Convenient Apps for Learning Hiragana/Katakana

Nowadays, there are a multitude of app resources available for Japanese learners, and in no other area does this shine more than kana learning apps. Many options exist that use a variety of teaching methodologies, and the student should ultimately go with the one that is tailored best to their learning style. Here, we’ll discuss some of the more common ones that we’ve used and our students have recommended over the course of their studies.

1) Obenkyo (Android-only)

Let’s get the best part out of the way first: this app is free and does almost everything that the other apps on this list can do— and more. Students can start off drilling hiragana or katakana and once those two are mastered, can even begin to reinforce their kanji studies, which are organized by JLPT level. It also has a built-in dictionary and grammar reference. The handwriting recognition feature is interesting as it will correct not only the shape of your character, but also takes note of your stroke order. However, one big drawback is that iOS users unfortunately do not have access to this app yet on the AppStore, so for now it’s only available to Android users.

2) Memrise

This has become a highly popular app and website for all sorts of language learning as users can create their own courses to share with the rest of the community. Paid pro accounts are available, but are not at all necessary to reap the benefits of study with this system. Various courses for both hiragana and katakana are available which incorporate quizzes and drills to reinforce what you’ve learned and the app keeps track of your overall progress. A popular course for getting your kana studies going is “Start Reading Japanese”.

3) Real Kana

A paid app ($2.99 currently) that focuses exclusively on the kana. One especially nice feature is that it can display each character in various fonts, which will help learners get used to seeing all the ways it might appear out in the wild.

4) Dr. Moku’s Hiragana Mnemonics / Dr. Moku’s Katakana Mnemonics

Many students find that using mnemonics— neat tricks and visual aids that help boost memory recall— to be very useful in learning the kana. If that is a method that works for you, and you enjoy self-aware corny humor, then this set of apps will be your best bet. Each app uses cute associations to help jog your memory and produce stronger long-term recall. This app also helps with writing as it uses animations to show stroke order and fun quizzes for reinforcement. Students can grab both apps in a bundle for $6.99.

5) Learn Japanese!!

For the iOS students who are left out of the Obenkyo loop, this is a good alternative. It not only helps with learning both hiragana and katakana, but also provides grammar explanations and vocabulary. Students can try out the first few lessons for free, and then unlock all the app has to offer later. The full app ends up costing $7.99, but for those who just are looking to learn the kana, they can get by without that.

Really, at the end of the day, all students need to learn the kana is a pencil and a piece of paper. Maybe a thick stack of flash cards to boot. But that can often feel like a slog for many students, and the most important thing in learning a language is staying motivated and engaged. For that, apps are wonderful and can help provide a real sense of progress and accomplishment for newer students— at least until their kanji studies begin— but that’s a topic for another time!