Suplementing/Transitioning off Duolingo

Hello friends,

I’m looking to advance my Japanese learning, and would appreciate any advice and suggestions. For background, my ONLY exposure so far has been Duolingo.(>500days, >80k exp, completed 15/90 units, for those familiar with its progress tracking).

I just started WaniKani this week, and I’m starting to get scared of the inconsistent info I’m getting. It just showed me above and below as jyou and ka, whereas I’ve only seen them as ue and shita. I think both are correct sometimes, and I’m not sure when, but the point is that I think Duolingo as my only resource may be hurting me, or at least leaving gaps in my knowledge. I also saw another forum comment that said Duolingo still thinks “watashi wa ringo desu” means “I am an apple,” and…that’s me… I think that. Is that not right? I’m starting to lose trust in what I think I know.

If you asked me last week, I would have told you Duolingo is great. And I think its good for two main reasons:

  1. It introduces concepts in an order that makes sense. Like it establishes a curriculum. You are exposed to the most common language early on
  2. Its motivating. Maintaining streaks, leagues, and exchanging congratulatory notifications with friends helps me practice every day without fail.

I think its main downfalls are:

  1. its teaching is 100% showing you example sentences. This is obviously very limited. It relies on the user’s pattern recognition to extrapolate grammar and pronunciation rules, which is such an inefficient way of doing it, and I end up with the wrong information sometimes.
  2. What has bothered me more recently is it has way too few example sentences. I think the machine learning term is overfitted/underfitted system. For example, I have translated " I practice guitar at school every Monday" like 20 times, but I have never seen a single other sentence with that structure. Why can’t it have me do something like “I go for a run in the park every Sunday.” The problem is, whenever I hear “maishyuu --youbi…” I already know the Duolingo answer.
  3. Some of the info might be wrong?

I’ve been happy enough with Duolingo so far. I’ve learned a lot of words and can understand slice-of-life animes pretty well. I’m lucky enough to have a really good memory though, so I’m kinda carried by that.

So what do you all recommend I look into?
I’m just starting Wanikani, and want to explore other options. I’ve considered hiring a tutor, buying textbooks, etc.
Sorry for long post. I greatly appreciate any and all opinions and suggestions!!!


You might find this helpful if you’re looking for resources

I use Duolingo every day (~250 streak) but I mainly use it as a reminder to study Japanese everyday + supplemental practice, not as my main study tool at all. I think most people wouldn’t recommend it to be used as a sole resource


Hey, welcome to WaniKani!

Usually I’d recommend dropping Duolingo, but you might be a bit hesitant, so at the very least I’d recommend spending less time on it, I know there’s options for how long you study on it per day.

Just for cautions sake, are you okay with hiragana and katakana? Duolingo doesn’t work for everyone and most people are pretty iffy on them, if you still haven’t mastered it, you should look into another resource for that.

Now, for your concerns on conflicting information, no need to worry. Over here you will see that 上 is listed as うえ. WaniKani teaches you both readings, and helps you understand in which context, they’d be used. I would recommend not worrying right now about that, since you will pick it up naturally as you learn. Just keep in mind, most kanji have more than 1 reading, WaniKani shows you one reading at a time most of the time to make it easier on you.

As for what I recommend looking into, you should use the time you’re not spending on Duolingo (whether you cut it out or spend less time on it) on grammar studies. There are plenty of resources out there, do you prefer a more natural way of learning grammar, without all the weird terms like transitive, passive, vocational, etc? I don’t know what most of them mean to be honest, so you can definitely learn grammar without those terms. But if you want to, textbooks and such like Genki are considered to be a good resource. If you want something less complicated than that, personally I found this youtube playlist to be helpful.

There is also a website called Bunpro, while I don’t use it, many people swear by it.

Overall, I think Duolingo only has a purpose for reviewing information, but I would rather spend my time on more meaningful ways.


So yes, both are right, and jyou and ka appear in kanji compounds (words/expressions made up of more than one kanji). Ue and shita are usually the readings when those kanji are alone, those they’re not always alone when they’re read like that. (I hope that was clear.) Duolingo is definitely going to leave gaps in your knowledge, and not necessarily because it’s bad, but because it’s pretty lightweight.

