I’m really proud and excited to announce Tofugu’s first annual “Top 10 Online Resources for Learning Japanese for Free” list, which includes an e-book that’s available for download at the end of the article. There’s also video down there for all you people who don’t like reading things!
Have you ever wondered what was out there in the tubes of the interwebs in terms of improving your Japanese? Honestly, a whole lot of junk. Some of that junk is mediocre, but most of it is pretty junky. I’ve sifted through all that and came up with a list of the best Japanese resources on the web. Granted, everything is just my opinion, but I think this is a really well rounded list that should have something (hopefully a few things) for everyone! If you’ve been a reader on Tofugu for a while now, you’ve probably seen some of these. Still there’s a lot of new stuff here, so please, dive in, and tell me what you think!
Twitter is a micro-blogging service that lets you input up to 140 characters to tell the world (and your friends) “what you are doing right now.” Although Twitter does what it does really well, you can totally use it in a way that gives you daily / regular Japanese practice as well. Twitter is becoming increasingly popular in Japan, which means there’s a lot of Japanese users. I usually suggest to people to follow Japanese tweeters that seem interesting (so that way it’s interesting to read their tweets), and to tweet themselves in Japanese. The great thing about Twitter is that you are only allowed up to 140 characters, which means you can’t type that much. Not only does this teach you to get to the point, but it also makes it so practice can be easy, regular and not overwhelming. Twitter is a lot of fun, and a great way to practice your Japanese! Go sign up now if you haven’t already, and follow me! Username: Tofugu
Livestation is a program you can download off the web that allows you to watch live television from anywhere in the world (which of course includes Japanese television). It’s a slick, lightweight program that works on Windows, Mac, and even Linux, so everyone can jump in. I’ve found around 10-15 Japanese channels, including the Japanese home shopping network, and no matter how bad your time zone is in comparison to Japan, you’ll always at least be able to enjoy the commercials! If you decide to use Livestation, make sure you don’t have any more work to do, because it’s super addictive! Right now, I’m watching late night old j-dorama repeats.
#8: Yamasa’s Japanese Dictionary (Kanji Stroke Order)
Yamasa’s Online Japanese Dictionary is a pretty good dictionary, however, there is one thing that I really like about it, and that is (of course) it’s kanji stroke order feature. Other dictionaries do this as well, but for some reason I like Yamasa’s better. It’s just prettier than the others, and they do a really good job organizing their information as well. This website is wonderful for people who have trouble figuring out the stroke order of things, though it won’t help much with people who are already kanji pros. Check out the link below for the kanji stroke order search box.
#7: Podcasts on iTunes
Surprisingly, iTunes is a great way to find things to practice your Japanese listening (and maybe speaking too, depending on how you use it). Apple does an awesome job collecting podcasts and making it easy to download / subscribe them. Although you cannot download Japanese music without a Japanese credit card / Japanese iTunes gift certificate, you can download Japanese podcasts for free. All you need to do is switch your location to 日本, click on “podcasts,” and start navigating the menus. Menus will be in English (if you have an English version of iTunes), so it’s easy to jump around and find things. If you want more information, scroll down and download the e-book!
Rikaichan is an amazing add-on for Firefox (if you don’t have Firefox right now, go get it, because this website probably looks poop-face without it). After you install it, you’ll be able to activate it, and then everything Japanese you hover your mouse over will come up with a bigger version of the kanji (if there is one), the hiragana, and then the English translation for it. This is wonderful for people who want to go read some Japanese internets quickly, and it’s much better than relying on a translator of any kind. If you’re really smart, you’ll write down the words you don’t know, and practice them later!
