Dictionaries

This site contains recommendations for online dictionaries, paper dictionaries, and electronic dictionaries (small hand-held computers, similar in size to a calculator). These recommendations are based on the findings of a research project investigating a large number of dictionaries currently available. The three lists below detail a selection of our top recommendations for each kind of dictionary, with a rough indication of the level of learner for whom they are suitable.  To view a more extensive list, with more detailed ratings for each dictionary, as well as recommendations for kanji dictionaries, please use the links in Further Information below.

If you have a suggestion for additions or corrections to information, please email Sarah.PasfieldNeofitou@monash.edu

Online (and Apps), Paper, or Electronic Dictionaries?

There are a number of types of dictionaries to choose from, and it helps to consider your individual situation, language level, and purpose when selecting a resource. It may be the case that you decide to use different resources for different activities. Think about what is important to you – something cost effective? Something light? Something up-to-date? Something which allows you to look up kanji relatively easily? Something that allows you to use a language other than English? These sources range greatly in price (and generally in the order listed above – with online and apps normally free/low cost, paper medium, and electronic rather expensive). Here are some common advantages and disadvantages of each type:

Online Dictionaries: Advantages: Normally free. Allows you to cut and paste from a text you are reading without knowing the stroke order or radical or reading of individual characters. There is a wide range available, and because these resources are free you can switch as your needs change without having to pay any extra. Because words are often sourced from the web and media, they are probably the most up-to-date resource. You can also find many options of languages other than English to translate to and from. No more difficult to use than a web search. Disadvantages: Requires internet access. Not as portable as other options. Both of these disadvantages can be addressed by use of smartphone apps, however.

App Dictionaries: Advantages: Normally free. If you read a lot on your phone, it can be useful for cutting and pasting to and from texts. There is a wide range available, and because these resources are free you can switch as your needs change without having to pay any extra. Because words are often sourced from the web and media, they are probably the most up-to-date resource. You can also find many options of languages other than English to translate to and from. No more difficult to use than a web search. Most allow you to search even when your phone is offline. Disadvantages: While the apps themselves are often free (although some do cost money) the initial outlay for a smartphone is expensive. There are also associated costs with ongoing plans/credit purchases. If you are a heavy user of your phone, it may be worthwhile taking your charger with you. Further information on apps can be obtained here.

Paper Dictionaries: Advantages: Easy to use if you’re familiar with using a paper dictionary in your first language. May encourage you to handwrite more and get more practice at writing kanji. You can browse easily, meaning that you might come across new vocabulary. No ongoing costs. There are usually detailed instructions provided in English. Does not require internet access. Can be used in some settings where electronic devices are banned (for example, NAATI exams). Disadvantages: May require practice to use, and is generally slower than other resources. Can be difficult to look up something online as you cannot copy and paste. Somewhat expensive to purchase.

Electronic Dictionaries: Advantages: Very portable. Combines multiple resources in a single device. Does not require internet access. May offer searching in romaji which can be useful to beginners. Likely to contain many more words than a paper dictionary. Most archive your searches, meaning you can revise easily, and you may be able to make flash cards for revision. Disadvantages: Usually the most costly option. Requires batteries. Not suitable for use in environments where they may break or get wet (if you are considering use for travel). Largely replaceable by the free smartphone apps now available, which do not require you to carry an additional device and are frequently and automatically updated.

Online Dictionaries / Translators:

(in order of recommended level of user)

A specialised dictionary of onomatopoeia and mimesis (sound effects) for reading manga is available from the Manga Library’s website.

Apps:

(in order of customer ratings)

Imiwa? (formerly Kotoba!) – (free, Apple) This app is based on Jim Breen’s JMDict developed here at Monash and comes highly recommended. It also includes videos to teach you the stroke order of kanji from the KanjiVG project. Languages include English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. (★★★★★)
JED (Japanese-English Dictionary) – (free, Android) One of Greaves’ (2012) participants reported that a major advantage of this dictionary was the ability to look up verbs in their conjugated forms (rather than needing to determine the dictionary form of a verb as is the case in most paper dictionaries). This function was particularly useful to her as a beginner learner of Japanese. (★★★★☆)
Denshi Jisho (or Japanese-English Dictionary) (free, Android) This was another of the most popular apps amongst Samsung users in Greave’s (2012) study. It is a highly recommended app on the Android store. Based on jisho.org (★★★☆)
(These apps were selected from 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 Apps page).

Paper Dictionaries:

(in order of recommended level of user)

  • Kodansha’s Furigana Dictionaries (Beginner – Lower Intermediate)
  • Kenkyusha’s Lighthouse Dictionaries (Upper Intermediate – Advanced)
  • Super Anchor Dictionaries (Upper Intermediate – Advanced)
  • Kenkyusha’s New Collage Dictionaries (Upper Intermediate – Advanced)
  • Genius Dictionaries (Upper Intermediate – Advanced)

Electronic Dictionaries:

As new models of electronic dictionaries are produced frequently, it is difficult to make up-to-date recommendations. Before purchasing an electronic dictionary, it is suggested that you read the Guide for Students Purchasing an Electronic Dictionary.

Further Information:

An archived booklet containing more detailed lists (although not of apps) may be downloaded here in PDF format (please note that this resource is not regularly updated).

Further information on apps can be obtained here.

For a more extensive discussion of dictionaries, please see Pasfield-Neofitou, S. E. (2009). Paper, Electronic, or Online? Different dictionaries for different activities. Babel, 43(2), 12-18.