Learning Japanese is no small undertaking. The language is filled with differences from English in both its grammar and its written form. Once you’ve decided that you are up for the challenge, you then have to figure out how to go about the learning process. There are so many options for learning Japanese nowadays—from classes at universities to Skype tutors to online learn-at-home style programs.
Rocket Japanese is one such computerized learn at home style of program. It has three tiers of advancement each with over 100 hours of audio lessons, and benefits from the extensive experience and background of the Rocket Languages family. It’s just one of 12 great language programs in their selection, which has been around for over a decade.
How does this program shape up, and how does it compare to other programs of similar cost and content? What teaching and learning methods does it employ? I took the 2020 version out for a spin, and will cover these questions and more in this Rocket Japanese review. Now updated for the 2020 version!
Breakdown – Rocket Japanese Review
Rocket Japanese is a more traditional style of course that incorporates several different learning styles. It has reading, writing, and listening components that make up its different modules and lessons. It’s more of a familiar style to most people than “immersion” style courses such as Rosetta Stone.
Rocket Japanese is made up of several different aspects that comprise lessons as well as extra sections in which to learn about different parts of the language such as grammar. Some of these include:
- New For 2020: Improved Voice Recognition, My Benchmark, Improved Dashboard, Voice Recognition storage, and better lesson bookmarking
- Interactive Audio Lessons – These lessons make up most of the Rocket Japanese course. They are divided into 15-20 minute audio lessons that focus on a particular subject. There are frequent pauses for explanations as well as spots where the student should repeat a phrase or word.
- Language And Culture Lessons – These lessons help to explain some of the more complex parts of Japanese grammar. This is especially important as some of these things can be confusing for students as they are so different from English. The culture lessons give you an insight into Japanese culture and tie into some of the language as well.
- Advanced Learning – This is a great motivational section filled with interesting articles and audios on how to improve your learning strategy. It’s an excellent way to keep yourself fresh with the desire to learn the language.
- Survival Kit – This group of lessons is for people who want to start using Japanese right away – whether for travel, business, or other reason. It’s got quick and dirty vocabulary and phrases that will get you going for many different situations.
- Flash Cards – This is pretty much what it sounds like: a flash card game designed to help reinforce vocab and phrases. Unfortunately it’s the most mundane part of the course, but it’s still useful.
- Progress Tracking – Keeping track of your progress is easy and fun with color-coded lesson icons, a daily points total, and a leaderboard that pits you against other students using the Rocket Languages program.
- Quizzes – Interspersed among the course are quizzes that help you to check your progress and ensure you’re on track.
- Forums – A forum/message board for users of the Rocket Japanese course–helpful if you have specific questions about the language or the course itself.
Interactive Audio Lessons – Rocket Japanese Review
The main bulk of Rocket Japanese is contained in the Interactive Audio Lessons. These are focused lessons that are broken down into about 15-20 minute segments that don’t overwhelm the student with too much information–it’s what the Rocket Languages courses call “chunking,” which is a funny way of saying that the lessons are simply broken down into easy to focus-on chunks.
Each lesson has a different theme that it focuses on, such as “Greetings” or “Asking For Something.”
In order to keep listeners engaged and thinking, the audio dialog will pause in certain spots in order for the student to repeat words or phrases. This helps stay focused as well as get started with speaking and pronunciation.
Overall I found these audio lessons to be very clear and easy to understand. It’s obvious that Japanese is so different from English, so sometimes I would have to re-do an audio lesson or rewind to hear it again in order to really get a feel for it.
Scattered throughout all the lessons are sections on Japanese grammar and the Hiragana writing system. It’s no easy task to learn a new language, let alone one with a new alphabet. But the lessons break it down and make it feel doable.
The audio lessons are available for download in .mp3 format so you can take them with you on the go with your favorite audio device. However, the 2018 Rocket Languages mobile app will eliminate the need to download and offers the course on mobile devices – making it very easy to stay current while on the go.
Audio Recognition: Hear it! Say it!
The Hear It! and Say It! portions of the lessons are interactive audio games that test your listening and speaking abilities. They help break up the monotony of just listening to the dialog endlessly. They tie in to the audio lessons and use phrases and words that you have just learned. The voice recognition technology does a good job of determining your pronunciation, and doesn’t let you get lazy! This is important for a language like Japanese where the pronunciation is quite different from English words. It can be hard to test pronunciation when learning solo, but the Rocket Languages course helps with this immensely.
