A couple of months ago, I bought a new Android smartphone. When I started looking for language learning apps to install on it, I thought about what I wanted my phone to do for me, turning to the wide selection of Japanese apps to help my studies.
iPhone user? Check out our list of best iPhone Japanese learning apps
WP8 user? Check out our list of best Windows Phone learning apps
Firstly, I like to keep my Japanese pretty sharp, and am a fan of word games. I also needed a good Input Method Editor (IME) to input Japanese text with my on-screen and physical QWERTY keyboard. Lastly, I wanted a good Japanese-English dictionary that I could use even if the phone didn’t have a good 3G or wireless connection.
I’ve searched all four corners of the Market, and discovered a few really useful apps for Japanese text input, learning, and reference with clean, easy-to-use interfaces. Here is what I discovered.
The best Android Japanese dictionary by far is Takoboto (free). Unlike many competitors, it does not try to woo you with a shiny user interface, or unique lookup features unheard of in the industry. Instead, it provides everything you'd expect from a mobile dictionary, reliable, and with a simple but functional design.
You can search in kanji, kana, romaji and English, quickly jump between kanji and related vocabulary, pull up example sentences, and keep a quick list of favourite entries.
Before the release of Takoboto, the most complete and well-organized dictionary was JED. Unfortunately, it hasn't been updated in a while.
It can be used without an internet connection, as it can be loaded onto the phone’s SD card. It offers alternatives to and sentences using the word you’ve looked up. If you hit [menu] and go to [show diagram] there’s an animation of the kanji stroke order, which is essential knowledge if you are handwriting anything. JED is just so well organized—just about as good as using my denshi jisho (電子辞書, electronic dictionary).
A more general but useful app is ColorDict (free). Once you have installed it, you can download a number of different dictionaries including Japanese-English/English-Japanese. The entries in ColorDict are fairly simple and could be improved to show the kanji next to their respective readings instead of just a list of words listed somewhat haphazardly.
Having a good and easy-to-use Japanese IME (Input Method Editor) is invaluable. After having used both Kaede and OpenWnn plus, Simeji has been my go-to IME on Android. Simeji (free) offers many suggestions from a user network, and also remembers words you’ve recently typed. It works incredibly well with my physical keyboard and has its own on-screen keyboard. Simeji is definitely one app I could not do without.
Chat & social
HelloTalk (free) is a nifty app which lets you text and voice message fellow learners and native speakers. Unlike run-of-the-mill apps chat apps, this one is optimized for language study and includes an inbuilt dictionary and translation service, automatic corrections, and more. You can learn more in our full review of HelloTalk.
HiNative (free) is a social app from the makers of Lang-8, one of our top-recommended online resources for language learners. It is the place to ask questions and get answers from native speakers about any language and country. The replies are not instant like with HelloTalk, but the app has a lovely interface and the community is friendly and very helpful.
Formerly known as ePenpal, Doonglle is a chat language learning app similar to HelloTalk, but it comes with a cool feature which lets you see all your potential penpals on a map. This is neat when you want to start a conversation with natives from a particular city before moving there, or if you're looking to practise a particular local dialect.
Games & flashcards
I’ve found that Japanese learning games are a great way to keep my Japanese in good shape, since they require me to quickly recall words. One fun app I found, called ひらめき！クロスワード (paid), is a cute crossword-type game that’s probably meant for children, but good vocabulary practice nonetheless! It may be a little daunting for a beginner since the UI is in Japanese, but it has fairly basic vocabulary and all of the words are in hiragana—it’s worth trying out if you don’t mind paying a little.
The last app I’d like to share is a study tool called Obenkyo (free), which is less game-like and more like quizzes and flashcards. It has a handwriting recognition feature to help you practice kanji stroke order, as well as quiz you on them, which I found interesting. Obenkyo is also offered in a number of locales, so if your native tongue is not English, it’s also available in French, Swedish, Spanish, and more!
I found these apps to be versatile enough for a wide range of skill level and are great for review and practice, anytime and anywhere. Most of these are free, so don’t hesitate to start using them as your go-to Japanese apps.
What do you think of the apps presented in this blog post? Are there any which you regularly use which I have left out? If so, please let me know in the comments!