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Rocket Japanese Review
Our detailed review of the Rocket Languages Japanese program after using it for 90 days
Japanese is not an easy language to learn for English speakers. Japanese grammar, pronunciation, and the writing system are all radically different from what we know and understand. As such, it’s extremely important that you find a language app which is not only effective, but also jives with your learning style. In this guide, we break down the major strengths and weaknesses of the Rocket Japanese app after having a chance to use it for close to two months. We discuss pricing, how it all works, and of course, our thoughts.
Given that this is a comprehensive review, we’ve added jump-to links above to make things easy.
Video Review: Is Rocket Japanese Good?
In the video above, team member John covers everything you need to know about Rocket Japanese, from analysis of audio lessons to drill variety to overall effectiveness. Or, keep reading for more information.
Rocket Japanese Program Overview
I think it makes the most sense to start by discussing how the Rocket Japanese program is organized and how it generally works. This way you can get a better feel for what to expect.
At the outset, the Rocket Japanese program is divided into three overarching levels: Beginner (Level 1), Intermediate (Level 2), and Advanced (Level 3). Then within each of these levels, there are either 8 or 9 learning modules.
These modules then break down even further into a number of lessons, perhaps 15-20 per module. However, the interesting thing with Rocket is that they actually have multiple types of lessons.
With Rosetta Stone, Duolingo and other Japanese apps, you generally get just one form of lesson, which you work over and over. With Rocket though, you actually get three different types of lessons, which is unique.
There are “interactive audio lessons” (usually 4 or 5 of these per module), “language & culture lessons” (also, 4 or 5 per module), and lastly, “writing lessons.” These lessons help you to work on your Kana and Kanji, and there’s about 8 or so of these lesson types per module.
How The Rocket Japanese Lessons Work
Now that you understand the high level organization of the program, let me give you a quick breakdown of what each lesson type is like.
Interactive Audio Lessons
The interactive audio lessons are the highlight of Rocket’s course, in my opinion, and what sets them apart from other popular language apps. Here’s how they work: an English speaking moderator will walk you through an audio conversation between fluent Japanese speakers.
The moderator will start by discussing what you’ll be hearing in the conversation and what the main learning goal is. From there, you’ll dive into the dialogue. The moderator will frequently stop to explain what you just heard word-by-word, provide vocab and pronunciation tips, and give you a chance to practice your pronunciation out loud.
That’s actually one thing to keep in mind as you work through these mock conversations. You will be asked to repeat words and phrases out loud alongside the Japanese speakers, so make sure to complete these lessons in a quiet place where you can talk aloud.
Then after the core audio lesson, you’ll complete a series of exercises and drills that are meant to reinforce what you just learned, including flashcards, pronunciation practice, listening drills, and speed quizzes.
Plus, if you want, you can recreate the mock conversation from the audio lesson by playing the role of one of the native speakers. That’s essentially it as far as the interactive audio lessons go.
Language & Culture Lessons
Next, there are the “language and culture” lessons. In short, these lessons dive into detailed grammar information that you just don’t have time for in the audio lessons. The audio lessons focus more on developing your ear for Japanese and how to pronounce words, while the language and culture lessons break down how to conjugate verbs, how to use pronouns, the different tenses, and a bunch of other really important language information.
Plus, these lessons always include some interesting cultural notes as well, which keeps things sort of light and fun. All in all, these language and culture lessons take about 20 to 30 minutes to complete, if that.
Lastly, let’s discuss the writing lessons. If you’re planning on focusing solely on verbal Japanese (just listening and speaking), then you can skip these lessons at the end of each module.
However, if you also want to learn how to read and write, that’s exactly what these lessons teach. They deliver instruction on the basics of Kana and Kanji, the two primary elements of the Japanese writing system. They teach you how to read, interpret and even write.
That’s really it. Beyond those three types of lessons, there’s really not too much to the Rocket program apart from some expert tips and a few “survival kits” as they call them.
