LingoDeer is like Duolingo or Memrise with a CJK focus (that's Chinese, Japanese, and Korean). In fact, the app has a similar feel to both in terms of teaching methods and app functionality. But thanks to LingoDeer's narrower focus, it creates a much more streamlined experience.
LingoDeer has three language options: Korean, Japanese, and Chinese (Mandarin). You can switch between all three at will, so you can study one or all of them at once.
I did test all three, but I'm going to focus on the Japanese content, because I assume that's what you're all here for.
The app starts by asking what language you'd like to learn and what daily goal you want to set:
- 5 Stars (Casual Mode)
- 10 Stars (Regular Mode)
- 20 Stars (Insane Mode)
You begin in one of three tabs: Learn, Review, and Me. The Learn Tab presents two options: Alphabet and Nationality. These basically gives you the option to skip learning kana if you're already familiar.
The lessons contain small chunks of what I'll call "learning" and larger chunks of review and practice. A new piece of information is usually introduced with pictures containing captions with kana, kanji, and romaji and then taught with basic matching. You learn new information in small sets, usually two or three to start, and then start immediately putting your knowledge to practice.
The actual teaching happens outside of the lessons. When you return to the category and select "Learning Tips," LingoDeer goes into all the detail a small textbook would. So if you're having trouble learning the meaning from context (which many apps want you to do nowadays) you don't have to search too far to find your answer (hopefully). These sections explain things like grammar points, particles, and sentence structure, as well as basic warnings for context and usage (polite vs impolite, for example).
The illustrations are very nice and the sound design is even better: you can play audio for everything easily and the sound effects offer satisfying feedback. The sounds actually make the app feel better. This is something you'll notice in really good games, but not so much in Japanese study apps. Even getting something wrong gives you a pleasant little sound.
Also, the quality of the voice recording and Japanese pronunciation is top-notch. It's clear, well pronounced, and hasn't gotten repetitive or obnoxious for me (yet).
The little LingoDeer mascot became pretty endearing too. Look at him crying down there. Boo hoo! 😭
Back to the actual teaching. To solidify new information you're given a few different types of exercises during the learning section:
- Match pictures
- Match audio to pictures
- Match English to Japanese
- Choose the correct kanji to match to the kana
- Choose the correct translation
- Fill in the blank
- Multiple fill in the blanks
- Spell out the word or sentence
- "Where does this phrase go, drag it to the right position"
The quality and attention to detail on LingoDeer is impressive. If you like similar apps of this style (like Duolingo), I'd definitely recommend giving this app a try.
Sometimes the pattern will also mix things up. I was surprised to see two images, the United States and Japan, and hear the audio say, "あの人は日本人です." It wasn't asking me to match "アメリカ" or "日本" to their pictures, but making me think about the meaning of the sentence and what picture fit best.
As you finish smaller lessons, you can move on to more or review the material you've learned so far. In the Review tab you can review everything or choose between vocabulary or grammar reviews. And within those two options, you can either do them all or break them up by the category in which they were taught. Those become Anki-like cards with "Perfect," "Good," and "Weak" self-assessments.
Then you have the typical stats page which lists your overall learning time, day streak, and a few achievements (if you get them). You can also adjust your display (I recommend removing the romaji and hiragana as soon as possible), set reminders for yourself (daily with specific times), as well as an option to download all of the content so you can use the app offline.
There are a few issues, of course. One is that the content is limited. It seems to contain about the same amount of teaching as similar courses and apps for Japanese. It'll give you a handle on what most people consider "the basics" of Japanese (generally about Genki I and II or so). Not bad, but this app won't take you to advanced level Japanese.
Since it's such a new app, there are a few bugs. One I ran into a few times was an audio error, where random audio I'd heard earlier would play while I was matching items.
Another downside is you can't skip or "test out" of content. Thankfully, going through material you already know isn't too much of a time sink.
All in all, the quality and attention to detail on LingoDeer is impressive. If you like similar apps of this style (like Duolingo), I'd definitely recommend giving this app a try. They've got Mandarin and Korean too, so if you want one place for all your beginner CJK needs, this app can do it all.