I recently happened across a small collection of basic listening material that some of you might find helpful. There is a collection of Japanese Graded Readers called にほんご多読ブックス (not to be confused with the more well-known レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー series of readers). While I strongly recommend these types of books for learners, they are quite expensive. However, it looks like you can download audio of the books completely free! There are several hours of simplified Japanese audio here, so it could be well worth your time to check it out. Of course, this is no substitute for the real product, but it can at least give your listening skills a workout!
Wouldn’t it be great if Netflix offered lots of awesome Japanese content? Well actually, they do! They just like to keep it hidden away. Almost every Netflix Original is dubbed into Japanese, and contains Japanese subtitles as well. But in order to access it, you may first need to change Netflix’s language setting to Japanese.
If you are just browsing Netflix in English, you probably wont find Japanese audio options anywhere. I recently started seeing Japanese subtitle options start appearing, but until recently, those were hidden away too.
So to change this, all you need to do is go into Account Settings, then look for the Language option, and then you can select 日本語. That’s all there is to it! Now, Netflix’s entire interface will be changed to Japanese. And, when you check the available audio and subtitle options…
And now you can watch all your favorites in Japanese!
Furthermore, you can use the following link to specifically seek out shows that have either Japanese subtitles or Japanese audio: https://www.netflix.com/browse/subtitle/ja
If the link takes you to a login page, you will need to login and then click the link again.
JapanesePod101.com has thousands of audio tracks, pdf documents, and videos that you can easily download all at once through an XML feed. But, the files all have cryptic filenames and the MP3s have inconsistent, missing, or altogether wrong ID3 tags, which make it impossible to know what’s what! If you try sorting things by filename, lessons from a particular season don’t even get grouped together or appear in order! Its a total mess!!
So, I’m going to walk you through the process of getting things cleaned up and organized!
Download the files
First of all, you need to download the files from JapanesePod101.com. Premium members can use the “My Feed” option to set up a feed that contains all the files you want. If you don’t currently have an account with JapanesePod101.com, I would recommend reading my review of it, which tells you how to sign up for a free trial of their premium service.
You can then use the feed to download the files to your computer. I suppose most people use iTunes. Juice seems to be another popular podcast downloading tool, but I couldn’t get it to work on my computer. I had success using RSS Owl to download the podcasts.
Renaming the files
Since the format of the filenames does not remain consistent, standard file renaming tools are not much help here. Completely frustrated, I resorted to making my own program to rename the files. I will share it here, but it only runs on Windows, though I will include the source code if you would like to try porting it to another system.
Also please note, that this program was only made for my personal use, so it has NOT been thoroughly tested or debugged. It is entirely possible that you could lose your files, or it could rename/damage something unrelated. That shouldn’t happen though, but just be warned that I take no responsibility! Again, the source code will be there if you want to inspect it.
And before you begin, BACK UP YOUR FILES BEFORE RUNNING THIS PROGRAM ON THEM!!!
This program will basically turns filenames like this: 215_B108_081006_jpod101_dialog.mp3
Into something like this: Beginner Lesson #108 – A Way with Words – Dialog.mp3
First, you need to download a copy of the XML file that Japanesepod101.com uses for their RSS feed. This can be obtained from the “My Feed” area of their website. If you can’t figure out how to actually download a copy of the xml file to your pc, try emailing the url to yourself. This will give you a link that you can right-click on and then “save as”. Next, you need to have actually downloaded the files from this RSS feed onto your PC (for example, the actual mp3 or pdf files). The files should all be collected into a single folder.
Then, open up JapanesePodRenamer, and click the “Select Folder” button to select the folder your files are stored in.
Then press the “Select XML” button to select the XML file that you downloaded. When you do this, you should see the list fill up with filenames and titles that were extracted from the XML file. This has no purpose other than verifying that you loaded a valid file.
Finally, after making sure you have first backed up your content, press the “Rename” button, and your files will get renamed.
Once the files have been renamed, it shouldn’t take you long to manually sort them all out into separate folders if you want to. I would highly recommend it, as it will make the process of correcting the ID3 tags a bit easier.
Correcting ID3 Tags
Now for the final step, correcting the ID3 tags, so that the MP3 files will show up with correct titles, album, and so on. While there are numerous programs out there for editing these tags, I found that the best one for me was MP3Tag. It is a Windows program, but apparently can run on OS X and Linux through Wine.
