Learn Japanese Easily With MindSnacks

こんにちは!お元気ですか? At least that’s what you’ll be saying a couple of weeks after using Japanese from MindSnacks – a really fun and easy way to learn basic Japanese on your iPad (the phrase means, “Hello! How are you?”). I’m a real sucker for language learning apps (seeing as I learn German) and any new ones instantly attract my attention. But, most of the offerings out there on the App Store seem to just be either just phrasebooks, offering you the kind of vocabulary that you would only need to get by a tourist, or just flashcard apps where you have to memorise a list of set phrases, without actually understanding the language properly.

Japanese is different, however. It uses a variety of different games and techniques to help you learn a language properly, instead of just repeating it parrot-fashion. MindSnacks, the developers, also offer similar apps for learning either French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese or Chinese, but what really interested me about Japanese is precisely how the app teaches you to read the language (i.e. how does the user actually learn the Japanese characters), as the Japanese language is not only extremely difficult to learn for native speakers of English, but the many different writing systems (romanji, katakana, kanji and hiragana).

Let’s dive right in and find out if Japanese by MindSnacks is the best way to learn this fantastic and diverse language on your iPad.

Like this article? Stay up to date with the latest changes by subscribing to our RSS feed or by following us either on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or App.net.

Getting Started

The basic version of Japanese is completely free and what’s even better is that there are absolutely no adverts to speak of, which I really admire especially from a free program. And unlike most freemium apps, you don’t have to pay every time you want to progress — with Japanese there’s an optional in-app purchase of $4.99 to get your hands on all 50 lessons.

The main screen of Japanese, showing the games on offer.

The main screen of Japanese, showing the games on offer.

Japanese only works in portrait view on your iPad, which to me isn’t much of an issue as I feel that it’s much easier to play the games in portrait rather than landscape mode.

Lessons

Japanese comes along with one free lesson (the numbers from 1–20) and to progress through the game, you’ll need to grab that in-app purchase. I personally believe that $4.99 is a tiny price to pay for such a well-designed app — almost every single nook and cranny of Japanese has been thought out with care and attention and it feels well-designed and fun, something which cannot be said about other language-learning apps out there in the App Store.

The lessons cover a number of different phrases and words, from basic ones to more advanced ones.

The lessons cover a number of different phrases and words, from basic ones to more advanced ones.

The lessons start out with the basics (i.e. the numbers from 1–20, family members and basic greetings) and progress gradually towards more advanced material. They are comprised mostly of individual words however in some lessons, there are set phrases for you to learn as well. Each word within Japanese comes with a beautiful illustration to help you learn it easier.

Learning Kana

As Japanese is a language not often written in the Roman alphabet, I was interested to see how the app teaches the user to read and learn the various Japanese characters. There is a handy Kana guide built in within the app that covers hiragana, katakana, kana combinations, long vowels and consonants. For the last two, a guide accompanies each one giving you an in-depth look at Japanese phonology.

The built-in kana reference guide.

The built-in kana reference guide.

The guide unfortunately serves as a bit of a reference and there’s no “step-by-step” tutorial for learning Japanese characters. I found the simplest way to remember them was to switch on kana and kanji in the games (more on these later) and try and memorise each one.

The Games

The games within Japanese are designed to help you learn the language efficiently and I found that they certainly help you do this. Although it may sound a bit monotonous, each game works by constantly repeating the words within a lesson until you’ve memorised it (the same principle as Rosetta Stone) and this works, amazingly enough. I find this approach a lot easier than simply learning endless vocabulary lists. I should also point out here that games can be played in either romaji (i.e. Roman letters) kana and kanji.

One of the games, Belly, where the aim is to match up the picture to the word in Japanese.

One of the games, Belly, where the aim is to match up the picture to the word in Japanese.

Once you’ve got the hang of a word, Japanese will mark it as “Mastered” and you can easily keep track of the number of words you’ve perfected by checking the top of the screen. The game works off a level and XP system, so each game earns you a certain amount of experience and the more games you do, the quicker you progress through the levels.

Another game, Chipper, which tests your spelling skills.

Another game, Chipper, which tests your spelling skills.

Japanese starts off with 4 games unlocked as standard and as you progress through the levels, more are unlocked. Every single game within the app is beautifully designed and actually make language learning fun (something which I previously never thought was humanly possible), making you go back to the app (hopefully) every single day!

Quests and Other Features

Japanese features a number of quests designed to help you keep track of learning progress. In my mind, I find having a goal to work towards makes it much easier for you to motivate yourself and the app does just this. There are quite a few quests to complete and each one earns you XP, which can help you progress through the levels quicker.

The quests within the app.

The quests within the app.

Japanese also allows multiple users, meaning that the whole family can learn a new language as well as a number of nifty features, such as push notifications reminding you to train or with a “word of the day”, a personal profile feature showing skills gained (reading, listening, speaking and so on) and personal achievements (this feature is coming soon in a future update). You can also share your progress on Facebook and Twitter for your friends to see.

Final Thoughts

Japanese is a rare example of a beautifully polished and well-designed app and receives a hearty 9 out of 10 rating. The only thing stopping it gaining a 10 out of 10 was the way of learning kana, which I didn’t think was ideal and I hope that the developers work on this in a future update (I would even pay extra for it via an in-app purchase). The developers, MindSnacks, also offer language learning apps in a variety of other languages, so if you’re looking to pick up a bit of conversational Chinese, German or Spanish, then I think this is the go-to language learning on the iPad!

Throughout testing this app, I was highly impressed with the attention to detail and ease-of-use and after 2 weeks of thorough testing, I still found that I remembered a lot of the basic stuff I had been taught, such as counting from 1–20. Although it may not suit some, the repetition technique employed by Japanese (among others, of course) really does help you retain a language and it’s great for remembering some critical vocabulary, especially if you’re like me and a bit forgetful sometimes.

Japanese won’t teach you the technicalities of the language (such as grammar) but if you’re off on an impromptu trip to Japan or simply want to impress your (Japanese) friends at a house party, then this is the app for you. It’s cheap, it’s colourful and it’s damn good fun.


Summary

A fantastic and fun way of learning Japanese on your iPad.

9