Sep 4, 2017

Finding Enthusiasm for Japanese Study with Apps

    I came to Japan with the 5 year goal to become fluent in Japanese and then return. Now, more than 9 years later, I've written novels, gotten married, had a kid, and very much not become fluent in the language I came here to study. There needs to be an incentive for study, some payoff or reward for language acquisition. Just being able to better understand TV programs I have no interest in isn't enough for me. Being an intermediate learner is hard in that the basic material is too basic and the native-level options are far too advanced. So what do you do?

    Children are a great catapult here. Not being able to understand your own offspring is heartbreaking. Right now my kid only has a few things she feels like she needs to tell me in Japanese and while we are trying to instill the one parent per language policy, but her father isn't always home for her to gab to. Sometimes she uses words I have not heard before, because I didn't learn kid-level Japanese in Japan. I learned basic Japanese in college. Learning from my daughter will be a great way to build vocabulary in a few years when she can better explain what she means. Until then, there are plenty of other little ways to make myself study.

    I have tried a few language apps, most recently including Kotoba and Duolingo. Both tend to float around the same premise of quizzes with familiar words repeated until you learn them, but there are some differences.

Finding Enthusiasm for Japanese Study with Apps photo  Finding Enthusiasm for Japanese Study with Apps photo
Kotoba's quizzes are based on JLPT level, so you can choose the level you want to study and go from there. The added bonus is their focus on the ability to read a newspaper, with a common vocabulary section just for that. It is a good tool if you can get in the habit of using it and can help you become more familiar with new vocabulary that might not pop up in your life otherwise. When you answer incorrectly, the right answer is indicated at the bottom of the screen in red and you can choose to have Japanese questions with English answers or vice versa.

Finding Enthusiasm for Japanese Study with Apps photo  Finding Enthusiasm for Japanese Study with Apps photo  Finding Enthusiasm for Japanese Study with Apps photo
This one is more beginner-friendly and doesn't stress vocabulary specifics that would be useful for the JPLT. Duolingo does however stress grammar at some points and that can be helpful. The vocabulary and grammar are set into sections, each of which needs to be completed to move forward to the next. This is great for beginners and the app even emails you reminders to study on a daily basis. As a bonus, you get this cute little trophy thing to look at when you complete it. My only real problem here is there isn't enough to keep studying. That said, the app is offered in many different languages for any would-be polyglot.

    The other problem I have with these as study tools is that my brain at least has trouble latching onto something I've never actually heard used in native context. It's one thing to hear someone use an unfamiliar term and learn it. It's another to memorize a list of adverbs and try to tell them apart while using them correctly in a sentence with a native speaker.

    This comes down to how you learn best, which is different for everyone. I have an extroverted friend who does not care about studying kanji or learning the specifics of katakana as long as she can speak with people and understand them. My priorities are somewhat opposite, as is my studying style. By myself, I can train my brain to recognize characters and words, but talking to people is a lot more frightening and tends to prove hectic for me.



A working mom/writer/teacher, Jessica explores her surroundings in Miyagi-ken and Tohoku, enjoying the fun, quirky, and family friendly options the area has to offer.


  • Tomuu

    on Sep 7

    Thanks for sharing these. Not an app as such, but I used to really like "Kanji Box" on Facebook. What ever happened to that?

  • JTsuzuki

    on Sep 7

    @Tomuu I had not heard of that one! I'm looking it up now-- seems to be a favorite of all my Japanese-learning friends with apple products.