Now, I’m not going to write up a full tutorial to the program itself, as I’ll leave that for you to figure out. The program is pretty straightforward though. But basically, first you want to make sure that the “Album” tag is named for the title of the Season that the lesson comes from. For example, Newbie Season 2 will have some files that have the album listed as “Newbie Lesson S2”, and some just listed as “Newbie Lesson”. If you have correctly sorted all of the seasons lessons into a folder, then this is as simple as selecting all of that folder’s files within MP3Tag, and then batch edit the Album title for them on the left side pane.
You might also see that many of the titles are not consistent, with some having the season title before the lesson title, while some don’t.There are two buttons along the row at the top of the application which can help with this, which say “Tag – Filename” and “Filename – Tag” when you hover over them. These can either rename the files based on information from one of the tags (you would use the title tag of course), or you can rename the title tag based on the filenames, whichever might work better for a given situation. You might need to manually rename some things here or there. You will find that Newbie Season 1 is definitely the worst offender as far as things being inconsistent.
Track numbers can also be out of order. Once you have them all sorted by filename, you can easily fix the track numbers using the button along the top row that says “Autonumbering Wizard” when you hover over it.
Once you are finished, give yourself a pat on the back, and start practicing your Japanese listening!
JapanesePod101.com has a lot of content, and it’s fairly difficult to navigate. It’s organized quite poorly, and there is no indication of which lessons are redundant or have been superseded by others. A lot of the older lessons are quite poor, and would likely turn many people off from the site. And unfortunately, those very lessons are the first ones that a new user would be likely to gravitate towards, based on the site’s design.
When Naomi-sensei joined the JapanesePod101.com crew, she basically started over with new lessons from scratch, making a fantastic series that progresses in a logical manner, builds on previous material, and becomes increasingly more difficult as it goes. Unfortunately, the seasons containing these lessons are sort of just mixed in all over the place. Her series is officially called “Nihongo Dojo” and includes Newbie Seasons 2-3 and Beginner 4-6, but I recommend a few other seasons in addition to the core Nihongo Dojo series. So before I get on to the reviews, I would like to just point out my recommended path.
*My Recommended Path*
The following lessons are what I recommend that you follow, based on my own experience going through the lessons. Remember that this is just my opinion. I encourage you to read my comments below about any seasons that are not included in my recommended path, and also feel free to try out those lessons yourself if you want.
1) Newbie Seasons 2 + 3 OR Newbie Season 4 (if you don’t feel confident about the material, do both)
2) Newbie Season 5
3) Particles (classified under “Bonus Courses”)
4) Beginner Seasons 4-6
5) Japanese for Everyday Life Lower Intermediate
6) Lower Intermediate Seasons 2-6 (in reverse order)
7) Advanced Audio Blog Season 1
8) Upper Intermediate Seasons 1-5
9) Advanced Audio Blog Seasons 2-6
And now, for the complete season reviews! If you would like to know my thoughts on JapanesePod101.com as a whole, you can read my review of the service here: JapanesePod101.com Review
Japanese Culture Classes
This one is pretty fun. You wont learn any Japanese other than maybe a handful of words, but as the title says, you will learn about different aspects of Japanese culture. Depending on just how much you already know about Japanese culture, this might be helpful or it might just be a waste of time. At the very least, I would recommend looking over the lesson titles to see if any catch your eye.
“Absolute Beginner” Section
Survival Phrases Seasons 1 – 2
These lessons are not designed for someone who is learning Japanese for the long-haul. They are either for the person who will just be taking a short trip to Japan, or for someone who already found themselves in Japan without any language ability and needs to get up to speed on basic things as quickly as possible. They will basically teach you useful phrases for various situations, but without really explaining anything grammar-wise.
