrases, and are great for getting accustomed to listening to the language. 

For immersion and practice

snowy red square moscow russia

Price: Varies; starts at $6 per hour

Length: Varies

Humans are social creatures and there’s only so much learning we can do via applications, no matter how thought-out or accurate they are. This is why italki is such an invaluable app: speaking with a tutor will help you not only practice back-and-forth conversations, but get corrections on any pronunciation mistakes in real time. This can also help you key-in to cultural aspects of the language which, in focusing on grammar and vocabulary, applications gloss often over if not miss altogether. You can choose from a number of tutors to see who best fits your needs. 

Price: Free

Length: Varies

Brainscapes’ flashcards will be ineffective if they’re the sole resource you choose: they offer no formal instruction, they simply provide already-made flashcards that are separated into helpful categories like colors and animals. These flashcards (separated into helpful categories like colors and animals) will help you if you’ve completed one of the aforementioned courses and feel confident in your reading skills and ability to learn new words. There is also a function that allows you to make your own flashcards to practice anything you feel needs reinforcement. 

Price: Free with Netflix subscription

Length: 2 hours

Watching engaging Russian TV and movies can help you familiarize yourself with the language more quickly and naturally. “Dovlatov” (2018) from Russian director Aleksey German, Jr. is a nuanced portrayal of the life of Russian-Jewish writer Sergei Dovlatov during the 1970s. Not only is this film an excellent peek into Soviet-era Russia, but it also offers a great opportunity to exercise your ear. Watch the film with English subtitles when you’re just starting out to ensure that you catch the meaning of the speech — when you feel more confident in your reading, you can watch the film with Russian subtitles, which can help you match the spoken words to their written counterparts and vice versa. 

The bottom line

Coursera

Russian is a complex yet rewarding language as well as a window to a rich culture. Whether your intention is to learn the basics or achieve fluency, it’s worth embarking on this linguistic journey. 

Удачи! (Good luck!)

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