This page provides some recommendations of apps related to learning Japanese including, but more broadly than just dictionaries, although students are encouraged to search the Apple App Store and Google Play for more up-to-date pricing and options, as new apps are continuously released.
Using your smartphone or mp3 player as a dictionary has increased in popularity in recent years, and there are a number of excellent apps available. Almost all of the participants in Greave’s (2012) study made use of dictionary apps which they reported as highly portable and easy to use, and had the additional benefit of being free to download. As you can run a dictionary app concurrently with other apps on most devices, a student in Greave’s study reported that she could look up unfamiliar words she encountered while browsing Facebook for example without having to switch her attention to another device/tool. Having an app installed is particularly useful for times when you might not normally be carrying a dictionary. For example, participants in Greave’s study reported preferring smartphone apps when at work or a party, to which they would not normally bring a paper or electronic dictionary.
If you already own a smartphone/mp3 player, downloading a dictionary app to this device can be much cheaper than purchasing an electronic dictionary or paper dictionary. However, many learners in Greave’s study used a combination of different tools – for example, when translating manga, or when working on a major translation project for university, participants reported using electronic dictionaries for more “serious”, time-consuming tasks which involved looking up complex unfamiliar Japanese characters frequently. This was largely because of the kanji input pad that some students had on their electronic dictionaries.
You’ll find a list of free iPhone and Android dictionary apps here.
Games and Other Study Tools
Kana Mind (free, Android) This game was used by a beginner learner in Aiki’s (2013) study to learn the two kana scripts, hiragana and katakana. The app uses an algorithm to present you with combinations of kana and tests you more frequently on those which you need more study of, similar to the app below. (★★★★★)
Kanji Flip (paid, Apple) – Japanese character learning game. This game tests users on their kanji recognition ability by displaying a character on screen, for which the user must guess the meaning and readings. This is a self-testing game, meaning that it is used like flashcards – you as the user choose when to reveal the answer and then select whether you were right or wrong. A participant in Greave’s (2012) study reported that she liked this app specifically because it would keep track of her progress, and characters that she had guessed incorrectly in the past would be displayed more frequently. (★★★★)
Skritter (subscription, PC and Apple) – This is a highly recommended app used by participants in Aiki’s (2013) study which teaches Japanese (or Chinese) characters using calligraphy, where your finger is the brush. It is aligned with the vocabulary lists of the Genki textbook currently used at Monash. While Skritter is free to download and demo, it does require a subscription fee. Check with your teacher to see if you are eligible to use one of Monash’s licenses. (★★★★☆)
Anki (free/paid, browser and mobile) – While not technically an app, AnkiWeb allows you to use the computer version of Anki flashcards on-the-go. This is an excellent resource as it can be used on Linux, PC, Mac or mobile – basically, any computer or device with a web browser, without having to install. There is also a version available on Google Play called AnkiDroid to download (free), and on the Apple App Store called AnkiMobile (although do note that the Apple version is a paid app in contrast with the free version on Android – iPhone users may prefer to use the free AnkiWeb in Safari on their mobile device). Windows, Mac, and Linux installs are available at http://ankisrs.net/. This app, also mentioned in Aiki’s (2013) study, does not only facilitate Japanese vocabulary study, but almost any kind of study where memorisation is required – students of medicine, law, geography, literature, or music are sure to find uses for it. (★★★★☆)
(These apps were selected from Aiki’s (2013) study “Effective Kanji Learning Strategies from Students’ Perspectives” and Greave’s (2012) study “Investigation of Autonomous Use of Mobile Devices for Second Language Learning”. Ratings are from customer reviews, current as at July 2013. For more information on apps you can use to study Japanese, view the Dictionary page).
Students interviewed by Aiki (2013) and Greaves (2012) also reported using their mobile devices to download or listen to podcasts, anime, and music which they used to gain valuable exposure to Japanese.