"It's here! It's here!" the entire Internet yelled on May 18th. If you weren't on Earth at the time, Duolingo's much anticipated Japanese course was released on iOS after what felt like ages.
If you aren't familiar, Duolingo is a language learning site for a ton of different languages, from Italian to Portuguese to Irish to Hebrew. And best of all, it's all free!
The Duolingo teaching method includes a few key things: - Repetition - +1 learning - Intuitive teaching
Lessons evolve and change as you progress and you have to go back and review old material to make sure you're not forgetting anything. Instead of lessons explaining "this is past tense" or "this is a verb," they use your knowledge of (in this case) English and let you intuit what you're learning. This promotes active learning, rather than passive. It also gets rid of the boring "book-learning" style many resources use. So if you hate traditional textbooks, this could be your way to get a foot in the door of any language.
In the Japanese course they teach hiragana, katakana, kanji, vocabulary, sentence structure, and grammar through themes like Activity, Directions, Objects, Food, Clothes, Shopping, and Classroom. Each section builds on the last, using vocabulary and grammar patterns you've already learned. And if you aren't a complete beginner, you have the ability to test out of lesson batches instead of working your way through them manually.
As with any new product, there are some errors in the course, so make sure to report them on the app when you find them. The best way to make a free course better is with tons of user feedback. Another bummer is there is no spoken element on the user end, unlike most language courses on Duolingo. Language courses like Spanish, French, and Italian have you speak into your microphone to practice your pronunciation, but the Japanese course has no spoken feedback. Hopefully this feature will be added in the future, but for now it's focused on writing and listening.
All in all, it's a solid tool for beginners to learn Japanese free.