Newbie Season 1
To put it bluntly, don’t waste your time on this first season from the Newbie series. It almost has too many problems to count. On top of the uninteresting dialogues that don’t really relate much to real life, there is very little focus and structure. Fairly difficult material keeps creeping into the lessons, and the host even keeps acknowledging it on numerous occasions, saying things like “maybe this isn’t really newbie level…” By the time we get to the end, the dialogs have turned into a convoluted story about a secret agent suffering from amnesia. Even though my own knowledge is well above the newbie level, I found this difficult to follow in parts. Also, there are discrepancies in the number of lessons. By the time you get to the last lesson, they are calling it lesson “30”, but there are only 27 lessons listed. It doesn’t really feel like anything is missing, so I’m not sure what the cause of this discrepancy is. Also, the downloaded files had BOTH lessons 6 and 7 labeled as lesson 7, making it appear that lesson 6 was missing. So if you aren’t careful, you could end up listening to 6 and 7 out of order. They should absolutely remove all traces of this season from their website, because it gives a bad image of their entire product. I can only imagine how many people must have given up on them after trying this season.
Newbie Seasons 2 – 3
Now this is certainly a welcome change of pace. This is the start of the excellent Nihongo Dojo series by Naomi-sensei. It starts off assuming zero knowledge of Japanese, and takes you through a lot of the basics, with each lesson building upon the last, and teaching you how to talk about quite a diverse range of topics. The dialogues are fairly interesting and employ great voice acting. Season 3 is a direct continuation from season 2, but tends to focus on the most annoying character, which was a bit of a turn off for me. But overall, these two seasons are very solid, and an excellent way to start off.
Newbie Season 4
I’ll start off by saying I like this season, but after the great quality of the last 2 seasons, which offer the listener a direct pathway to more advanced lessons, I must admit that I am a bit perplexed as to why they would go back and start over from the beginning again. This season gives you a solid foundation, starting off assuming zero knowledge of Japanese. If you worked through seasons 2 & 3, then this just gives you another perspective on many of the same things. These lessons are very well designed though, and the topics feel more relevant to daily life than the previous seasons. I believe the grammar that is taught here is roughly the same as what is in contained in the previous seasons, so technically, I believe you should be able to start off on this season, and then progress to the later Nihongo Dojo lessons. In comparison to Seasons 2 & 3, I found this season to be easier, because the dialogs tend to be slower paced. That is also a downside though, because you usually wont hear full native-like speed. I also found the voice acting in this season to be completely dry and monotone.
Newbie Season 5
This season takes things off in a slightly different direction, focusing primarily on informal speech and the differences from formal speech. This is a great follow up to either season 4 or seasons 2 & 3. Highly recommended if you feel that you need some additional practice with informal speech.
Absolute Beginner Seasons 1 – 2
This series is designed for people who have no previous Japanese knowledge, similar to the Newbie series. However, Absolute Beginner progresses much more slowly and doesn’t cover much material. In a way, its a bit similar to Survival Phrases, in that they tend to focus more on set phrases than grammar. I would only recommend this if you try the Newbie series first and find that it is too difficult for you. I could see this series being a good way to get your feet wet if you just want to take things slowly.
Beginner Seasons 1 – 3
These are the original lessons that Japanesepod101.com started off with, and you can definitely tell that they didn’t have everything completely planned out too well from the start. The lessons sometimes seem a bit random in their content, and the difficulty level jumps around a bit. There also tends to be quite a bit of random chatter throughout some of these lessons that wastes your time. Many of the dialogues and topics are fairly boring. I tried to go through this twice in the past and gave up both times. The actual dialogs can get fairly difficult, but the grammar points stay fairly basic. In most of these lessons, they tend to keep everything in formal dialog, and sometimes offer an informal dialog track as a bonus. It doesn’t seem like a bad idea in theory, but its really weird when people are talking formally in situations where it’s clear that they shouldn’t be. By the time season 3 came around, they had fixed most of their problems, but it was too little, too late. I would not recommend listening to these unless you really just want more listening practice from the dialogs, and in that situation I would still skip season 1 altogether.
Beginner Seasons 4 – 6
This is a continuation of the Nihongo Dojo series that started off with Newbie seasons 2 & 3. It is very well structured with each lesson building upon the previous ones, so you get an excellent foundation in the beginner level topics. There is definitely a bit of a difficulty jump from the Newbie lessons, so make sure your fundamentals are solid before proceeding! These are overall just good solid lessons, so there’s not really much else for me to say about them.
