If you have been looking for a few different ways to help your kids learn to speak Japanese, we have found lots of great stuff that will get your kids speaking it in no time at all!
Since Japanese is generally considered to be one of the more challenging languages to learn because of the need to memorize thousands of characters, the more exposure you can give your kids to it, the better, so we have listed the very best DVDs, books, apps, sites, and free online games to help your children learn.
DVDs and Videos
An easy way to give your little one a bit of exposure to a new language is by having them watch a DVD or an online video. Here are a few that we had a look at:
- Little Pim is an excellent option if you are looking for a video for kids ages 0-5. These videos begin each lesson with a short animated cartoon featuring a panda followed by live-action footage of children doing everyday activities. The box set it introduces over 180 words and phrases for everyday activities. DVDs are themed on “eating and drinking, “wake up smiling,” and “playtime.”
- Dino Lingo for Kids is a DVD based learning system that also includes CDs, Books, Posters, and Flashcards for Children who are learning a new language. It isn’t cheap ($100+), but it is generally very well-reviewed.
- Japanese for Children: Go! Go! Nihongo! I can’t find any reviews of this DVD anywhere (not generally a good sign), but you can view a preview of it here to see if it might be your kind of thing.
- International Baby is another DVD that doesn’t have much in the way of reviews and seems to be available only as an import. If you are looking for a DVD for a baby, you could also try Bilingual Baby. They both seem to be pretty similar.
- Japanese for Kids doesn’t have the greatest reviews, a lot of reviewers mentioned that the narrator mispronounces words and the main boy mumbles his lines (not the best thing for a language DVD), but if you are interested in this DVD check out this preview here before buying.
When you are teaching children a new language, they learn the most when they are having fun. A good place to start is with some of the great apps that are available for kids; apps are an easy, cheap, and fun way to expose children to a new language. There are quite a few apps to choose from; here are a few that we checked out:
- Learn Japanese Mindsnack’s language apps are a bit of a favorite around here; they look great, have great content, and work well. This app has eight games designed to build essential vocabulary & conversation skills, and you are also able to switch between three Japanese writing systems: kana, kanji, and romaji. To help with memorization, each lesson contains up to 20 words & phrases along with matching audio clips from a professional native speaker. You can download the first lesson for free and then upgrade to access all fifty lessons if you like what you see.
- Kids Japanese is designed for ages 3 to 9 years old. This app helps kids learn the language through interactive flashcards and matching games. Children will learn Hiragana (平仮名), which is a Japanese syllabary, one basic component of the writing system, along with katakana, kanji, and the Latin alphabet. They will also learn basic daily vocabulary in categories such as animals, body parts, colors, food, fruits, insects, vegetables, wild animals, and weather.
- Children’s book with stickers:Momotaro This iPad app is the new version of the old tale “Momotaro” which includes elements like playing with stickers and also incorporates the original characters.
- LET’S START LEARNING JAPANESE HIRAGANA! is designed for beginners and young ones to begin to learn Hiragana.
- HIRAGANA KARUTA CARDS is an iPad app that has a simple card game designed to learn Hiragana characters. All you need to do is listen to the card reading, and pick its correct pair from the batch of picture cards. This app is designed specifically for toddlers and kids who just started learning elementary words and phrases.
- Kanji Workbook for 1st Grade is an app that helps students learn 80 kanji that are taught in the 1st grade of Japan’s elementary schools. In this app, kids learn correct stroke order and it has many illustrations and examples to help students discover the meaning of characters.
Language Learning Programs/Websites/Games
Here are our favorite learning website and programs for children:
- Duolingo is one of the best websites for kids to learn a lot of different languages.
- Nickelodeon Japan has all your favorite Nick shows in Japanese.
- Digital Dialects is a Flash-based animation site that has games for learning 60 different languages. These games help the learning of phrases, numbers, spelling, verb conjugation, and alphabets.
- My Japanese Coach for Nintendo DS lets you compare your pronunciation of the sounds unique with native speakers. It also teaches you how to write Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji characters using the DS stylus. There are twelve different mini-games that test your grasp of the structured lessons.
- Let’s Learn Japanese Picture Dictionary by Marlene Goodman. If you are looking for a picture dictionary, this one is probably your best bet. It has 1,550 commonly taught essential words.
- My First Hiragana Activity Book by Yuko Green is an easy to follow guide, with lots of vocabulary and cute pictures supporting each hiragana. Unlike most hiragana workbooks, which you use once and throw away, this book can be used to practice vocabulary words long after the hiragana has been mastered.
- Jimi’s Book of Japanese by Peter X. Takahashi and David Voggenthaler is another book with really strong reviews that is great for a child who is learning the language. I don’t think I can top this description of the book by the publisher: “Put your kutsu on, grab your keitai denwa, and join Jimi, Akiko, and Robotto-san on an exciting insider’s journey to learning basic Japanese. Along the way, you’ll discover the secrets of using (o)hashi, how to find a unagi shop-even how to practice ojigi through eye-popping illustrations, and simple explanations. Designed to appeal to a wide age range and a variety of attention spans, Jimi’s Book of Japanese is for everyone who is learning and for anyone who has an inquisitive brain. Read, write, pronounce. Trace, fliplaugh! This friendly book’s Triple Bubble Learning System(TM) makes the 46 most important hiragana stick in your brain. Prepare your brain!”
Books with Audio CD
- Teach Me Japanese & More Japanese by Judy Mahoney for ages 2 to 12 years has a book & CD that introduces the language to children through songs and stories. There are 36 songs to sing-along and learn.
- Japanese Celebrations: Cherry Blossoms, Festivals and Flying Carp (Sing and Learn) by Tazuko Inui and Selina Yoon is a collection of favorite songs that bring to mind images of seasons, festivals, holidays, and the spirit of the people of Japan. Each of 22 traditional and contemporary melodies and songs is written in Kana (Hiragana and Katakana), the romaji, and the English translation. The book includes a pronunciation guide, English-Japanese glossary, and instructional and cultural notes.
Free Online Sites with Games
I couldn’t find any sites with fun games for kids, but you can try the sites listed below. The games are not specifically designed for young students but beginners in general, so I think that could be useful for slightly older children.
So that’s it for now, hope you found something useful. If you have any great resources to help kids learn this kind of tricky language, we’d love to hear from you.