Testing free Kana iOS Apps, Part 1 – Selecting the Apps

Selecting what free kana learning iOS apps to test.

I searched on “kana” and “learn japanese” in the App Store and then picked the apps that looked like they supported kana studying.

Screenshot of appsLet me say that it is quite clear that the market for apps have developed a lot since the time I was looking for something to put on my iPod a few years back. Even if I only picked free apps I ended up with close to sixty apps. So I’ve quickly gone through them to see if all looks worth testing. A couple of the “lite” versions of payed apps have been dropped
But there are still around fifty free iOS apps left that might help you learn hiragana and/or katakana. My first idea was to try to categorize them based on what type of study method they use but since the majority focusses on teaching you to recognise the kana characters I think think any categorisation will have to wait until I’ve tested the majority of the apps.because they provided no testable functions in the free edition. A couple of other apps was also dropped because they were entirely in Japanese and at the time when one is learning kana that is simply to hard to handle. Lastly there were some apps that were more for kanji studies so they will have to wait a while before I test them.So now it’s time to get testing…

iOS apps to learn Japanese with – a testing project

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iOSappsLearningJapaneseMaking the post about my favourite iOS apps made me realize that my set of apps are a bit out of date. It has probably been a couple of years since I got new apps for my iPhone. This seemed like a good excuse for a testing project, testing my way through most(?) of the apps in the app store.

It is quite clear that there are a lot of of iOS apps that teaches different aspects of Japanese so my plan is as follows:

Testing order:

  1. iOS apps for learning kana (hiragana/katakana)
  2. iOS apps for learning Kanji
  3. iOS apps for learning Japanese vocabulary
  4. iOS apps that is aimed at training for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)
  5. iOS Japanese learning apps that are designed as games
  6. any other categories of iOS apps for learning japanese. This can be apps to test your current skills, apps that focus on grammar or text books, etc.

I’m looking to test some apps every week. For kana apps I will mainly look att free apps since the scope of the apps are limited. For the other categories I will probably try some payed apps too.

Basic Kanji Book

Basic Kanji Book is the main book I’ve been using to learn Kanji. If you work through Vol.1 you will have learnt 251 kanji in 22 lessons. Vol.2 gets you to 500 kanji in an additional 23 lessons.

The Basic Kanji BookYou will have learnt a lot more words than the 500 kanji since you also learn how to combine the kanji (and kana) in order to write more words.

Each lesson cover 10-15 kanji. In the first lessons you learn the kanji that somewhat looks like the word they describe. In subsequent lessons the kanji are often grouped by subject (animals, numbers, family relations, etc) or grammar (adjectives, verbs.)  At regular intervals there are review sections that test what you’ve learnt in the previous lessons.

There are also practical examples of “real life” kanji in many lessons. These cover things such as food items on a menu, signs you find at a station, weather reports and examples of a hand written post card.

This is how each kanji is presented:

Example from book

  1. The Kanji,
  2. Translation
  3. The readings (note that you need to know both hiragana and katakana to understand this)
  4. How to write the kanji, showing stroke order but not stroke direction. There are some space to practice writing.
  5. A set of words you can write using this kanji, most often in combination with kanji you’ve already learnt or sometimes kanji you will learn in coming lessons.

Exercise examplesOnce you’ve learnt how to write the new kanji in the lesson you get a set of exercises where you train reading and writing the kanji in order to learn how to use it in different combinations to make up different words and expressions.

One annoying thing about the book is that there are no answers available for the exercises. I guess the idea is that you either know the answer/kanji or you don’t but I’ve definitely gone back to earlier exercises and realized that I used the wrong kanji from time to time.

Overall I like the book. When I’ve put my mind to it and done all exercises in a lesson I’ve usually learnt all the kanji covered. Admittedly by the time I got to lesson 20 it was clear that I started to forget the less used kanji from earlier lessons but I guess that is only to be expected.

My 5 favourite apps to learn Japanese on the iPhone

Two things I learned doing this post are that it’s been a while since I first got my apps and what is available on the App Store changes. But here you get a list of my favourite apps during the last couple of years and I promise to download and test a set of the current apps for a future post.

These are the apps I’ve gotten the most use of on my iphone:

Imi wa? (previously called Kotoba!) (Free)

This is a free English/Japanese dictionary. One always needs a dictionary. I did get a paid dictionary too (Japanese) but 9 times out of 10 I’ve used Kotoba! or Imi wa? as it is now called.

