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Best Ways To Learn Japanese (Accelerate Your Progress With Podcasts, TV Shows, Apps, More)

The best ways to learn Japanese involve a multi-pronged approach where you get repeated exposure through different methods. Using a mix of methods such as listening to podcasts, watching TV shows, using language learning apps, and working with a professional teacher will lead to the fastest results.

Although I am half Japanese, I don’t speak Japanese fluently (yet!). I use all of the ways to learn Japanese that I recommend below. My Japanese level is advanced conversational and I particularly want to improve my speaking and reading skills.

My mom was born and raised in Japan and has been a teacher for almost twenty years. She currently teaches Japanese to high schoolers and is very knowledgeable about the best Japanese language tools out there. She gave me some of the suggestions in this guide that I will also share with you.

In this guide, I’ll share my recommendations for the best ways to learn Japanese.

Planning to visit Japan? Take a look at my 7 Days In Japan Itinerary.

What are the best ways to learn Japanese?

Best Podcasts

Best for: Beginner

Learn Japanese Pod is an easy-to-follow podcast primarily geared toward people in the early stages of their Japanese journey. If you are just getting started or want explanations provided in English, I suggest giving this podcast a listen.

Some of the episodes contain slow dialogue in Japanese so that you can hear the episode’s target vocabulary in action.

Best for: Intermediate

Let’s learn Japanese from small talk! is a great podcast for advanced beginner or intermediate Japanese language learners. The two hosts are youthful, high-energy friends who speak almost entirely in Japanese about various topics. Each episode concludes with a run down of the key vocabulary so that you can review what you learned.

I like this podcast as a casual and fun way to strengthen my listening comprehension skills.

Best for: Intermediate / Advanced

YUYUの日本語Podcast is hosted entirely in Japanese and is a fantastic podcast option for intermediate or advanced Japanese learners. The host speaks at a natural pace about a variety of topics using a wide range of phrases and vocabulary. If you already have a solid foundation of listening comprehension, I recommend this podcast as a way to challenge your fluency level.

Best TV Shows

Tokyo Girl (on Amazon Prime Video)

Best for: All Levels

Tokyo Girl is a quality Japanese drama about a Japanese woman who moves to Tokyo in her early twenties. The series follows the main character as her priorities and experiences change over the decades.

I love this show because in addition to providing a great opportunity to listen to Japanese, the show highlights the various neighborhoods that the woman moves to in Tokyo. If you are interested in learning more about Tokyo, I highly recommend watching Tokyo Girl to see the different neigbhorhoods through the lens of a local character.

Challenge yourself by switching to Japanese subtitles or removing subtitles all together.

The Naked Director (on Netflix)

Best for: All Levels (note that this show contains a lot of explicit content)

The Naked Director is a provocative comedy-drama based on the true story of Toru Muranishi, a pioneering Japanese adult-film director of the 1980s. The characters speak quickly and colloquially so watching the show is a great way to get exposed to casual Japanese.

Since the story is about the adult film industry, the content is often explicit. I wouldn’t recommend this show for children.

Challenge yourself by turning on Japanese subtitles or removing subtitles all together.

Old Enough! (on Netflix)

Best for: All Levels

Old Enough! is an adorable reality TV show where Japanese toddlers and young children run errands by themselves for the first time. The anxious parents wait at home while the children face triumphs and challenges on their errands.

Old Enough! is probably my favorite feel-good show available in any language and is a great way to listen to relatively simple, childhood-centric Japanese. The series showcases different regions of Japan, so you can also learn about various towns and what they are known for.

Challenge yourself by turning on Japanese subtitles or removing subtitles all together.

Best Textbooks


Best for: Beginner to Advanced Intermediate

Japanese for Busy People is one of the most popular Japanese language learning series in the world. The three-part series focuses on grammar, vocabulary, and building foundational conversational and reading skills.

Most of the Japanese language schools that I’ve looked into use the Japanese for Busy People books as part of their course material.

Best Apps

LingoDeer

Best for: Beginner / Intermediate

I used LingoDeer for the past two years to help my Japanese reading comprehension as well as improve my grammar through drill training.

I like the app because its lessons are separated into bite-sized, gamified themes. LingoDeer is a fun way to incorporate 10-20 minutes of studying throughout your day. Since it’s a mobile app, you can easily study from almost anywhere (like while commuting, waiting in a line, or laying on your couch).

Best Teachers

Best for: All Levels

Meguro Language Center is a Tokyo-based Japanese language school that offers both in-person and online classes. I personally use a teacher from this school for weekly private lessons.

Meguro Language Center is the best Japanese language school I’ve tried because of its customizable and flexible approach. I told the teacher my goals (increased conversational and reading ability with less focus on writing) and she adjusts each class to meet my pace and objectives. For those who are interested in passing one of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), Meguro Language Center offers specific courses and curriculums to follow.

Best for: All Levels

Coto Japanese Academy is one of the most popular Japanese language schools in Tokyo and also offers online classes.

I took 8 classes from Coto Japanese Academy and had mixed feelings. The school and curriculum are very organized, but I found that the teachers weren’t very willing to customize the courses for me in neither group or private classes. For example, if we finished the designated chapter for the day early, the teacher didn’t let me move ahead of schedule (and this was in a private lesson). That said, I know many people who had extremely positive experiences with Coto Japanese Academy. so that is why I still include this school on my recommended list.

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