The information in this review is up to date as of February 16th, 2021.
There are a variety of reasons to learn to speak Japanese. First, it is often included as one of the most important languages to learn for global business. Next, Japanese is a language and culture so different from our own that it can be an exciting adventure to learn something so new. If you are ready to take on this adventure and learn to speak Japanese, check out our review for Japanese Uncovered.
If you’re looking for the free trial of Japanese Uncovered, click here.
Japanese Uncovered Review: Overview
Japanese Uncovered is taught by Olly Richards, a fluent-Japanese speaker who also speaks seven other languages. Olly has a team of two others that help explain the writing system, grammar, culture, and pronunciations. Richards uses his own immersive StoryLearning method to teach you how to speak Japanese.
You are expected to read and listen to the story without committing anything to memory. A portion of the quirky story is told over the course of 20 lessons. You begin by learning simple words and phrases and build upon this foundation as you advance.
Japanese Uncovered promises to:
- help you learn Japanese quickly through immersion instead of memorization
- help you memorize and retain vocabulary by seeing it used
- help you understand the language because of extensive listening
- help you learn Japanese grammar without memorizing the rules
Good Points About Japanese Uncovered
Less Intimidating than Other Courses
The very idea that Japanese is so different from our own language can scare people away from learning to speak it. However, once you begin the first lesson, Richards and co-instructor, Ai Sensei, make you feel at ease like it is possible to learn Japanese regardless of your preconceived ideas about it. You aren’t expected to begin memorizing, but instead to simply listen and practice speaking.
Learning all Writing Systems
While many programs begin with romaji, or the Romanization of Japanese, and eventually turn over to the Japanese writing systems, Japanese Uncovered begins giving you hiragana along with Romaji right away. Eventually, katakana and kanji are also introduced to get you used to thinking like a Japanese speaker.
Comprehensive and Structured
Because of the complexities of speaking Japanese, any self-teaching course must be comprehensive. Each Japanese Uncovered lesson covers vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, pronunciation, culture, and writing. It also covers Keigo, the levels of formality and politeness to use in various situations.
High Production Value
From the quality of the videos, to the PDF layouts and course design, it’s obvious that a lot of time, money and attention have been paid to production value. Japanese Uncovered ‘feels’ like a premium product, and the video quality is one of the best we’ve seen in a language course.
Bad Points About Japanese Uncovered
Lack of Learning Tools
The majority of your learning will be through video, which can feel redundant, at times. You can download and print the writing worksheets, but there are no voice-recording tools to practice and hone your pronunciation. You also won’t find flashcards or other game-like activities if you need a break from lessons.
Lessons can be Monotonous
Richards can sometimes give long introductions and explanations about lessons, which left us spacing out somewhat. On the other hand, there are times where you almost feel as if there is too much being crammed into one lesson, which also left us drifting away. It is a love/hate relationship with Richards’ teachings in that it is interesting, personal, and comfortable, but sometimes drawn out.
Who would like Japanese Uncovered?
Japanese Uncovered is a great resource for those with little to no knowledge of Japanese up to low-intermediate speakers. If you plan to become fluent in Japanese, this is an ideal beginner course that strongly mingles the language and culture as it is in real life.
Who would NOT like Japanese Uncovered?
Because this course is structured and comprehensive for learning to speak Japanese, it would not be relevant for those who may just want to learn quick travel phrases or the like. The goal of this course is to give the beginner a solid foundation into speaking Japanese.
Features of Japanese Uncovered
Welcome and Introduction
Olly Richards offers a warm welcome to introduce you to the course and show you how to use it. This is important, because ultimately you are responsible for recording whether you’ve completed a lesson or not. Richards is encouraging and friendly, making this feel like you are learning from a friend.
Each chapter consists of seven lessons along with an introduction to the chapter, review quiz, and additional listening resources. Your first activity in Richards’ StoryLearning method is to Listen & Read. A Japanese speaker narrates a story, and there are transcripts to follow along in Romaji. After this activity, you will advance through the lessons about what you’ve read.
Vocabulary, Grammar, Pronunciation
Richards and Ai host the next videos which point out key vocabulary and grammar in the text. Most of these videos consist of Richards highlighting onscreen words and word combinations. The pronunciations are usually hosted by Ai, and because you are watching her in the video, you can learn exactly how she forms her words. This helps you learn your own pronunciation. Both hosts feel like friends, but some of these videos last up to 40 minutes and can feel too long.
