Top 5 applications to learn Japanese on your iPhone

I’ve often said that the best learning resources are the ones that you have, and you enjoy using. It’s difficult to come up with a list of ‘must-download applications’, as the needs of learners are so varied.

However, through being an iOS user of many years, and a Japanese learner of many years more, I have come across a few applications which have not only solved a problem, but have had some universal appeal.

Android user? Check out our list of best Android Japanese learning apps

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I’ve linked to iTunes from the screenshots of the applications; they will take you straight to the iTunes store information page.

Japanese

Not only have they secured the most desirable name on the App Store, the creators of the Japanese dictionary have done the best job I’ve seen of taking the EDICT dictionary file (the most widely-used Japanese dictionary file) and making it mobile.

I’ve found the ease of searching and ability to create personalized Japanese word lists invaluable on my trips around Japan when I’m either stuck for the right word, or curious to find out meaning of one I’ve seen or heard. The kanji information and stroke order diagrams are a serious kanji learner’s best friend.

It’s certainly worth the asking price of $9.99, especially compared to the fact that a paper dictionary would cost at least three times this amount, and offer a fraction of the usability. If you’re learning Japanese, it’s probably the only ‘must download’ out there.

Human Japanese

Philip and I have a great deal of respect for Brian Rak, the author of Human Japanese. Over the past four or five years, he has created an enviable position – he has a fantastic product and a loyal user base.

The application guides a total beginner through the basics of the Japanese language. The interface is smooth, and the writing style is engaging. For somebody who has previously had no exposure to the language, or even learning a foreign language at all, this would be a great tool to have.

Learning on a small screen may be frustrating, and it is necessary to re-buy Human Japanese to use it on other platforms (such as on the iPad, a computer, or another mobile device).

Gengo Grammar – Japanese

The design of this application leaves little to be desired, and the confusing mix of kana and romaji is not ideal. What’s more, the annoying advertisement that pops up for the launch screen and spammy ‘free lifetime account’ is positively reprehensible.

However, what can’t be faulted is the content of this application. For a quick summary of a particular grammar point, it’s a great little application to open. The explanations are accurate, and the example sentences are usefully recorded by native speakers. You’ll just have to overlook the shady splash screen and clumsy interface and get to the good stuff yourself!

Learning Japanese

The title of this application is a little misleading. It won’t help you learn Japanese. What it will do however is give you a super little grammar reference guide, which will come in handy for homework, letter writing, or revision of grammar that you’ve already learned.

I often recommend Tae Kim’s grammar reference website because of its logical approach to the grammar, the fact that it uses no romaji and the example sentences are on the whole accurate, and reflective of Japanese as it’s used in Japan.

This application demonstrates a really solid attempt at getting the aforementioned on the smaller screen. There are one or two design and UI decisions that are a little frustrating for the user, such as the way that the furigana reading of the kanji are displayed, but all in all it’s a pretty easy-to-use little application.

Japanese Flash

The last application I have only used for a matter of weeks before writing this review, but I am sufficiently impressed to give a recommendation. It’s written by a clearly passionate team, who have thought deeply about their product and how it will be used.

It probably isn’t going to be for everyone, but I see the application as a great supplementary tool for a JLPT-taker. The updates seem to be very frequent, and the app is speedy and responsive, meaning that it’s great for a 60 study second burst in a period of dead time. Good for the intermediate-advanced casual student.

I hope my little round up of iPhone applications has proved useful. It hasn’t been easy making this list, not through lack of choice, but through lack of quality applications out there. Many available on the App Store are either inaccurate, ugly or hideously overpriced. Generally, however – paid applications are almost always of a higher quality than the plethora of free applications out there, and the reviews can often point you in the right direction when making your choice.

How have you gotten on with these applications? Are there any others which you think I should have included? Link them below!

Update: I really should have included KanjiBox in the top 5 apps. It’s hardly elegant, and lacks extensive features, but it’s really, really good at testing me on kanji.

Like the teacher at school that sets the toughest tests, you will actually grow to love KanjiBox for the challenge it gives you. Similar-looking kanji are often tested together, and a variety of means of drilling are available, including by ‘missing kanji’ in a compound.

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+Ollie Capehorn is an entrepreneur who has worked on LinguaLift and other related projects since 2010 after representing the UK in a speech contest in Japan. He is a keen linguist, and a student of law at Oxford University.

