Education

The Best Apps to Translate and Learn Japanese While Socializing or Gaming for iOS

Deciding on, choosing, and using an app to learn a language is no easy endeavor, yet somehow I know what “lit,” “on fleek,” “ratchet,” “turnt up,” and what “basic” means which clearly demonstrates that I need to reprioritize which part of my vocabulary I want to increase.

duolingo-iphone-screenshot
Duolingo is an example of an app that is not dedicated to one language but multiple languages.

Overview

Going in, I was kind of shocked at how extensive of a range of apps were offered, but you  won’t realize that unless you put in an extensive amount of research in. It is also why I put this overview together to save you the time, so that you can start where you need to with the right app.

Type:
  • Dictionaries: a great resource for anybody learning a language to fall back on.
  • Translator: online and offline capabilities that will allow you to use your app with or without an internet connection.
  • Learning: these type of apps are at the core of learning a new language.
  • Learning games: most of the apps are somewhat of a game although these will specifically have a point or scoring structure.
  • Social learning: apps that pair you up or match you with others to chat, so that you can learn and practice through interaction/conversation.
Focus:
  • Multi-language: the vast majority of large app developers produce multilingual products, yet they seem to be very capable.
  • Japanese only: there are few apps out there highly specialized in one language only.
Cost:
  • Free: yup, free although like your parents said “nothing comes free in life,” so they’re up to something which is either your data or you being inundated with a number of ads.
  • Paid (upfront): one upfront fee for the app.
  • In-app purchases: upfront, these apps are free, but to make full use, they often require that you pay for access for additional evels/lessons.

drops-labs
I like easy to use interfaces that don’t make learning an even thougher challenge.
As Usual, I’m a Noob:

Let me state that I feel the best person to suggest to you which app to use is by somebody who has successfully learned nihongo (Japanese) from one of these apps. That is unfortunately not me although I am trying to research the hell out of it, but I will need your help and your suggestions on what you found to work for you. So if you can, please leave a comment with your suggestion because it’ll help to build this page into an actual useful resource.

The List:

I’m going to list the top rated and reviewed apps within their given segment although I should note that rankings/reviews are not the best metric (some sellers know how to incentivize their audience for positive reviews).

The Approach:

It is almost already a given that you should learn hiragana (phonetic lettering system) first, followed by katakana (usually used to spell foreign words) and the dreaded kanji (the easy stuff, hahaha). Relying on romaji is not the way to go, and these tools will help you in doing just that.

lingodeer_japanese-screenshots
This app reigns supreme on so many levels… it’s making the others look they’re not even trying.

Dictionaries

  • Japanese (more than a dictionary)
    Rating/Reviews:
    4.7, 625
    Cost: free
    Seller: Mark Gansicke
    Languages: English, Japanese
    Size: 326 MB
    Comment: n/a
  • Imiwa?
    Rating/Reviews: 
    4.7, 58
    Cost: free
    Seller: Pierre-Philipp di Costanzo
    Languages: English, Japanese, +7 others
    Size: 964 MB
    Comment: n/a
  • Midori
    Rating/Reviews:
    4.9, 49
    Cost: $9.99
    Seller: Sukolsak Sakshuwong
    Languages: English, Japanese
    Size: 171.8 MB
    Comment: n/a

Translators

  1. iTranslate Translator 
    Rating/Reviews: 4.7, 73.8k (#11 in Productivity)
    Cost: 
    In-app purchases from $4.99, $6.99, $9.99, $14.99, to $39.99
    Seller: iTranslate GmbH
    Languages: English, Japanese, and 22 more
    Size: 138.5 MB
    Comment: n/a
  2. Google Translate 
    Rating/Reviews: 4.5, 18.9k
    Seller:
    Google
    Cost: Free
    Languages: English, Japanese and 58 more
    Size: 48.1 MB
    Comment: n/a
  3. Translator with Speech 
    Rating/Reviews:
    4.7, 3.81k
    Cost: 
    In-app purchases from .99 cents to $2.99
    Seller: Sparkling apps BV
    Languages: English, Japanese, and 5 more
    Size: 27.3 MB
    Comment: their app icon looks like a spin-off of the Rolling Stones tongue and lip logo by John Pasche.
  4. Camera translator: translate+
    Rating/Reviews: 
    4.5, 2.43k 
    Cost: 
    in-app purchases from $2.99, $9.99, $48.99, and $14.99
    Seller: Vulcan Lab Company Limited
    Languages: English, Japanese, +5 more
    Size: 49 MB
    Comment: n/a
  5. Translate 360: Voice & Photo
    Rating/Reviews:
    4.4, 1.07k
    Cost: 
    In-app purchases from $3.99, $9.99, $49.99, $11.99
    Seller: Vulcan Labs Company Limited
    Languages: English, Japanese
    Size: 42.4 MB
    Comment: n/a

