Why learn Japanese online? That is a good question that has nearly infinite amounts of excellent answers.
Firstly, let’s state the obvious motivators. Japanese is the ninth most spoken language in the world, with 126 million native speakers globally. Secondly, Japan’s economy is the third-largest in the world, only behind the U.S and China.
My personal interest in the Japanese language, however, does not come from Wikipedia stats such as these. I fell in love with Japanese culture through culture, music, cinema, gaming, and animation.
Whatever your reasons for wishing to study Japanese, the courses on this list will help you out. Taking online Japanese courses is one of the most cost-effective language learning methods, and it’s one that can be utilized from the comfort of your own home. All you have to do is stay focused, motivated, and you’ll become a fluent Japanese speaker in no time.
Whether you are a Japanese language veteran looking to brush up on advanced Kanji, an intermediate learner with knowledge of Hiragana and Katakana, or a total beginner without any Japanese language skills whatsoever, there’ll be an online class on this list perfect for you.
Without further ado, these are the best online Japanese courses:
Best Overall: Busuu's Japanese Course
With 100+ million users and real scientific research backing the platform, Busuu beats all other online Japanese classes on this list and takes the #1 spot with ease.
In 2016, two American PhD-s conducted an independent scientific study of Busuu’s capabilities as a language learning app. The test results were astonishing – the research showed that 22.5 hours of learning on Busuu was equal to one entire college semester of language studies.
Therefore, if we take this 31-page research document at face value – it appears that one month of semi-active learning on Busuu is equal to two years of studying Japanese in college. When I first heard that fact, I was completely blown away. Traditional college is becoming meaningless with platforms such as these, and if you really want to make the most of your time and money, you’re way better off with learning Japanese online rather than going to traditional classrooms.
Busuu has also been awarded tons of awards for its’ efficacy, such as the Bloomberg Business Innovators award, EdTech Breakthrough Award, and the Google Play “Best Apps of 2015” award.
Busuu is by far the best online Japanese class for 2021 (and likely beyond), and I suggest you give it a shot if you’re truly dedicated to mastering both written and spoken Japanese in as little time as possible.
Best for Beginners: Rosetta Stone
One of the most beginner-friendly platforms for learning Japanese online.
Course Instructor: Rosetta Stone Inc. is dedicated to changing the way the world learns. The company’s innovative, technology-driven language, literacy and brain-fitness solutions are used by thousands of schools, businesses, government organisations and millions of individuals around the world.
Who can take this course: I would recommend Rosetta Stone for beginners and intermediate learners. It has a lot of content and it prides itself with being immersive. I would say that this online Japanese course is best suited for learners who are patient. That is because with this course, it does take quite a bit of time to learn, as it’s very methodical in its teaching approach.
What you’ll learn: It’s an excellent course that is well-designed with short (5-10 minute) lessons. The course focuses on integrating listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in the target language with no translations. However, don’t expect to learn travel phrases or conversational expressions early on. Those come much later in the course. At first, you will learn all the most useful vocabulary. So it manages to lay a solid foundation and keeps steadily building on it. After you are done with it, you will definitely have a good grasp of the Japanese language.
What people say: Rosetta Stone reviews have been very mixed over the past decade. While they seem to have reached mainstream scale given the number of years they have been around, their biggest criticism is the price to value ratio.
Verdict: Make no mistake; if Rosetta Stone works for you, it’s going to work absolutely fantastically. The problem lies in the fact that this sort of learning just doesn’t appeal to everyone, and not everyone can use this method of learning to their advantage. So give it a try and see for yourself.
Good Alternative: JapanesePod101
Another excellent and cost-efficient online course for learning Japanese.
Course instructor: Innovative Language Learning, the creator of JapanesePod101.com, has been involved with the online language teaching industry for over 12 years. With a decade of language teaching experience and over 1 billion lesson downloads, their system is time-tested, proven and it has helped thousands of students learn Japanese online.
Who can take this course: It has loads of in-depth Japanese lessons for all experience levels, starting from beginner level all the way to advanced. All students interested in learning Japanese online will benefit from this course. It really is a good match for just about anyone willing to learn the language.