Rocket Japanese Cost
Before getting into my thoughts, let’s quickly cover plans and pricing, as Rocket does things a little differently than most other Japanese apps.
The main difference you need to understand is that Rocket Languages sells lifetime plans as opposed to the more typical subscription model. You will not get charged monthly like you do with other apps, such as Duolingo and Pimsleur, who charge $7 to $20 per month.
Yet because of this, Rocket Japanese on the surface does appear more expensive. Their lifetime plans aren’t cheap in relation to these cheaper subscription models.
So how it works is that Rocket breaks down their plans by learning level. The Level 1 Beginner package costs around $150, the Levels 1 and 2 Intermediate bundle costs $300, and their Advanced bundle with Levels 1, 2 and 3, costs around $450.
That said, I think it’s important to note that you’ll almost never pay full price with Rocket as they’re almost always running some sort of deal or special promotion, and I usually see their course discounted by 40% to 60% off. This makes the price much more reasonable, so be sure to check for coupon codes before buying.
The company also offers a free trial as well, so you can test the waters before purchasing.
Rocket Japanese Positives (The Pros)
Now that we’ve talked about cost, how Rocket works at a high level, and what the lessons are all about, let’s get to the pros and cons of this course as I see them. And let’s start with the positives.
Comprehensive Audio Lessons
The first highlight for me is easy. It’s the interactive audio lessons. These guided audio lessons are fantastic, and really help to differentiate Rocket from competitors. Most other Japanese language apps (apart from maybe Pimsleur) focus on short, basic lessons that don’t really include any sort of in-depth verbal or conversational practice.
With Rocket’s audio lessons, however, you almost get a form of immersion with the language. You have to be actively involved in following the conversation, so that you can understand what’s going on and respond at the proper times.
You need to be able to listen, think critically, and respond quickly. And while that may sound brutal, it’s honestly very effective for learning and practicing under like life situations.
Speech Recognition Technology
My next pro is Rocket’s speech recognition technology. This is something that is critical. If I’m being totally honest, Japanese pronunciation is very hard for English speakers to master as it’s just so radically different from English.
So having good speech recognition software can make all the difference. And the nice thing with Rocket is that they actually use Google’s Web Speech API, which a lot of people consider to be one of the best speech tools out there.
As you complete audio lessons and different speaking drills, Rocket records your voice and then uses Google to determine the accuracy of your pronunciation. You’ll even receive a grade from 1-to-100 so you can closely track how you’re doing on pronunciation, which I found it to be pretty accurate.
To be clear, no speech recognition technology out there is 100% perfect. It’s definitely not a 1-for-1 replacement for having a certified language instructor giving you immediate feedback. Nonetheless, compared to other voice recognition software I’ve tested, the Rocket/Google combo is one of the best on the market.
My third highlight is how Rocket actually makes grammar content and instruction a priority in its coursework. Like pronunciation, Japanese grammar is radically different from English, and it needs to be made a priority to really become fluent.
When you use programs like Duolingo and Busuu, they simply sprinkle grammar notes into their main lessons—it’s very light. Rocket, on the other hand, covers grammar in multiple ways.
First, as you complete Rocket’s audio lessons, the moderator routinely stops to explain important grammar principles. Then, of course, the majority of the grammar instruction is delivered through the company’s language and culture lessons, which are the in-depth grammar lessons covered above.
Rocket’s grammar instruction might not be as fun or easy as it with other apps, but in my opinion, it’s way more informative and effective.
My final noteworthy item is how Rocket backs up its audio lessons with reinforcement drills. Sometimes when you’re done with a Rocket Japanese audio lesson, you’re like “wow, I just learned a lot in 20 minutes.” It’s all kind of just swirling around in your head.
Well, the reinforcement drills do a really nice job of helping to organize that newly learned material and drive it home. For me personally, having these drills and exercises immediately follow the audio lesson was great for solidifying what I just learned in the audio portion. Basically, they’re awesome for making the material stick.