A big example of that

Yeah, see, Duolingo rarely repeats grammatical structures, and I guess that’s not surprising given the simple fact that Duolingo is not a grammar-focused system at all.

As someone who also has a pretty good memory, I’m slightly surprised by this, because I really didn’t think Duolingo’s vocabulary would add up to much. However, I guess it would help with understanding everyday words, which are most likely what you’ve encountered so far. Congratulations.

My approach to language learning (Japanese is my sixth language if you include my two native languages, English and Chinese) is mainly defined by two things:

  1. Intuition – I want resources that work well with my learning style and preferences, which means I want lots of examples, decent explanations that aren’t too verbose, and rapid understanding with no fluff
  2. Value for money – I don’t pay for subscriptions unless they’re for something like a newspaper or streaming service (i.e. for immersion or entertainment). None of the resources I’ve ever used to study any language (unless you count tuition classes as a child) have required more than a one-time payment. I pick resources that I feel are worthwhile, and then I drain them dry, or keep them by my side as I continue my journey, if they’re that valuable (e.g. dictionaries, grammar reference books, usage guides based on years of observation etc.).

As a result, most of my resources are free, or they’re books. I don’t spend money on much else for language learning.

In the case of Japanese, I think that textbooks are often a good idea. Genki and Minna no Nihongo are two common recommendations, and it seems Minna no Nihongo is denser on the grammar explanations side of things. However, I’ve seen MnN in action (I’ve even been asked by my teachers to teach lesson extracts from the books, since I’m usually the most advanced student in the room, or one of them), and I think it might be a little too heavy on the explanations. More importantly, both Genki and MnN are designed for classroom use, so I think you’ll end up wasting a lot of time trying to figure out exercises that you’re meant to do with a teacher. Take a look at them if you want, because they’re high quality, but really ask yourself if that’s what you’d like to study with.

Human Japanese is another textbook I think is worth looking at, and it’s pretty great, based on the extracts I’ve seen. I think its explanations are better than what you’d find in Genki and MnN, though I don’t know if it covers as much grammar. Again, take a look if you want, and see if you like it.

If you’re willing to go off the beaten path with me though… try Assimil. They’re a French publisher that’s hardly known in the English-speaking world, but they do publish textbooks in English, and in my opinion, they’re the most efficient. To explain it in a way you might find relatable… imagine Duolingo as a book, but with coherent texts, not just short sentences, and with additional grammar and culture notes, along with waaaay more context and quick additional exercises that should take you about 10 min per lesson. Sound good? Well, that’s Assimil. Also, for what it’s worth, basically every Internet polyglot (myself included) has at least one textbook from them, including the most famous ones. Here’s the Japanese course, which is unfortunately only available as an e-course (I quite liked the French paperback edition, you see):

The upside is that you can download and use it as an app on your Windows PC, Mac, iPhone or Android device. Any or all of them, if I’m not wrong. Your choice. Great for studying on the go, which I had difficulty doing with the paperback.

You might think I sound like a scammer – the proof is in the pudding though, so I’ll leave you to judge if you decide to buy the course – but this course

  1. Covers roughly everything Genki and MnN each cover over the course of two volumes in a single textbook, and it costs less than half the price of either of those two courses
  2. Is what changed the way I learnt languages (more accurately, it’s Assimil’s entire approach that changed things for me, and that started with their C1 French course)

If I had someone come up to me and say, ‘I want to learn Language X as fast as possible’, I would recommend them Assimil in a heartbeat. I’ve never studied a language faster than with Assimil. Everything else has pissed me off with excessive repetition or pointlessly lengthy explanations. Definitely my choice for speed-running a language.

The main things you might not like about Assimil:

  1. Some people find the grammar explanations too skimpy. I think they’re mostly OK.
  2. It uses kanji immediately (though rest assured you get plenty of rōmaji and hiragana to help you read them, even beyond the point where you still need that help)

Now that I’m done shilling Assimil (but very seriously, I recommend it with all my heart, and I’m actually quite disappointed by how rarely people tell me they’ve decided to give it a try), some other stuff you might want to look at:

  • NHK Learn Japanese – lots of video and text resources to help you learn elementary and intermediate Japanese
  • NHK News Web Easy – if you want to do some reading practice after you’ve learnt the basics
  • JLPT prep websites like JLPT Sensei and JapaneseTest4You – I don’t really like their oversimplifications, but they’re a way to introduce yourself to new grammatical structures (aka ‘grammar points’:tm:)
  • Popular English-language Japanese teachers like Maggie Sensei, Japanese Ammo with Misa, Real Japanese with Miku – Misa and Miku are both on YouTube. Miku is more concise, but Misa’s lessons are detailed and tend to include lots of examples. Maggie Sensei’s formatting is a bit of a pain if you’re not on a computer, but her explanations are good.