What you’ll learn: We covered this online Japanese course in greater detail in our in-depth review, where we ranked it highly as a result of our positive experiences with the platform. To sum it up, though – the lessons on JapanesePod101 are well-structured and easy to understand. Practicing Japanese pronunciation is often overlooked in online courses, but JapanesePod101 is special in this regard as it does an excellent job at covering both Japanese speaking and writing practice.
Verdict: JapanesePod101 is an excellent resource for learning Japanese. It is a versatile tool with many features and it’s flexible, so you can tailor the learning experience however you want. I can strongly recommend it to anyone who is serious about the language regardless of skill level. The pricing is reasonable and the service is easy to use.
Another one of our favorite courses for learning the Japanese language online.
Read my Rocket Japanese review to learn about the platform in detail. But, here’s a quick rundown of why I love it:
Course instructor: Rocket Languages is a recognized leader in online language learning. In fact, the Rocket Languages platform has been so successful that over 1,200,000 registered users are now using Rocket Languages products. The teachers are highly skillful and the customer support is excellent.
Who can take this course: Rocket Japanese has three experience levels aimed at different students. The first level starts from the very basics of the Japanese language, and the third is the most advanced. Rocket Japanese has ensured that it has useful content for every skill level. Therefore, you can just jump right in at any skill level. With that being said, if you are already nearing expert level, then you might find even the advanced courses slightly redundant.
What you’ll learn: Rocket Japanese is more balanced than many of the alternative online courses that are out there. While the lessons can be repetitive at times with a constant focus on memorization, the course overall still manages to be highly effective. The various cultural and social aspects of the Japanese language are explained well throughout the course. Not to mention grammar and vocabulary training is definitely top-notch.
What others say: On their own site, they have an average rating of 4.7 stars out of 3223 reviews. Looking elsewhere around the Internet for user-reviews reveals similarly positive experiences. All in all, it is a great service that students tend to love.
Verdict: Rocket Japanese provides a balanced learning experience at a reasonable price-point. All the extra features such as voice recognition software, the app, flash cards and offline access definitely help out a lot in the language learning process. Their customer service is also fantastic – if you need help, they will do their best to help you. Not to mention the fact that you can get a full refund within 60 days if you are not happy with your course. All in all, this is one of the best online Japanese courses, and I can highly recommend it.
A great online Japanse course for casual conversation skills.
Course Instructor: The Pimsleur Method™ was established nearly 50 years ago by Dr. Paul Pimsleur. By today, Pimsleur has become a major player in the language learning scene by offering quality courses as well as true and tried methods of teaching.
Who can take this course: Pimsleur Japanese is good for beginners to upper-intermediate students. You’ll want to consider it if you’re looking to improve your speaking, listening, or pronunciation skills. This is good language software for those who enjoy audio-based learning. If you have a busy schedule or a mobile lifestyle the course could be perfect for you. Also it is perfect for visually impaired people.
What you’ll learn: The Pimsleur language learning system is an audio based course that presents phrases in the target language first, and then in your mother tongue for you to translate into that language. It is purely audio based and concentrates on actual conversational skills, which means you will not be learning how to read and write Japanese. However it is good at what it does promise to do, preparing you to converse with actual people.
What people say: Pimsleur has received mixed reviews, some love it, some not so much. However, it is effective on what it does and many students do like the course and consider it effective, myself included.
Verdict: Pimsleur is a boring but effective spaced repetition language-learning method. Since it’s 100-percent audio, you can also use it while you are walking. In terms of daily language courses with a low time commitment Pimsleur is one of the best.
Attain Corp. Udemy Japanese Courses
These are ideal courses for JLPT prep. and business communication.
Course instructor: Attain Corporation is a Japanese educational e-learning company. They make and sell Japanese learning materials and Japanese teacher training materials. They also offer over 600 lessons of e-learning materials about IT knowledge and business skills in Japan.
Who can take this course: It is for any skill level ranging from absolute beginner to expert, granted you start at a level you are comfortable with or just study them in order. And as mentioned before, it is perfect for students aiming to take JLPTs or just looking to improve in general.