Lower Beginner Seasons 1 – 2
This is another series that I don’t really see the point of. It starts off with the absolute basics again, and really covers a lot of the same stuff that you find in the Newbie series, but in a less structured manner. The dialogs are ok, but I hate the lessons parts that are in English because they TALK. SO. SLOW. The short Japanese dialogs are actually quicker and more natural sounding than their English. Did they get confused and think this was Englishpod101.com or what? If you just want some extra practice after finishing the Newbie series and before starting into the Beginner lessons, this wont hurt, but I don’t really think it’s a necessity.
Upper Beginner Season 1
A little bit more difficult than the other beginner lessons, these all focus on various announcements that you might hear in public places. As such, there is lots of keigo. I found this series to be a bit boring for me, so I skipped it. For someone who lives in Japan, this can be useful though. It’s also not bad if you want more practice with keigo.
Business Japanese for Beginners
This series has a lot in common with the “Absolute Beginner” series. It basically just goes over a set phrase or two each episode and explains situations where you might use it. The difficulty looks to be on par with the newbie series, but it is focused more around the workplace. There is not a lot here that you wont pick up from other lessons, but it has the advantage of being grouped together, which might be useful for someone who will start working in Japan soon. If this sounds interesting to you, I would try to work this series in somewhere before the other beginner lessons, but after the newbie lessons. If you aren’t interested in business or phrases used around the workplace, I would recommend skipping this.
Must-know Japanese Social Media Phrases
This series is very similar in style and difficulty to the Business Japanese course. Each short lesson basically just presents one phrase that someone might post on social media, than a handful of responses that people might post to it. I found it pretty interesting because its a type of casual talking that doesn’t really come up much in any of the other lessons.
Must-Know Japanese Sentence Structures
Sigh. Nothing terribly useful here. At best, just a refresher course after doing a couple other Beginner courses.
Japanese for Everyday Life Lower Intermediate
Now this series works a little differently from most of the others. Instead of having a dialog at the beginning that then gets explained to you, this series is more interactive and prompts you to try making your own sentences. It focuses on a lot of situations that you might encounter in daily life in Japan, and its designed so that you can be flexible in your responses for situations that don’t just have one set answer, such as customizing a meal at a restaurant. It is less difficult than other Lower Intermediate seasons, so its a good choice once you graduate from the beginner lessons. I really hope they make more seasons of this in the future.
Lower Intermediate Season 1
I don’t recommend this season. See my comments for “Intermediate Season 1” and “Beginner Season 1”. Most of the same comments apply.
Lower Intermediate Seasons 2-5
These seasons are all… okay. They aren’t bad for the most part, but they aren’t as good as some of the other seasons either. It does kinda hit hard though because the difficulty is really ramping up at this point. The line-by-line study option on the Japanesepod101 site became my best friend while going through these. You could really do these in any order that you want, because there isn’t really any progression from one season to the next. I recommend doing them in reverse order though, because the later lessons just felt more useful to me, but this was just my opinion. They are also phasing out the English commentary and explanations now, but the lessons are still mostly English.
Lower Intermediate Season 6
This season is designed to bridge the gap from Beginner to Lower Intermediate. So basically this is supposed to come before the other Lower Intermediate seasons. There is definitely a jump up in difficulty from the beginner lessons though, so make sure to review those dialogs until you are comfortable with them before going on. They no longer read a slow version of the dialog, and the dialogs are spoken at a rapid pace.
Intermediate Season 1
The intermediate series is one of the first series that was produced, so it exhibits a lot of the same problems that we see in most of the other early series. This one seems to have a ton of goofing off and messing around, especially in the earlier lessons. Also, the vast majority of lessons do not even have a supplemental dialog track at the time of this writing (July 2015). The length and difficulty of the lessons is also all over the place. Lesson 61, which is the first to include a dialog track, features a crazily difficult dialog that is almost five minutes long! And then shortly after, they are doing much easier 1-minute dialogs. There also isn’t a lot of in depth explanation of the Japanese. It feels like most of the lesson is just the hosts running through the vocabulary list and saying the words in Japanese and English. I can read that myself off the website, so what am I listening to the lesson for? For this, my recommendation is the same as with all the older lessons—just skip it.
