I've often said that the best learning resources are the ones that you have, and you enjoy using. It's difficult to come up with a list of best language learning apps, as the needs of learners are so varied.
However, through being an iOS user of many years, and a Japanese learner of many years more, I have come across a few applications which have not only solved a problem, but have had some universal appeal.
Android user? Check out our list of best Android Japanese learning apps
WP8 user? Check out our list of best Windows Phone Japanese learning apps
I've linked to iTunes from the screenshots of the applications; they will take you straight to the iTunes store information page.
Not only have they secured the most desirable name on the App Store, the creators of the Japanese dictionary have done the best job I've seen of taking the EDICT dictionary file (the most widely-used Japanese dictionary file) and making it mobile.
I've found the ease of searching and ability to create personalized Japanese word lists invaluable on my trips around Japan when I'm either stuck for the right word, or curious to find out meaning of one I've seen or heard. The kanji information and stroke order diagrams are a serious kanji learner's best friend.
It's certainly worth the asking price of $9.99, especially compared to the fact that a paper dictionary would cost at least three times this amount, and offer a fraction of the usability. If you’re learning Japanese, it’s probably the only ‘must download’ out there.
Philip and I have a great deal of respect for Brian Rak, the author of Human Japanese. Over the past four or five years, he has created an enviable position - he has a fantastic product and a loyal user base.
The application guides a total beginner through the basics of the Japanese language. The interface is smooth, and the writing style is engaging. For somebody who has previously had no exposure to the language, or even learning a foreign language at all, this would be a great tool to have.
Learning on a small screen may be frustrating, and it is necessary to re-buy Human Japanese to use it on other platforms (such as on the iPad, a computer, or another mobile device).
The design of this Japanese app leaves little to be desired, and the confusing mix of kana and romaji is not ideal. What’s more, the annoying advertisement that pops up for the launch screen and spammy ‘free lifetime account’ is positively reprehensible.
However, what can’t be faulted is the content of this app. For a quick summary of a particular grammar point, it’s a great little app to open. The explanations are accurate, and the example sentences are usefully recorded by native speakers. You’ll just have to overlook the shady splash screen and clumsy interface and get to the good stuff yourself!
The title of this app is a little misleading. It won't help you learn Japanese. What it will do however is give you a super little grammar reference guide, which will come in handy for homework, letter writing, or revision of grammar that you've already learned.
I often recommend Tae Kim's grammar reference website because of its logical approach to the grammar, the fact that it uses no romaji and the example sentences are on the whole accurate, and reflective of Japanese as it's used in Japan.
This app demonstrates a really solid attempt at getting the aforementioned on the smaller screen. There are one or two design and UI decisions that are a little frustrating for the user, such as the way that the furigana reading of the kanji are displayed, but all in all it's a pretty easy-to-use little application.
The last application I have only used for a matter of weeks before writing this review, but I am sufficiently impressed to give a recommendation. It’s written by a clearly passionate team, who have thought deeply about their product and how it will be used.
It probably isn’t going to be for everyone, but I see the app as a great supplementary tool for a JLPT-taker. The updates seem to be very frequent, and the app is speedy and responsive, meaning that it’s great for a 60 study second burst in a period of dead time. Good for the intermediate-advanced casual student.
I hope my little round up of Japanese iPhone apps has proved useful. It hasn't been easy making this list, not through lack of choice, but through lack of quality applications out there. Many available on the App Store are either inaccurate, ugly or hideously overpriced. Generally, however—paid apps are almost always of a higher quality than the plethora of free applications out there, and the reviews can often point you in the right direction when making your choice.
How have you gotten on with these Japanese apps? Are there any others which you think I should have included? Link them below!
Update: I really should have included KanjiBox in the top 5 apps. It's hardly elegant, and lacks extensive features, but it's really, really good at testing me on kanji.
Like the teacher at school that sets the toughest tests, you will actually grow to love KanjiBox for the challenge it gives you. Similar-looking kanji are often tested together, and a variety of means of drilling are available, including by 'missing kanji' in a compound.