Our recommendations

Duolingo Japanese: We Tried it, and Here is Our Verdict

Updated: 01. Nov, 2022

Learning a highly sought-after language like Japanese is a dream for many people. Language learning apps like Duolingo promise to fulfill this dream. However, you must get past the language’s seemingly complex writing systems. 

The “Kanji” is the Japanese way of passing their written messages across. In this system, meticulous line strokes arrange themselves around each other in a beautiful way. But once you get the language right, you will feel enormous fulfillment.

Many Japanese language enthusiasts also struggle with its grammar. The Japanese language sets itself apart in the area of grammar. Add its other extremely peculiar attributes, such as its complex syllables, and you’d see why the language is considered elite.

For a language like Japanese, which is spoken by over a hundred million persons, a language tutor must have the expertise and be effective. Many people have turned to Duolingo for help with their language learning goals. You may consider the free learning app as a tool to learn Japanese. But how well does Duolingo fare with Japanese education? If you want the answer, you will get it here. 

Duolingo Overview

Duolingo isn’t a newcomer to the language learning resource community. With over ten solid years in the game, the tool has become a first-choice language learning solution, warming its way into the hearts of millions of people. Thirty-eight languages are available to learners in ninety-five available courses.

Duolingo breaks its lessons into many small parts that teach you writing, speaking, listening, and reading. You will come across an option to select a language of your choice (Japanese in this case) and give reasons for learning it. 

The app will want to know if you are in it to boost your career, schooling, travel, family, e.t.c. You will also get the opportunity to decide on your commitment. How much Japanese would you want to learn every day? Five, ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes? It’s your choice. Also, you can begin the course from scratch or do a test to find and begin from your proficiency level.

Talking about its popularity, the Duolingo app has amassed teeming enthusiasts across the Android, iOS, and Web platforms. There are over 13 million reviews and a hundred million downloads of Duolingo on the Google Play Store. 

Duolingo sort of “disciplines” its users by making them earn some points before unlocking new levels. Its lessons attempt to simulate real-life scenarios and conversations to give its users as realistic an experience as possible. Before we analyze what we saw in the Japanese department, let’s look at some prominent app features. 

Duolingo is Free! 

In 2011, for the first time, a language learning app showed the world that you don’t have to pay to learn for the first time. Duolingo was that language learning app. Unless you use Super Duolingo, a paid version, Duolingo is free. Duolingo devised a way to monetize the app without demanding anything from users’ pockets. The app made room for ads, transferring the burden of payment from users to advertisers. 

However, if you aren’t cool with watching ads between Japanese lessons, you can switch to Duolingo Super. Duolingo Super (formerly called Duolingo Plus) is completely ad-free and costs $6.99 per month. The Duolingo Super subscription fee amounts to $83.88 per year. Unlike the ad-free learning experience, Duolingo Super offers other features like mistakes corrections and unlimited hearts. Not running out of hearts means your mistakes won’t stop you from learning on the app. As cool as Duolingo Super sounds, it is, in our opinion, not convincing or impressive enough for its cost. We’d rather have the adverts. 

Do You Love Games? 

Everyone loves games. Imagine enjoying a gamified experience as you learn Japanese. Cool right? Duolingo scores a major victory in this area.

The Duolingo app provides a gamified experience with rewards for your achievements. As you stay on the app, you earn experience badges (XPs). As you make inroads, you will amass gems. 

You will require a certain number of these gems to unlock privileges as you proceed. You will get intermittent hearty cheers from a big green bird, “Duo.” Amidst the fun, Duolingo doesn’t lose sight of the language learning goal. The app successfully mixes business and pleasure.

What’s the Layout Like? 

Duolingo represents over 10,000 exercises with a tree-like map. This tree contains several “skills” divided into crown levels that you can finish in several lesson stages. You get a crown when you finish every lesson at a crown level. After collecting several crowns, you earn a skill. 

