When I started out on my path to Japanese fluency in 2005, resources such as textbooks and audio courses on CD were the only realistic way to make progress with this challenging language. Happily, there are now a a lot more choices when it comes to studying Japanese online.
The problem that students of Japanese now face is one of quality rather than quantity. So which solutions give you the best bang for your buck? In my humble opinion, JapanesePod101 is one of the best online courses out there for people who are serious about making significant progress in the language. As promised, I’ve finally got around to writing a complete review so here goes!
A huge amount of content that gradually progresses in difficulty
When it comes to learning a new language, there are two things that are of great importance:
- QUANTITY – That is, listening to and reading a LOT of content.
- QUALITY – Choosing content that is interesting, engaging and challenging but still suitable for your current level of knowledge.
So how does JapanesePod101 shape up on the basis of quantity and quality? Well, first off, an incredible amount of content is on offer. At the time of writing this review, a JapanesePod101 membership included 1456 audio lessons (UPDATE: 2580 is the current count!) with some video courses thrown in too. Pretty incredible stuff. The breakdown by learner level was as follows:
- Absolute Beginner, 338 audio lessons, 12 video lessons
- Beginner: 476 audio lessons, 5 video lessons
- Intermediate: 414 audio lessons, 12 video lessons
- Advanced: 228 audio lessons, 25 video lessons
- Japanese Listening Comprehension for Absolute Beginners: 20
- Japanese Listening Comprehension for Beginners: 20
- Japanese Listening Comprehension for Intermediate Learners: 18
- Japanese Listening Comprehension for Advanced Learners: 15
That’s literally thousands of hours of content which, if tackled systematically and mastered, would provide a solid base of Japanese proficiency. So it’s double thumbs up on the quantity front.
How about quality? This is perhaps subjective, but the lessons I listened to were professional and engaging. Certainly much better than your average Japanese audio course. There was clearly a lot of love and effort put into the content.
I do like how English is used for the early lessons, but then gradually lessened and then later removed entirely. This is a nice way to wean you off the English over time. In any case, there are Japanese only
Extremely thorough lesson materials
Another cool aspect of the JapanesePod101 library is the level of detail they have put into the formats and resources provided. With each lesson, you get:
- The complete lesson audio
- Line-by-line audio
- Review audio
- The Japanese dialogue only (No English)
- Lesson notes
- Kanji close-up
- Lesson checklists
In short, the resources provided are very thorough. With so many incomplete courses out there, it’s nice to see a provider that cares about its audience and covers all the possible bases.
Useful extra tools
To aid you in mastering Japanese vocabulary, various useful features such as flashcards, common wordlists, and even a Japanese dictionary are included among others These are all nice to have and provide a good way of reviewing what you’ve learned in the lessons.
Assuming that you steadily learn the content and put in the necessary time, JapanesePod will give you a solid foundation in spoken Japanese. Period. However, no one language course can be 100% exhaustive. As I’ve written before, you should always use multiple resources to make progress in any language. With that said, here are some of the things that you won’t find included with this course:
JapanesePod101 is great for building up your passive vocabulary and getting used to hearing the language spoken naturally. What it won’t give you is improved speaking proficiency. At least not immediately. For that you need to actually speak the language with friends or, better, a private tutor. JapanesePod doesn’t provide this with a basic subscription but the premium membership does include 1-1 teaching time.
I’m of the opinion that learning to speak Japanese doesn’t need to be rushed. This goes for double if you’re a beginner-intermediate learner and don’t live in Japan yet. Focus on building up your passive knowledge first, which will give you a wider vocabulary and overall grasp of the language. Once you are understanding a fair amount of the dialogues, you can upgrade your membership or jump online and hire a private tutor to get some practice hours in. But only when you are ready. Far too many people go too quickly, perhaps feeling obligated to start speaking immediately.
The kanji basics
Although JapanesePod provides extremely thorough lesson notes and introduces new kanji systematically, you’ll still need a grounding in the kanji to get the basics down before these notes are useful. There are a number of ways to achieve this, but studying on your own will produce faster results than any offline Japanese class. I personally recommend the Heisig Approach (previously covered in this article) to get to grips with the kanji. Even if you don’t fully master all 2000 of the commonly used characters, the Heisig course will get you comfortable with the radicals and general concept of kanji.
JapanesePod101 is a solid resource for those of you who want a complete resource for spoken Japanese. The language used is both authentic and natural. I certainly would have made even faster progress with my studies if I’d had this course back when I started learning Japanese! Highly recommended.
Have you used JapanesePod101 to further your own Japanese studies? How did you find it? Let us know in the comments below!