‘Appy Mondays: Akebi

I have always intended to talk about Akebi on this blog as I have used it consistently for several years when I do not have my electronic dictionary to hand. If I was asked to recommend a Japanese dictionary for an android user, I would always go with Akebi – there are other apps out there that work in a similar way, but I find Akebi to be the most user-friendly and reliable of the ones I have tried.

Akebi is a Japanese-English dictionary app with a few additional features which make it useful for Japanese learners:

  • When you search a Japanese word in Akebi it will give you the English definition and indicate other useful things such as how commonly the word is used and whether the word usually uses kanji or kana. For verbs, it will indicate whether it is an ichidan/godan verb, or if it is transitive/intransitive.
  • Example sentences from Tanaka corpus are also provided underneath the definition. The app does sometimes pick up sentences that are not relevant to the word you searched but is about as accurate as jisho.org which draws from the same database of sentences.
  • For words that are comprised of more than one kanji, it will indicate the meanings of the individual kanji which can then be tapped on in order to learn more about them.
  • The app also has kanji/ vocabulary lists which can be sorted into 常用 (common use) or JLPT level.
  • Similarly, you can create your own lists and then add words as and when you look them up. These can then be turned into flashcards which you can review in the same way as Anki. Whilst I haven’t used this myself in depth this is a neat way of creating your own personalised JLPT study list based on words you’ve looked up rather than a premade list.
  • If you need more information on how to set up lists there is a really easy to follow tutorial for doing so. There are actually tutorials for all aspects of the app which is really useful for newbies.
  • You are able to search words by typing in kanji, kana or romaji. In addition to this, you can search for kanji by writing it on the screen. The app will then bring up a number of suggestions as to what the kanji you are writing could be. I have found this kanji writing search to be very responsive – provided you more or less follow the correct stroke order, it will identify the relevant kanji. Having said that, even when I wrote kanji using the completely wrong stroke order it managed to identify it correctly!

As you can see there is a lot to like about Akebi, whether you use it solely to look up words or not. I can easily recommend this to all Japanese learners irrespective of level, especially because the app itself is free from the Google Play Store!

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‘Appy Mondays : TangoRisto App Review

I haven’t gotten round to doing one of these posts in a while (believe me, it’s not down to lack of apps to review!) but I was inspired to write one after coming across the app TangoRisto.

This app is a reading app but is tailored towards the needs of Japanese learners. Some reading apps are better suited to intermediate or advanced learners, but this has a lot of features which enable beginners to get reading in Japanese as soon as possible.

TangoRisto takes its articles from NHK News Web Easy (for beginner-intermediate learners), Top NHK News (for intermediate-advanced learners) and Hukumusume (fairy tales in Japanese).

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When you select one of these from the main menu you can choose an article to read. Once selected, you can view the article with a few extra features including:

  • Toggle furigana on or off, or toggle furigana on for kanji split by JLPT level
  • Option to bookmark articles for offline viewing
  • Tap on any word for an English definition
    • If a verb has been conjugated it will indicate how it has been conjugated/ the politeness level as well as the verb in its dictionary form.
    • When you tap on the vocabulary again you get further information on the word: it can then be bookmarked and added to a vocabulary list to review later offline.
    • There is an option to search the word on websites such as jisho.org, Tangorin, Google as well as the Japanese Stack Exchange where you can ask questions on usage.
  • Toggle the glasses on or off to see different vocabulary highlighted in different colours according to their JLPT level (eg. N5 words and grammar are underlined in orange)
  • Full vocabulary list for each article

The ‘glasses’ feature on this app I think is especially useful for learners because it helps learners identify what kind of vocabulary or grammar they tend to get stuck on, which you can then use to adapt your learning – particularly useful if you are working towards the JLPT. Being able to view articles and vocabulary lists online is also a really useful feature to have (I wish more apps had this to be honest!)

