By Alexander Martin
This month I’d like to share the resources I’ve compiled over the few years that I’ve come to use in the journey of learning Japanese.
While most resources are free or digital or online, some you may have to fork over real money for. I highly recommend the ones you DO need to pay for and will tell you why as well.
First we’ll list the dictionary websites. Use these for simple word lookup.
This is probably the best online dictionary you can use. Giant database with lots of modern words and colloqialisms. You probably already know about this one. Its a powerful tool if you know how to use the search modifiers like searching for all kanji with 水 as a first kanji by using 水* and the like. Help for this is at the bottom of the page.
ALC does a lot of english lesson stuff but they have a japanese to english dictionary on here which is the only thing I’ve used. As opposed to japanese to english, which Jisho is good for, this website as well as http://dic.yahoo.co.jp/ I’d recommend to try and find the proper english equivalent for a japanese word. Of course you need to be able to read the definitions and example sentences but they are usually fairly simple.
While you can enter whole sentences into jisho and it will attempt to parse them all into separate words/tenses, etc, ichi.moe does a better job. If you have a bit of writing you cant decipher, especially when there’s a large use of kana present, ichi.moe will help as it will parse many of the possibilties it could mean.
Mobile Dictionary Apps:
Everyone carrys a phone these days. Having a dictionary to look up things is almost essential for living abroad, and provides great convenience provided you know how to use them.
Android- All the apps on android I use share the same database, meaning they all contain the same words as well as example sentences. The preferences lie in the interface and other features.
A simple dictionary with options for multi language input, radical look up and kanji stroke order diagrams. I like this one because you can look up a verb and it will list all the conjugations for you in case you forget the rules or dont know what type of verb it is. You can create vocab lists but I haven’t been able to export them like I have with other apps.
A very colorful and powerful app. This one is my current favorite. There are multiple ways of input, you can simpy type in the word, search by radical, write it, or even have it guess based on a keyword. The lists tool is powerful and exportable to other lists, even anki cards. Best of all, there is a flashcard app built in to test yourself on those lists you create.
Japanese Dictionary (Spartan Entertainment)-
I used this dictionary for a long time. There is so much information presented, it can be almost too much! I like how it can be used to look up specific grammar points with example sentences listed as well as rules. While not a grammar dictionary it has some insight that the others I’ve used dont.
I dont have an iphone but hear good things about both Imiwa and Midori dictionaries.
PC Dictionaries: You may not always have internet access or may wish to have more features available than simple lookups.
Tagaini is a multi OS supported offline dictionary. You can create lists, flashcards (exportable to anki, etc) and much more. My favorite option is the instant look up as you type as well as being able to view synonyms, homonyms and antonyms for each word when you click the full card.
While not a dictionary perse, this tool is great for reading mango online or downloaded on your PC. It will try to recognize the kanji or other script if you cant read it. For example if you didnt know 趣味 in a comic, because you can’t copy paste like in an article or ebook, you’d normally have to try drawing it on jisho.org, your phone dictionary, etc. This only requires you highlight it and it will more often than not guess the correct word within the first few choices. It can be worse if the font used is particularly horrible.
Here I’ll list a few resources you can use to do more than just look up words. They may teach grammar or provide more indepth info about a word and its use in the language
Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese
Tae Kim’s website teaches Japanese from the basics to the relatively advanced. You can read it all online, download a PDF, buy the paperback or even download the app for your phone.
highly recommended for any level of learner. I personally have a dog-eared hard copy of this.
Wasabi- Learn Japanese Online
This is a website with simple lessons geared toward the beginner that explain very well aspects of Japanese grammar
A good web based study website where you can quiz vocab and grammar by level or just look up. I use this website for alternative explainations of grammar when other sources dont suffice.
Other Online Resources–
In no particular order here are some other helpful websites and their descriptions
Compound Verb Lexicon
This website is a database of compound verbs generally recognized as normal use. For example 持ち込む or mochikomu is a compound very with 込む acting ax an auxiliary verb meaning to “do deeply or completely” mostly. You can use this website to look up ALL commonly used verbs that have 込む attached to it and see example sentences. While many compound verbs you run across are simply a compound meaning like 開け広げる ”to open wide (windows or doors), there are others that you may not understand just from looking and can be found here. The website is in Japanese by default but you can change the language in the upper right.
Here you can find lists of JLPT grammar points, meanings, and example sentences. This site is good for studying by level and making sure you have your bases covered before you take your tests.
Japanese lessons from a native speaker on confusing aspects of the language in plain english!
Maggie sensei does a good job explaining with cultural specifics and examples. You can also request lessons on things she has not done yet and she will do them for you!
I used this website in beta when it was still free/cheap to use. It was a great site for getting you into the language and not afraid of kanji by designing a beautiful interface, and a unique way of progression. I used it for a year but when they started charging while still calling it beta, i decided to stop. I also did not like how you had to learn at the pace the developers set. If you have more time to study you should be able to study more!
Lang8 is a website where you can write in the language you are learning and request corrections. In return you correct others writing in languages you speak natively. The peer to peer group here is amazing and great to use for learning to write and speak more naturally.
Audiobooks in Japanese
Here’s a depoository of classic writings license free for your auditory enjoyment. Transcripts are available as well so you can read through what you are listening to.
This website is a frequency use of all words based on recent newspaper/magazine and other typed media. You can use this to compare words used vs others, or which particle is used with a word more than others. When you search or look up the word you will be provided with a lost of conjugations or particles attached to them and examples of their being used. Examples I’ve looked up include hokano vs hokani, which can be confusing sometimes.
This is a listing of popular animes with subtitles in Japanese. My listening isnt so good so being able to see the written Japanese as well is much more helpful. If you need help learning how to download and use these with your video files be sure to let me know!
This is a simple alphabetical list of antonyms and their counterparts. Good for quick studying or lookup.
The Japanese equivalent to audiobooks. You can download all you want within a 2 week trial. They have all sorts of books for any level learner to practice your listening skills.
If you dont have Japanese TV or dont want it, you can watch it anyway from PC or mobile with Abema TV! Available for android and iphone, they have dozens of channels, from variety shows, to documentaries to anime available at any time. There is a paid plan but doesnt provide many features so I only use the free subscription. Highly recommended for some listening practice!
Here I’ll list a few books you may have to actually pay for but are worth considering spending the money for.
A Handbook of Japanese Grammar Patterns
This is a dictionary of pretty much every grammar pattern ever. They recently released this in English and I think I’ve learned more from this book than all the textbooks like minna no nihongo or genki that I’ve ever read. Highly. Recommend.
A dictionary of Japanese Grammar
This series comes in 3 levels from Beginner to Advanced. Great explainations of grammar patterns as you’d expect to experience them studying a course. While these books are good the Handbook listed above has the same information and explains in a better manner. If you find these second hand like I did I’d recommend picking them up anyway.
Any manga. Seriously. Who doesn’t want to read manga in Japanese? Just go to a second handstore near you and find the 100Y shelf. Get stuff you recognize and stuff you dont. Find a suitable level for a challenge, and sit down with a dictionary (from your PC or mobile listed above) with a notebook and plow through it marking down stuff you dont know for look up later! This can be one of the most fun aspects of the learning process since you actually get to read in the language!
I hope you enjoyed this short list of resources to help you in your studies. May you learn much!
If you have any resources, online or otherwise that you’d like to share, let us know in the comments below or email us!