Japanese Study Tools

When studying Japanese there is a plethora of Japanese study tools available, here we select a few to get you started!

Rikaichan or Rikaikun

How it works:

This add-on displays the reading and definition of kanji and kanji combinations that you hover your mouse over. It also automatically de-conjugates verbs that you hover your mouse over and displays the verb form.

How to get it:

Visit this page to download the add-on for Firefox. You will need the add-on itself and the Japanese-English dictionary file. For those whose native language is not English, there are also Japanese-German, Japanese-French, and Japanese-Russian dictionary files. The link for Rikaikun is here.

Best used for:

Reading online news articles or any internet source where text is selectable.

The catch:

This add-on can become a crutch, due to its ease of use. It is best to combine this with some form of flash card system in order to retain the vocabulary that Rikaichan has translated and deconjugated for you.

Anki

How it works:

Flashcards are commonly used to study vocabulary, but can slow the studying process as the number of flashcards increases and individuals continue to review words or concepts that they already know very well. Anki is a smarter flash card system that uses an algorithm to determine how frequently a word or concept is presented based on how well an individual knows the target word/concept. In other words, the program has an individual review difficult or unfamiliar words/concepts more often than those that the individual has successfully learned. There are pre-made decks of flashcards that you can download via the program, but you can also create your own. In addition, the program’s “Japanese support” plug-in will provide you with a flash card template that automatically provides you with the readings of kanji that you write on the “front” of your flashcards.

How to get it:

Visit here to download the program. Once you have installed Anki, use the program to download the shared “Japanese support” plug-in. To make the Japanese flash card template available for use, go to “deck properties” under the “tools” menu and add the Japanese flash card model.

Best used for:

Increasing the number of words you learn in a given amount of time, or streamlining your study time.

The catch:

As with any flash card system, Anki will do more for your ability to recognize kanji/vocabulary/grammar points than your ability to smoothly and naturally produce them in writing or speech. Make sure to consciously try to add the words that you put into Anki into everyday conversation or writing to get the most out of this system.

Space ALC

How it works:

All synonyms are not created equal in every context; sometimes the word that you find in a dictionary may carry a very different nuance than the one that you are actually looking for. The Space ALC website is equipped with a search engine that not only searches for the definition of a word you enter, but also gathers sentences from documents and articles on the internet that contain the target word. This will allow you to tailor your word choice to the context. The search engine box on the top page can be used for both Japanese-English and English-Japanese translation.

How to get it:

Visit ALC online. The first search engine box visible in the upper left is the one to use.

Best used for:

When your other dictionary gives you several translations for a word and you need some clarification.

Here’s the catch:

ALC works best when you input short entries (i.e. a single word/kanji combination). If your entry is a long kanji string, try entering pieces of it at a time. Also, ALC will sometimes give you some…interesting…definitions in the Japanese-English direction. In these situations, it is best to combine ALC with another tool (such as rikaichan) and try to find a less awkward translation.

電子辞書 (denshi jisho, electronic dictionary)

Electronic dictionaries are quite popular in Japan and it is not uncommon for an entire section of electronics stores to be devoted to them. Some dictionaries have a wide array of functions, including idiom dictionaries, tips on how to live healthily, color displays, some even double as portable television sets. It is up to you which of these options you want/need, but most Japanese language learners recommend getting a dictionary that comes with a stylus and small tablet built-in for the purpose of kanji writing.

The iPhone/iPod touch has its own denshi jisho app called “Kotoba” (the Romanized spelling for the Japanese word for “word”). This app is based on Jim Breen’s JMdict dictionary and users can input kanji using the iPhone/iPod touchscreen.

There is also a Nintendo DS game called 漢字そのまま楽引き辞典 Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten, which turns your DS into an electronic dictionary. The DS’s built in tablet/touchpad can be used to input kanji, similar to an electronic dictionary.

How to get it:

Electronic dictionaries are sold at most electronics stores. They are also frequently sold at second-hand stores.

iPhone/iPod touch users can obtain Kotoba via the app store.

Nintendo DS owners can pick up a copy of Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten at an electronics store, or a second-hand store. Nintendo DSs are region free, so a copy of this dictionary purchased in Japan will work on an American DS.

Best used for:

When you aren’t in front of a computer and you need a definition or a reading.

Here’s the catch:

The learning curve for electronic dictionaries and the DS dictionary may be a bit steep for those who do not already have at least a basic command of Japanese, as all the displays are in Japanese. Electronic dictionaries also tend to become crutches, though not as much so as a real-time deconjugating/translating tool like rikaichan/rikaikun.

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