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A guide to Japanese Apps

Thursday 12th January 2012

Tom Smith challenges Miyazaki to some smartphone wrist action

Miyazaki waving

Hayao Miyazaki, one of the greatest animators of all time, is fed up with the youth of today. It’s not their jive lingo, crazy hairdos or love for hamburgers bringing him down, it’s their addiction to performing ‘masturbation gestures’, particularly on public transport. He’s so sick of it that he went into a rant on the subject in the Studio Ghibli newsletter.

Miyazaki’s curmudgeonly rage is directed at the increasing amount of iPhone, iPad and smartphone users seen rubbing their beloved gadgets in public. But can all this wrist-based fumbling lead to anything constructive? The answer is a big yes, and as the adverts suggest, there really is an app for almost anything.

With such a huge amount of applications on offer (an estimated half a million alone in the App Store for iPhone), it can be daunting to know where to start. This is a quick guide to three applications that could make the great Miyazaki reconsider his opinion, at least in terms of using the devices as an educational tool. So put your masturbation gestures to good use and have a fiddle with these, you might even learn a thing or two in the process.

Human Japanese
Human JapaneseThis piece of language software is simple and fun, and avoids the use of technical terms where possible – so if you haven’t got a degree in English Language or linguistics, you won’t feel alienated or confused. It begins with basic lessons on pronunciation and then takes you through the hiragana writing system first, introducing users to basic words in the process. Once that’s been mastered, Japanese will appear written in hiragana, as well as katakana and kanji, once they’ve been introduced.

Pronunciation is made simple. Where books often rely on a cumbersome CD of lengthy dialogue, Human Japanese goes for the simple method. Users just need to click on a word to hear it pronounced. Dialogue can also be listened to a sentence at a time, making speaking along to the recording much easier than constantly hitting rewind and pause from the days of CD.

In a nutshell, Human Japanese offers a complete learning package and takes users through the basics and concludes by giving them the knowledge and confidence to construct and understand sentences for everyday life in Japan. Its Facebook page also has regular updates in Japanese to put your studies to the test.

The software is available on Android Market, iOS and Windows Marketplace, as well as on the Mac App Store, online or boxed for old-fashioned computer-users priced between £6.50 and £16. The lite version is available for free and contains seven lessons.

ObenkyoIf the basics are already mastered and its Japanese script you’re passionate about, Obenkyo is for you. This study tool is simple to use and offers an array of ways to test your knowledge of katakana, hiragana, numbers, kanji, vocabulary and particles – each having their own devoted section. However, this piece of digital kit is purely for revision purposes and as such offers no lessons. If you’ve completed Human Japanese, though, this is highly recommended to take your (digitally) written language skills to the next level. The tests offer plenty of variation to make sure you can work confidently with Japan’s various scripts and also allows the removal of characters you’ve already mastered from future tests. The latest update also include kanji recognition, which is still in its beta phases and can be pretty harsh if you don’t get the stroke order correct – but still, it is free and available from Android Market and Apple’s App Store.

JED – Japanese-English Dictionary
JED – Japanese-English DictionaryRemember when electronic Japanese dictionaries cost hundreds of pounds? Well, they still do, but you and your wallet can now can get the same experience – if not better – for absolutely free, thanks to JED.

The application does everything an electronic dictionary can do (almost) and more. It cannot pronounce the words, but it does offer insight into each entry, including the usual information you’d expect to find in a dictionary as well as details on if the word/character is in common use, examples of it in action, and break-downs of kanji. These breakdowns also include information on the JLPT level of the character, for those taking their studies seriously. Kanji can also be searched by radicals.

JED is available exclusively on Android market, and can work offline once the installation files have been downloaded. iPhone users are advised to search the App Store for ‘Kotoba!’, a similar application based on Jim Breen’s comprehensive Japanese-Multilingual Dictionary.

So there you have it, with these three applications there’s no reason why you can’t have a solid understanding in Japanese, without actually spending a penny! Just make sure not to have a tap when Hayao Miyazaki is about.


One Piece (uncut) Collection 14 (episodes 325-348)

was £34.99
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