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  • Mubble

    I really like Human Japanese, used it lots. I also like KanjiBox for practicing and quizzing.

    • http://twitter.com/ocapehorn Ollie Capehorn

      You’re absolutely right Beth! I’ll add KanjiBox to the list as an extra. I even use it myself and forgot to include it!

  • http://twitter.com/eugene17 eugene fabian

    take a look at tae kim’s guide to learning japanese

    • http://twitter.com/ocapehorn Ollie Capehorn

      It’s my fourth suggestion…

  • http://espo.in/ Jonas

    I prefer to use one place to study vocabulary, and right now I use LinguaLift. But iKnow.jp’s iPhone app is a real pleasure to use.

    I will definitely try one of these kanji drill apps :)

    Cheers.

    • http://twitter.com/ocapehorn Ollie Capehorn

      Totally with you on the iKnow application. Really slick. 

      Do try KanjiBox. It’s really functional. 

  • Ktnagel

    Hello,
    just some additions:
    - for a dictionary the free “Kotoba!” seems unbeatable to me
    - for regular drill “JLPT Study” seems very good to me
    - “KanaBalls” is nice for casual playful repetition of Kana
     

    • http://twitter.com/ocapehorn Ollie Capehorn

      I haven’t come across KanaBalls before, and can’t find it in the UK store. Do you have a link?  As for the other two, I agree that they are great apps, but I’m not sure they are necessarily the best in their category. ‘Japanese’ (the first app on this list) is an exemplary application, which just has the edge on Kotoba!, in my opinion. 

      • Ktnagel

         hmm, i have it in itunes, but it’s gone in the store. It was from Qingxi Labs Ltd from 2010.
        Another thing usually overlooked is the great input mode for ‘traditional chinese’ to draw kanj. Maybe one of the fastest ways to find a kanji without knowing it’s radicals. (i do hate that ;)
        BTW is it true you can even make a foto of any kanji and find it then?

        • http://twitter.com/ocapehorn Ollie Capehorn

          This happens a lot. Some apps which I wanted to include have been pulled from the store. It’s a shame when developers just give up on an app, rather than sell, or even give away the assets to someone who would be happy to continue its development. 

          One doesn’t ‘draw’ kanji, one ‘writes’ kanji, but I see what you mean – it’s a very useful way to look up an unknown character. However, I’ve found that without the correct stroke order, the iPhone doesn’t usually recognise a kanji I’ve written, which can be a problem for beginners who are not yet used to how to write an unknown kanji. 

          • Ktnagel

            well, it is of course ;)
            just a final question: have you come accross a similar PC program to “draw” kanjis? maybe withn a bamboo tablet? (i have one, but it has no kanji detection)
            i find it quite difficult sometimes to find them in books, especially if they are written in an old fashioned style. also, the “brushing” does not always look similar, Hadamitzky is not easy to recognize for example.
            JWPCE seems also quite useful to me as a PC program, though it is quite old, but it’s features to conmvert kana to kanji and to lookup kanjis work very well.
            [sorry, this was _very off-topic_ my apologies ;]

          • http://divita.eu/ seifip

            I’m an avid fan of handwritten input and a PC user (unlike Ollie) so I’ll reply to this question :) Windows 7 (and 8) has a wonderful Tablet PC Input Panel (TIP) which should get enabled automatically on a Tablet PC or when you connect a Bamboo or any other tablet. This is by far the best handwritten input method on ANY device on the market in my experience. It can take some time to “train” to recognize your handwriting, but after some time of active use the accuracy becomes astonishing. The TIP recognizes scribbles I write which no human being could possibly recognize and I would have trouble reading myself in a year or two ^^ You can use the TIP in combination with a good online or desktop dictionary such as Tagaini Jisho (http://www.tagaini.net/). If for any reason you can’t use the Windows TIP, most Japanese IMEs also have a handwritten input panel, as does the great online Japanese dictionary nciku (http://japanese.nciku.com/). These are far less accurate and intuitive than tip, however. if what you’re looking for is an app that let’s you use handwritten input  to actually review the kanji and their stroke order, Skritter (http://www.skritter.com/) is your only choice, and a very good choice at that. Now that I think about it, I should finally finish my blog post on the use of tablets and Tablet PCs for learners of Japanese ^^

      • http://jason-burnett.blogspot.com/ Jason Burnett

        What specifically gives Japanese the edge over Kotoba! in your judgment?  I’ve been using Kotoba! quite happily, but I’m always willing to change to a new program if I find one works better.

