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Japanese: My Feelings so Far

Hey guys! I just wanted to post a little about my feelings about the Japanese course so far.

First of all, I'm so grateful that Duolingo finally was able to put together a course for its most requested language. Kudos for that. Secondly, I'd like to thank everyone at Duolingo who made this course possible, as their hard work and dedication are evident. Of course, the course is still technically in beta, which is why I am making this "update" of sorts.

First of all, I'm super glad that Duolingo doesn't have romaji in this course. It's essential in my opinion that hiragana and katakana be taught first, as romaji creates problems down the road. I believe that Duolingo does a great job of helping learners memorize the different kana, and I'm satisfied overall with all of that. Then, of course, there's the kanji (gasp). Mostly I'm happy with how Duolingo has taught the kanji. However, there is one gripe I have. It doesn't teach when to use the on-yomi and kun-yomi readings. There have been a few times when I've been confused which pronunciation of the kanji to use, because Duolingo doesn't teach it. I know Duolingo's approach is more immersive than textbook, and that most users will probably be able to figure out most of the time which readings to use for the kanji taught in this course, but I still think some explanations would be nice.

Speaking of which, I really like how the French course and I assume some of the other "bigger" language courses Duolingo offers, contain the tips and notes sections with each lesson that you can read on the web version. (Hopefully web support for Japanese comes soon!) I think that with a language that's way more different than English that these would be super useful. Now of course, these could be included when the web version launches, but for now they're nowhere to be seen.

But onto more positives. The lessons flow very well, and I feel as if I've learned a lot just in a short period of time. I really like how a certain lesson will contain vocabulary that seems totally unrelated, and then only later do you realize how it all ties together. There seem to be fewer lessons currently in the Japanese course compared to other courses Duolingo offers, which is a little disappointing - though of course, they could add more in the future once it's out of beta.

The course claims to be able to prepare you for JLPT 5, which to me seemed a little low. I would have expected it to have been able to teach up to a JLPT 4 proficiency, but I'm not complaining. I'm thrilled there are about 86 kanji taught in this course, and hopefully, Tiny Cards can add a kanji deck in the future.

Last gripe: THE PARTICLES - I feel as if Duolingo needs to explain the particles better. I barely understand them at all. The difference between は and が is completely lost on me, and I'm unsure when to use these particles at all. I feel as if there needs to be just a little bit of "textbook" style learning for this particular course. Now, of course, I'm not super far through the entire course yet, things could come more apparent, but right now I'm just perplexed.

ALL IN ALL: I'm happy with how Duolingo has pulled this course off. I expected it to be difficult to make, but honestly believe this has been worth the wait. Duolingo's Japanese course exceeded my expectations, and it's taught in such a way where memorization becomes easy (at least in my opinion.) I'm super excited to see it develop even more, and can't wait to see what else it has in store. While there were a few groans and moans I had about the course, I believe the pros definitely tip the scale with how great this course currently is. Thank you Duolingo!

May 20, 2017



Hi! I know of some websites which can help you with learning Japanese: Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide and Jisho. The first helps a lot with grammar and it is free to use! The second is an online dictionary where you can look up words or kanji to get the readings and meanings. Also, the difference between on-yomi is the Chinese reading of the character and the kun-yomi is the native Japanese reading. Sadly, there's no simple way to explain when to use either one. You will have to memorise it for each word you encounter. However, if the kanji is in a compound, it will usually take the on-yomi. If it is by itself, either in a noun or it has adjective/verb stems. Secondly, This website helps with explaining は vs.  が. Lastly, if you want help with learning vocabulary and kanji for JLPT N5, I recommend This course on Memrise.


The funny thing is: The difference between "wa" and "ga", which puzzles most learners of Japanese, is either barely explained or wrongly explained in most books and even school. It took me some research on the internet until I found one good explanation.

In fact: I doubted from the beginning that the Duolingo course would get it right in the first place.

Fere's an explanation I read and seems to be correct: While in indo-european languages there is no distinction between the subject of the sentence and the topic of the sentence, there is a difference in Japanese. "ga" is the subject marker, "wa" is the topic marker. To find out which one to use you have to ask yourself "what question does the sentence answer?". A sentence can live without the topic but never without the subject.

So let's say the sentence is "I drive the car". Is "I" the subject or the topic? Let's leave it out: "drive the car". (which is gramatically incorrect in english but perfectly fine in japanese)

What question does "drive the car" answer?

If the question is "what are you doing?" then the answer is correct. You get the information asked for. So the "I" was optional, you can leave it out. "I" was the topic of the sentence. The particle is "wa".

