When I started out on my path to Japanese fluency, resources such as textbooks and audio courses on CD were the only realistic way to make progress with this challenging language. Thankfully, there’s now a lot more options and learning tools 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 better 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 JapanesePod101 Review, so here goes!
JapanesePod101 Review: Summary
JapanesePod101 uses a combination of video and audio lessons to teach you everything you need to improve your Japanese. The course provides supplementary written materials & listening comprehension exercises that go into more detail for each lesson. This audio + video + written immersive technique has a proven track record of success for students of many languages, and that’s why it’s used by JapanesePod.
In a Nutshell: I’ve been a JapanesePod101 user for a few years now, and overall it’s been extremely helpful for learning Japanese. No product is perfect, but the JapanesePod team is continually producing high quality new content and lessons that are easy to understand, making this an exceptional resource. Highly recommended. Read our full review below.
Overall Score: 4.4
❝ Now I communicate with Japanese people on a daily basis, and I am positive it all has been possible thanks to JapanesePod101.❞ ― Victor Trejo
Why Learn Japanese in the First Place?
Learning a new language is one of the most rewarding skills a person can acquire throughout the course of their life. It enriches the soul, unlocks new ways of understanding, and helps understand a different culture. It even deepens your understanding of your own language and culture.
Research has been done by universities around the world about the benefit that learning languages brings; and the results are immensely positive. A variety of University studies have even gone as far to suggest that learning new languages increases cognitive abilities in many other areas. The research is there, and a whole new world awaits for anybody looking to expand their horizons with new language skills.
Japanese is spoken by about 128 million people throughout the entirety of Japan and the Japanese diaspora. Japanese learners can benefit in their Japanese learning by understanding a language that can be valuable in business; or if you’re just looking to understand your favorite anime or Japanese drama.
The problem is: Japanese is also one of the hardest asian languages to learn, and it has a reputation for being challenging amongst first time language learners and polyglots alike.
Let’s take a look at how well JapanesePod101 performs as an effective Japanese learning program and set of learning tools to help you learn new words, grammar and vocabulary.
The Pros: What We Like Most About JapanesePod101
Pro #1: Structured Lessons for Optimal Learning
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 not only interesting and engaging, but suitable for your current level of knowledge, challenging you just the right amount.
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, a JapanesePod101 membership includes 6935 video & audio lessons. Pretty incredible, as the staff continues to add high quality audio and video content regularly. The breakdown by learner level was as follows:
- Absolute Beginner: 1,629 audio and video Lessons and 445 assignments spread over 67 lesson pathways
- Beginner: 1,641 audio and video lessons and 320 assignments spread over 58 modules
- Intermediate: 894 audio and video lessons and 199 assignments spread over 27 modules
- Upper Intermediate: 584 audio and video lessons and 203 assignments spread over 17 modules
- Advanced: 632 audio and video lessons and 124 assignments spread over 17 modules
- Bonus: 1555 audio and video lessons and zero assignments spread over 10 modules
That’s literally 10’s of 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 for japanesepod101 com.
How about quality? The lessons are professionally recorded and engaging. Certainly above and beyond your average Japanese audio course. There was clearly a lot of love and effort put into the content creation. The tutors go out of their way to explain any cultural information and to keep the lessons light hearted and fun.
Pro #2: Gradually Phasing Out English
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 English over time, until you’re learning 100% in Japanese.
Pro #3: 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:
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.
The Cons: Things We Didn't Like About JapanesePod101
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:
Con #1: Lack of Speaking Practice
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 the Basic or Premium subscriptions, but the PremiumPlus 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.
Con #2: 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.
Con #3: Information Overload
Whilst the quantity of lessons is amazing, it can also leave you feeling overwhelmed and lost for direction. For those who like to be hand-held through a language course and follow a strict curriculum, the JapanesePod101 methodology might be a bit of a struggle.
It’s unsurprising that the syllabus is a bit messy given that JapanesePod101 is the flagship program of Innovative Language with the largest library of lessons, and is getting constantly added to. They did try to counter this problem by grouping lessons into pathways, and believe it or not, there is actually a natural progression to the lessons. That being said, however, without a decent amount of independence and self-assessment, you can easily be left with gaps in your knowledge and a lack of motivation. For this reason, some learners may benefit from using JapanesePod101 as a supplementary tool alongside a more structured textbook.
Top Tip: The Premium+ membership will provide you with a fully personalized learning program with professional assessment and 1-on-1 language instruction. We highly recommend this option for those who like to have more structure and guidance in their learning progression.