What you’ll learn: The “Online Japanese” courses by Attain Corp (Japanese N5, Japanese N4, etc.) are amazing. The lessons are structured perfectly, pacing is great and I found they put in effort to make the content entertaining. I should mention that the lectures are fully in Japanese, of course with English subtitles, which in my opinion makes it much more immersive. These courses will prepare you for JLPT N5-N1 Japanese proficiency tests which get you a certificate of your actual level of skill. But not only that, it manages to teach you useful language skills while preparing you for those tests.
What people say: Overall Attain has very good reviews from students taking their courses with an average being somewhere around 4.6 out of 5. I personally found them very useful and will be using it again to prepare for my N2 exam.
Verdict: Definitely one of the best courses out there. It does exactly what it’s supposed to and makes it fun along the way. I wholeheartedly recommend picking this course up. However, be prepared to do some practical exercises on your own to really help you memorize and learn everything in the lessons themselves, but if you are committed to learning it really isn’t a problem.
Marugoto Japanese Course
These are good beginner-level online courses.
Course instructor: The Japan Foundation is an organization that promotes Japanese language and culture around the world. They have a few different courses where you can learn Japanese free online. They run a course called ‘Marugoto’ which is the best general beginner course that you can find for free.
Who can take this course: The course is well suited for beginners who are just starting out and would like an online self-study course, which is more structured and formal than the other courses on this list. You submit assignments online and even get a certificate at the end. There is also an online noticeboard for students where you can chat about your experience learning Japanese with other students across the world. But do keep in mind, you can do everything at your own pace so you don’t have to worry about burning out.
What you’ll learn: Marugoto has lots of pictures and lots of listening practice. It has an easy to use, fun and interactive format.
There are actually two options you can choose from Marugoto ‘katsudoo’ or ‘katsudoo & rikai’. The ‘katsudoo’ course focuses on listening and speaking for everyday situations. The other option covers the same listening and speaking lessons, but you will also learn how to read and write in Japanese and you will study more grammar. The course is available in a few different languages, including Spanish, Indonesian and Thai. To take the course, you have to register (for free) on the Japan Foundation Minato e-learning portal. It does have a testing system as well to determine the level of skill you are at and based on the results will recommend a starting level for you.
What people say: It has received praise from many users and a lot of language learners and teachers alike swear by it.
Verdict: I thoroughly enjoyed the course. It is well put together, has solid materials, well thought out lesson structures and has a ton of material. You also get a certificate for completion. i definitely recommend any beginner to give this course a go.
Waseda University Beginner Japanese Courses
These are good beginner-level online courses.
Course instructor: Waseda University is a leading institution in Japan, founded in 1882 with three principles: academic independence, practical innovation, and the shaping of open-minded citizens; aiming to provide the world with progressive leaders.
Waseda has stayed true to these ideals, educating seven prime ministers and countless other politicians, business leaders, journalists, diplomats, scholars, scientists, inventors, actors, writers and artists.
The courses they provide on edX platform are of excellent quality and recommended by many.
Who can take this course: The course is aimed at beginners level students looking to prepare themselves for college level learning or just improving themselves. It is geared towards teaching simple vocabulary and grammar for you to start your road in college. As an added benefit, it is possible to obtain a certificate of completion from this course series, although it does come with a fee.
What you’ll learn: The course is structured mainly around video lectures and supporting practical exercises based on the same lectures. You will learn conversational skills, grammar and vocabulary. It also provides loads of information about Japanese culture. The course instructors are super nice as well, always helpful and provide great insight.
What people say: People generally like this course and it is recommend by many.
Verdict: This course was great. I learnt a lot from it and it definitely helped me prepare for my year in a Japanese college. I also picked up the certificates from there which are super nice to add to your CV.
These are good beginner-level online courses.
I’m mentioning this tool because it is a great little application to supplement your Japanese learning on the go in bite size pieces. It is worth checking out. Now i need to mention that Duolingo is a good practice tool at a beginner’s level. It will not teach you a language in its entirety, just keep that in mind. With that out of the way, it is a good resource to learn a lot of words. It also manages to solidify your foundations for grammar and syntax and perhaps some pronunciation as well. Duolingo is very easy to use, intuitive UI and user friendly lesson contents. So definitely give this little tool a go.