Upper Intermediate Seasons 1-5
All 5 seasons of upper intermediate feel about similar in their quality and level of difficulty. I don’t see any glaring problems with them, and they feels quite solid and well-made. The biggest difference that you will find from the previous seasons, is that the lesson and discussion is almost entirely in Japanese now. There is not much new grammar that didn’t appear in Lower Intermediate, but the vocabulary used in the dialogs is significantly more difficult. Rather than sticking with general vocabulary, they use a lot of more specific and less common words, sort of like what you would encounter in the news. The length of the dialogs is similar or just slightly longer than the ones from Lower Intermediate. I felt like this is currently above my level, so I have not personally studied most of these lessons in depth. The big problem for me is that the lesson discussion feels just as difficult as the dialogs, since its entirely Japanese. I feel like you need to be at a point where you are able to hold conversations without much difficulty before you can gain a whole lot from this series.
Advanced Audio Blog Season 1
Based on my reactions to the first season of several of the other series, you would probably think I hate this one, right? Actually, I think this is a great season! As it starts off, these are basically just dialogs (well, monologues actually) and nothing else. There are over 100 of them here, and they cover a really diverse range of interesting topics. The vocabulary and grammar feels no more difficult than what you would expect from the Lower Intermediate series, but they are about twice as long. It’s really JUST the dialog being read once straight through, and that’s it. There is no English audio, slow audio, or anything like that. Those would have been nice additions, but they do still have both Japanese and English transcripts available, and everything is there in the Line-by-line audio tool as well. Around lesson 70, they start adding some discussion around the dialogs (entirely in Japanese), and I found the discussion to be much more difficult to understand than the dialogs themselves. If you can understand the discussion sections, great, but otherwise you wont miss much by just focusing only on the dialog parts.
Advanced Audio Blog Seasons 2-6
These seasons of the Advanced Audio Blog series are significantly more difficult than the first season, and are definitely deserving of the “Advanced” label. There is a lot of advanced vocabulary, and there is Japanese-only discussion around every episode. Honestly, I think if you are at the point where you can understand this stuff, then you have long been fluent enough to enjoy plenty of other native materials like television programs or native Japanese podcasts. These lessons mostly seem to focus more around teaching you cultural things rather than the language itself. I am not at this level yet myself, so please take this opinion with a grain of salt!
“Bonus Courses” Section
JLPT Seasons 1-3
These are… okay, but nothing special. If you are planning to take the JLPT, then these can give you some extra practice and help you get prepared, but they are by no means a replacement for a real JLPT prep course. If you aren’t planning to take the test, I would skip them.
Japanese Children’s Songs
Consider this bonus course more of a fun distraction. This isn’t going to teach you anything relevant to speaking in Japanese, but if you want to learn more about some famous children’s songs, then this is the series for you!
The Japanese love their onomatopoeia! These bonus lessons go through many of them and give you some context on how they are used. While onomatopoeia are not typically considered one of the more difficult aspects of Japanese, this series might be able to help you keep from getting them mixed up, since a lot of them do often seem pretty similar to one another.
I found this one particularly useful. It does a good job of talking about different functions of various particles, and really helps you get a good grip on one of the most important aspects of Japanese grammar. This one is taught by Naomi-sensei. The dialogs are quite short and easy to follow, so I think this fits in pretty well between the Newbie and Beginner series.
Another “Bonus Course”, and also another course that I don’t see the point of. This is an audio lesson about Kanji. How does that work? After listening to a few lessons, I still wasn’t sure myself. Just skip this and leave your kanji studies to some more suitable method.
Japanese Vocab Builder
It’s just lists of vocabulary words read aloud. While I don’t find this very useful for myself, I can see how some people might be able to integrate this into their studies. Each lesson is based around a particular theme, such as “sports” or “furniture.” If you would like to pick up a few new words on various topics, this might make it easy for you.
This page has been last updated as of January 2017. I will try to keep updated with any new seasons that come out in the future.
Note: This will be as unbiased a review as possible. This website contains no affiliate links to JapanesePod101.com, and has no association with them other than having used the product.
JapanesePod101.com has lots of mixed opinions from different people. Some say its great, others say its awful. I used to be pretty firmly in the awful (or at least “pretty bad”) camp, but recently decided to give it another try. Having the great fortune of working at a job where I am able to listen to music all day long, I thought it might be a waste if I couldn’t try to find something to help me improve my Japanese a bit during that time. My listening also happens to be one of my weakest skills in Japanese, so I really wanted to focus on trying to improve it.
