Smartphones and their apps can be a source of extreme distraction and procrastination, and are usually the go-to activity when a dull moment arises. But those moments on your commute, lunch break, or just waiting around can be used to brush up on your Japanese!
Language learning apps are great for squeezing in some study-time on the go; you can study anywhere and anytime, without any heavy textbooks. Get ready to add these apps along with the ones for daily use in Japan, because they will prove to be indispensable in the quest for fluency.
Skritter – The Kanji App
Having trouble remembering how to read and write kanji? Skritter is the app to have; Skritter is a very innovative Japanese language app which teaches how to write the kanji with real-time stroke corrections. Just write the character on the screen and take note of any corrections or mistake that the app presents.
Skritter also utilizes a Spaced Repetition System or SRS. This is a scientifically-backed method of learning where material is reviewed in increasingly long intervals based on how well the material was recalled the last time it was seen. The idea is that by forcing learners to recall information just when they are about to forget it, the knowledge is solidified. Skritter also tracks learning over time, and creates graphs and statistics about material learned and material retained. There are pre-made kanji and vocabulary lists from the most common textbooks, so it most likely won’t even be necessary to make one manually.
Skritter does comes at a pretty steep price – a $14.99 monthly fee for access to the app and website. There is a free seven day trial period, and it’s available on the iTunes market.
Memrise – A Free Japanese Vocabulary App
Memrise is a great free alternative to Skritter for studying kanji and vocabulary, but without any handwriting capability. It is an online learning system that has user-created “courses” for not only Japanese, but over 180 languages and other subjects.
The app pairs an SRS with “mems” to help you learn and remember new information. Mems can be pictures, text, or both. They create stories or links in your mind to help make the memory more concrete. Then Memrise tests each word/kanji in different ways, such as multiple choice or typing the answer. It tests only a few words at each time, then administers a score and tracks progress against friends or others in the same course.
Memrise has many premade “courses” organized by JLPT level, textbooks, or frequency of use. There are also premade mems in addition to creating them manually. This is a great time-saving feature, although make sure to choose a mem that resonates and is useful for remembering the material. If using something like Heisig’s “Remembering the Kanji” book, this is a fantastic tool for review. There are several premade courses for the book, and premade mems using the “stories” Heisig creates.
Like Skritter, it is recommend to use this in conjunction with a good textbook and dictionary; while the mems provide useful memory links, on their own they are devoid of context that could provide a deeper understanding.
Anki is not necessarily a Japanese-only app, or even an app solely for language study, but nonetheless is an extremely helpful tool because the app is essentially an endless amount of intelligent flashcards.
With the ability to import flashcards from popular textbooks and JLPT lists, Anki makes it extremely easy to generate comprehensive material. This is amplified with the addition of audio, pictures, and sentences to help understand the contextual cues.
Anki is also highly extensible, with many add-ons and the ability to be modified via open source.
FluentU is an engaging platform of language learning in which users not only listen to, but interact with foreign videos and other media. At any time the media can be paused and dissected for information. Since the videos are real (not to mention interesting and relevant), it is very interesting and real world context is taught relatively well.
Each video has an interactive transcript in which users can reference the Japanese with their native language. With the addition of content quizes and a personal vocabulary list, this real world material and what is said becomes a very useful learning experience.
FluentU is a free app available on iTunes.
Human Japanese can be described as “sensei in a box” and takes a very slow approach to learning Japanese, using native English speakers to guide students through difficult explanations or concepts. Video, readings, and other media are also utilized to facilitate the content, and comparisons to English grammar really take understanding to the next level.
Animations and audio of kana are excellent tools to learn the writing and the pronunciation of Japanese, as well as periodic quizzes to make sure students are still learning at the optimal pace.
Midori is one of the most advanced Japanese language dictionaries with an extensive library of vocabulary, and countless examples for each. Midori supports handwriting recognition, kanji radicals, romaji, kana, or any combination to search for words. Additionally, every entry has both examples as well as a very helpful conjugation chart. All kanji entries have stroke order, radical breakdown, kanji information, and additional compounds.
Other helpful items that Midori has? A Japanese name dictionary, stroke order animations, a powerful translator, flashcards, a bookmarking feature, and an example search feature.
The best part is that all of this information can be sorted by JLPT level to make for easy studying and understanding.
Available on iTunes for $9.99
Kanji Connect – The Game-Like Japanese Vocabulary and Kanji App
Last but not least is Kanji Connect. As one might guess, this app is intended specifically for practicing kanji. What makes Kanji Connect stand out, however, is its addicting game-like design.
Kanji can be studied by JLPT level, with each level broken up into smaller sections. You can study one section, a whole JLPT level, or several JLPT levels at a time, so it is great for review.
The game is a simple word search where the player is presented with a word in hiragana, which must be paired with a kanji that is on the grid. If correct, it will light up in green and will not appear again. If a mistake or two are made, it will light up in yellow or orange and will appear again. If you get it wrong, it will turn red and will appear again soon. At the conclusion of a game, a screen will pop up which shows the kanji or compounds from that round with their meanings and readings.
Kanji Connect is excellent for practicing readings, even unfamiliar kanji, while simultaneously developing your vocabulary. Its game-like design encourages competition and self-improvement.
However, it doesn’t teach you kanji stroke order, and if not familiar with the kanji at all, you are just guessing randomly. So it is better if to be somewhat familiar with the characters already before using this app for review.
Kanji Connect costs $2.99 on the iTunes market.
The Japanese language is difficult, but rewarding and fun to learn. Computers, smartphones, and apps make this process much easier (not to mention more fun). Anywhere, anytime, anyone can have any language at their fingertips. Take advantage of the best tools out there and start speaking fluently in no time at all.