When I first arrived in Japan and started searching for resources to learn Japanese online, I found JapanesePod101.com everywhere I looked. This Japanesepod101 review will help you decide whether JapanesePod101 is right for you.
Their free podcasts often kept me company on those hideously long train journeys to work at 7am on the ????? (Seibu-Ikebukuro line) 🙂
Later, I remember considering signing up to their website, but without knowing if it was any good or not, I ended up not doing it.
More recently, I've been using their sister-site, CantoneseClass101, to help me learn Cantonese, and I found it to be pretty helpful. Now, almost 5 years after I first arrived in Japan, I decided to go back and investigate the Japanese site to see what I missed out on by not joining back in the day.
I'm going to take you inside the paid members area, with a video showing you the main features of the website, and then give you my honest assessment of the quality of the product (Hint: there are good and bad points!).
If you don't have the time to read the whole review, then I'll summarise it here by saying that it's a good, engaging resource, especially for beginners and lower levels.
Their bite-sized approach to study materials makes it appropriate for busy people and those who struggle with motivation, but it is certainly not any kind of shortcut and you will still have to do the hard work yourself.
To help you with that hard work, I've put together my own guide for using the site as effectively as possible, and getting you speaking Japanese quicker. More details at the end of the review.
JapanesePod101 is a website that houses a series of Japanese lessons in audio format. It works on a freemium model, meaning that some material is available for free (sneakily offered to you as a free lifetime subscription), but most of the good stuff requires you to buy a subscription.
Some people are reluctant to pay for online products, preferring physical books instead, but I think times have changed and some online language products are becoming quite good.
There are different pricing options for JapanesePod and, as usual, the longer your subscription the cheaper it gets. In my opinion, the pricing is reasonable.
If you take the cost of a 1-year subscription as your baseline (whatever language learning resource you buy, youd probably aim to get through it within a year if youre serious about progressing), which is US$180, then the cost is a lot more than a book, but substantially less than other commercial products Rosetta Stone ($399) or Pimsleur ($345 for 30 lessons), for example.
And to be honest, if it works, why wouldn't you pay $180 for it?
If it works.
Here's a video showing you the inside of the member's area on the website:
Learning is arranged in courses of up to 50 lessons each, arranged by proficiency level, ranging from complete beginner to advanced. Lessons are delivered in audio format, and are generally 12-15 minutes long. You can listen to them on the website itself or else downloaded it all as podcasts, which you can then put on your smartphone and take around with you.
There are three audio tracks for each lesson:
Lessons are in the format of a conversation between two people (usually one English and one Japanese speaker) and they always follow the same pattern:
On the website, there are a few powerful features accompanying each lesson, and, for me, are the most valuable part of the product. The dialogue is given in an interactive format: each line is clickable, so you can hear the audio at your own pace, line-by-line, and you can switch the text between kanji, hiragana, romaji and English translation.
This works really well, and is ideal for breaking down the dialogues into smaller parts, listening and reading at the same time, and is great for improving your vocabulary and listening comprehension.
Another page gives you a list of vocabulary from the dialogue, which, again, is clickable so you can hear the audio (natural speed and slowed-down) and see how its written.
What you can then do (and here's the fun stuff), is choose the vocabulary you want to learn and export it to a flashcard programme thats built into the website. These flashcard decks are fully customizable and use a spaced repetition system to help you learn them.
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All of the lesson material is available in downloadable worksheets. Theres nothing special about those, its just a physical version of the information given on the website. Nevertheless, people like to consume information in different ways, and if you like to have everything printed off and there in front of you, its good to have.
In addition to the lessons, there is a wide range of extra resources for beginners, which, for me, adds real value for people learning Japanese for the first time.
When youre just starting out its a delicate stage where you really need a lot of solid information (basics of grammar, phonology, writing systems) and the last thing you want to do is waste time and stifle your progress by trying to piece it all together from various websites. Here, its all in one place:
A couple of other nice features include a quiz function, which gives you vocabulary and writing tests based on language from the lesson, and an online dictionary Japanese-English and English-Japanese dictionary (accessible from the search bar, which is handy) which is well-linked to the language from the lessons and lets you export words directly to flashcards.
Overall, I find JapanesePod101.com to be a substantial, well-made resource for learning Japanese. Its been designed to be easy to consume (hence the podcast format) and so despite my issues with the teaching format, its going to work well for people who dont know where to start, arent easily motivated, or just want to be walked through a learning programme.
For this reason, more independent learners may find it limiting.
The tools on the website, especially the line-by-line clickable dialogues and the built-in flashcard tool are excellent, and really make it possible to get stuck in and analyse the language. The course designers and material-writers are good and have designed quality content its just a bit of a shame that the marketers behind the scenes have been given slightly too much freedom, as youre left with the impression youre getting sold to a fair bit.
However, this shouldnt take away from the value of the Japanese content itself. Remember that this is just one language learning resource. Like any other book, audio course, or even language school, dont be under the impression that its any kind of silver bullet, or that simply buying this will be any guarantee of you learning Japanese.
Many people will be tempted to just rely on the podcasts, because theyre there, easily digestible and entertaining, but you still need to spend just as much time (and probably more) with your head down, stuck into the lesson transcripts and vocabulary sections to really improve at a good rate.
You will also eventually need to find ways to start speaking before becoming fluent in Japanese. Its not just about the studying youve got to get out into the real world too, something that is often forgotten. So, in conclusion, this is a good product with a lot that can help you.
Whats important is that you keep an independent, self-directed approach to your learning, and use this product as a resource to learn what you need, rather than letting it direct your learning for you.
To help you do this, Ive written a guide that shows you how to make the most out of the features on the website. Through a lot of trial and error over 6 months of study, I figured out how best to use the dialogues and resources to improve my Japanese much faster than simply following their lessons through one by one.
The guide is free click here for more.
I hope this review has been informative and that you have a better idea of whether JapanesePod101.com is right for you or not.
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