I'm a major slacker when it comes to studying Japanese, so my New Year's resolution was to seriously up my game when it came to my language studies. I waded through a lengthy internal debate--should I go with an online language learning service or traditional classroom study? Online is generally considered more cost-effective, but classroom can boost motivation with its consistent face-to-face human interaction (aka social pressure, aka a kick in the rear-end). My fear with the online thing was like that of a gym membership. Would I sign up and never go? That would be a damn shame...
A long-time free member of JapanesePod101.com, I decided to pull the trigger and try their premium plus subscription. Why did I go with this? Because it seemed to offer a bit of the best of both worlds--their entire online learning library along with access to a real Japanese teacher. My hope was that the human teacher would give me a solid kick in the pants once in a while to keep me on a righteous academic path.
In true "Mondaiji" style, I summarize the good and not-so-good of my experience below.
* The subscription price is very reasonable considering all the high-quality content and access to a human teacher, and there's a free account option to try out a lite version of the service for as long as you wish.
* As a paid subscription service, you're paying out your own money. That in itself pushes you to use it and get studyin'.
* The site is well-built and easy to navigate and use.
* I like the service's workflow. They test your Japanese level, then suggest a learning path. They know that it's easy to lose motivation (esp. with online services), so the teacher pings you with homework assignments and quizzes. You can also add daily dose lessons and word-of-the-day emails to encourage you to keep going.
* They often offer discounts on the subscription prices, making it even more cost-effective.
* The content is relevant, but also varied. The topics, dialogs, and scenarios cover a wide range of real-world situations. In other words they don't just target a single demographic, like young learners into Japanese manga. The content is built to appeal to a diverse audience. Some episodes feature formal or business Japanese, while others focus on casual.
* I've had many an OMG moment with their lessons, as in "OMG! I've been doing it wrong all this time!" So many lightbulbs have appeared over my head that I look like an Obon festival sparkler.
* I assumed the site was mostly audio lessons, but they also have a multitude of PDF text materials, cheat-sheets, and even video content.
* The lesson topics resurface in a very helpful way. For example, there's not just one lesson on the permissive causative form; it's covered in a few lessons in multiple seasons with different dialogs, examples, teachers, etc. So if you're not entirely clear after the first lesson, it will certainly appear again in another. I love this!
* At the end of the day, it's still online learning, so you can't expect the same level of social engagement as face-to-face learning.
* The JapanesePod101 iPhone apps don't work as well as the website. I haven't tried the Android apps, but the iPhone app is a little too bare-bones for my taste, and it would often lose my progress. I gave up on it and just use the website.
* I wish the paid content removed the episode opening sequence and rehashed phrases like "Our flashcard feature really does help memorization" or "Record your voice with the click of a button." Ok, I can fast-forward past the splash sequence, and I understand that it's probably a major pain to produce 2 versions of each episode, so fair enough. It's just that as a paying customer, I was hoping to be freed from the repetitive marketing sequences.
Overall JapanesePod101 has been working out for me with its myriad learning epiphanies, so I'm happy I subscribed. Is it enough on its own, though? That's a great question, and I suppose it depends on how much of your own time and effort you put into it. That's the kicker with these online services, right? You reap what you sow. It comes down to you to get off your arse and study. You can't expect to learn through osmosis, but as online language learning goes JapanesePod101 is my neighborly Japanese study buddy.
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