Drops, Extensive Review after 1 Year of Use

I’ve been using Drops for about 1 year now and according to the app, I’ve learned 2457 words. It’s a useful tool with a lot of flaws. I think there is benefit to using it, but that you need to be cognisant of how you use it.

First up, I highly recommend sticking with only the free version.

Second, what is Drops? It’s an app that focuses on teaching vocab through pictures and matching. There are a few types of matching- target language word to picture and sound to picture. There are formats that have you practice spelling (this feature is continuing to be improved, so that’s all I’ll say about it) as well. The Foundation section also features writing practice, but it’s most useful for kana. Kanji are better on WaniKani and there’s also some problems with Drops’ kanji (see cons for more details). Drops has many different topics that are fairly free to select, so whether you’re a beginner or intermediate learner, you can pick what interests you or you feel is most beneficial. If you’re advanced, surely you’re better suited to learning with native materials, no?

Third, what are the pros and cons?
Pros

  1. It has a free version
  2. The timed nature of the free version- you get 10-12 minutes max most days
  3. You have free choice of what to study
  4. It’s possible to have single language practice instead of having to use another non-target language
  5. You can decide if you want kanji (furigana adaptive and always off) or kana (furigana always on) or romaji
  6. It does sound like the male speaker is possibly a real native speaker. The female voice sounds too robotic to me.

Cons

  1. Teaches useless vocab- just because there are conversions of various Hanukkah words in Japanese, that doesn’t mean that the average person knows them. I think it’s useless to teach terms that the average native speaker doesn’t even know. Adding on to that, it’s not like the Chinese/Lunar New Year is widespread in Japan either. If I didn’t live in Japan, I would think from the inclusion that various American/International holidays are celebrated in Japan when they’re just not. Does not bother to teach the difference between some common words like big/little bro/sis. Given that I’m posting this on WaniKani, I think we all are at least somewhat aware that Japanese considers the distinction important, yet Drops ignores that.
  2. New content seems to not be properly vetted consistently by a native speaker actively communicating in standard Japanese. It’s frequently rolled out and recommended too early. It also often is missing audio. If it’s missing audio, I take that as an instant sign that it’s not curated and/or checked well enough yet.
  3. Makes the wrong choice in which words to teach, for example, teaching コンサート instead of ライブ for a pop star’s concert. It’s fine in the sense that you’ll be able to be understood, but then you’ll probably be confused when someone else talks about the subject. They also have an lgbt section where they feature no queer words of the Japan origin, but instead, just katakana versions of English concepts or 彼ら for single person they… :face_vomiting:
  4. Doesn’t fix reported issues as far as I can tell, aside from pictures. For example, they have マスク for Halloween masks and won’t change it to the right word, 仮面. It’s very obnoxious. The only reason this isn’t a dealbreaker for me is because I don’t think these issues are that common and you can remove these items from your studies by ignoring them.
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  5. Has the wrong and illegible kanji in the kanji sections. I don’t understand how they have the completely wrong kanji at times, but :person_shrugging:. The illegibility is mostly the fault of the super bold type font that’s used. It’s fine with kana, but kanji are too detailed for it. For example, cloud 雲 and between 間
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  6. Sometimes has unclear pictures. Why the picture for battery looks like a water bottle is beyond me. Just adding a plus and minus would make it so much clearer. The good news is that they do periodically fix these picture issues.
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So why do I recommend Drops? The time bound nature of it (5 min of studying every 10h for a maximum of 10 min) makes it easier for users to consistently use the app and therefore continuing to learn. The app also has a nice variety of vocab- kanji and kana based. Unlike other vocab focused apps, it has useful phrases too. While it doesn’t explain the grammar, it does have set phrases that are used in daily life and tourist situations. I haven’t seen a comparable app that allows such topic freedom choice while having a combo of phrases and vocab. The next nearest things I can think of are Duolingo, which disallows right answers too often and is getting increasingly worse for users other than complete beginners, and LingoDeer, which is way too costly for an app that doesn’t fix its mistakes. As I said before, Drops doesn’t seem to fix its mistakes either, but it doesn’t lock them behind a paywall.

How do I use Drops? I think most people who use Drops typically learn about 1,000 words a year. I’m guessing they keep practicing until they’ve completed a topic to 100%. Usually, I’ll practice a topic just until I’ve seen all the words in it. If they’re useful words, I’ll see and hear them in my daily life, so I don’t feel too pressured to go beyond basic exposure to them. Also, if it’s a word I can physically write from memory, I’ll skip it. I end up seeing a lot more words this way. I don’t think there’s any harm to going to 100% completion on a topic, it will just cut into your limited time to learn more. Assuming you don’t pay for Drops. Unless you’re learning a bunch of Western European languages at the same time, I would not recommend it.

If you have any questions or feel like I missed anything, please let me know.

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I forgot to say that after I finish with Drops (I have about 75 topics left, it takes me 1-2 days to see all the vocab in a topic), I plan to switch to LingoLegends, which is a gamified vocab app. It also has a limited usage for free users. It doesn’t have phrases though I believe and I only heard about it this summer, so I figure that I’ll get through all of one app first before adding another that has a lot of overlap. It does have beginner/intermediate/hard mode for vocab too, which is nice. Hopefully I’ll have an extensive review of it in about a year?

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Ah, I forgot to say because I don’t advise people to get the paid version, but the sales are mostly crap. The price hovers around the same amount all the time and they offer “sales” and “discounts” incredibly often.

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They just added “milestones” which give levels to how many terms you’ve learned. I like the idea in general, but the top milestone is for 4k terms and I’m currently at 2.8k terms and I don’t like the idea that it’ll take me that much longer to clear their content. I want to graduate onto more gamified apps like lingolegends and kawaiidugneon lol.

On the bright side, I was working on the math terms and it was really nice reinforcement of the terms I’ve learned here on WK and also that video book club I joined a while ago

edit: hmm I have 39 topics left that I’d like to do and then I’ll manually go through which terms to skip in some of the topics I’ve already passed over. I’m down to 39 from 75 though so that’s decent progress for about 3 months