I’ve had quite a few people tell me that I should write a review of Nihongo Master.
Usually I’d be like, “Oh for sure, dude.” Then I’d file it away in my procrastination folder.
Then last week, I got an email from team over at Nihongo Master saying that they’d give me free access in exchange for writing a review.
The Nihongo nerd inside of me got excited, and, alas, we now have yet another awesome tool to add to our list of favorite resources for studying Japanese.
Nihongo Master Review
For all of you lazy kids, here’s the short and sweet version:
Overview: Nihongo Master is essentially an interactive, online Japanese school. They have hundreds of Japanese lessons–looking at grammar, vocabulary, kanji, etc.–developed with native speakers (and including native audio files), plus interactive quizzes and worksheets for reviewing and practicing lesson content. Floating in and around all of this is a supportive, healthy community of motivated Japanese learners.
Review of Nihongo Master: Very good. I was impressed, and I think it’s a worthwhile resource to check out, especially for beginner students of Japanese.
Well, that’s the short version. If you want to learn more about why I think this is a good study resource, please read on…
Getting Started with Nihongo Master
Perhaps the best way to introduce Nihongo Master is to just walk through what it’s like setting up a free account with them.
Here we see the Nihongo Master homepage:
The signup process was extremely clean, simple, and straightforward:
I’m a big fan of sites that have these easy startup tutorials. We saw something similar in my review of Cafetalk:
“The Classroom” is where we’ll find Japanese lessons on everything from Hiragana and Katakana up to evil grammatical construction like passive and causative Japanese.
For me personally, this was the real heart and soul of the site, the place where I really get to dig into some rich, detailed Japanese learning content.
So perhaps it comes as no surprise they introduce one of the Classroom’s Lessons right at the end of the Startup Tutorial:
Let’s take a look at what this (Introductory) lesson has in store for us.
After this brief little intro, they dive right into hiragana and the sounds of Japanese. This is the (more or less) same place I recommend starting both in my free guide to learning Japanese and in the Hacking Japanese Supercourse:
If I click on the pencil icon, I can watch (and practice) writing characters myself, too:
I’ve never been very big on writing anything, as all of my study materials tend to be in digital format. However, I do think that all students should be able to at least write hiragana and katakana, and Nihongo Master provides a solid system for learning to do so.
Here is a screenshot of the first hiragana lesson in its entirety:
This lesson even includes some practice sheets that you can print out, which is ideal for introductory hiragana practice:
Speaking of which, let’s take a look at the other practice features of the site…
“Dojo” Practice Drills
I kind of have mixed feelings about any interactive language software for practicing. I’ve always thought that books, articles, and lessons are good for building up your comprehension in a language, but lessons on sites like italki and Cafetalk are better for building up your production skills.
In other words, I think face-to-face (Skype) lessons are probably the best way to get better at actually forming Japanese sentences.
That said, online lessons can be (1) scary and (2) expensive, so it is nice to have other options for practicing our Japanese, and in that sense, Nihongo Master does a pretty good job, I’d say.
Here, for example, is a screenshot taken from a practice session:
After giving it a few minutes’ thought, I select #3, “E!”
Then I click “Submit Answer” and…
Success! Damn. I’m so good at Japanese.
Where Are the Kanji?!
One thing that kind of bummed me out about Nihongo Master is the serious lack of kanji. For example, we have this from my first Dojo practice session:
Here we just have あう for “to meet.”
But that’s not really how we write “to meet,” you know? We would write 会う. Yeah, it’s still pronounced as あう, but I don’t see why they can’t just have the kanji and put the furigana above it, like this:
The obvious argument is that a student at this level has no hope of knowing the kanji, yeah? But if said student was just now starting their vocab studies after completing my 97-Day Kanji Challenge, then they would be not seeing a huge number of kanji that they already know, which would be counter-productive.
This lack of kanji continued to concern me a bit more once I got to the higher-level lessons:
This manga lesson is so great. It has natural phrasing, good images, and native audio attached. But they leave out extremely common kanji. The actual conversation should look like this (with missing kanji in bold):
I asked Taylor, the founder of Nihongo Master about this missing kanji issue, and this is what he told me:
As for your questions on kanji, the site is structured so that in the beginner lessons we cover all of the kanji needed to pass the JLPT N5. In the advanced lessons we’re close to covering everything needed for the N4. As we are consistently adding new lessons to the site, we plan to continue to expand this over time to cover more and more advanced levels of the JLPT.
