Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Using your iWhatever to study Japanese

Edit: Don't know what happened to Blogger, but looks like this post got removed and lost some comments...grrr.

Do you have an iPhone? Or an iPod Touch (Good God - don't call it an iTouch or you'll be accosted by an Apple fan). Maybe you even have one of those iPads.

If you do have an Apple device and are studying Japanese, there are a lot of ways to make the most of this awesome tool!

I broke down and bought myself an iPod Touch last month, and though I haven't quite joined the Cult yet, I am quite satisfied with it. Although I haven't been using it exclusively to improve my Japanese, that was the justification in my mind for buying one. So I have been exploring the ways in which this iThing can best be used to supplement our Japanese studies.

Right off the bat, I'm going to recommend you change your settings. The iBeast is available all over the place now, so it comes set up with a spate of language options, no matter where you buy it. If you're feeling confident, just go ahead and mosey on down into your General Settings area and change that to Japanese. Not only does this change your system language to Japanese, but a surprising amount of games and applications come with a Japanese version.

You're also going to want to set up a Japanese keyboard. There's a button in the General Settings area, right near the language settings, that allows you to add additional keyboards.

The Japanese keyboard takes a little getting used to but can really make inputting kana a lot easier.

If you're particularly partial to kanji, you can also install the Chinese keyboard which will allow you to write them in. It's pretty sensitive to stroke order, however, so unless you're really good it can be hard to use (I'm not, so it is for me). I also imagine you won't be able to get some kanji, since there are slight variations between some Chinese and Japanese characters.

If you're using your iDevice for study, chances are you're already familiar with Kotoba! and Anki, but I'll err on the side of safety and mention them anyway.

Kotoba! is a free application that contains Japanese-English and Japanese-several other language dictionaries, as well as kanji look-up by both reading and radical pieces. One of the things I like best about Kotoba! is that the top menu bar contains a little star that you can click to add any given entry to your Favorites list, which you can then go back and view at any time. Perfect for saving words that you want to add to your SRS program later. 

Speaking of SRS (Space Repetition Learning Systems), if you use your computer to study, chances are you know of Anki. There's a free version you can use on your computer that has become quite popular. There's also a version for your iWhatsit, but it's a little steep for an app - $25. Still, if you use SRS as part of your normal routine, it's probably worth it. You can sync it with your computer and use those same decks on the go. My only complaint is that, as far as I can tell, there's no way to reset your deck or make a new one from scratch on your iProduct, although you can add cards to a pre-existing deck.

I also just purchased another app that you may not be aware of. It's called KanjiBox and is an improved iVersion of a Facebook application by the same name. Essentially it's a program that lets you set a level (for now either Sensei, or JLPT N1-N5) and quiz yourself on kanji and vocabulary. It has a number of features, not all of which I've tried yet, including a flashcard program that remembers and presents you with the words you got wrong in the quiz section.

Last, keep in mind that all work and no play makes Johnny bored. And we don't want to get too bored with our language studies. If you're going to slack off, at least try to increase the chance that you'll be slacking off in a way that exposes you to more Japanese.

As I mentioned, there are a number of games that are available in multiple languages. I already briefly talked about Game Dev Story, a nifty little sim game that can easily eat hours of your life. I also picked up SquareEnix's Final Fantasy-themed Crystal Defenders game, a very difficult tower defense game. May want to try the lite version before you pay for it. A friend of mine, curse his existence, also convinced me to buy Zombie Farm, a spin-off of the popular crackwhore Facebook game FarmVille. Except it has zombies, which you can "grow" and attack other farms with. 

Both of these games (surprise surprise) change to their Japanese versions when you switch from English to Japanese on your iJigger.

Hell, you can even use the increasingly popular Instagram in Japanese. Though I haven't exactly been able to verify that. Apparently you need to register online before you can use this app, and I don't have any wifi available. If anyone knows how to use if offline, please do tell.

This is what I've come up with so far. Do you have any other tips or useful application recommendations? If so, please share in the comments, as always.


  1. I find the romaji keyboard is easier to use than the テンキー

  2. Different strokes, I guess. I haven't used either enough to make a definitive judgement, but Joe swears by the Japanese kana one.

  3. I've been debating getting an iThingy for studying Japanese & reading online media while commuting, your post has helped to end that debate. Thanks.

  4. Hey Kevin, thanks for leaving a comment. I'm glad I could be of some help!

    If you want to be online while commuting, you'll probably want the iPhone, I imagine. I like my iPod Touch a lot, but the only time thus far I've been able to get online was when I was with my friend and he let me siphon off some internet from his iPhone.

  5. Would never use it for what you mentioned but my phone and ipad do just about everything else. Steve Jobs did it again!!

  6. Hey Chris,
    Yup - Japanese study is just one of many, many possible uses.

  7. Two apps that I have found extremely useful are "Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese" and the accompanying "Japanese Alphabet Study Guide". Both are designed and developed by Ronald Timoshenko and can be found on the app store

  8. Thanks, Laura! I'll have a look.

  9. That is interesting app for me.
    I use <"英辞朗" on the web > app on iphone.
    This app is made for English learners but is helpful for Japanese learners.

    As for the rest, I listen to the podcast which are NHK news and VOA news on the train.

  10. Another cool app is Kanji LS. It's a kanji quiz program where you have to draw the kanji. It let's you check your stroke order too which I find very helpful.

  11. Hey Blue,

    I'll repost the jist of my comment, I have been using the Japanese Alphabet Guide and Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese both developed by Ronald Timoshenko and available on the app store... I believe both are free.

  12. Coco - Thanks for the comment! Man, the iPhone sounds useful. I can't use those online apps because I usually don't have internet access with my Touch.

    Joe - Sounds like good kanji practice. I think your study methods are probably better for becoming more well-rounded at Japanese over the long term, but for now I'm pretty much ignoring writing. Ah the double-edged blade of Word Processing.

    Dustin - Thanks for recommenting, man! I checked those out and they look like good handbook-type guides.

  13. Cool blog post... I also think apps are a really good way to learn, particularly on the go. Don't know that the apps I use are anywhere near as good or interesting as the ones you mention, but one I use regularly is just called 'Japanese audio flashcards'. It has several dozen wordfiles, each with up to 100 words, in different categories (it has all JLPT3 and some quite specific categories, such as legal terms, or military words). You can learn the kanji, meaning and pronunciation then it quizzes you on each- and you can use it offline.

  14. Thanks for commenting, Laura.

    That sounds pretty cool. iPods do have that audio feature, so why not take advantage of it?

  15. I started with iKanji awhile ago and can recommend it, although Kanji LS seems a lot more powerful.

    I can second the vote for KanjiBox, this is especially useful for JLPT practice because it gives you all the tricky pronunciation (for example extra う or っ) of the kanji to choose from like on the test.

    After that there is the free RPG ガイラルディア, very simple but good practice.

  16. Thanks for the comment, Mac!

    Yes, that's one thing I really like about KanjiBox, now that I think about it. Seeing those yomikata is very useful.

    Downloaded that RPG! I'll give it a try today or tomorrow.