I have used JapanesePod101.com in the past, when it was still fairly new, maybe around 2006. At the time, my complaints were mostly the same as those of many other people. This Peter guy who hosted the show was really annoying and had horrible pronunciation. The lessons didn’t really seem to follow a very logical or structured order. The difficulty of the dialogs (in my opinion at least) ramped up in difficulty much more quickly than the underlying grammatical topics that they discussed on the show. They spent a lot of time goofing around instead of discussing the Japanese. They spam the heck out of you and have annoying advertising everywhere, including built into the lessons. Possibly most importantly, many of the things discussed in the show or notes contained errors or had the potential to mislead people about things. For instance, in some of the first lessons, they have you practicing using the word “anata” as a translation for the English “you”, with no explanation at all that Japanese people don’t use this word in the same way an English-speaking person would.
Back when I originally started with JapanesePod101.com, I made it until about lesson 40 of the beginner series. It started getting too difficult for me to follow the dialogs, and I found it really boring as well. I felt that I wasn’t gaining any benefit from it, so stopped listening. A few years later, I went back and tried to go through it again, and I believe I got to around lesson 60 before quitting that time.
Recently I decided that I really wanted to improve my listening skill. While I would consider my reading ability at close to an Intermediate (or about N3) level, my listening ability feels closer to a beginner (N5 or N4) level). I have a decent vocabulary, and I know a good chunk of grammar, but when I hear Japanese it just turns to gobbledegook, and I can’t keep up at all. I searched around for various listening resources that have a large amount of high quality audio which is suited for someone around my level. And honestly, I couldn’t really find anything else.
So, here I go again. I got a 1-month premium trial, and determined that I would make the most of it. I spent around 35 hours per week over the course of the trial listening to the lessons and utilizing additional resources on their website, and I have come to understand that there have definitely been some changes to their service over the years, and almost all of them are for the better.
JapanesePod101.com is basically offered as a podcast, with new lessons being released periodically. These new lessons are available for free, along with a few select lessons from their archives. They have a subscription structure in which you can pay to access older lessons and additional materials through their website. By registering a free account, you will get a 1-week free trial of the premium subscription service, during which time you can download all of their lessons if you desire. Thus, technically all of their lessons are available for free. You might wonder why anyone would bother paying for a subscription then, but don’t worry, I will explain that later.
Supplemental materials (many of which are only available to premium members) include dialog-only audio tracks, PDF lesson notes including transcripts of the dialogs, blog-style comment posting on each lesson so you can ask questions (and get answers), line-by-line audio and transcripts, vocabulary lists and grammar explanations, voice recording so you can compare your accent to the native speakers, customizable RSS feeds to easily download any materials you want, a mobile app, and numerous other things which I personally did not use such as flash cards and reference materials.
They also offer video lessons as well, but many of them are available for free on YouTube, and they tend to be things that I don’t find very useful, like “word of the week” lessons and such.
All in all, I would say that they probably have over 1000 audio lessons at this point, for people at every level from beginners to advanced learners.
While the structure has changed slightly over the years, things generally follow this pattern: present a short dialogue or skit, say it again slowly, say it with English translation, and then discuss the vocabulary and grammar points introduced.
An extremely important thing that I noticed though, is that many of the lessons are completely outdated and have been superseded by much better lessons. However, there is absolutely no indication on their website that I can find which attempts to guide you through the correct order. The website is divided into different sections according to difficulty, like “Absolute Beginner”, “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, etc. Within each section, lessons are further divided up into different seasons. One would be extremely tempted to simply proceed through them in order, starting with Season 1, then moving to Season 2, and so on. However, this would be a huge mistake! You see, the seasons simply indicate the order that the lessons were created, and do NOT indicate a logical progression.
When JapanesePod101.com first started out, it was created by a team of people who were experienced in translation, but they really appear to have not had the slightest clue about how to actually teach very well. Thus, many of those earlier lessons contain the problems I mentioned towards the beginning, and are precisely what I used to hate about JapanesePod101.com. However, at some point, they brought on Naomi-sensei, who is an actual teacher. They let her design her own lessons, and as a result, almost everything that she touched became leaps and bounds better than the older lessons. They also got actual voice actors on board somewhere along the way, who do a great job of making the dialogs sound interesting. Even when Peter participates now, his pronunciation has improved a lot and he is much less annoying. The random chatting about irrelevant things mid-lesson also decreased dramatically. Naomi-sensei’s lessons are basically a complete reboot of the show, starting things over from the very beginning, and taking you up through intermediate level in a structured and logical progression. But you wouldn’t know this from simply looking at their website, so you really wouldn’t know what order to go in unless you ask around.
