More than five years after its official launch, Duolingo has finally added a Japanese course to its online language learning service.
The course is currently available through the platform’s iOS app, with an Android and web release scheduled to come in the next few weeks, according to the company.
Based on the limited time I’ve spent with the course, it appears the wait was worth it. Instead of using Romaji, which are Japanese words spelled out with Roman characters, to teach the language, Duolingo promises to teach students every single Hiragana and Katakana character, as well 88 basic Kanji. The latter is an approach that makes learning Japanese more difficult at the start but ultimately leads to actual proficiency with the language.
If you want some insight into why it took so long for the company to design the course, Duolingo published an interesting blog post on the subject. In short, a lot of it comes down to the fact that it’s really hard to learn Japanese as a native English speaker due to how different the two languages are from one another.
According to the Foreign Language Institute, Japanese is one of the five hardest languages to learn as an English speaker — unsurprisingly, three other East Asian languages, Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese, help round out the list. On average, it takes most students at least 2,200 hours of study to become proficient in Japanese. By comparison, learning another Western European language like French takes about 600 hours in total.
In any case, it’s a good there’s still about three years before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.