Learning

  1. Duolingo
    Rating/Reviews: 
    4.7, 220k
    Cost: 
    Free
    Seller: Duolingo
    Languages: English, Japanese, and 9 more
    Size: 70.4 MB
    Comment: now, this is the app where you’ll have high expectations because it is #1 in education on the iTunes app store. If that was not enough, it is also the editor’s choice, and it has been written up by the WSJ, Forbes, Time, the NYT. Seeing all the publicity it has had could mean they just have a really good PR person who knows how to write a press release, or that the app really is a 4.7 with 220,000 reviews, and 200 million learners on the platform overall.
  2. Learn Japanese Easily
    Rating/Reviews: 
    4.6, 9.86k
    Cost: 
    .99 cents per lesson bundle, 5 bundles total.
    Seller: Wan Peng
    Languages: English
    Size: 44.8 MB
    Comment: this is an older app and it looks like it, but it looks like they have kept up with the optimizations because the most recent was in Dec 20th, of 2017 for iOS 11 (version 1.8.0).
  3. Learn Japanese, Korean, Chinese – RECOMMENDED
    Rating/Reviews: 
    4.9, 5.68k
    Cost: 
    Free….. wuh, seriously? How is something “free,” what’s the hook?
    Seller: LingoDeer Co., Ltd,
    Languages: English, Japanese, and 9 more
    Size: 106.6 MB
    Comment: FREE! a cool looking deer wearing glasses in a mustard yellow tone, so what is there not to like? They must be up to something…. something good that is because from what I can tell, I like this app on so many levels, but I’ll start with the superficial one. I love the way it looks, the visual design looks very refined, the interface never makes you feel lost or wondering what to do. Now, I finally get what they are up to, now I know what the hook is, once you try it, you’ll get hooked.
  4. Learn Japanese!! (only two exclamation marks)
    Rating/Reviews: 4.7, 1.3k
    Cost: Free with in-app purchases from $1.99 to $3.99 per level, prices vary per level  although all lessons are $7.99
    Seller: Howell Peebles
    Languages: English
    Size: 45.9 MB
    Comment: this is a very good app which is backed by the number of reviews and positive reviews and my only nitpick is the writing tutorial. You can be sort of sloppy which works sometimes, but it can be fairly  hard to use vs. Drops below which provides you a grid to write things out which helps when visualizing how to write out a character.
  5. Learn Japanese by Drops – RECOMMENDED
    Rating/Reviews: 
    4.7, 497
    Cost: 
    from $2.99 to $64.99
    Seller: PlanB Labs OU
    Languages: English
    Size: 102 MB
    Comment: I am very impressed by this app the most, and I probably use it out of all of them (my favorite of them all). The part I like is the interface and how you interact with it, everything is very intuitive, along with being very visually appealing in a minimalist way. The way it works if you don’t pay, is that you can use the app for a number of minutes per day which cycles.
  6. Learn Japanese!!!
    Rating/Reviews: 4.3, 70
    Cost: Free with in-app purchases from $3.99 to $5.99
    Seller: Howell Peebles
    Languages: English and Japanese
    Size: 171.2 MB
    Comment: first two lessons are free and my only issue with this app is the user interface. It definitely is not that visually appealing although it is somewhat effective, but I do not like how they designed the buttons. The “ok” (rectangular bar) and “sound” (small round button, and not another bar?) buttons are too close together, so you want to make sure you don’t hit the wrong one. If they just made the buttons bigger, it would not even be an issue.

Learning Games

  1. Memrise: Language Learning
    Rating/Reviews: 
    4.8, 66.6k
    Cost: 
    $8.99 for 1 month pro to $99.99 lifetime plan.
    Seller: Memrise
    Languages: English and 21 more
    Size: 160.6 MB
    Comment: it looks like a really cool app from the quirky space theme to a point system that  lets you compete against others and not just yourself. That is great, but I think there are a lot of issues although I may be in the minority based upon the ratings. One example is with the conversational part of the app that has me wondering if I’m using the app correctly. I mean, I really want to use this app because it looks fun, but due to some parts like the sound and touch not working supposedly working in areas, I have left it alone due to frustration. If the learning curve is that steep, I’ll be learning how to use this app before I learn Japanese.
  2. Learn Japanese by MindSnacks
    Rating/Reviews: 
    3.6, 369
    Cost: 
    Free with in-app purchases (warning, I don’t think this app is supported, so don’t make any in-app purchases).
    Seller: Mindsnacks (now Elevate?)
    Languages: English
    Size: 57.3 MB
    Comment: I have been trying to find this eff’n app for the longest time because a YouTuber had referenced it, but if you try to do a search for it, it will NEVER come up. Now I’m starting to get why, it’s because the developer has not updated the app since 2015 and people are begging for an update for iOS11 in which the app was designed for iOS 7.1 “or later.” My guess, this company is no longer from their social media feed that has not been updated since 2014 – in fact, the company is now Elevate (based on their address and the co-founders Linkedin). That app BTW is amazing, and very nicely down in terms of their UI and visual design.

Social Learning

  1. HelloTalk Language Exchange
    Rating/Reviews: 4.7, 5.84k
    Cost: 
    In-App Purchases $1.99 pro 1-month membership to $32.99 VIP membership.
    Seller: Hellotalk Foreign Language
    Languages: English and 19 more
    Size: 124.1 MB
    Comment: when I first saw this, it took me a moment to realize that this was a thing. I mean it has been around since at least 2013, but this was all new to me because it’s like going on Tinder, but trying to talk to somebody from a country you’re trying to learn the language of, but they correct your grammar and pronunciation although I wonder if it’s a bunch of thirsty dudes.
  2. Langmate-Chat with Japanese
    Rating/Reviews: 
    4.3, 762
    Cost: 
    .99 cents for 300 cards, $3.99 300 coins, $16.99 and $32.99 for paid members
    Seller: Langmate Inc.
    Languages: English and 3 more
    Size: 56.4 MB
    Comment: Out of the two I have listed here, HelloTalk is the one that comes up all the time in my research although this app touts they have 4 million matches all within 1 hour, more than 350k Japanese people use it, you can specify distance (hey like Tinder), and you can continually use it if you agree to advertisements which reminds me of that Black Mirror episode.

In Conclusion

There are quit a few lists out there such as “best apps..,” “8 great..,” “5 free apps…,” “16 best…,” etc. which pushed me to break down the information in the style I did it in although if you have any feedback, please let me know because I really do enjoy creating resources that help people learn such as myself… and I need all the help I can get.

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