Welcome to my first instalment of the Japanese Journals series! If you are new to my blog, or if you’d like to know the basics of what this series entails, then please do check out my introduction post here. The long and short of it is that I shall be chronicling my experiences of learning the Japanese language—resources used, what works for me, what doesn’t, the good and bad experiences, prepping for JLPT, learning Kanji, all that jazz.
Very shortly after announcing this series, I came across a kick-arse deal where I received access to Japanese Pod 101’s premium service for only one dollar for a month! I think it was a special that they were doing for Thanksgiving. Seeing an opportunity arise, I went ahead and signed up. I figured one month would be plenty of time for me to figure out if the regular cost of the site is worth all of the things that they offer. While I’m not sure how I feel about their various range of pricing options, I must say that I feel it would make an excellent supplement for students of Japanese with conjunction of either college classes and/or personal lessons.
Since I am still navigating my way through the content, I shall be breaking up my overall recommendation (or non-recommendation) for J-Pod 101 into two separate posts. The first one (this one) shall cover the basics of signing up and pricing, as well as getting started with lessons. The second one shall focus on the content offered and if I feel you should take the plunge and invest in it, if you’re interested in learning Japanese. There may be a third instalment that will go into further details of the content if I can’t fit it all into the second post.
** Please note: This post IS NOT sponsored. The discussion based here is entirely of my own experiences with no affiliates or anything else. Thanks. **
Before I get started, I would like to state off the bat that in my Japanese Journals serial I will never talk about the “easy” of “fast” methods of learning the language. As someone who enjoys learning many languages, I feel that those sorts of quick methods are utterly fallible and don’t truly help with learning how to speak a different tongue with proper fluency at all. I take my time and dedicate myself to educating myself, not only with talking, reading, and writing, but also with the culture because it plays a key part in understanding how communication in a relative language works (euphemisms and idioms are a great example of that). So, if you’re searching for a “Learn to speak Japanese in 4 weeks” sort of gig, this ain’t the gig for you (referring to the blog series).
YouTube vs Website
I originally came across the Japanese Pod 101 website via their YouTube channel. I signed up for a free account, but very quickly discovered that access to many of their videos and educational materials were strictly limited unless you got a paid subscription. Lucky for me, an advertisement popped up saying that they were having a one-day holiday special where I could get hooked-up with their materials for a buck. So, I went for it.
Now, most, if not all, of their videos can be found on their YT Channel. I believe that everything is categorised via playlist set-ups. The choice to invest may very well depend on your personal learning style. If you get too distracted on YT with other videos and content, then maybe it’s best to steer clear of it. Or if you’re OCD like me and just prefer to have a separate space for your learning, then that could be another reason to stay away from the YT content. Reasons to stick with YT include not being able to afford the subscription (gets quite hefty, which I’ll share a bit later), prefer to have one less website/account to manage/maintain/remember the passwords for, and are learning casually versus learning to become certified or natively fluent, to name a few.
When you originally visit the site and sign-up, you will choose your fluency level. It’s important to be sure which fluency category that you fall under so that the lessons recommended to you will fit your learning needs. When you go browsing for videos (I’ll share that later) this bit will come in quite handy. Once you sign up, you’ll have the option of checking out their plans. You’ll notice from the screenshots down below that the differences between the Basic Plan and the Premium Plan are far and wide in-between. The differences between the Premium Plan and the Premium Plus plans are far more limited in scope, however at over double the cost!
Basic plans are super limited. You get access to all the videos but are restrained on the amount of words you can study, and the tools you get along with video access. For example, with a Premium plan, you can download video transcripts, notes, and PDFs, while also being to add the vocabulary words from respective videos to a flashcard deck to study later. There’s also access to things like quizzes and grammar banks to further enhance your learning. These are more things to keep in mind when looking over J-Pod 101—as whether or not you’re going to have time to devote to learning the language, especially on a very independent level—that will determine if you should chalk up the extra moolah for it.
The pricing options for Japanese Pod 101 are fucking ridiculous. I will be upfront about my opinion on this, especially when you consider how much the rates differ depending on your renewal sequence (1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years). For example, if you look at the photo above, where I showed the plan comparisons, on the very top is lists pricing per month. Basic is shown at $4/month, Premium is $10/month, and Premium Plus is $23/month. Based on these numbers, the cost isn’t too bad, particularly when you think about all of the videos and tools they’ve got. However, when you physically sit down to choose your plan, as aforementioned, the costs change drastically.