That aside, keep enjoying your favourite Japanese shows and songs, and don’t hesitate to use EN-JP dictionaries like and to look up words as you go along.

Now, in all honesty, my opinion is that all you need at the beginner’s stage is

  1. A good textbook (again, Assimil is my favourite)
  2. Japanese entertainment on the side for breaks
  3. A decent EN-JP dictionary (optional but strongly recommended)

Everything else can wait because you don’t want to overload yourself, and frankly, if you’ve got a great textbook or other course, you’ll be happily occupied downloading all that information into your brain. That’s why I personally wouldn’t bother with anything else. A lot of traditional textbooks are rather boring, but the one advantage all textbooks share (and offer) is structure – that’s hard to create yourself in self-study since you don’t know the language you’re studying.

However, one big caveat: I like learning languages fast. For that matter, I like progressing quickly and effectively on anything I find worthwhile, and I get irritated when other stuff gets in my way. (Case in point: I’m currently raging and procrastinating because my dumb engineering school decided to give us a holiday coding assignment we all know they’re going to take ages to mark anyway, meaning they didn’t need to assign it to us this early, especially since we’ve only got a one-week holiday and the deadline is during that holiday. I had planned to take a breather and study Japanese, but no.) My friends in high school described me as ‘intense’, and I’m the sort of person to get angry with himself for taking ‘too long’ to reach the C2 level in a language. (I’m currently at 4.5 years for Japanese, and if I don’t match the 5 years I took for French, I’ll probably be furious this summer.) If you don’t have the same sort of vision of language learning, you may not appreciate the resources I use or the route I take (e.g. regularly attempting to read dictionary definitions in Japanese when I was about halfway through my beginner’s textbook by using the kanji I knew from Chinese). There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’d just like you to be aware of what I’m like. I don’t expect most people to approach languages the way I do, and it’s far more important that everyone be satisfied with their language learning experience.


Thank you for the clarification and resources! I’m pretty good with hiragana and katakana. I can read at a slow-ish speaking pace, but occasionally get slowed up on uncommon encounters like ‘ヴェ’

I enjoy learning for its own sake, so I’m certainly okay with technical grammar terms or simple application based understanding, so I will look into all of the suggested resources.


ooo what a good resource. Thanks for sharing!

Glad I could help. Good luck in your learning journey!! :smile:

I second a lot of Jonapedia’s explanations, but especially want to recommend Human Japanese for its grammatical explanations. If I could go back and relearn the basics, I’d love to use it. I really like to be able to explain a grammatical concept with simplicity and finesse, and Human Japanese is able to do just that.


Do you mean English->Japanese here, or Japanese->English ? I think most people use J->E.

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I meant something that goes both ways, but I guess you’re right that J → E is the more important direction here, especially for beginners.

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My electronic dictionary does have three different EJ dictionaries (Random House, Genius and リーダーズ) but I’ve pretty much never used them. I can see the utility for a native Japanese speaker who’s studying English of being able to look up “carry-all” and see it defined as 大きな手さげ袋, but as a learner I find the JE dictionary and the JJ dictionaries a lot more helpful. (The whole device is designed for Japanese learners of English; I wish I could get one with an equivalently comprehensive set of resources for English learners of Japanese…)

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Yeah, I kinda have a similar issue with the Wisdom Dictionary – I think most of the annotations are in Japanese? – but I personally use the E->J function a lot too. I look for how I might express something in Japanese, and read the example sentences to confirm it. Sometimes I draw the wrong conclusions, but so far, I’ve mostly been right, and I think it’s helped me quite a bit. (At the worst, I can always feed the Japanese word suggestions back into a J-J dictionary for confirmation.)


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