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Learn Japanese for free online

These online resources will help you learn and brush up your Japanese language skills at no cost

By Kaila Imada
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No Nihongo? No problem. Learning Japanese has never been easier thanks to a vast array of online resources including websites, videos, podcasts and even apps to help you speak and understand the language.

There's something out there for everyone, whether you're a beginner looking to pick up a few useful phrases for your trip to Tokyo, or just looking to brush up on your rusty command of the Japanese language. So here's a list of online resources covering a variety of proficiency levels – and they're all free. Use your time in productively and pick up a new language without spending anything. 

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NHK Japanese
NHK Japanese
Photo: nhk.or.jp

NHK online programs

Japan's national broadcaster produces a good range of English-language programmes and news, but did you know they also offer free online language resources? The language homepage is handy in that its lessons are divided according to proficiency levels – beginner, elementary, intermediate – and are supplemented with videos, textbook downloads, learning tools, and even podcasts – all of which are free.

The website also has specialised lessons such as the 'Easy Japanese for Work', which teaches you phrases and kanji characters useful for working in a Japanese environment. Tourists, on the other hand, will benefit greatly from 'Easy Travel Japanese'.

Duolingo
Duolingo
Photo: fb.com/duolingo

Duolingo

Duolingo is one of the best free language apps for learning Japanese as well as a number of other languages including Spanish, French, Italian, Korean and even fictional languages like Klingon.

The mobile app is easy to navigate and caters to your language goal, whether it be for a career, school, travel or what the app calls 'brain training'. You can even customise how intense you'd like your lessons to be, from casual (5 minutes a day) to intense, the latter of which takes up 20 minutes of your day. To keep you motivated and on track, Duolingo can even send you notifications to remind you to take your daily lesson. Not sure which proficiency level you fall into? Just take a placement test to find out. Easy peasy.

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Japanesepod101
Japanesepod101
Photo: fb.com/japanesepod101

Japanesepod101

This all-inclusive website is free to sign up and offers everything from Youtube videos and podcasts to complementary online content. Videos from its Youtube channel include learning the 25 most useful Japanese phrases, understanding the basics of hiragana, and learning how to introduce yourself properly in Japanese. 

A majority of the content is free, including some weekly lessons, which require a quick and easy sign up. However, if you're serious about mastering the language, Japanesepod101 also offers monthly subscriptions (from USD8/month) with more content and lessons. Sign up for a free seven-day premium trial before committing to a proper subscription.

Tofugu
Tofugu
Photo: twitter.com/tofugu

Tofugu

Tofugu is a Japanese culture and language blog with great resources for not only learning Japanese but also tips for people looking to come visit or work in Japan. 

The language page offers updated learning resources, linking you to different flash cards, apps, TV shows and more. The actual lesson pages delve into a myriad of topics such as decoding particular words/phrases, personal pronouns, units for counting, and more. Tofugu also has a podcast covering most of the language topics featured in the blog.

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News in Slow Japanese
News in Slow Japanese
Photo: podcasts.apple.com

News in Slow Japanese

Sometimes the best way to understand a language is by slowing it down. This podcast is a fun way to keep up-to-date with trivial news in Japanese as they are iterated to you at a slower pace than usual. Each podcast has two verisons: a 'regular' pace and a 'slow' one so you can compare and practice listening to both.

This podcast is definitely for intermediate learners as there is no English translation to go with each clip. However, with a subscription, you'll get access to a lot more resources including vocabulary lists and lessons.

Imiwa?
Imiwa?
Photo: apps.apple.com

Imiwa?

This handy app is like a dictionary and kanji teacher all packaged into one. The multi-lingual dictionary offers most definitions in four languages (English, French, Russian and German) and can also be used offline. It's also useful for those studying for the JLPT exam as it lists out all the necessary kanji you'd need to know for levels N5 (beginner) to N1 (advanced). 

Click on a particular kanji character for instructions on the proper way to write it stroke-by-stroke, as well as different Japanese readings for the character, and have its meaning translated into the four aforementioned languages.

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