However, you can also create custom study lists with a premium membership, so if there are specific kanji you want to learn, you can use our dictionary of over 13,000 kanji and add them to your drills, your study lists, or make printable sheets to practice writing them. So if there are specific kanji you’re looking to learn you can always add them to a drill instead of waiting for them to appear in a lesson.
– Nihongo Master Representative
I think it’s cool that they’re systematically covering kanji as they move up JLPT levels, but I still would have preferred to have furigana for kanji students don’t (yet) need to know and no furigana for kanji they should already know.
Maybe in a future update? (Please *_*)
Because doing this would make their advanced content even better. And they do have some really great lesson content. Here is the entirety of that manga lesson (click to view enlarged image):
⇧ Now that is an incredible amount of interesting, helpful Japanese learning content. I especially love the native audio presented separately for each line of dialog.
Community Learning Features
The users of the site seem to also be pretty engaged, which is always a good sign:
I’ve never really been the type to get involved with language-learning communities online (yes, I know how hypocritical that sounds coming from someone running a site on learning Japanese x_x).
But for people that do thrive on interaction with fellow students, Nihongo Master seems to be good option.
You can discuss lessons with other students:
Dictionary & Study List Features
I didn’t really look into the dictionary features all that much, but for the most part they seemed to be quite straightforward and helpful. I mean, you could just use dictionaries like Jisho.org or Weblio.
The added advantage to using Nihongo Master‘s dictionary is that you can add words to Drills for studying later:
Speaking of study lists, you can create your own and share them with other people. It seems that there are quite a few of them:
Since I use Anki for all of my cramming and memorization goodness, I wasn’t all that into study lists or dictionary use. But I’m sure of you out there will enjoy those features.
What I did enjoy was the addition of Practice Sheets!
Practice Sheets Are Sweet
I mentioned this a little bit earlier when talking about their practice sheet for hirgana, but they actually have a wide variety of practice sheets on Nihongo Master.
If you’re the type that love to print stuff out and write all over it, you’ll probably be stoked about that.
Something else to be stoked about it…
Rewarding Gamification System
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Nihongo Master is that it’s not boring. Part of the reason it’s not boring is that they give you points and badges to really make it feel like you’re moving forward:
They also give you cool badges for various Japanese-acquisition achievements.
Only a few seconds into starting, and I’m already getting some! Boss:
One of the biggest challenges to producing language learning content is to keep students from getting bored out of their minds (or having their brains melt).
Nihongo Master does an excellent job on both of these fronts.
Pricing Is Fair
At first glance, I thought that pricing was pretty steep:
But I think that’s just because I’m so cheap (and because I never charge for monthly products… which I should probably do haha).
The thing is, if you are a motivated student that is actually making use of these materials, then you can get much more than your money’s worth.
If you figure that a lesson with a living, breathing teacher is $10-20, then this is like having 1-2 face-to-face lessons per month… only here you could study for more like 20, 30, 40 hours!
Another cool thing is that there is quite a bit of good stuff on Nihongo Master for free users, as well:
So really it’s a win-win. Also, props to anyone supporting foreign-language educators like myself or the team over at Nihongo Master.
Nihongo Master Review – Conclusion
- The lesson content is awesome, understandable, and fun.
- The interface is clean, easy-to-use, and highly functional.
- There is an active community of learners to study with.
- There is a huge amount of study content.
- All of the introductory materials are totally free.
- There is native audio all over the place.
The Not So Good:
- Kanji is missing in a lot of places. More kanji, please! \ToT/
Nihongo Master is definitely work checking out.
Other Ways To Learn Japanese
If you’re looking for more awesome ways to master Japanese (or, you know, a detailed system for doing so), then you should probably sign up for this free bundle of awesomeness:
That’s all for now! If any of you out there try out Nihongo Master, please let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Good luck with your studies, everyone!