The Home screen shows the tree map. All your completed regions are colored, while uncompleted regions are uncolored.

The Stories section is locked and grouped into various sets. To unlock a set of stories, you must have collected several crowns. For example, you must complete ten lessons and collect ten crowns to unlock the first set of stories. 

The Character section contains characters in the target language. The Japanese character section features both Hiragana and Katakana character styles. This section also includes character combinations, double consonants, and long vowels. Note that the Duolingo Japanese course doesn’t teach in Romaji. Romaji is the translation of Japanese characters into Roman or Latin script. 

The Challenges section helps you see how far you have progressed in meeting your daily and monthly goals. Also, this section shows you how many badges you’ve earned so far.

Learning Experience

As we’ve seen earlier, the Duolingo experience is gamified. Once you begin learning Japanese (or any other language) on Duolingo, you begin with five hearts. Whenever you miss a correct answer, you lose a heart. You will only continue learning if you have at least one heart left. If you’ve run out of hearts, your learning journey ends temporarily. When this happens, you will have to purchase more hearts with your XPs or with actual money. If not, you will have to wait for a couple of hours. 

Using Duolingo for Japanese

If you start using the app from the bottom of the beginner’s ladder, the first exercise you will encounter is listening to the pronunciation of a Japanese word. Afterward, you have to pick one of the four screen images matching the pronounced word. 

For example, if the word “mi zu” is pronounced, you have to pick from four images depicting water, rice, tea, and meat. If you select the correct image of “water,” you can move on to the next exercise. 

Another exercise may involve pronouncing two Japanese words, “sushi ku da sa i.” To guess the translations, you are given three English words, “sushi,” “please,” and “water,” to pick from. If you pick the two right words, “sushi please,” you can proceed. There were several other different writing and sound exercises, plus word-matching drills. 

Before proceeding, it is important to note that Duolingo won’t make you fluent in Japanese. However, the lessons are intensive enough to help you find your way around everyday conversations in Japanese.

Pros and Cons of Duolingo Japanese

Now, it’s time to get right into the crux of the matter. We will examine the strengths and weaknesses of the Duolingo Japanese learning experience. 

Pros of Duolingo Japanese 

Here are the pros of Duolingo Japanese. 

Features a Wide Range of Topics

After using Duolingo Japanese, it is difficult not to appreciate the diverse nature of topics available in the lessons. The broad range of topics on Duolingo Japanese helps you cover many aspects of Japanese conversations. Themed lessons are an interesting and organized way to learn any language, especially Japanese. 

Duolingo lessons include topics like shopping, education, time, food, and family. These are just a few of the 130-plus topics to enjoy. You can take the lessons repeatedly if you’ve found your favorite topics. Repeating the selected lessons help you stack up crowns and increase your knowledge in these areas. 

Continuity in the Lessons 

Continuity is one helpful characteristic of a language app. Lessons are built on each other. This helps learners better retain information, build confidence, and consolidate knowledge. Each lesson could typically take from five to 15 minutes, depending on how well you get along with the course.

Encourages Consistent Practice 

Learning Japanese as a new language is a marathon and not a sprint. That’s why Duolingo tries to keep learners active and on their toes. It helps to keep at language learning daily. That’s what Duolingo encourages, helping learners harness the power of timed practice and incremental progress. The app rewards readers who practice daily over those who temporarily ditch the course for days. This means that Duolingo Japanese prefers a learner who does a little daily practice to one who takes big breaks after long sessions. 

Gamification is Fun

You will need as much fun as possible to help you learn a language as complex as Japanese. Duolingo provides this fun in a way that doesn’t trivialize the learning experience. Duolingo’s gamified lessons are a relief for learners scared of the Japanese language. 

The gamified lessons help learners boost their confidence by reaching goals and achievement levels. Also, unlocking rewards and competing with other users for ranks on the leaderboards is a lot of fun. 