Useful Extra Features & Tools
To aid you in mastering Japanese, there’s a bunch of extra tools that are available to use within the platform. It’s very nice to have these options for whenever you get bored during the lessons or just want to take a break. Browsing around these extra features was quite enjoyable – for example, we loved building up our own flash card decks, and categorising them all into interesting topics.
Similar to Anki or Quizlet, the flashcard feature within JapanesePod101 allows you to create your own flashcard decks, or choose a premade deck from a list of over 100 possible decks. You can go through and study each word in isolation and then test yourself when you’re ready, based on the audio, Kanji, transliteration or an image (your choice). It’s also very encouraging to see that the comments section is super active, with some decks having hundreds of comments from other learners just like yourself.
Ever learnt a new word only to forget it again the next day? The word bank ensures you never lose a word. At any point during a lesson or when learning new vocabulary, you can hit the plus icon and add a word (or phrase) to your word bank for you to review later. You can even categorise them into groups and export your entire list as an excel file. A great way to keep track of all your new vocabulary.
A comprehensive list of the 2541 most common words in the Japanese language. You can filter by category and by ranking (the most common 100 words, 200 words etc.) – very useful for selecting which vocab terms to learn, ensuring you don’t go off track by learning outdated or obsolete vocabulary.
100s of lists based on fun & interesting categories such as ‘Top Anime Words & Phrases’, ‘Inspirational Quotes’ and ‘Gossiping Phrases’.
Quite useful to have. Also includes expletives!
An added optional bonus. You’ll receive a new word to your inbox every day.
Got a niggling question about a specific grammar point? Can’t quite remember how to conjugate a verb? The grammar bank is really something unique that we haven’t seen in other programs by Innovative Language. You can search and filter by level, spelling and category, and get a detailed breakdown of the grammar with examples. The grammar bank is always being updated and added to – there’s over 400 articles at the time of writing this.
A list of useful phrases to get you started. Things like ‘good morning’ and ‘what’s your name?’.
Top tip: Click slideshow, toggle off the English, and select loop. You’ll then get a full hands-free audio rundown of all the phrases. Allow your brain to absorb the phrases as listen to the phrases whilst cleaning your room, doing some exercise or stretching. Perfect for beginners.
The mobile app acts as a mirror-image of the browser based application, providing all of the same content. Having it all accessible from your mobile device is a huge selling point as it means you can practice lessons and review flashcards from anywhere.
One great addition is the JLPT practice tests, so you can test your knowledge before the actual exam. Our only complaint is that they are only for N4 and N5.
What are the Lessons like?
- The audio-only lessons are informative, usually engaging, and are presented with an easy to use media player with pause & play functions. There are sometimes additional tools to maximize the value of each lesson.
- The video lessons are well-produced with nice graphics. The speakers are professional and concise in their dictation.
- Sometimes watching videos or listening to audio files doesn’t give someone all the tools they need to learn. Many people (like myself) need to read and study written material with structured lesson notes in order to best commit it to long term memory. Each and every lesson has an accompanying set of lesson notes that can be downloaded as an easy-to-read PDF.
A Sneak Peek Into Some of the Lessons
To give you a better idea of what to expect from the lessons we thought it’d be a good idea to actually show you 3 sample topics from the beginner, intermediate and upper intermediate levels:
Pathway: Business Japanese for Beginners (25 Lessons, almost 5 hours of audio content)
Content: In this pathway you’ll learn how to greet your boss & speak Japanese in a formal way, make a business phone call, introduce yourself formally in a meeting and arrange an appointment. It’s perfect for boosting your professional career and learning some formalities that are used in the workplace. The cultural nuances are meticulously explained in every lesson, and there’s an authentic dialogue with examples and transcripts to really hit home what you’ve learnt.
Who Should Buy JapanesePod101?
Japanese is an excellent learning resource that will be incredibly useful if you are someone who:
Who Should NOT Buy JapanesePod101?
JapanesePod101 is not for everyone. The methodology goes against the norm of the traditional textbook approach, and so it’s not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. You might want to look elsewhere if you are someone who:
JapanesePod101 vs. Competitors
When it comes to learning Japanese, there seems to be no shortage of content out there in the world to help you achieve this (admittedly challenging!) feat. Whether you are a casual learner seeking to expand your horizons, a businessperson with connections in Japan with a need to learn, or an avid language expert, there are lots of options out there. How does JapanesePod101 stack up to its competition?
JapanesePod101 vs Rocket Japanese
- Rocket Languages is a language learning company that has made it their mission to use technology to its fullest extent to help people learn languages. Their Japanese language program is very immersive and is offered at a competitive price to that of JapanesePod101. Their key selling point is that their content is offered at one price for life (They also offer a tiered membership level similar to JapanesePod101). The structure of the lessons is also similar to JapanesePod101 in that there is heavy emphasis placed on audio content.