Rocket Japanese Negatives (The Cons)
Let’s now switch gears to the things I don’t like about Rocket Japanese, as there are a few.
Not Ideal For Visual Learners
The first knock is that the Rocket Japanese lessons may not be the best option for visual learners since their lessons lean more heavily on audio and text. To be clear here, I’m talking about the audio and language lessons—not their writing lessons.
Those writing lessons are perfectly fine for visual learners as there are a bunch of short videos and diagrams. However, the main two lesson types are light on imagery and video.
Some other programs, like Rosetta Stone, place a big emphasis on imagery and have a ton of visuals throughout their program. Rocket, conversely, is more about teaching you how to have an “ear” for language, and how to think critically and respond in the context of conversations.
So for purely visual learners, or those who really need graphics to help the material sink in, then Rocket might not be ideal.
While I do think Rocket’s audio lessons are highly effective, they are pretty lengthy. These aren’t Duolingo lessons that you can knock out in 5 or 10 minutes. To complete a full Rocket lesson (both audio portion and reinforcement drills), it takes around an hour from start to finish.
Of course, you can always pause a lesson in the middle and return to it later if you don’t have the time. But if you want to complete full lessons in one sitting and you have a choppy schedule that doesn’t allow for long study sessions, then Rocket might not be a great fit.
No Community Feel Among Users
My final negative is that the Rocket Japanese program overall just doesn’t have as much of a community feel as other Japanese apps out there. There is a leaderboard where you can see how you compare with other Rocket users, and a forum where you can chat with other learners, but by and large, these aren’t perfect.
To me, the leaderboard is something you check for three seconds each day to see how you compare, and the forum is very academic in nature. It largely consists of people sharing technical information and asking in-depth questions.
This setup is in contrast with other Japanese language apps out there which focus on turning their user base into a community of sorts. For example, Busuu actually matches Japanese learners up with one another and has you provide feedback on each others speaking exercises.
Then Duolingo has a pretty unique community feel with its gamified language learning experience. Thus, if interacting with other Japanese learners is important to you, Rocket isn’t great for this.
Verdict: Is Rocket Japanese Worth It?
That does it for the detail in this review, so let’s get to the final verdict. Should you choose Rocket to learn Japanese? Honestly, after using Rocket Japanese, my answer is absolutely yes. Japanese is a very tough language to learn (at least is has been for me) and if you’re truly serious about learning more than just a few Japanese phrases or words, and want to reach a point where you can actually hold basic conversations, I do think Rocket is more effective than those other apps I’ve noted above.
If you just want some quick, 10-minute nightly lessons because you want to learn a few phrases before your business trip to Tokyo, then I actually think other apps might be a better fit. However, if you’re looking to reach an intermediate to advanced level of Japanese fluency, then I think Rocket is an awesome option. True, the lessons are a little lengthy and intense, but on the whole, I think Rocket is about the most robust and effective Japanese language learning app that I’ve reviewed.
Is Rocket Japanese good?
After using Rocket Japanese for 60 days, I found it to a very solid program. It isn’t as exciting as Duolingo and others, but it is much deeper and more comprehensive, making it more effective in my opinion.
Is Rocket Japanese free?
Yes, Rocket Japanese is free to a certain extent. The company does offer a free trial that includes sample Japanese lessons; however, in order to access the entire Rocket Japanese program, you will need to purchase one of the company’s paid plans.
What's the Rocket Japanese price?
Rocket Japanese comes in three levels – beginner, intermediate and advanced. If you bundle all three levels together, it costs right around $450, but you can almost always catch a sale for 40% to 60% off.
What's the Rocket Japanese highlight?
In my eyes, the highlight of this Japanese course is the interactive audio lessons. These guided conversations are awesome for developing speaking and listening skills quickly.