Japanese is notorious for being one of the hardest foreign languages to learn as an English speaker (alongside Arabic, Chinese and Korean). Not only it is radically different to English, with very little similarities to our own mother tongue, but the entirely different writing system can make it a real nightmare to learn. Yet the question, “how do I learn a foreign language?”, has, unfortunately, a multitude of different answers and there isn’t one simple way of learning a tongue from far-away lands. You could, of course, by just a textbook and learn it yourself, but in this day and age, with our modern technology, there must surely be a more effective and exciting way of learning some conversational Spanish before your trip to the Costa del Sol or, in this case, some Japanese before that big business trip to Japan.
Human Japanese, which has been featured on the front of the App Store, believes that it can help you learn Japanese in a new and intuitive way. At a mere $9.99, it’s certainly less expensive than the options out there (such as Rosetta Stone, which starts at $179 a level) but does a bargain price equate to quality?
Upon launching Human Japanese, you are presented with an introduction to the language, giving you a gist of the grammar (which, apparently, is much easier to learn than English grammar), the syntax of Japanese and the various sounds. Although it’s not vital to learn everything in the introduction, I’d highly recommend taking a read of it as it gives you a great background to this fascinating language.
Wherever any Japanese text comes up, you can click on it to hear it spoken by a native Japanese speaker. Unfortunately there’s no way to slow down the text as it’s spoken and as of the latest version, Human Japanese does not highlight the syllables as they’re pronounced. It’s a minor issue, but one that I would have liked to have seen, as being able to match the sound to the individual character would, in my opinion, have helped me learn it a bit quicker.
Human Japanese is divided up into a number of different chapters (there’s 40 in total) which cover almost every aspect of the Japanese language and way of life. The first two, which we’re going to look at in a bit more detail, cover the fundamentals of Japanese pronunciation and learning the writing system.
Pronunciation and Learning Hiragana
The Pronunciation section of Human Japanese aims to help you replicate the sounds of Japanese by equating them to their closest English equivalent. There are audio recordings by both native Japanese speakers and, to show you how not to pronounce a word, by the app’s developer himself.
However, it is the section on the writing system where Human Japanese really comes alive. This was a section that I was interested in looking at — as the writing system makes Japanese a difficult language to learn — and especially how the app deals with teaching you all the different characters. Fortunately, the results impressed.
The writing system is boiled down into 3 different chapters and works off a drip approach — you are gradually introduced to new characters, rather than having to learn them all at once, which I believe from my own personal experience is a far better method.
You can click on any character within Human Japanese to be shown an animation on how the character is written on paper, which helps you memorise it even more. In my example, we start off with the basic vowel sounds, a, e, i, o and u before progressing onto other sounds, such as ka, ke, ki, ko and ku.
Besides the animations, there are also more detailed guides on writing characters, including some tips from the app’s developer himself, which I feel is a really nice touch.
At the end of each chapter, there are self-quizzes that are designed to help you test your progress and whether you can remember what you have learnt so far.
The rest of the chapters are dedicated to areas of the language that you would expect to learn from any language court, such as greetings, food, directions and so on. The author intersperses cultural background knowledge into the lessons — in the Food chapter, for example, he explains about all the different kinds of Japanese delicacy (interesting side note here: the term sushi actually refers to the rice, not the fish!). Again, within all the different chapters, you can click on the Japanese to hear the pronunciation by a native speaker.
At the end of each chapter, just like above with the writing system, there are vocabulary quizzes, from Japanese into English and vice-versa, to help you test your knowledge and what you’ve learnt in that particular chapter.
Besides from the little observations buried within each chapter, there are chapters dedicated to helping you learn Japanese culture. The app’s developer also shares his experience in Japan (by the sounds of it, he’s travelled the country quite extensively) and I feel that this lends Human Japanese a really nice personal touch, something which you wouldn’t see from a larger app developer or corporation.
There are also individual chapters dedicated to helping you learn Japanese grammar and any new concepts are introduced gradually, from the easy to more advanced stuff.
For a language course, I think Human Japanese is one of the best bargains out there on the App Store, because for $9.99 you can’t get a better deal at that kind of money. The app is so detailed and explains so many features and technicalities to you that you almost become engulfed in its almighty awe — Human Japanese really is an app that you’ll be using every day.
The app therefore gains our highly respected 9 out of 10 rating. Sure, it’s no Rosetta Stone, and it isn’t the de facto way to learn Japanese on your Mac. But, if you want a beautiful and simple overview of this fascinating language, whilst picking up some interesting cultural facts on the way, then Human Japanese really is the way to go. At $9.99, it’s an absolute bargain and I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting to learn Japanese, from young to old.