by Devon Sponheimer
Today Japlanning have a review of one of the longstanding members of the online Japanese language learning world - Nihongomaster.com. We have delved in, used the site and have a comprehensive review of the Nihongo Master to help you decide if it is good for anyone looking to start learning Japanese.
Nihongo Master is a site created in 2011 with the goal of assisting wannabe linguists with the tools they need to travel along their language journey. With three levels (introductory, beginner and advanced) it can be used by learners of all levels.
This is the necessary nuts and bolts of Japanese learning.
You'll cover the hiragana and katakana, some basic vocab and phrases through 41 lessons and some drills to help you lock that knowledge down. This is helpful for anyone traveling to Japan that may want to pick up a few basic phrases and be able to identify some characters written on signs. This level is most certainly for basic communication.
All other levels are accessible only with a subscription. If you're looking to learn with any seriousness and want to use this platform, you'll need to access the higher levels with the subscription costs.
Beginner has the most content, with over 150 lessons (though according to the site they do add new content all of the time). The beginner course covers many items like counting, purchases, likes and dislikes, particles and, of course, kanji.
Admittedly it feels strange to jump from "beginner to advanced", but the evolution is natural. Think of it more as: it's getting harder, and we're going to build on what you already know. With 75 lessons, it ends in a final quiz to see what you've mastered.
Nihongo Master also adds new content and lessons all the time. Their content is structured to aline with the Japan's national language proficiency test the JLPT. The beginner section has all the grammar and vocabulary for the JPLT N5 exam and advanced is structured around covering the JLPT N4.
Drills in the Dojo (Free/Premium)
Once unlocked they add to your daily list of drills. They compile into what you've already unlocked and add them to your schedule. If you answer one correctly, it gets scheduled again further out. Miss one and it's on the schedule sooner. If you're a metrics person, you can even break it down into a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly or even specific dates chart to see your progress.
Quizzes in the Classroom (Free/Premium)
These are helpful. Correct questions lit up in green and incorrect in red. You'll score points with drills and quizzes - some points you'll keep forever, but others will expire if you don't continue with your studies.
You can earn badges for a variety of things, from participating in the community to reading lessons.
Study lists (Premium)
You can create you own lists from words you find in their online dictionary. If you're feeling lazy, you can also poach lists from community members.
The mobile version
Compatible with your on-the-go devices, the mobile version is a pared down and simplified form of the website. During my trial, I preferred to take the quizzes and the drills on my tablet - because of the double clicking* scenario I run into on my laptop.
Nihongo Master also has a robust community feature - the ability to form study groups and participate in community discussions (everything from anime to JLPT study groups).
The introductory lessons are great and approachable for those just starting their language journey. The lessons are quick, and build upon one another and use illustrations to make it a bit more fun. I think that if you're going to choose a program for your entire journey and are looking for a place to start, this site makes for a robust stand-alone system.
The content is all unlocked in premium. Do you know how irritating it is to pay for something and then you don't have access to half of the features you've paid for unless you go in order? Well, Nihongo Master DOESN'T do that, so that's a huge benefit. If you already know a lesson, you can feel free to skip around. There's no unlocking necessary, and it doesn't force you to read lessons you don't want to.
Those practice sheets! I've got a stack of campus brand notebooks ordered for my character practice, but the character and stroke order written out for you to practice is incredibly helpful. The best part is, unlike Genki, you can print out as many as you want and can even create your own.
The mix of ultra polite, polite and casual language instruction. The first time I went to Japan, I was in Hiroshima at an extremely casual okonomiyaki stand. When I very politely thanked the server for bringing me a beer, she started laughing. The salarymen around me asked me if I was Canadian, to which I replied to their great shock and amusement that I was American. Excellent for raising the profile of American travelers not being terribly rude individuals, but embarrassing to give so much honour to the woman who brought me a beer. Knowing the difference between when to be super, ultra polite, and when you can use more causal phrases is helpful and not always covered in methods like Genki or Pimsleur.
Overall, I think it does an excellent job of not overwhelming you as a student. We can safely assume most of us have other things we're involved in (school, work, family life, hobbies); so having a bunch of vocabulary dumped on you isn't exactly helpful. Lessons introduce new vocabulary, but also have things like reading comprehension with questions and cultural notes, so you're learning about the country as well and not just a huge pile of vocab.
Room for improvement
Look, I'm a competitive lady. I enjoy games and competitions, and it's surely a way to get some people to engage in a site. But, when I'm doing the drills and the quizzes, and I have to double click the answer? It frustrated me! I also felt like I didn't have adequate time to respond to some of the questions before my bonus clicked down to X1.
The eternal "where the heck do I begin" question. I know I'm not advanced, and I know I'm not introductory, so I started in beginner. Of course, this presented a problem: there were words in the drills and quizzes that I didn't know. I then had to go back through introductory lessons to find the words I didn't already know so that I could progress. I spent a bit of time having to review hiragana and katakana which I've already got down. For those of us who may already have some language down (or are learning through other methods), this might just be confusing or irritating.
Things we would love to see
Private messaging system or chat: If I'm learning with friends or a group, I might have a question I want to ask privately. Or maybe I'd like to invite someone to join my group and don't want to post on their board. Or maybe I've got a question, and I just want to chat, and I don't want to log into Skype. So many maybes. But it would be really cool if the site could do this and most certainly a bonus for premium membership.
Pause button (please!): Especially in the reading comprehension sections, sometimes I need a "hold up what was that phrase she just said?" second to comprehend before moving on to the next sentence.
The "this would be a super cool feature if I could get it to work": You can record yourself to check your pronunciation and improve. I had some trouble with this function. I was using a headset, and it didn't seem to record when I pressed the button. My words seemed squashed, and it was only picking up the end of what I was saying, even after I waited 5 seconds to speak. I'd like to chalk it up to technical issues on my end but after trying it three different ways, I'm not sure.
Nihongo Master has three subscription levels with monthly ($20USD per month), six-month options ($100USD every six months) and yearly ($160 per year) options. After completing the introductory lessons, you'll have to upgrade if you want access to the higher levels.
Feeling on the fence? We'd suggest buying a $20 'test run' for a month that you could then upgrade if you're enjoying the service. (Although We'd love to see a one-week free trial period or a lifetime membership option).
So is this site better than Genki, Pimsleur, Human Japanese or even a tutor? The answer is...it depends! As with any language program, it's all about what you put into it. They do update content frequently, so it's definitely got an advantage over more static learning systems - like audio tapes or books. It also has the bonus benefit of the ability to ask questions, so you don't feel alone in your quest for fluency!
If you're looking for a one-stop shop learning program, We think Nihongo Master is a good option. If you're looking for something to supplement your current learning system, it might not be the way to go. A play around with the free section may help you make this decision.
Have you tried out Nihongomaster.com? How have you found your learning journey?
Tell us in the comments below!
Japlanning were offered a premium membership to try all of the features on nihongomaster.com site for this review.