Appy Mondays: Beelinguapp Review

Welcome to my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the Japanese version of the foreign language audiobook app Beelinguapp.

 

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Beelinguapp is a reading app aimed at helping language learners to improve their reading skills. The apps allows you to read a number of stories available at Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced level. Besides Japanese, Beelinguapp is available for French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Chinese, Hindi, Turkish, English, Arabic, Italian and Korean.

 

How Beelingua works

The app is host to a range of stories available for you to study. The selection is mostly fairy tales and well-known children’s stories, although there are also some non-fiction articles on topics including culture and science. Not all articles are available for free, as indicated by the currency signs in the top right corner.

 

 

Click on an individual story to download and add it to your collection. Opening up the story from your collection then brings up the text in two languages of your choice (I was using Japanese-English, but you can choose any two languages from the ones I listed earlier).

The story comes with full audio which can be adjusted for speed to your liking. In the Karaoke Reading mode, the sentence being spoken is highlighted as you go along, making it very easy to follow. You can click on the sentence to hear that specific sentence on its own.

 

 

There are also a number of ways to customise your reading experience:

  • Option to toggle English translation on or off if you wish. You can also set the app so that the target language is in one window, and the English is in the other (known as Side by Side Reading).
  • Ability to adjust text size
  • Change reading screen to Night Mode

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By long pressing a word or phrase, you can choose to add it to your Glossary for viewing later. There isn’t a dictionary in the free version, but you can add your own notes alongside each word (so you could, in theory, look up the words separately and add the furigana readings and English translation yourself).

A handy feature is that you do not need to have the app fully open if you just want to listen to the stories; you can happily use your phone for other things whilst listening to the audio. At the end of each story, there are reading comprehension quizzes in the target language to test your understanding.

Like most apps nowadays, Beelinguapp is a freemium app. The Premium version has no adverts, new texts added weekly and the ability to translate individual words. For these extra benefits, Premium membership costs £13.49 for the year, or £3.09 per month (the first month is often discounted).

 

My thoughts on Beelinguaapp

There are a lot of things to like about Beelinguapp, namely:

  • There is a nice choice of stories/ articles on offer – even for the free version of the app, there is a fair amount of variety.
  • The design of the app is excellent – it is very sleek, colourful and user-friendly
  • Audio quality for Japanese is extremely good
  • Ability to test your understanding at the end of each story with quizzes

You can tell that the app was made with language learners in mind; the app itself is a joy to use.

On the other hand, the main problems for Beelinguapp for me are the difficulty of the texts and the lack of furigana.

I’m not sure how the difficulty levels were decided on as the ‘Beginner’ texts were pretty tricky (at least for Japanese) in terms of vocabulary and grammar. To some extent, this is down to the content of children’s stories not always being everyday language. Having the audio and English translation helps, but with the English translation not being literal, it would be very tricky for beginners to parse sentences.

I think that in order to improve the reading experience for Japanese learners of all levels, the ability to turn furigana on alongside kanji would be necessary. Without furigana, I feel that the learning curve for the content available is just too steep for beginner learners in particular. Japanese learners who are already at an intermediate level might find this app sufficient for practicing their reading, especially if following the tadoku method.

When it comes to Japanese study in particular, Beelinguapp suffers from the same issue as the Drops app I reviewed previously. The same app is available in different languages, but due to the different writing system and word order, this one-size-fits-all model of language learning app doesn’t work for Japanese as well. I suspect Beelinguapp would work better for languages that are more closely related than English and Japanese.

The dictionary being behind a paywall is a frustrating choice, as for me, the benefit of using reading apps like Tangoristo and Mondo is that you can use the app to study without having to have a dictionary with you to look up the words you do not know. Ultimately, if you are looking for an app to practice your Japanese reading, I would recommend these two apps over Beelinguapp (some of Mondo’s articles come with audio too).

As an audiobook app, I think it does work quite well for those who like to practice dictation or shadowing thanks to the clear audio. I do not know of any other audiobook apps that are aimed at language learners, so I do feel that it goes some way to filling a gap in the market.

Overall, the free option is sufficient in variety and features to be a useful app for listening practice – just be prepared to have a dictionary at hand!

If you are interested in checking the app out, it is available in the Apple store and Google Play store.

Have you tried this app out? Are you aware of a better alternative? Let me know in the comments!

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‘Appy Mondays: Drops Japanese Review

appymondays

Welcome to my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the Japanese version of the language learning app Drops.

Whilst I do make use of Anki for learning kanji and grammar, I have never personally found it as effective for studying vocabulary. I was looking around for other apps for learning vocabulary and came across Drops, a free language learning app that has a number of language options (28 languages in total!) including Japanese.

What sets Drops apart from other apps you may have tried is its highly visual interface which focuses on pictures to help you learn the vocabulary. Studying in the way feels like a more exciting way to study compared to your usual flashcard app.

How Drops works

 

Vocabulary is split into a number of topics such as family members, travel, shopping, and occupations. When you decide on a topic, new vocabulary is presented which you can drag downwards to study or upwards to skip if you already know it. The new piece of vocabulary is linked to a certain image which helps convey its meaning – you will also get the English but it will not be displayed unless you press and hold the image. All vocabulary comes with Japanese audio too.