KanjiFlip (Paid)

A flash card type of application that keeps track of your progress so you focus mainly on the kanji you don’t know. KanjiFlip contains support for learning Hiragana and Katakana to. This is otherwise found in the KanaFlip app but if you are serious about learning Japanese you are better off skipping that app and go directly at this one.

KanjPop (Paid)

A game to learn to remember kanji. Really good for 5-10 minute sessions on the bus or waiting in line somewhere.

iKanji touch (Paid)

Another kanji training tool which unlike KanjiFlip shows the stroke orders in a nice graphical fashion. Probably the most ambitious app I’ve used.

Kana pad (Free)

I used this app to train myself in writing hiragana and katakana. The app doesn’t seem to be available in itunes anymore. I’ll have to check for a replacement for you. 🙂

Kanji Flashcards

When I started learning Kanji one of the products I picked up was a set of Kanji flashcards. These are playing card sized cards which on one side has the Kanji, its stroke order and some examples of its use (all in Japanese) on the flip side of the card you find its readings, its meaning in English and translations of the examples. I liked having an analog, easy to bring tool mainly to refresh the Kanjis I studied the weeks before.

The cards I got were these:

flashcards

They are from White Rabbit Press who produces several sets. Mine is the beginner level set containing 300 Kanji. I also got a couple of card cases so I could have a couple of preprepared sets to put in my bag when leaving for the day (you see one of the card cases on the picture.) This set doesn’t cover all the Kanji in the book I was studying (Basic Kanji Book) but it had enough of them to be useful.

There are two more sets available: an intermediate level set with 750 kanji  and an advanced level set with 895 kanji. Each set builds upon the previous so the idea is that you buy them one at a time as you learn more and more kanji. I only own the first set.

If you prefer digital tools there are both websites, software and apps that provide the same functionality.

Learn Japanese online with lots of audio lessons: japanesepod101.com

The site covers your entire learning career from a few Survival Phases and Newbie introductions through Beginner, Lower Intermediate to Intermediate levels.

This site has tons of listening materials available as podcasts. You also find the material in itunes.

JapanesePod101.com – Learn Japanese with Free Daily Podcasts

Most of the time I’ve used the free material and with irregular intervals I’ve taken out a basic subscription to get hold of the archives. Since I’ve used the site mainly to get listening material to complement my weekly lessons their premium subscription have felt a bit expensive. But this year my Japanese teacher has gone on a teaching hiatus so I currently have a premium subscription to janapesepod101 so that I get access to all the material on the site.

When you first register on the site you get a free account and 1 week access to most of the premium content so choose wisely when you register so you have enough spare time to make good use of that week.

Learn Japanese with JapanesePod101.com

They have regular promotion offers that gives you 20-30% off the subscriptions. I’ve used those for the times when I’ve had premium subscriptions. They are quite pushy with promotions about subscriptions but you can unsubscribe from the mails.

You can check out their podcasts in iTunes too:

Just the audio podcasts is found here: Learn Japanese | JapanesePod101.com (Audio)

If you like to get the video podcasts too then use this: Learn Japanese | JapanesePod101.com

Minna no Nihongo

minnanonihongoThis is the main book I’ve been using for my studies. Since I’ve studied with a teacher I only acquired the Translation&Grammar book and then during lessons we listened to CDs, got texts to read and exercises to do.

I like Minna no Nihongo because the stuff I’ve learned feels useful. It feels like situations and conversations that I might end up in. The subjects are more from a work place perspective than the school perspective that you find in some other books.

Minna no Nihongo is a series of books from beginner level to lower intermediate level. Each level is divided into several different types of books. There are

Main Textbooks – These are only in Japanese and needs to be complemented with the Translation & Grammatical Notes in the language of your choice.

Translation & Grammatical Notes in ENGLISH

  • Beginner level  (more information at the publisher’s site):
    • Minna no Nihongo I Honyaku・Bunpo Kaisetsu in English (also available in French, German, Chinese, Indonesian, Korean, Portugese, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese)
    • Minna no Nihongo II Honyaku・Bunpo Kaisetsu in English (also available in French, German, Chinese, Indonesian, Korean, Portugese, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese)
  • Lower Intermediate level  (more information at the publisher’s site):
    • Minna no Nihongo Chukyu I Honyaku (available in English, Chinese, German, Korean, Spanish and Portuguese)