One thing I don’t like about freemium apps to learn Japanese is that most of them have free beginner levels and paid intermediate/advanced ones. I understand the (market) reason behind it, but it’s really annoying to be forced to waste time on easy kanji (or, even worse, hiragana) to understand if an app is worth buying or not. That’s why I highly appreciate apps like Kanji Senpai, that you can test effectively whatever level you are at.
What you need to know for the JLPT
If you ever sat the JLPT test, you know that there are several words (goi) and kanji you are expected to understand. The higher the level, the more you have to know.
Maybe in the past you tried to download the word list for your level and study as much as you could before the exam, but it didn’t work. Actually, cramming is one of the least effective ways to learn. What’s more, after the 2010 the “Test content specifications” are no longer available. Which means that there’s no such thing as the ultimate word list for JLPT.
However, most of the content stayed the same, so it’s still useful to make sure you know the vocabulary required in the previous editions. That’s where Kanji Senpai comes into play.
Kanji senpai features
This app allows you to enrich your vocabulary by studying several aspects: reading, listening, writing, meaning and handwriting. You can study for all the JLPT levels for free: just choose the level you need and download the relevant lists (which are often updated).
There’s no audio in these files, so if you want the complete experience you need to buy the audio files separately. I primarily use this app while commuting, so for me it’s actually better this way. However, the included sample’s quality is high (no synthesized voice), so I recommend them if it helps you remember the pronunciation. Moreover, buying the audio files will disable the ads and unlock the handwriting feature.
The handwriting recognition test is customizable and you can choose the evaluation method between stroke count, stroke shape or a stricter version of stroke shape (think stroke direction and size balance).
As you can see from the pic, there is also the option to skip words you already know. You can choose to avoid them altogether or review some aspects only (e.g. you know the meaning, but sometimes forget the kun reading, or how to write the kanji).
In the test phase, you are presented with pretty similar multiple choices, which is a great thing: I lose count of the apps where it’s obvious which one is the correct item.
The app uses the SRS (Spaced Repetition System), which I think is the best way to study from lists. It automatically schedules your repetitions depending on how timely your answer is, so you don’t need to self-evaluate. You also have the option to reschedule the repetitions if they become too many (e.g. if you stop using the app for a long time).
You can set your own goals in terms of how long you want to study, and it helps you keep track of your daily practice:
I tried the full version for my level (N1 audio and kanji writing): sometimes I still prefer to keep it quiet, but I have to admit that listening to the pronunciation definitely helps with memorizing words.
The handwriting recognition is quite good, even if I had some issues when writing in the wrong order (it corrects you eventually, but sometimes only after you draw the following stroke).
Keep in mind that a more thorough study also means that it will take more time to go through the decks. Be sure to use the ‘review x aspect only’ whenever relevant in order to optimize your learning session.
All in all, I found it really useful when I was studying for the N1 and to retain the words I learned. However, you have to keep in mind that studying words out of context won’t help you master the language. Take your time to search example sentences, read and practice using the words you learned in natural conversations.
Stay tuned for more reviews!