Watch a video of #6-10
Jisho.org (or, Denshi Jisho, as they call themselves), is a great online Japanese dictionary. What makes them so great, though? Now, there’s Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC, which is my favorite online Japanese dictionary. Jisho.org uses Jim Breen’s dictionary data and just makes it look lots nicer. It makes things easier to read, and is (in general) a big improvement on Jim Breen’s layout. It also has a really cool feature (that Jim Breen also has, but Jisho’s is better), that allows you to search for a kanji by radical. Not only that, but you can click on multiple radicals, and it will narrow down your kanji search based on the ones you choose. It’s so much better than using a physical kanji dictionary (it’s inconvenient when searching for a lot of kanji), and if you have a lot of kanji to look up that’s not copy and pastable, you need to check out this website.
jGram is a database of Japanese grammar (that’s why jGram stands for “Japanese Grammar”) put together by the jGram community. So basically, normally people like you and me! Think of it like a wiki for Japanese grammar. This website is great for people studying for the JLPT, as they separate grammar by JLPT level for you, so you can study according to your level. I used this website a lot when studying for the JLPT, and it was really useful. Another thing they do is have a check system, that allows users to make sure things are reliable or not. Things that don’t have a high reliability rating are things you might want to look out for (or check yourself!). They also have a “useful phrases” section that is, surprisingly, really useful.
iKnow revolutionizes how you learn vocabulary. Right now, you can use it to learn Japanese or English vocabulary, but I’m guessing the first one will be more useful to you. They have different ways for learning vocabulary, with the first being flashcards. What I like about their flashcards is that after they ask if you know a word or not, they don’t trust you (who would trust you?) and then ask you to pick it out of 5-10 multiple choice answers, further solidifying your knowledge (or discovering the lack thereof). My other favorite section is the “dictation section.” In this section, a voice actor reads out a sentence, and you have to fill in the blanks. Eventually, it gets to the point where you have to fill in the entire sentence after someone reads it to you. There are other features as well, you’ll just have to visit it to find out about it yourself!
#2: Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese
This is as close as you’ll get to finding a free online Japanese textbook, and a good one at that. Tae Kim has done an amazing job putting together a great list of Japanese guidance. It is very thorough, reliable, and you’ll always learn something new. There are plenty of examples, plenty of “extras,” and because of these things, I always come to Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese first, even before searching for something on Google. I know that I’m always going to find what I’m looking for (and more). Plus, fans of Tae Kim helped to translate this guide into approximately 10 different languages, which makes it even more useful for more people around the world! This is Japanese Language philanthropy at its best. Go check it out!
Tae Kim also has a great blog, which is right here.
Lang-8 comes in at #1 on my list because it has a great community, responsive staff, and an incredible (revolutionary) service. This is web2.0 of language learning right here. Here’s the concept behinds this website: First, you write a journal entry in the language that you’re learning (it can be any language, not just Japanese), then someone who is a native speaker of the language you are writing in will correct that entry for you. Third, you (theoretically) will help someone else learning the language you are native in. It’s an incredibly social experience, and doesn’t feel like a Facebook / Myspace clone. Lang-8 is its own beast, and feels fresh and new. The reason I really like it for language learning (there are a couple other services that do similar things) is because the Japanese population on Lang-8 is huge, which means it’s easy to find people to work with you. Lang-8 also makes it easy to find pen-pals, as well as people to Skype with (to practice your speaking, if you want). I love this website, and have only had great experiences with it. If you are learning Japanese, or any language at all, you should definitely take a look at my #1 pick!
Watch a video of #1-5
Download the e-Book!
Want more information? I did a live lecture of my “Top Ten Resources for Learning Japanese” on eduFire a week ago, and put together a little e-book for those people to enjoy. I’d like to extend the ability to download it to all of you as well! It’s nothing much (after reading all of this), but it definitely has more information on each of the online Japanese resources, should you want to read more.
If you enjoyed this article / video / e-book, please send it to a friend who’s learning Japanese! I really think that this list will help people out, so the more people see it, the more these resources will help people :) Also, if more people see it, more people will suggest new things in the comments, which will help us all out! Please Digg, Stumble, and email this around! I’d really appreciate it!
Also, if you have anything you think should be on this list but isn’t, help us all out by sharing it with us in the comments. I’m sure I missed something, since there are so many resources out there, so please tell me what I missed, and I look forward to seeing how the list changes next year!