JapanesePod101 Vs. FluentU
- FluentU is a language immersion company that has placed a big emphasis on video content to engage learners and teach 12 different languages. Their approach is unique in that they take videos from Youtube and add interactive captions. The concept is unique and interesting but one of the main complaints about FluentU’s platform is that they lack in content, and some of the content is from advertising/commercials. In a world where we are constantly inundated with advertising, the last thing we need is commercials in our language learning.
JapanesePod101 Vs Duolingo
- Duolingo is great because it’s free! While they do offer a paid version that adds a few features and removes advertising from the site, the free version is great as is. From short lessons that focus on teaching Japanese from the ground-up, to gamifying your language learning effort to have you collect virtual currency; DuoLingo is a fun and interactive way to learn Japanese at your own pace. Whatever your current level, if you’re serious about learning Japanese you might want to look elsewhere, and use Duolingo as a sort of secondary service to reinforce the lessons learned in a more comprehensive program to learn Japanese.
How Much Does JapanesePod101 Cost? Is it Worth The Money?
JapanesePod101.com offers three levels of membership at different price points to help accommodate people of varying budgets. Anyone looking to sign up for a membership with JapanesePod101 should consider how serious they are about learning Japanese and also their budget.
The three tiers are branded as Basic, Premium, and Premium plus and the price points run at $4, $10, & $23 respectively. The basic membership offers the bare minimum of access to the site’s extensive list of features such as Japanese audio podcasts and lots of regular new lesons, while the Premium Plus membership offers everything you would ever need to have to learn japanese plus the kitchen sink! The $10 version offers a healthy medium of value and affordability, and would be our suggestion for anybody serious about using JapanesePod101 as a way to learn Japanese.
JapanesePod101 Basic vs Premium vs Premium Plus: What’s the Difference?
The three tiers of membership are curated towards the interest and seriousness one has in learning Japanese. While the Basic Plan for $4 includes access to the thousands of lessons and their corresponding notes, there is plenty more content and features that are under ‘lockdown’ for premium memberships only.
The Premium membership, which starts at $10 per month, includes a wealth of features including, but certainly not limited to; HD video lessons, 1900 more core words and phrases, word banks, vocabulary slideshows, voice recording tools, and interactive lesson quizzes.
There is also a Premium Plus membership, and for $23 per month you can have a teacher assigned to you from JapanesePod101 that will custom tailor you a lesson plan and give you ongoing professional assessment, assignments, and curriculum for as long as you pay the monthly recurring fee. If you’re serious about learning Japanese, the PremiumPlus membership is for you.
Use Our Promo Code To Get 30% Off
We have a special deal going with JapanesePod101. If you sign up through our link, you’ll get 30% off the regular price. For this value, I can wholeheartedly recommend getting a membership.
Here’s the link:
We’re not sure how long this one will last, so take advantage while you can!
The Secret Lifetime Membership Option (Up To 77% Off!)
For those that don’t like monthly payments, JapanesePod101 has a special secret lifetime membership package designed for those who want to make learning Japanese, and other languages, a lifetime pursuit.
They don’t really like to advertise it, but for a one-time payment of $599, you can purchase lifetime access to the ever-expanding JapanesePod101 content of materials at the Premium level. That means if you use the program for 5 years, you’ll be saving 60% off the regular price.
There are other deals too: an additional 2 languages for $999, and even the option to purchase the entire Language Pod curriculum spanning 34 languages and hundreds of thousands of lessons, all at a premium membership level.
This deal might be a head-scratcher for some. I mean: who really needs access to learn 34 languages? That said, there are people this might appeal to. For example if you are an avid world traveler and want to learn a bit of the language from every new country you visit, you could have one purchase to take care of all of your language needs forever.
JapanesePod101 Review Conclusion: One of The Best Options For Self Study of Japanese
So, is JapanesePod101 worth it? As someone who’s tried countless Japanese courses, I think JapanesePod101 is an excellent resource for learning Japanese, from beginners to advanced. For beginner to intermediate there are tons of lessons that cover a wide range of useful vocabulary, topics and cultural learning.
In the past, high intermediate and advanced learners may have complained that there was not quite enough material at their level to be worthwhile, but that has been addressed in recent years.
The teachers are — for the most part — entertaining and fun, which makes it feel less like a classroom, and the language used is both authentic and natural. JapanesePod101.com is a great way to learn Japanese and get some exposure to Japanese culture.
The course creators are constantly creating new and interesting lessons that are actually useful if you live (or want to live) in Japan. I certainly would have made even faster progress as an absolute beginner with my studies if I’d had this course back when I started learning Japanese!
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.