If the question is "who is driving?" then the answer is wrong. You don't get the information you were trying to get with the question. "drive the car" does not answer who is driving, just that somebody is driving. "I" was the subject of the sentence and could not be left out. The particle is "ga".

Usually teaching books make things easy by saying "ga is for putting emphasis", which is correct in most cases but not all. Also, while it is grammatically correct to always use the subject marker "ga", it would sound strange to a listener. It would sound like "it is I that is going to cinema tonight" if you just told somebody where you are going later today.


Some aspects of Russian word order reflect a topic-comment logic. The standard translation of a sentence like "There is a deer in the bushes" would mark bushes as the topic (via word order) and deer as the comment, while deer is still the subject, so this grammatical feature isn't complete absent from the Indo-European family.


Interesting. Well, yes, in English you can achieve the same through word order or emphasis.

Example Wikipedia:

"As for the little girl, the dog bit her." (girl: topic)

"It was the little girl the dog bit." (girl: subject)

But as far as I know there is no distinct grammatical feature that exists only for this kind of differentiation. And they certainly don't teach that distinction in English class (or German class in my case). It is mostly a topic for linguists. In Japanese you have to know and the grammar is very straightforward in the way.

PS: Japanese grammer is very straightforward in most ways. Which makes it the preferred language by computer-linguists for testing content recognition software.


In Russian the word order change showing the topic-comment aspect is a lot simpler (than English):

  • Olen' v kustakh. — The deer is in the bushes.
  • V kustakh olen'. — There is a deer in the bushes.

Topic comes first; comment second. Deer (olen') is the grammatical subject in both cases.


Thank you so much for this!


I agree! I'm thrilled that Japanese was finally added. I needed a little spice in my life (sorry, French course). However, once I reached the "Intro" lesson and those that followed, I felt lost without any sort of instructions. I could grasp the organization of the tiny sentences, like "I'm John," or "I am Chinese," but not the ones even just a tad more complex. Adding "from" or "Mr." and "Mrs". into the equation confused me probably more than it should have. The only background knowledge I had was that verbs, like です (desu, or a form of the English "to be") came at the end of the sentence. Other than that, the characters got jumbled up in my head and it was hard to figure out the pattern and organization of the sentences. I really hope the textbook-like information seen with the broader languages arrives along with the web version of the course!


I had a little bit of previous Japanese knowledge, but yeah it's still hard for me to grasp the sentence structure at times. Mostly what's hard for me is just knowing why certain particles are there, such as が、を、に、and へ.


The Japanese sentence structure is far different from English's structure. First of all, English's is Subject-Verb-Object while Japanese's is Subject-Object-Verb. For example, I eat an apple would translate in Japanese to リンゴを食べる where リンゴ is apple, を is the direct-object marker and 食べる is to eat. So, it will literally translate to Apple-direct-object marker-eat. The particles are to help show what each words' function is in a sentence. Each particle has certain uses. The が particle helps mark the subject of the verb. It can also be used to separate one thing from others, describing things with adjectives, etc. The next one is を. This one is the direct-object marker. It's what the verb is acting upon just like in the sentence above. に and へ(pronounced "e" as a particle) are similar and can be used interchangeably when talking about location. However, に is also used to mark time(don't use へ for this context)(the time usually comes at the beginning of a sentence). There's also another location particle: で. This one is like に, but you doing something somewhere. For example, 学校で食べる(がっこうでたべる). 学校 is school, で is a location particle and 食べる is to eat. This means "I eat at school". I hope this helps! If it doesn't, I recommend This Wikipedia Article.


Fianally a review that doesn't bash the course and doesn't force people to use genki, you are one of those rare people.


I am definitely more in favor of time being put in to create an N4-material inclusive tree than the team spending an inordinate amount of time developing the detailed grammar explanations for an N5-only tree.

That being said, I’m already learning things from these N5 lessons. I passed the first checkpoint with the entrance exam and then got introduced to これとこれ and あれとあれ in the first lesson.

I’ve never used those phrases before when shopping and selecting things to purchase, but the pattern was very easy to pick up. No explanation required.


Thanks for your thoughts. I'm still wondering why they haven't released it on the web version. Hope it won't become a usual thing with the new courses. I don't like the mobile app and wouldn't use it.

Did you know any kana before starting the course or did you learn it directly before? I think I'll learn the writing in a few weeks to start this course later. Can you recommend any resources you've used? I'd especially appreciate it if someone had a deck somewhere with romaji+IPA and not only romaji.


I had already learned the kana before starting this course to answer your question. And yeah I'd agree with kavics6 to use TinyCards. However, if you don't like that version I'd say then use memrise decks.