Learning the Script and Language & Culture
We really enjoy Learning the Script lessons. You can print out the writing worksheets to easily follow along with Ai as she shows you hiragana and eventually, katakana and kanji. We would recommend getting Japanese writing pens in order to give yourself the most genuine experience with Japanese script. It can also make this section more enjoyable.
Richards covers the Language & Culture lessons and generally explains the differences between English and Japanese. For example, in English, we say “your friends.” In Japanese, we say “Alex’s friends” instead of using you or your.
The Keigo lessons cover the way you speak in Japan. Some instances will be much more formal than others, and Keigo covers speaking to others and showing respect. It also encompasses how to speak humbly about yourself.
These activities can be completed alone or with a Japanese instructor. Print these activities and practice speaking with another.
Quizzes and Progress Reports
The quiz is a short multiple-choice test over what you have learned in the chapter. Though it can be useful for review, it really isn’t significant enough to cover the entire chapter.
Progress reports are a way for you to get feedback from your instructors. You are asked what you need help with, how the chapter could be improved, and what you liked the best. This gives you a chance to ask questions or share your input.
Bonus lessons include the Deadliest Chopsticks Sins and Japanese Golden 100. The chopsticks lesson teaches some etiquette about how to use them and what not to do with them. The use and placement of chopsticks have very certain roles in Japanese culture, so this bonus lesson is much more important than many might initially think.
This section includes transcripts of the story in kana and kanji, vocabulary lists, slow and regular speech recordings, and the chapter syllabus.
Click the images below to see screenshots of PDF transcripts in the Kana version and Furigana:
How Japanese Uncovered Compares to Other Popular Japanese Programs
Japanese Uncovered vs. JapanesePod101
JapanesePod101 is a monthly-subscription language-learning program brought to you by Innovative Language. It uses a combination of videos, podcasts, and learning tools to help you learn to speak Japanese. Higher-priced premium subscription plans grant you the ability to speak one-on-one with your instructors and receive personal learning plans. New materials are added regularly to each subscription level, so the content can feel endless. You will also find a variety of game-like tools to help you retain information you’ve learned.
Though we cannot argue about the comprehensiveness of JapanesePod101, it feels much less personal than Japanese Uncovered. We like having the option of posting comments or questions after each lesson and receiving answers to those questions. With JapanesePod101, you only get access to your instructor after paying a higher monthly rate for it.
Japanese Uncovered vs. Pimsleur Japanese
Pimsleur Japanese is based on a similar concept as Japanese Uncovered in that it uses a more organic approach to learning to speak another language. Pimsleur consists of Japanese podcasts for lessons. You are only expected to listen and absorb the language just like you did your native language. There are two monthly subscription rates to access Pimsleur, and you can listen to the podcasts anywhere you go.
Unlike Japanese Uncovered, there is very little taught about Japanese culture and formality norms. We think this can leave you wanting for more, and Pimsleur might be better used as a supplemental program.
How Much Is Japanese Uncovered?
The Japanese Uncovered beginner course is $297 and includes 20 chapters loaded with content. Once you have completed this course, you may want to try the intermediate Japanese: Conversations course to further your knowledge. This course is $197 and includes 20 chapters of conversations also using the StoryLearning method. Once you’ve purchased a course or courses, you have access to the lessons and content for life. You can also access it on all of your electronic devices.
Japanese Uncovered Review: Final Thoughts
Is Japanese Uncovered worth the money? For a serious beginner student who wants to learn Japanese at their own pace, we say it definitely is. This is a very comprehensive course with a unique teaching method that will keep you motivated to study. Some of the information can feel monotonous, but that is to be expected of learning any new language.
Probably our favorite aspect of Japanese Uncovered is the hosts. Both Olly Richards and Ai Sensei are encouraging and welcoming. This helps give you the confidence to overcome the idea that Japanese is too difficult and intimidating to learn.
Overall, we give this course a 4.2 out of 5. If you’re on the fence, you can use this link below to get a free trial of Japanese Uncovered:
Michael has lived in Japan on and off for almost 10 years. He loves studying Japanese, and is currently working on going from N2 to N1 on the JLPT.