        • http://twitter.com/ocapehorn Ollie Capehorn

          The main thing I’ve found is the speed. Japanese is just a faster, better coded app. I like the way that kanji are dealt with in Japanese. The kanji in each word are listed, and a full break down, including components, stroke order and common compounds are usefully listed. 

          If Kotoba! is working for you, then I wouldn’t bother changing. However if you’re looking to create lists, and take kanji study a little more seriously, then Japanese is probably worth trying out. 

          • http://jason-burnett.blogspot.com/ Jason Burnett

            Thanks for the info.  I think I’ll stick with Kotoba! for now, and keep Japanese in mind as a possiblity for the future.  I’m not really to the point of intensive kanji study yet – I’m starting back pretty much at square 1 after letting my skills rust for 15 years since my last Japanese class.

          • http://twitter.com/ocapehorn Ollie Capehorn

            I think that’s probably a sound decision. Occasionally I’ve seen Japanese on sale, so maybe take advantage of that when it happens? 

  • izxle

    YOU FORGOT OBENKYO!

    • http://twitter.com/ocapehorn Ollie Capehorn

      NO I DIDN’T; IT’S NOT AVAILABLE ON iOS!

  • Anonymous

    No mention of Anki? It’s pretty expensive for iOS but you get the PC and web version for free so it makes up for it. And because it’s so extensible it can be used for much longer as you’re not having to rely on authors to update content. At least for my study it has been indispensable.

  • http://www.femgeek.co.uk/ Han

    I’ve been experimenting a lot recently with iphone apps. 
    The two I use the most are Kana writing and Kana.
    I also have an app called ‘Japanese’ (the icon is blackwith a blue heart) it has a fun game for remembering hiragana.

    I’ve been using quizlets for flashcards, I’ve found A+ pro is the best app for linking with that site.

  • Oliver Rose

    Check out Kanji Wordsearch for a great game to practice kanji instead of boring flashcards. Gets you thinking about the meanings and readings to remember them better.

  • Sleepy

    Japanese Flash is not as good as it may seem. True, it has a clean interface and quick response, but the algorithms are really out of whack. I often saw the same card repeated 3 or 4 times within 15 repetitions regardless that I had over 250 cards that I were in my study pool.

  • von awesome

    Great list of iPhone apps to learn Japanese! Japanese Flash is my favorite. This is the most effective way to study Japanese vocabulary. Great for beginners and advanced students alike.

  • Mike

    No mention of wakaru? It is an ebook reader with built-in dictionary. Great to improve vocabulary while reading. A certain level of Japanese is needed though. They a free version if you want to give a try.

  • Agustin47

    The best existing app for learning kanji and vocabulary is skritter, it makes you draw them, heres the link:

    http://www.skritter.com/refer/Agustin48

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  • Sten

    I have been using Japanese Class (https://itunes.apple.com/be/app/japanese-class/id621970607?mt=8). It provides a mix of the above apps. It allows me to train my vocabulary and grammar. And has various different exercises to train the grammar lessons and verbs. Although it contains just a subset of the Japanese grammar, it allows me so far to learn different aspects of the language in one app.

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  • SalemWitchesWereInnocent

    One really surprising one you might not know about is not in the App store at all. In the iBookstore (have to go there from iTunes) have a look at “Japanese grammar patterns at a glance” by Harumi Morrissey. (N3 level) You can download a free sample. It has hundreds of sound files and anime/illustrations. I’m a huge fan. Never seen a textbook like this. Ever. I used it on an iPad but it is an ibook so you can use it on an iPhone.

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  • Loren Fykes

    What is the best app or service for an highly advanced student? Someone who is considered fluent but wants to learn complex grammar structures and supplement listening comprehension? A lot of these apps focus on saving words/kanji in lists, and then when you find the word, you have many example sentences, but that’s not really a great way to learn a language. It has to be learned in context from actual sources and usage, and complex sentence structures should be highlighted even compared to one’s native linguistic patterns. This is what I’m looking for. Is it out there on and advanced level?

    • Ollie Capehorn

      I don’t think that such an app exists – I think you should rather look for a specific book in this instance. Is this for preparing for the JLPT perhaps?

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