Real Kana teaches you Hiragana and Katakana, and Tinycards also has decks which teach Hiragana and Katakana.

[deactivated user]

    No it likely won't be, the Japanese course differs quite a lot from the rest of the courses, it's simply just not finished for the web yet, or Android.


    Only up to JLPT 5? I'm already at the JLPT 3 level and I will be going to Japan again next year, so I guess there is no point in me doing the course. Unless, of course, I would like some extra XP and lingots.


    I’m looking forward to finishing the tree and then using “timed practice” when the web version comes out. I find Duolingo “timed practice” to be very beneficial to use even in languages where I’ve already tested at the B1 and B2 levels and there’s technically nothing new for me to learn.

    Even though I regularly read, listen to news, and watch programs in the languages I study, I can sometimes get stale in the grammatical constructions I use when having conversations. Duolingo timed practice helps me avoid that by staying refreshed in many of the different ways of expressing things in the target language.

    I also suspect that all the listening to imperfect computerized voices during my timed practice sessions has trained my ear for even greater comprehension when I listen to native material with crisp, natural voices.

    [deactivated user]

      Yes only to JLPT 5, hey it could still be fun or like light revision for you :) Or just a fancy golden owl.


      Oh, a japanese course, for a filthy android pleb like myself? Where?

      [deactivated user]

        Us filthy plebs get in 1-2 weeks or so.


        Yup, not too bad but still...


        It's a good start no doubt. Memrise' course was super dumb. 86 kanji doesn't seem like much though. You might want to check out leaning the kanji or the like. I've worked a little with that. Dunno how well it fits into the bigger language leaning picture but it makes kanji seem very friendly and logical.


        Yeah more kanji IN the course would be nice, but i don't think it's a really big problem, you can learn kanji literally from millions of sites.


        I'm using NihongoShark's kanji deck in Anki Flashcards to try and memorize the 2000 or so jōyō kanji. It's spaced repetition so I find it easier to memorize the different kanji.


        I'm only in the beginning of the course, but I agree that the particles must be explained. I have to guess which one it is without knowing why.


        I really enjoy Duolingo, because I have the belief that gamification is the future of education. Memorization requires one to make complex connections in the brain, which is difficult to do with traditional mundane study techniques. However, to truly learn a language, we cannot rely on any one tool alone. I will be looking into other sources for my grammar background; I will use tinycards to help memorization; and as a hidden benefit, I can use anime to develop an ear for the language, once I have gotten to a sufficient level of understanding. Keep on keeping on everyone!


        I'm glad this course looks good! The wait will be worth it. I know some websites for learning japanese too: the first one is from the NHK (https://www.nhk.or.jp/lesson/). It seems easy at first, but then it gets better. And the second is Erin's Challenge (https://www.erin.ne.jp/en/). It's for people who has some knowledge about japanese. Regards!


        Thank you for this!


        We now have a Japanese from English forum and we are now moving Japanese-related discussions over, including this one. Please post future Japanese conversations there. =]

        Announcement here


        You are not alone with the は subject and が topic particles. Many highly proficient Japanese learners still get these wrong from time to time. Most Japanese will understand if you mix up in conversation, you are learning after all and they're from a very polite culture. If anything, you'll need to ask them to give you feedback when you get it wrong so you can learn.

        There are rules of thumb as some have brought up here but really, you'll only really get a feel for it by trial and error.Just practice, practice, practice. This is where it's a bit harder in Duolingo with text prompts. Unless you're leaning on short term memory and learning each phrase by rote you'll get it wrong from time to time.

        I think perhaps Duolingo needs to be a bit more forgiving with particles (especially は, が, and を which are often muddled up). When I make a minor error in other courses (such as a typo or missing accent in Italian) it will mark the answer almost correct and show my mistake. I can see how they may view particles as critical to the grammar (such as gendered articles in romance languages) but I think they can still tweak the difficulty curve there a bit. At least it's not as unforgiving as the Heart system they had when I tried Italian a couple of years ago.


        Hi, is it just me or even my poor 'puter equipment or do you also encounter problems with the spoken Japanese. First off, it's a good idea that a male and a female voice are heard. But they are talking in a rather slurred way. This may be how the folks in the street or Izakaya really speak and thus it may be somehow correct. However, it often makes the course a guessing game, even in "turtle mode". Japanese can be spoken fast, fluent and yet understandably - I witnessed that, e.g., in the Tokyo buses or subways. So, Duolingo spirits, if yer listening: Re-think the spoken element. You do not give us kana and kanji in the cursive style to make learning deliberately more challenging... so why is there "cursive style speak"? My request: Apply a bit more wisdom. PUH-LEASE.

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