Japandroid (Part 1)

Amongst the many languages I’ve dabbled with over the years is Japanese.  I’ve always (or at least for quite a long time) had  an interest in the language and culture of Japan, partly because they are very different to what I’m used to.  My previous attempts to learn more than a few basic phrases of Japanese have, however, been hampered by the difficulty of learning the writing system.

Having recently acquired a new Android phone, I decided to have a look at the facilities that had to offer for learning Japanese, especially how to read it.  I was pleasantly surprised.  So far I have only explored some of the free apps that are available, but there are plenty of these and some of them are extremely useful.  All of these apps are (or at least were) available on the official Android Marketplace.

I won’t go into great detail about the Japanese writing system here, since there are plenty of good sources of information available, such as this Wikipedia article.  However, learning to read the two kana syllabaries (especially hiragana) is a high priority for learning the language, as is beginning to get a grip on the basics of kanji.  Learning to write them too is not a bad idea.  Repeated exposure is essentially the only way to achieve these goals.

The main app I have been using to learn the kana is one called TenguGo Kana, which provides a series of quizzes on both hiragana and katakana,  with diagrams and animations to show how the characters are written (stroke order is quite important for correct writing of Japanese; the same is true for kanji), as well as examples of words using them.  I’ve just finished working through all the quizzes, but they will still be useful for revision purposes later on.  The app also includes handy kana charts for reference.

For learning to write (or draw) the kana, I have found an appropriately named app called Kana Draw, which has been quite useful.  This puts up outlines of the various kana and gets you to trace them using the appropriate stroke order, which helps to get the shapes better established in your mind so that you can more easily write them as well as recognise them.  I’ve found it quite helpful to name each kana out loud as I trace it, as a means of consolidating my knowledge of the sounds represented as well as the way of writing them.   Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a straightforward way of selecting just a subset of each syllabary to test, which means that while I’m still learning the katakana I’m getting faced with a few symbols I don’t yet know (I had already become familiar with all the hiragana before I found this app).

I have also installed an app called Kanji Flashcards.  You can probably guess from the title what that one does :-).  I haven’t made much use of it yet, as I’m still concentrating mostly on learning the kana, but when I get on to learning kanji this promises to be a handy study tool.

Another useful app I found is an interactive textbook called HJ Lite.  This is actually a free, limited preview of a payware app called HumanJapanese, which is essentially a complete basic Japanese course with about 40 chapters.  The free version is limited to the first 8 chapters, which introduce the hiragana and a few basic phrases.  There’s quite a lot of discussion surrounding the basic information that’s presented, including useful observations such as several observations about how perceived difficulties in the Japanese writing system are in fact similar to features of our own system, e.g. the addition of a single stroke can completely change the meaning of a word, just like there’s only a subtle difference between “interior and inferior” if you actually stop to think about how the letters are written. It also has some advice for things to look out for when writing the characters. I was impressed enough with this course that I am seriously considering getting the full version, although I’m inclined to give some of my existing Japanese learning materials another try first, now that I’ve got my phone to help me learn to read and write.

As this post is getting quite long and I still have several other apps to mention, I’m going to split it into (at least) two parts.  The rest will follow shortly…

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