As you can see below, a Premium Plus plan is $22.88 per month only if you pay for two years upfront, which means you’ll be spending about $550 dollars at sign-up. The benefit of this is that you’re paying far less than going by a month-by-month basis (approximately 50% less) and it renews once every 24-months. The drawback is that you have to pay fucking $550 dollars. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t have the luxury of doting out that kind of cash in one go. If you can’t afford the 2-year sign-up, then you pay a shit ton more money monthly. If I signed-up beyond my current one-month sub (I haven’t decided if I will be renewing it yet), then you have to pay $47 per month, which is literally double the cost of the long-term gig.
My current plan is the Premium plan, so for a 2-year sign-up, I’d be required to spit out $240 dollars, which equals $10/month. If I stuck with a month-by-month plan instead, the cost goes up by 250% to $25. It’s fucking ridiculous! Nonetheless, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t considering it. While due to my current financial situation I can’t sign up for a 2-year plan, I would still be hesitant to pay that much even if I did have the means for it. How do I know that 2-years from now I’m still going to be using the website? Or that I’m going to use it consistently for the 2-years in the first place? If I only use it for 5 months, then the rest of the subscription is going to waste, and I don’t believe they do refunds past a certain point, but I’m not completely sure on that bit yet. Logically, there are too many factors for me to sign-up for a commitment of that magnitude, even if it saves me 250% of the cost, depending on my usage.
Frankly speaking, I am considering trying out the month-by-month plan for a short-term and seeing how often I use J-Pod 101 to supplement my independent learning. As I’ve mentioned before, I think it can be worth the price—to an extent—if you are legitimately serious about learning Japanese and are a dedicated learner, and also if you have college classes or a private tutor who can help guide you while you learn. My next post will go into details on the content and why I personally believe it’s not a magnificent stand-alone resource for learning Japanese.
Once you’re all set and ready for viewing, it’s time to add things to your dashboard. When you choose a fluency level, which I went with Absolute beginner since my grammar really needs more work more than anything else, it adds a lesson plan, or Pathway, to your Dash for you to get started with. As you can see below, the one they added to my Dash is Mastering Japanese: Level 1. Within each Pathway is a set number of videos that correspond to the main focus of that specific plan. Additionally, having a fluency chosen from the start makes it easier to add new videos for studying to your Dash. Remember how I mentioned earlier that your level will come in handy with browsing vids? Well, let’s take a look at how.
When you hit the Add a Pathway button at the bottom of your list of Pathways on your Dash, it takes you to a screen that allows you to browse through their catalogue of content. If you have a selected fluency level, it will automatically show you the videos within that specific fluency level so you don’t have to worry about watching/studying something that is far too advanced for your level, or below it. I used that function to add Pathways involving how to improve writing and understanding the basics of Kana (Hiragana and Katakana alphabets), introduction to the basics of Kanji, and also getting motivated to study when I’m feeling down and lazy.
As you can see, with the way that things are set-up, there is no strict guideline or course outline for cohesive learning of the language. It is literally all self-motivated and self-starting, so to speak. What that means is that you have to be willing to be aware of your own progress with learning Japanese and you definitely need to hold yourself accountable to sticking with the lessons, which includes kind of creating your own lesson plans and coursework.
My personal recommendation based off my first impressions of the website’s foundation is to have a course textbook with you (I use Genki: An Integrated Course), have tutoring or classes outside of the website, and schedule time that is distinctly for learning the language, that’s if you try to use a resource like Japanese Pod 101. If you don’t have access to tutoring or classes, then I believe that learning with a group of friends may be beneficial as you can motivate one another and have people to practise conversationally with. If you are more scatter-brained and/or not good at self-starting or self-teaching, then this is definitely not going to be an avenue that will benefit you, at least not without more hard word than is already required.
Next week, I will go over the videos and other tools that the websites offers in more details so that you can get a better grasp of the content to decide if you feel it’s going to be worth the monetary investment. As always, my thoughts will be unfiltered and upfront. Please, do subscribe to my blog if you are interested in this segment! Thank you.