If you have an iPhone or iPad and are interested in learning (or remembering) Japanese, you’re going to be happy to know there are a lot of great apps available for people like you. Even better, iOS has international keyboards, and the Kana keyboard is excellent for entering Japanese in kana and having it suggest Kanji substitutions where appropriate. Combined with a couple great Japanese reference and translation apps, and you really don’t need much else.
In this post, I’m just going to list some of my favorite apps. I will write in more detail about some of them at a later date.
This is one of my favorite iOS apps of all time. It serves as a dictionary, translator, reference, writing study guide, and probably more. It’s a $7.99 app, and it’s worth every penny.
The search is tremendous. Enter an english word, a Japanese word in romaji, or some Kanji or Kana characters, and it’s off to the races to find you a match. And find matches it does. You’ll get the base match, conjugated forms, exact matches, matches that start with or end with your search terms… there’s almost no way you’ll not find what you were looking for.
The iOS Japanese Kana keyboard will give you Kanji replacement options as you type Japanese words in using Hiragana, and what I really love this app for is to verify my choice of Kanji selection. I can copy and paste them out of Drafts or whatever app I’m writing in, and know instantly whether I knew what I was doing or not. It’s a pretty big help considering all the different Kanji that can come up as options.
You can also have Japanese pronounce words for you. It’s a little artificial sounding, but it’s not bad. My only issue with this app is the flashcard study mode is a little confusing.
Midori is very similar to Japanese, except it’s not quite as pretty looking and it’s $9.99. BUT! It also has a great translation tab where you can paste in huge blocks of Japanese and get to work trying to understand it quickly, and it has a scratchpad for practicing writing as well. This app is incredible.
If you decide to only get one of these two apps, I’d say get Midori. If I had found it first, it probably would be the only one of the two I’d have purchased. But I do use both. I learned about Midori from Jeff Ruberg.
By the way, both of the above apps will be most beneficial to you if you can read Hiragana, but Japanese does show Kanji pronunciations in both Romaji and Hiragana, whereas Midori shows them in Hiragana only.
iKanji is a flashcard Kanji memorization app with testing and writing practice built in. It shows you the stoke order for the Kanji that you’re learning, and you can practice on top of a gray Kanji guide that will disappear after you’ve practiced a few times. It’s hard enough to get the strokes right with the guide – once it’s gone, you’ll need a lot of practice to get your Kanji looking remotely correct. But hey, that’s what this app is for!
The app is $5.99, with two in-app purchase options at $0.99 each: Kanji writing practice, and Kana chart with all Hiragana and Katakana characters with Romaji.
iKanji is more of a knuckle-down, put in some hours and study type of app than the previous two, but let’s face it, you’re not going to really learn Kanji any other way. None of these apps are the cheapest, but for learning a language like Japanese (especially Kanji), a really well done app is easily worth it.
I hate to break it to you, but you’re not going to learn Japanese without learning Hiragana and Katakana in addition to Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are the two Japanese phonetic alphabets, while Kanji are the Chinese characters. Japanese, unlike Chinese, makes use of these additional characters for words, conjugates, and basically as the glue that binds it all together. Fortunately for you, not only are the Kana much, much easier to learn, there are also apps like iKana to help you.
iKana features stoke animations, speed tests, audible pronunciation, custom characters sets, and more. This one is universal, unlike iKanji.
This is another real study app, like iKanji, but you won’t have much problem learning the Kana sets. This app is all you’ll need for it.
This one is iPad only, and it really needs to be. It’s Japanese writing practice, with a stylish twist. Practice writing Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana, mixed as you like on each practice sheet.
The Kanji search is neat – type in an English word in the search bar, and find the corresponding Japanese word(s) and Kanji options. Then tap one to get the stroke order animations. Write in the practice area, and watch your work appear in the selected square on the large tablet image.
You can choose to fill your tablet left to right, top to bottom, or fill it top to bottom, right to left as many traditional Japanese texts do (ever wonder why Japanese books often have the front cover where you think the back cover should be?). You can also choose fun options like postcards, wall scrolls, napkins, or Sudoku tiles to practice your characters on. If you ever get to the point where you’re not horribly ashamed of your written Kanji and Kana, you’re either lying to yourself or you’re actually getting better, and you can create a postcard to email, tweet, or send to photo library (for printing or whatever other means of sharing you prefer).
I’ll admit I don’t use this one a lot, but it’s a beautifully done app with clever visuals, and if I can force myself to ever sit down and start practicing my Japanese writing, this will be the app of choice.