If you would like to know how you should progress through the lessons, I will be immediately following this post with another post containing reviews of each individual season, along with my suggested path of progression. You can read that post here.
How I Used It
So, with all that said, how can you actually use this resource to learn, and is it even worth using? Well, here is exactly what I did.
Upon signing up for my free trial, the emails started rushing in, and I think I got 4 almost right away. They immediately wanted to up-sell me. For just $1, I could get an entire month of premium access, as well as a free audio book from their store. Alright, that’s a reasonable price, so I went for it. The product from the store was basically just repackaged lessons that you can get from their website anyways, so in other words, it was completely worthless. The extended premium access though, was well worth it. Pay the $1 for a month of premium access. One week just isn’t enough time to get started and really see what it’s all about. They do set you up on automatic renewal though, so if you don’t want to keep paying, be sure to disable this in your account settings. Its very easy to do, and only took me about one minute to find and disable it.
To start off with, I wanted to download all the lessons. They have a great feature called “my feed” which you can use to customize exactly what content you want to download. You should then be able to open the feed in iTunes or whatever, and batch download everything. I don’t use iTunes however, and I had a ton of trouble finding an application that would actually let me download the files. I actually spent several days finding a windows program that would work. I finally managed to get them using a program called RSSOwl.
However, the files were almost useless at first, because they have practically random filenames. You might think that’s okay, because you can sort them based on the ID3 tags, right? Well that would work, if the tags weren’t completely riddled with errors! I ended up spending the first week of my trial just trying to download and sort the files so that I could use them. I wrote a small tool to help me rename the files, and you can download that tool and see what else I I did in a separate post.
But anyways, once I actually got everything downloaded and sorted, I copied lessons onto my phone so I could listen at work. For many of the easiest lessons, I sometimes just listened to the dialog first, and if I completely understood it with no trouble at all, I would skip the lesson. I found that I didn’t end up skipping a lot of lessons though, because I found it difficult to keep up even on some of the easier dialogs.
The lessons themselves were basically a one-time listen. Upon completing all the lessons in a season, I made a playlist of just the dialogs from that season, and I would listen to all the dialogs by themselves from time to time. This is a great way to practice my listening skills, I find.
Once the lessons started getting difficult for me, I took to the website, and used the line-by-line audio feature. This is an amazing feature that lets you look at a transcript of the dialog, and then play each line of audio individually. It really makes it easy to get through the tough sections and understand it a lot better. You also have access to all the the vocabulary and grammar points right there. It’s also really easy to copy and paste phrases or words into Anki directly from this section of their website.
The PDF lesson notes contain a lot of helpful information, and typically have detailed explanations of the grammar points that go beyond what is covered in the audio itself. If you wanted to, you could just utilize the dialogs and the PDF notes, while skipping the full audio lessons. I would only recommend this if you just really don’t want to listen to the lessons and would rather focus on the dialogs.
The android app also came in very handy. In addition to letting you listen to and download the audio and PDF notes, you get access to the line-by-line audio feature through the app as well. I frequently used this to review some lessons at night while laying in bed.
To sum that up again in just a few words, the way I used JapanesePod101.com is as follows: Listen to the audio lesson (while checking the pdf notes if necessary), utilize the line-by-line audio feature to get accustomed to difficult parts of the dialogs, add words or phrases I don’t know into Anki for review, and then finally set up a playlist of the dialogs so I can listen to them at any time for listening practice.
What I Don’t Like
Its already been pointed out, but I don’t like most of the original lessons that they produced in the first couple of years. I have tried listening to them again now, and besides the numerous problems that they have, I really can’t even get through them because they bore me to death. (The newer lessons with Naomi-sensei, on the other hand, are fantastic.)
