Yes, I know octopi have eight tentacles not six, but Tako of Takos Japanese has five. It’s the same cartoon logic that makes the Simpson family all have eight fingers. And yes, I know the name should probably read “Tako’s Japanese.” Really though, let’s not get bogged down in talk of appendages and apostrophes right now.
Today we’re here to look at a new Japanese study app released by Spain-based Giant Soul Interactive. A lot of Japanese study apps found online are either fun but limited in content or deep but boring and stodgy. Learn Japanese with Tako (recently changed from “Takos Japanese”) aims to strike a happy balance of a fun way to learn the language that’s also rich in content. Let’s find out if they succeed.
■ Brings the cute
In Learn Japanese with Tako you assume the role of the titular Tako, a young octopus studying the ways of reading and writing Japanese. You are aided by a wise old octopus in the ways of properly writing in the three language sets hiragana, katakana, and kanji.
The animated menus and practice areas are all brightly colored and downright cute, which really goes a long way to help 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.
■ Handwriting Practice
It starts by teaching the hiragana alphabet and uses Latin characters as references. First, Sensei demonstrates the proper stroke order and direction of the characters on a white board 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 “2” 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.
After learning the basic writing and reading of the characters you are given a mini-game to review. They 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 pronunciations. Even more 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. There’s also a baseball game which requires speedy handwriting skills. They’re all pretty fun and simple games that you can play whenever you have a minute or two.
■ Room for more
Learn Japanese with Tako starts with hiragana then moves into katakana and beginner kanji. As of this writing it offered up to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N5 level but they plan to roll out N4 in the coming months. That should be more than enough content for those just starting out learning the language but for people further along it only serves as a nice brush-up program for the moment.
Also, 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, Giant Soul say there are currently working on expanding the types of mini-games based on user-feedback.
Overall though, Takos Japanese 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.
▼ Why not switch the language setting and learn two languages at once!
For anyone starting out in Japanese it would be a great tool well worth its 400-yen (US$3.40) asking price 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 soon!
Takos Japanese is available from