All the tools to help you study Japanese changed a lot over the past ten years (or let’s just say a decade because that sounds more dramatic). Nihongo is still the best Japanese dictionary app for me because of the constant development and improvement of the App.
All started with a basic English and Japanese dictionary, then came Kanji stroke orders, different supported languages to translate Japanese to, and finally the game changer: Google OCR to detect and translate Japanese text on pictures.
In the last decade, iOS went from its humble beginnings to Face recognition, and from an App library with Angry Birds as the highlight to one with countless decent offerings to help you study Japanese. From the Human Japanese Apps that want to be a digital alternative to Genki to JALUP, Genki’s own Apps, and countless dictionary Apps. I’m personally still using JALUP every morning.
I make some coffee, sit down in a comfy chair, and start to do my reviews. You know that I’m only recommending the stuff I really use and love and JALUP is one of those programs that I think don’t get the recognition it deserves. The price for the packs is off-putting. I get that. But having paid for two packs already I can assure you that it’s money well spent and has been a blessing in improving my Japanese.
Table of Contents
My search for the perfect dictionary / SRS-App
I was just browsing the web for another Japanese dictionary App that would also work as an SRS and basically save me some time for creating my own cards with Anki. I’m currently playing あつまれ どうぶつの森 and am really enjoying it so far. There are just so many QOL features in there in comparison with its predecessor on the 3DS which makes it a lot more fun to play.
The big news is that the European/US edition of the game also contains a Japanese language option when you switch your console language to Japanese. Awesome, especially since you can just change back the language if you’re facing some problems in-game and the game will just revert to any language that you set for your console.
But I discovered a fast, well-made dictionary App with a built-in SRS, picture scanning feature, and the feature to save and attach a picture to any word inside the dictionary. For a few years now the best Japanese dictionary App for me is called Nihongo. It’s available for iOS only and made by Chris Vasselli. I always love it when I can directly get in touch with the people behind a program/app/website.
Ok, so Genki is a common word. The Nihongo-Website is talking about a level-up system which basically is leveling up words the more you look them up / see them.
Tons of (computer) voiced example sentences. Excellent.
What makes Nihongo stand out
Each word has a sign attached that grades it to common/uncommon or rare. You can import the text from pictures (using Google’s OCR capabilities) and go through every word. There is even a feature to make flashcards out of every word you looked up. What I love is that you can even attach a picture to a word. Love that feature because it gives me the context I need. You can even store so-called “clippings” which is basically Japanese text you copied into the app and immediately each word and kanji gets clickable. This really makes it easy to look up unknown words or go through a text you’re struggling with.
Just scan a picture for its text, go through every word, and attach the picture you got that word from to its dictionary entry. It sounds a little complicated written down but it’s so easy and smooth to do when you’re looking up words from a picture, it’s just incredible. And fast.
What I’d love to see next: On my wishlist for the already pretty awesome Japanese dictionary App is the ability to include example sentences to the backside of the flashcards. That’s one of the many qualities of Nihongo (and learning Japanese from sentences is one of the best study methods I know). Displaying related words under your main search query.
And of course, to make flashcards from pictures. Ideally with the ability to just display a picture you took (or just the text from the picture if you want to) and make a flashcard out of it using the OCR feature. That would call for iCloud implementation for your to make backups but really would be a marvelous feature. Just imagine playing つまれ どうぶつの森 and just importing the screenshots of dialogues you were having trouble with to make some badass flashcards. Easy and without the need to go through countless ANKI Add-ons.
Here I attached a picture I took (Animal Crossing, what else) to a word I looked up. Really do love that feature.
Clippings and the Safari Extension
I talked about picture clippings briefly and my wish to just use them for flashcard creation. The Safari extension works with the same principle but applies it to the web browser. The video on Nihongo’s own website probably shows it best. I’m personally not reading any Japanese websites or blogs but maybe that will change with your recommendations?!
Nihongo is free to use in its plain version as a basic, super-fast, dictionary App. Without the extra bells and whistles like its flashcard function or OCR (picture scanning) capabilities. Check it out for yourself and make use of the 14-day trial version for the full Nihongo Pro experience to see for yourself what makes this app so special and stands out from the crowd of dictionary apps.
I have no problem with supporting developers and always happily pay for a good App but I’m slightly annoyed by the recent trend that seemingly every App is now running on a subscription-based model. Nihongo offers us a choice when we want to go pro. Personally, I’ll get a “lifetime subscription” after my trial ends because the OCR capabilities, tons of example sentences, etc. are perfect for my Japanese studies. And if OCR-flashcard capabilities with iCloud backup are in the future, even better,
Which dictionary App are you using at the moment? Do you have a clear favorite and are you using any SRS capabilities by dictionary Apps or sticking with Anki for that?