Language and Culture / Survival Kit
These sections are specifically created to help students understand the intricacies of basic Japanese grammar, mechanics, and structure. These lessons are in English, and help students get a good grasp on it without having to “infer” the grammar from simple immersion-only (which can leave students confused). The cultural lessons then help put the language in context of Japanese culture, which helps make the connections even stronger.
The Survival Kit is a compact and easy to use “toolkit” that helps students of Japanese get started right away, whether for travel or school or work. These lessons are focused on giving you useful phrases for various situations such as travel, restaurants, and shopping. The course is actually sold separately, but comes included in Rocket Japanese for each different level you purchase. So, it’s actually a course within a course, which is very cool.
The Rocket Languages mobile app is all new for 2020, and I really like the look and feel. It mimics the general layout of the desktop course and uses the same color coded icons. It’s really nice to be able to take your lessons with you on the go to listen to in the car, subway, train, or even while out taking a walk. The key to learning a new language is consistency, and this is a huge help. While the Rocket Languages courses were mobile accessible, it was a little clunky. The new app fixes that problem and makes the experience much more streamlined. I would still advise users to use the course mostly on the computer, but the app is still an excellent way to do the lessons.
Tracking Your Progress
Keeping track of where you are in the course as well as how well you’re doing is easy with Rocket Japanese’s colorful icon system. For each lesson there is an icon for the different sections, such as Hear It! and Say It! The icons get filled in with a color based on how well you did on the portion: red for bad, all the way to green for perfect. It becomes addictive to earn those green icons, and it’s a great way to reward yourself for completing all the icons.
Along with the icons is a daily points total that you can set to whatever goal you’re working towards or have time for. I set mine for 100 during the beginning, however I realized it wasn’t quite enough so I put it at 200. As you score more and more total points throughout the course you are awarded badges.
There is also a leader board that tallies how many points the different students of Rocket Japanese have been collecting, and it could be a very fun motivator for people who like a little competition.
Advanced Learning Section
This is a rather cool and unique section of the Rocket Japanese course. The advanced learning section gives students tools to help motivate and encourage them through their language learning journey by supplying learning techniques and strategies as well as motivational material. I actually really like this section and returned to it from time to time when I was feeling discouraged or frustrated.
The flash cards are basically what they say they are: flash cards featuring vocabulary and phrases help students with retention and memorization. This is a good tool and is helpful, however it is rather boring and a bit unimaginative. I feel like Rocket Languages could spice this area up with some pictures or things to make it a bit more unique and fun. However, like I said it does help with memorization of the vocab, which is something I have problems with for certain words and things like numbers.
Online Community Forum
The online forum is a place to meet like-minded learners of Japanese and ask questions about the language or the course itself. The forum is a bit on the quiet side, however I found that if I posted something, someone would come in and answer right away. So people do peruse the forums, and the Rocket Languages staff will be there to answer questions and interact as well. In defense of the Rocket Languages program, however, forums depend on users to thrive, and it can be hard to really cultivate an online forum.
There is a free trial for Rocket Japanese that lets you explore parts of the course free of charge! This is a great way to take it out for a test ride and see if it might be right for you.
Customer Support And Guarantee
I’ve been following the Rocket Languages courses for many years now, and I have always found their staff to be extremely friendly and helpful. They are very quick to respond – even when I’m not contacting them directly. I posted a question about the course on the forum and they quickly swooped in and answered within a few hours. I was quite surprised.
The money back guarantee is a great way to have peace of mind if you decide to try out Rocket Japanese. If you decide it’s just not right for you, you can get your money back no questions asked. Their merchant processor Clickbank is one of the best money back guarantors in the industry.
Conclusion – Rocket Japanese Review
If learning Japanese is a goal of yours, then I definitely think Rocket Japanese is a worthwhile investment. It my experience it gives the most bang for your buck in terms of all the learn at home courses that are on the market. Backed by the money-back guarantee and excellent customer service, you really can’t get much better. The Rocket Languages team has showed dedication to improving their products over the years. Even The Guardian and the New York Times had great reviews and writeups about the Rocket Languages courses.
Of course, Rocket Japanese isn’t perfect. It definitely has a few little problems here and there and I think it would be greatly improved if they would add a better game besides the flash cards. And if you want to be fluent in Japanese you will eventually have to step outside the course. However for the price this program is an excellent course and a great introduction to the language of Japanese. I highly recommend it!