Language Learning Tool Reviews:


By Jonathan Fisher

We could all stand to study more Japanese. And living in Japan it can be easy to get in at least some daily practice. But as teachers ourselves, we know all too well that passive exposure to a language rarely equates to language acquisition. Likewise, no matter how much we want it to be, foreign language acquisition can’t always be fun and games. Luckily there are plenty of resources out there for individuals willing to devote a few minutes a day to focused Japanese study, from tried and true low-tech methods such as flash cards, to the cutting edge of pocket technology such as iPhone applications. This column, which will be published the fourth Monday of each month, will help you weed through what seems to work, what’s a waste of time, and what will serve you best in your quest for Japanese language fluency.

Before joining the JET program, I had some experience learning Japanese in a university setting. I was not a particularly good student then, but five years later, after having moved to Japan I can faithfully attest to the importance of finding self-study methods that work for you. With that in mind, I will review a different Japanese learning resource each month. Some things to look out for in the coming months: reviews of phrasebooks, flashcards, kanji dictionaries, kanji study methods, electronic dictionaries, JLPT study materials, iPhone applications and Japanese learning pay-to-use websites. My ratings (1-5 stars), like the reviews themselves, are merely a personal take on the learning tools I am writing about. Please keep in mind that the best way to figure out if a study method or learning tool will work for you is to try it yourself. And if there is a language learning tool that you’d like to see reviewed, feel free to send suggestions.

Let’s kick off this column with an online study resource I highly recommend.

[xrr rating=5/5]With its slick user interface, and fancy learning algorithms, has become my favorite Japanese language learning tool, and the benchmark by which I judge other language study websites. By creating a learner profile on you access one of the most extensive, exciting, and easy-to-navigate social networks on the web, and the whole enterprise is geared toward teaching and learning.

The core of is its iKnow application, which uses proven psychological principles like the “Ebbinghaus forgetting curve” to feed learners problems from self-selected lists of vocabulary items. Learners can monitor their study progress over time, interact with other learners for support, and completely customize the lists of vocabulary items that they are studying. And since iKnow was originally developed as a Japanese-English/English-Japanese study tool, a whole range of graphic input is available from Roman characters only (for true beginners) to kana only to a challenging mix of kanji and kana in “Full Mode.”

For the support and variety of options available for studying Japanese, with its iKnow application is already tough to beat. But what really makes the best tool for self study on the Web is that it’s completely free to use. You can find me on under the username Fish19843, and check out my customized list for beginners called “Japanese for ALTs.”


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