All in all, a great app that I am sure will get even better over time 🙂

The app is available for free on the Apple Store and the Google Play Store, so there really is no reason not to check this out! Find out more on the app’s official website.

‘Appy Mondays: HiNative

Ever had a burning question for a speaker of your target language but no one around to ask? HiNative is the app for you! This app has been around for some time but before trying it out myself I was quite skeptical, but I am a definite convert.

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It helps that the app’s mascot is super adorable!

Why is the app recommended?

When you create an account you can specify what languages you are learning and which languages/ countries you are already familiar with. Based on these choices you can see questions and answers on your language pairs which you can then contribute to. You can also record audio and ask native speakers to critique your pronunciation!

It is particularly good for those who are learning languages where local native speakers are in short supply, which makes it a good choice for Japanese learners. There can be times whilst you are learning a language when friends who speak the target language are less likely to correct you on errors. Therefore getting a complete stranger’s input on whether something sounds natural or not is always a good idea. It is certainly true that when learning Japanese, the best thing is to ask a native about issues such as word usage; no matter how good your dictionary may be, it cannot always capture the unique nuances that certain words may have.

I thought that HiNative was solely about language questions, but it can be a great way of asking questions about the culture(s) you are interested in. I saw lots of questions about music and TV recommendations, food culture, sports, etiquette, travel which sparked some interesting discussions. Ultimately as a language learning app, it attracts people enthusiastic about other languages and cultures and so people do their best to be encouraging. This kind of supportive community is just the thing you need to keep yourself motivated during your language learning journey. Even if you only have 5 minutes while waiting for the bus or brewing a cup of tea, you can be doing something productive by using this app.

You can find the HiNative app on the App Store or Google Play store for free (though there is a premium version available) – find further details on the official website.

‘Appy Mondays: Mondo

Have you been studying Japanese for a while but scared of reading articles in Japanese? Looking for a simple Japanese news aggregate app with dictionary lookup functionality? Then Mondo is definitely the app for you!

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I have had this app installed for some time, but after playing around with the app to understand more fully all of the features it has I can definitely recommend this to intermediate learners looking to improve their article reading skills. I have reviewed other reading apps before as part of this series, but what sets this app aside from these others is that it offers a better reading experience for learners by including dictionary lookup and a flashcard feature amongst other things. I’ve outlined some of the app’s main features below:

  • Article reading. All articles have a word lookup function when you highlight a word or phrase, and includes recording of its pronounciation by a native speaker. You can toggle furigana on or off, and some articles have links to the English translation to check your understanding of the Japanese text.
  • Vocabulary lists. Words you come across in articles can be bookmarked, which then can be viewed later and added to a vocabulary list. There are also preset lists, with lists such as all levels of the JLPT, Joyo (general use) kanji and business related language. You can then test yourself on this vocabulary in the form of electronic flashcards, Anki style. My only gripe with this is that with the preset lists testing from English to Japanese, the English terms can be so obtuse at times that coming up with the correct Japanese term can seem nearly impossible sometimes.
  • Handshake is a feature you can use to find Japanese language learning parterns. You can choose a partner by swiping right on the people you are interested in chatting with – if you get a mutual handshake, you’ve just found a language exchange partner! The obvious similarities to Tinder here have put me off trying this feature out, but it could be a good alternative to a dedicated app like Hello Talk.
  • Study log. When reading articles, the app measures how long it takes you to read the article, and how long you have spent reading in total. It also measures Characters per Minute (CPM) which is used as a benchmark for what level the app considers your language learning level to be at.

I think that the above features packed into one app for free represents a really good deal. It is worth mentioning that there is a premium version of the app, which gives you acccess to audio recordings of each article (the free version lets you listen to one article every fortnight) as well as short dialogues by native speakers and costs 480 yen per month. For 1800 yen per month, the premium membership also grants yo access to Japanese language teachers who are there to help you out with any Japanese related questions you may have. Given the prices, I am not sure if the premium membership represents good value for money, but as a free app I am impressed by its current offering.

