Howdy people, my name is Thomas. I’m a blogger and huge Japanese enthusiast. Today I’m going to review www.JapanesePod101.com and give you guys a 100% honest opinion on it. I am not being paid or otherwise compensated for this, and all opinions are my own. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m brutally honest and blunt, so I won’t pull punches in a review. That said, enjoy.
My first impression of JapanesePod101.com was that it looked a lot like what I had come to expect from language learning sites, from Rosetta Stone to Duolingo, I knew the drill and the layout of the main page was the same, bare-bones info page that I always see when I go to a site with a landing page that tries to get you to sign up right away. By comparison, ILL’s main site is much more informative about the company and their services, and actually convinced me to try them out in the first place. Perhaps I’m just too jaded to be taken in like many consumers by a simple ad. I want more info than what they share with their marketing spin all over it. I want facts, features, simply stated and without divisive wording so present in marketing pitches.
The negatives pretty much stop there. This service is wonderful! After signing up, you get a straight-talk offer to get a huge upgrade for a dollar of bandwidth. I took the offer, naturally, though I later had an issue with backing out of the $25 a month subscription it signed me up on. I didn’t realize I could just change my settings for the auto-renewal. It is enabled by default, but when I forgot, they were good about refunding me. I had my money back within a week, not bad for communicating across the globe to do it.
The dashboard takes a bit to get used to, but once you figure out what everything does and where it all leads, it is extremely useful and well-designed, though I would prefer if the lesson videos and series videos were organized the same way. I found that I could find some lessons through the actual lessons tab, and others by picking through the series videos. Maybe I just got turned around in the interface but I didn’t feel like I had a good way to get a singular overview of every single lesson to know how much they covered.
Now we come to the best part, and the reason why I truly endorse JapanesePod101.com. The lessons themselves. Oh, my, god. These people know how to teach Japanese. The videos don’t just teach vocabulary and hope you can pick up the pronunciation by imitation like Rosetta Stone tries to. And unlike that same product, which I used before, JPod never talks down to you or treats you like a child. Rosetta Stone seriously showed me juice and milk to teach me how to say the Japanese words ジュース＆ぎゅうにゅう one of which is just the same word in katakana, which they don’t explain, and the other is never used anymore, instead they use the katakana’d version of it too! Not JPod, they treat you like an intelligent student right off the bat, explaining the basic structure of the language and rolling it right into vocab.
I loved how Risa explained a lot of the concepts, and much to my pleasant surprise, they didn’t just cover lists of words and pronunciation, though they have tons of word lists and very good pronunciation guides. No, my favorite part is that they covered grammar! You have no idea how much, as a student who learned under tutors and college for all of my Japanese learning journey up to now, how infuriating it is to not have the grammar explained! If you know conjugations of verbs, you can teach yourself so many words just from hearing them and reverse engineering them to dictionary form! Risa does an amazing job of walking you through the grammar points and makes them not feel so scary as grammar was for many people who hated taking English.
One big negative that I have to nick them for though, is the teaching style. Now I’m not talking about the lessons themselves, I mean the overall organization of the lessons. Because you can freely float around between lessons, they don’t build upon each other. I am only in semester 3 of Japanese, and I could hop into Advanced and while I didn’t necessarily find it stuff I already knew, I had no difficulty understanding the lessons and mastering the content. If I tried to do that with a college course, I’d get lost very fast. That sounds like a positive at first, but the problem is that you can’t push your students if you make everything somewhat accessible to people with a good grip on the language already. Perhaps they have more structured or difficult content in other areas, but the lessons from Absolute Beginner through Advanced seemed to have no difficulty curve at all which means they wouldn’t push me to get better.
It’s a delicate balance, trying to appeal to masses while also pushing every one of those people to “git gud”, believe me, I know. But in the business of teaching language, you have to make a decision on whether you’ll push your users or make everything more accessible to them so they can learn more content easier. I feel like if the lessons were more rigidly structured in points and built upon previous lessons it would work better. Perhaps if it was organized more like a game where you progress down a linear path but have branches where you can head off into side paths of learning and explore things that are at the same level as what you’re learning now, it would be more effective.
Honestly, I would love to see JPod get into Tangential Learning and “gamify” their content a bit. This IS on the internet after all, most people are used to games from their phones and tablets by now, so they won’t be unfamiliar to basic game UI. That said, this is getting a bit more into “I wish” territory.
All in all, I would highly recommend JPod for anyone interested in learning a language from the ground up or as preparation to get into college courses. It is far better than most of the other kinds of software and websites I have been to, mostly because the videos are very well organized and presented, with comprehensive learning material teaching the basic workings of the language as well as the grammar structures along with vocabulary.