In Learn Japanese with Tako (formerly Takos Japanese) you assume the role of the titular Tako, a young octopus studying the ways of reading and writing Japanese. You're aided by a wise old octopus in the ways of properly composing the three writing systems of hiragana, katakana and kanji.
The animated menus and practice areas are all brightly colored and downright cute, which really goes a long way to helping you forget that you’re essentially doing handwriting and reading drills. More than just an added frill, the entertaining style of it helps keep you focused on the task at hand.
1. Handwriting Refinement
The app starts by teaching the hiragana alphabet, using Latin characters as references. First, Sensei demonstrates the proper stroke order and direction of the characters on a whiteboard, which you can follow along.
A common weakness of these kinds of apps is in the handwriting recognition. In an old kanji study app I would sometimes have to write something as simple as the number two 20 times before it could register as anything other than “N.” Learn Japanese with Tako, however, seems to understand our handwriting with a good degree of leniency.
It’s not too loose, though. I got marked down as not learning my あs (Japanese equivalent of the letter “A”) because my loop at the bottom right was hanging a little too low and it pissed off Sensei octopus. However, rather than the confusing mess of the “2=N” fiasco, this app let me understand what it was about my あ that led to the problem and allowed me to correct it accordingly. As a result, I’d like to think my handwriting is now just a little bit prettier.
2. Time for Games!
After learning the basic writing and reading of the characters you're given a mini-game to review. These all focus on memorizing the characters in different ways. For example, my weak point has always been remembering the correct pronunciation of kanji despite knowing the meanings. This means I’d benefit from the "Izakaya" mini-game the most.
In this game we have to serve the various sea creatures their order label in kanji as they call out for them phonetically. Like all the games it’s timed, which adds a good level of challenge and pressure. There’s also a whack-a-mole game requiring even faster matching of character and pronunciation. Even advanced students of Japanese might find themselves scrambling with basic words on this one!
Other games include an arcade machine where you have to memorize the order of flashing kanji with their English meanings, and also a baseball game that requires speedy handwriting skills. They’re all fairly fun and simple games that you can play whenever you have a minute or two.
3. Overall Assessment
Learn Japanese with Tako starts with hiragana and then moves into katakana and beginner kanji, offering up to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N4 level.
Although the games are fun and well designed, it remains to be seen what replay value they have, especially for people just starting out. Learning Japanese can be a long haul, and the games will have to be addictive enough to sustain that journey. To address this concern, maker Giant Soul says it's currently working on expanding the types of mini-games based on user feedback.
Overall, Learn Japanese with Tako is a very well designed study app both in terms of presentation and educational value, and it has a solid, sleek interface. Another great feature is that in addition to English, the app is available in Spanish, Korean, French, Portuguese, Italian and German.
For anyone starting out in Japanese it would be a great tool well worth its ¥400 asking price on the Japanese app store (prices may vary according to region). For those further along, you might want to wait until if they add the higher level kanji. Hopefully they can do that soon!