However, when we go beyond the lessons and the dialogs, we run into some problems. I already mentioned that the files have completely screwed up ID3 tags. How hard would it be to actually use standardized tags across the board, seriously? You are completely unable to sort the audio and listen to it in order if they list the album as “Newbie Season 1” in one file, and “Newbie S1” in another. Some lessons even have the wrong series or title or other information. Some of them are missing critical tags altogether. If you download the files to your computer you are going to have a lot of fixing to do. As previously mentioned though, I have another post on how to get everything fixed relatively quickly.
Their inattention to detail doesn’t stop at that. Trying to use the line-by-line audio is frustrating, because frequently the audio will be one line off from the text. This isn’t usually a big deal, because you notice it then just press the button to listen to another line. But in some seasons almost every lesson is screwed up. Some lessons also try to cram several sentences into one “line” of the line-by-line audio, which decreases its usefulness.
We tend to see this type of thing throughout all aspects of the site. Actually, you can even find a few errors in some of the audio tracks themselves, where you can tell they made a mistake editing, like with a random bit of audio repeating itself. They are producing some quality material here, but they are extremely careless with it in making sure all the little bits and pieces work as they should.
Their advertising is annoying. They want to up-sell at every possibility, and send out WAY too many promotional emails. When I signed up, they were sending me around two emails a day on average, sometimes three. After I turned off the email notifications, they mostly stopped, but I have still received 1 promotional email. I assume it may have been some sort of error, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt, and I submitted an unsubscribe request from the email itself. They are also constantly running different promotions offering various deals. It just seems kinda shady to me that one person might be paying full price for the service, while another person is getting 25% off, and another person is getting 65% off. I mean, some sales every now and then are appreciated, but having them constantly, and having multiple separate promotions at once? Come on.
What I Liked
They have a great series of lessons with Naomi-sensei that will carry you from being an absolute beginner to around intermediate level. From there, some of their advanced lessons with other hosts might still be beneficial, but I can not personally comment on that yet. If you don’t particularly want to hear lessons, then there are enough dialogs that you could probably listen to them nonstop for a full day.
I found what seemed to be an error in the politeness level used in one dialog, and I posted about it in the comments. Someone from JapanesePod101.com responded within 24 hours, and confirmed that I was correct. I don’t think it was a particularly bad error which would mislead people, so I was satisfied with that, and I was impressed that they responded to me so quickly.
The mobile app is very handy, and being able to use line-by-line audio in it makes it almost indispensable.
Line-by-line audio is a killer feature, and this alone makes a premium subscription worth it, in my opinion. In some lessons though, particularly the more advanced ones, they often put multiple lines together, limiting the usefulness of it on those particular lessons.
As something to improve listening ability, I have definitely seen some improvements in my ability in the 1 month that I used the service. You just need to know how to approach it and where to start. If you just want to download the content, grab either the 1-week free trial, of the $1 for 1-month trial, and grab everything you want.
They offer a “basic” subscription service, which just gives you full access to the audio lessons archive and the pdf notes. For the life of me, I can not fathom why anyone would pay money for this, as they already give you that content in your free trial. You don’t even get the dialog-only audio in this tier.
The premium service gives you pretty much everything you could want. The access to the mobile app and the line-by-line audio are really the killer features here, and I believe they are worth the money. And how much money is that? Well, it CAN be as expensive as $25/month. But, you don’t need to pay that. If you use Coupon Code “vip65”, you will get 65% off. You also get further discounts by subscribing for longer periods of time. If you use the coupon code with a 2-year premium subscription, you can get premium access for $3.50 per month. While they say that this coupon never expires, it seems that it may only be used once, so don’t waste it on something like a 1-month subscription.
They also offer “premium+”, which seems to get you some sort of one-on-one tutoring, though I can not comment on whether or not this service might be worth the additional cost.
Level-appropriate audio content is difficult to come by. JapanesePod101 is a huge resource of audio that can really boost your ability to comprehend spoken Japanese. Although they pitch it as a complete Japanese learning program, don’t expect that much out of it. This should make up just a single part of your overall study plan–but it really is a worthwhile part of that plan. If you have some periods throughout your day when you can’t really devote time to studying Japanese, but you could at least listen to something, then JapanesePod101.com is a no-brainer.
After my free trial ran out, I did choose to pay for a subscription. I’m not regretting it.
What do you think of this JapanesePod101.com review and their service as a whole? Let me know your opinions in the comments!