The words you have studied are then added to a list known as Collections.By swiping across from the main menu, you can quickly check this list where the vocabulary you have learned is grouped by topic.

The app keeps track of your progress and will display this at the end of each study session. Keeping up a learning streak unlocks rewards such as extra study time.

The Options menu gives you some freedom to tailor your study to your language level:

  • Language mission: choose from enthusiast/ traveller/ business/ student/ romantic.
  • Skill level: beginner or advanced
  • Choose to set up daily practice reminders

 

The Japanese version of the app has options to study hiragana and katakana, in addition to the topics. You also have the ability to add romaji and turn kanji on or off if you like.

My thoughts on the Drops app

I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and I think that as a vocabulary focused app, it does a pretty good job at testing your recall of vocabulary in different ways. The use of images to convey meaning is clever because it means that you spend less time thinking about the English equivalent of the word you are learning, and more about the Japanese.

While not a complaint, I found that sometimes it would have helped to see certain words in context. This was especially true when I was studying the ‘Emotions’ topic where a lot of the words which are usually adjectives in English are verb phrases in Japanese. For example, angry was taught as 怒(おこ)っている; if I was a newbie to Japanese I might not realise that 怒っている is not actually an adjective but a conjugated form of the verb 怒る. In these cases, having the context of how they are used within sentences is more important and therefore it is a good idea to look up how these words are actually used.

The app has a ‘freemium’ model, meaning that you have access to most of its features but free users are restricted to how long they can use the app for. There are 98 topics in total, and free members have access to a good amount of these. As a free user, you have 5 minutes to study the vocab, which you can increase by regularly using the app or watching advertisements.

The ‘Curious’ premium access grants you 15 minutes use of the app every day and costs £2.49 a month or £16.99 a year. The ‘Genius’ premium access for unlimited use of the app across all 28 languages will set you back £6.99 a month, £45.99 a year or you can make a one-off payment of £59.99 (discounted from £109.99 at the time of writing).

In my opinion, this is a lot of money for an app that is solely focused on vocabulary; you will also outgrow the app once you have covered all of the topics offered. For the free content though, I think it is a nice way of getting in 5 minutes of vocabulary practice and also offers a nice change from other flashcard apps. It also offers a good way to review hiragana and katakana if you are studying them currently.

If you are interested in checking the app out, it is available in the Apple store and Google Play store.

‘Appy Mondays: Human Japanese

Apps for learning Japanese tend to focus on a certain aspect of the language, such as learning kana or learning vocabulary. This is fine as a supplement to classes or following a textbook, but not so much when self-studying. There are few apps that offer a more comprehensive approach from the very beginning, and Human Japanese is one of them. Whilst I wouldn’t suggest solely relying on one resource, Human Japanese is free at the earlier levels (called Human Japanese Lite) and is a pretty good alternative to one of the popular textbooks.

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The app starts from the very beginning, starting off by familiarizing you with the sounds of Japanese and how they differ from English. The app then takes you through hiragana before moving on to basic Japanese grammar and vocabulary across 44 chapters. You must complete each chapter before moving on with no option to skip (although this can be changed in the settings). At the end of each chapter, there is a quiz to test your learning. I would say that the app does a good job of covering reading, writing, speaking and listening equally.

One of the main advantages of using an app over a textbook when self-studying is having audio integrated into the app; Human Japanese takes advantage of this by having lots of example sentences and audio.

Human Japanese App Screenshot

I think this is a good choice for those who have had no prior experience learning Japanese (or any language for that matter) as it takes you through the basics of Japanese whilst imparting a lot of relevant and useful information along the way. This does mean that the app is text heavy, which could well be intimidating and it may not feel like you are making progress as quickly. Even so, I highly recommend this for newcomers to Japanese who are intending to study the language in some depth. There are a lot of things explained in the earlier chapters that I wish I had learned from the very beginning! One aspect to Human Japanese that I like is that once downloaded the app can be run entirely offline, which reduces the temptation to go online and get distracted.

The lite version gives you access to the first 8 chapters or so – if you like these chapters, you can purchase the full app for £9.99. The app is available on Android, Apple Store, Windows Phone, PC & Mac. I suggest taking advantage of the ‘Sneak Peek’ feature and look at the previews of each chapter (especially if you have already started studying Japanese).

There is also a Human Japanese Intermediate which may be suitable if you have already studied the basics – the official website has chapter lists to give you an idea of which app may be the best for you. The intermediate version of the app probably finishes covering the main aspects of grammar for JLPT N5 and a bit of JLPT N4, but also has chapters on things like sentence ending particles -の/ んです, よ, な which are often left to a later stage of Japanese learning.

‘Appy Mondays: Akebi App Review

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!

‘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 App Review

Welcome to my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the Japanese reading app 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.

 

How Mondo works

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 a recording of its pronunciation 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 partners. 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.

 

My thoughts on Mondo

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 access 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 you 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.

If you are interested in checking the app out, it is available in the Apple store and Google Play storeYou can also 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 – TangoRisto

‘Appy Mondays – News Easy Japanese

‘Appy Mondays -NHK News Reader

 

Have you tried this app out? Are you aware of a better alternative? Let me know in the comments!