Learning Japanese?? I was originally going to review LingoDeer’s Chinese lessons next, but I was contacted by the team who developed the app and the lessons after the read my review on the Korean course. They asked if I was learning Japanese and, if so, if I could do a similar review for the Japanese course (please note that I have never done any sort of sponsored review or anything like that; I review what I want and I review them honestly). I said I would, so here we are! Maybe this will get me back on track with studying Japanese, anyway. Those of you who were around during this blog’s early stages will remember I was studying Japanese for a while, but I had to abandon it because I just didn’t have enough time ㅠㅠ Welp, it’s time to start again!
I do want to note that, other than the obvious language difference between this review and my review of LingoDeer’s Korean course, there is also a huge difference in my perspective between both of these reviews. Having studied Korean for over seven years now, my LingoDeer Korean review was done more from a been-there-done-that perspective. A lot of my intuition as not only a long-term Korean learner but also a Korean grammar blogger and a language teacher went into it. However, I am nowhere near the same level in Japanese, so this review is written from much more of a beginning learner perspective, with a bit of my teacher brain as far as what is and isn’t effective for language learning thrown in.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s jump on in!
What is LingoDeer?
LingoDeer is a language-learning app for the three major east Asian languages, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese. It is developed by teachers of those three languages, so that’s pretty cool!
Very first impressions
As I said in my review of LingoDeer (Korean), the LingoDeer app’s design and interface is very clean and visually appealing. I do get some loading screens still, but none of them are super long unless I’m on my home Wifi. I’d been thinking about maybe getting a new, stronger router anyway…
Learning Hiragana and Katakana
You can start with learning Hiragana and Katakana, or you can just skip it and go straight to learning the actual grammar and other material. For the sake of this review (and since my Katakana memory has always been pretty bad), I did the Hiragana and Katakana courses.
Before you start a level in the Alphabet section, you can flip a toggle for whether you want to learn Hiragana or Katakana. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter since they are presented together and you will be asked to match the corresponding Hiragana and Katakana. I have actually never used a source that teaches them together in this way, and I really like it because it made it easier for me to remember the Katakana. The main differences between doing one writing system vs. the other (for example, choosing to do them in Katakana mode instead of Hiragana) is that you will only be presented with stroke order diagrams for the set you chose, and they will occur more frequently. At the end of the day, the choice is yours.
Again, the sound files in this app are really great, so you can hear the sounds very clearly. My only real issue with the Hiragana/Katakana-learning exercises is when you have to match multiple pairs at once. There are a few screens like that at the end of each level, and if you want to hear the readout of the sounds as you do them, you have to flip a toggle on the screen because the sound is off by default. Since this is a language learning app, I really think it would make more sense to have the sound on by default. Also, you have to flip the toggle every new screen rather than flipping it once and that being your setting for the level. Having to flip it every single time just to get the automatic audio got annoying pretty quickly.
Just as the Korean course had extensive Hangul charts, there are interactive Hiragana and Katakana charts in the Japanese course. You can click on the individual spaces to have the sounds read out, which I liked. However, there seems to be a little bug such that sometimes when I go to the charts they don’t read out when I press the spaces. In those cases, I have to restart the app for the charts to work properly.
Finally, there are notes explaining the Japanese writing system, and they’re quite extensive! This app certainly does give a lot of information.
Getting in to learning
This app is currently structured 100% for beginners in the sense that you must start with the first level. There is no way to test up into a higher level. This test up feature is there in other comparable apps, so its absence here is very noticeable. Until such a function is added in, anyone who wants to use this app will have to do the lower levels.
All of the actual learning levels have grammar notes at the beginning, which you can access if you swipe to the tile left of the first lesson tile. I think it would make more sense to have the notes tile be the first one you see, as it is easy to miss and the notes give a ton of important information that beginning learners really should read. The notes are detailed and very helpful, but there are some typos here and there, and I noticed some unusual Romaji (though I’m not sure if it’s just that they were using a different Romaji system… are there multiple Romaji systems??). The word for “China,” which I had always seen before in Romaji as “ch(y)uugoku,” was written as “tyuugoku,” which threw me off.
In-course Kana display
When you get into the learning levels, you can choose how you want writing to be displayed! You can go for full on normal Japanese writing with the Kanji and all, Kanji with Hiragana (my setting), Hiragana only, Romaji only, Hiragana and Romaji… you can choose what would suit your needs best and adjust as you become more comfortable reading Japanese.
As for actually learning, there is a variety of activities including word-picture matching, listening and choosing the right answer, inserting grammatical elements into the right places, and unscrambling sentences, and more. I just wish the learning levels had some speaking practice! I’ve said it many, many times before, but HelloChinese is a similarly structured app that has speaking practice built into all of its levels. If LingoDeer also had it, I would be so happy! Also, as I mentioned in my LingoDeer (Korean) review, this app is fairly quiet. It does not automatically read out sentences for you on some screens, and there is no indication given that you can access audio for those screens. It would be nice if there was maybe a little play button or an option for automatic audio playback.
One other little bone I have to pick is that, when doing syllable-by-syllable unscrambling of sentences, the app starts indicating what the first syllable you pick should be within about three seconds. Maybe some people like the hints, but I could do without them for sure. I would be happy if the time to hinting was increased, or if I could turn it off completely.
Upon completion of a level, you can get up to five stars. When you first start studying, you set a goal for how many stars you want to get each day. If you choose the lowest possible number (five) and do a single level perfectly, your study for the day is complete.
Overall, I like the structure of the lessons and the pacing. I could definitely see myself using this app long term!
Review and stats
(This section is more or less copypasta from my previous review. Feel free to skip it if you read that one!)
If you want to go back and review vocab or grammar flashcards, there is a section for that. The review questions are the same as the regular level questions. You can choose to do a single lesson, or you can combine lessons for a comprehensive review. Also, there is spaced repetition listening practice, which is pretty cool. You can choose how you want the words and sentences presented, with Japanese, the English translation, or just the audio and no writing. After listening, you can reveal the correct answer and rate your recall/performance “weak,” “good,” or “perfect.” You can also choose if you want a word or sentence-focused review. Seems like a good feature.
As for stats, you can check how long your learning streak has been ongoing. It even tells you how long you have studied for, as well! There are some little achievement badges for things like learning time and streaks also. You can also set a time for reminders to study if you would like. However, I notice that the app does not sync to your phone’s clock but some other clock. Maybe it’s the time of the app’s server time? So, for example, if I use the app in the morning here in Korea, it will still count any stars I get to the previous day due to the time difference. There is not an option to change the app’s clock to sync to your time zone.
Oh, and there is offline learning! You can download the course and take it with you if you are, say, going on a flight or off to some remote area where there is no internet or cell service!
LingoDeer’s Japanese course is really fun and easy to use! The grammar notes are very informative, and the lessons are not too heavy. New learners can take on Japanese without feeling burdened or intimidated! The pros and cons:
- GREAT audio files
- Lots of good notes and information on grammar
- Spaced repetition practice and flashcards
- Study reminders
- Lessons that are informative and useful without being overwhelming
- Offline learning
- No function to test out of lower levels
- Typos in notes and other places
- App clock not synced to phone clock
- No speaking practice