Find out more about the app on the official website.

PS. If you are on the lookout for a similar type of reading app, check my previous reviews:

‘Appy Mondays – News Easy Japanese

‘Appy Mondays -NHK News Reader

‘Appy Mondays – News Easy Japanese

The second installment for this series is a review of News Easy Japanese, another reading comprehension app.

News Easy Japanese (CLcosmos Ltd, free)

  News Easy Japanese- screenshot

This news reading comprehension app issues 3-4 articles each day covering current affairs, in the vein of NHK Easy Japanese, having been written using simpler language than standard newspaper articles but still use a lot of the vocabulary that does crop up.

Furigana can also be toggled on or off. Each article comes with sound clips where the article is clearly read and spoken at a steady speed facilitating easier reading comprehension. The items highlighted in green can be clicked on, and give simple definitions of the item in Japanese. I really like the Japanese-Japanese dictionary as it gives you the opportunity to understand new vocab using words you (hopefully) already know, and is especially useful for distinguishing between words which have appear to have similar English meanings.

  News Easy Japanese- screenshot

As you can see above, the app also has articles on various weather phenomena you may likely come across living in Japan (typhoons, tornadoes, heavy snow, heavy rain, tsunamis and earthquakes). This is useful for picking up relevant vocabulary relating to weather warnings which you may come across on TV. Being from the UK, earthquakes are not something I am used to, so having the opportunity to brush up on dealing with earthquakes is always helpful.

The only real downside of this app is that it does not have any offline functionality. Apart from that, I can definitely recommend this app to JLPT N3/ intermediate level learners looking to practice their newspaper reading comprehension, especially if you are looking to move away from Japanese-English dictionaries.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars 

 

‘Appy Mondays -NHK News Reader

Hello and Happy New Year! I hope 2017 will be a great year for all 🙂

Today’s post is the first of a new series called ‘Appy Mondays, where I will be reviewing some of the many Japanese language learning applications that are about. This series will focus on apps available on Android as I currently only own Android devices at present. I am also all about free or low cost apps whenever possible, and the cost will be factored in to all reviews.

First up is NHK News Reader (AOVILL team, free)

  NHK News Reader with Furigana- screenshot

This app provides access to the latest NHK articles, with additional functions suited for Japanese language learners. Articles are split by topic, but the main landing page will always show the main headlines. Each article has option to show furigana above kanji, and each comes with an accompanying video showing the corresponding item as read on Japanese TV, which is generally identical to the text (the text differs sometimes when people are interviewed and their speech has been paraphrased). As these videos are from Japanese TV the speed is at natural speed (ie. fast), so it is good for testing your real world Japanese comprehension. Article lengths do vary but the articles are for the most part not too long, and are best suited for a 15-30 minute reading session.

The option for furigana is always helpful for learners, but there is no integrated dictionary within the app. This would not be much of a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that the app does tend to freeze. I found that this always happened when I tried to switch apps to look a word up in the dictionary whilst in the middle of reading an article, the app screen would go blank when I returned to the app. This is a shame because unless you have a physical dictionary to hand, you would of course be switching apps frequently. I often use my journey to work for studying Japanese for example and so this app would not be suitable for using on the commute. Your device has to be connected to the internet to use the app, which makes sense as there are integrated videos, but it would have been nice to have the option to view the articles themselves offline.

I should say that the app is free, but there is a paid version for £3.99. However looking at the reviews for the paid version, the extra cost does not add functionality that I would be expecting, namely the ability to view articles offline and an integrated dictionary. Overall, as a free app it may be worth trying out if you are around JLPT N2 level and looking for authentic news articles and video to work on your newspaper reading comprehension. It is a decent free app, but I could not recommend it or its paid upgrade app as an essential resource for intermediate/ advanced learners with the bugs it currently has.

Rating: 3/5 stars