Cons of Duolingo Japanese

Here are the misses of Duolingo Japanese.

You Can Cheat Your Way Through 

Duolingo creates a way out for learners who want to cut corners. You can cheat your way through the course if you want. There are hidden answers you can access by clicking on the Japanese sentences. Also, you can copy and paste words into Google Translate to get their interpretations and meanings. The ability to access answers during exercises can defeat the course’s essence and lower its impact.

Doesn’t Do Justice to Japanese Grammar

Japanese grammar is pretty different from English grammar. For instance, while English grammar progresses from subject to verb to object, Japanese grammar goes through another route. In Japanese grammar, the object comes between the subject and the verb in a subject, object, or verb order. 

Duolingo doesn’t teach its users Japanese grammar. The absence of grammar lessons makes it difficult for learners to put words together in the right order. Duolingo teaches the meaning of words and phrases without showing you how to link them in an orderly way into more complex sentences. 

Another Japanese grammar challenge Duolingo fails to surmount is the lack of matching English words for some Japanese words. This means that not all Japanese words have a direct English equivalent. Duolingo’s grammar tutorials are also grossly inadequate in preparing new learners for this challenge. 

Lessons are Repetitive

Many of Duolingo’s lessons are repeated. Even when the Japanese lessons come with some variations, their core is pretty much what you’ve learned before. But the problem is, that Duolingo doesn’t allow you to skip any of them. That is, there is no way to avoid lessons you have already learned. 

Besides the proficiency tests that fix you on and help you begin from a particular knowledge level, you will have to cope with many repeated lessons along the way. It even gets worse if you’ve run out of hearts. You will have to go over several lessons to replenish your hearts bank. 

Lack of Cultural Context 

Much cultural context accompanies Japanese language learning. Miss out on these contexts, and your Japanese learning becomes deficient. Learning the Japanese language gets deeper than just knowing words, phrases, and sentences. Duolingo doesn’t offer many of these necessary cultural explanations. Learners have to make do with the crumbs of what the app suggests. 

Too Many Ads

While it’s exciting that Duolingo is free, the no-cost benefit comes with a price. There are many adverts. Adverts could be irritating. They will appear unannounced and interrupt your learning. However, except you are ready for the Duolingo Super subscription, you must learn to cope with these adverts to use the app. 

Frequently Asked Questions on Duolingo for Japanese

How Long Does it Take to Finish Duolingo Japanese? 

It depends on you. From our estimation, it is possible to complete all the Duolingo Japanese courses in 30 hours. However, for beginners who will typically take more time to grab the course content, it may take up to 48 hours to consume all of it. 

Will Duolingo Make Me Fluent in Japanese? 

No. Duolingo tries to but will not help readers attain fluency in Japanese. Comprehensive use of the app can help you achieve an impressive command of the Katakana and Hiragana alphabets. 

How Much Duolingo Should I Do a Day? 

As much as you can. Duolingo allows you to decide how much you can learn every day. The app provides several options depending on how many daily lessons you can consume. You can decide to do more than your daily goal if you want. However, make sure you aren’t doing too much practice daily. 

What’s the Difference Between Hiragana and Katakana?

Hiragana and Katakana are two of the three ways of reading and writing Japanese. They are two sets of Japanese alphabets, each containing 46 characters. Each character represents a syllable. One difference between both writing systems is their appearance. Hiragana is made of curvy lines, while Katakana appears straight and formal. Japanese kids begin learning the language with HIragana which is regarded as more essential than Katakana. Hiragana is used for native Japanese words, while Katakana is mostly used for words of foreign origin.


Duolingo stands tall among the language learning apps for Japanese. Its popularity and prestige are undeniable. If you want to become fluent in Japanese, you can begin with the app though you will need to supplement with other language learning aids to become fluent in Japanese. For a free app, Duolingo is a fantastic language learning resource and should get you started on your Japanese language learning journey.

Table of contents