State of Japanese Kanji Learning Apps, 2009
April 23, 2009 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Of all the web applications, Nintendo DS games, iphone/ipod touch apps, and other technology-based methods available for learning Japanese Kanji, what do you recommend?

I have been searching for a long time for a "killer app" for learning Japanese Kanji. There are a number of different software options out there, but none of them have hit the "sweet spot" for me. What I'm looking for, in order of priority, is this:
  1. A good automated review system. The software should keep track of how well you know each kanji, and periodically show you kanji that you've seen before. The more often you answer questions related to a certain kanji correctly, the less often it will show up. (Leitner system, or anything similar is fine)
  2. Effective teaching of the WRITING of the characters, including stroke order. Animations or writing exercises strongly prefered.
  3. Effective teaching of the MEANING of the characters.
  4. Effective teaching of the READING (onyomi/kunyomi) of the characters.
  5. Portability.
  6. Example vocabulary a plus, but not essential.
  7. Following the Heisig order would be a nice bonus, but I don't expect it.
Now, here's what I've tried so far:
  • - This web app has a GREAT review system, and follows the Heisig order. It's my favorite app to date. But the downside is, it isn't portable, doesn't teach you much by itself (it's more for reviewing what you've learned in Heisig's book on your own), and doesn't show stroke order animations. Also it doesn't seem to be working right now.
  • Nazotte Oboeru Otona no Kanji Renshu DS - This Nintendo DS game is GREAT for handwriting practice, using the stylus to trace the characters. However, there's no built-in-review process. Once you move on, characters will never be shown to you again unless you deliberately go back and review them manually. Also, the game doesn't teach the meaning of the characters, and assumes a considerable mastery of Japanese from the get-go
  • Tadashii Kakitori-kun DS, other DS games - Not as good as the one above, and has the same limitations.
  • Declan Software's Japanese Flash Cards - A good attempt, but the lack of a review system really kills it for me. Once the software decides that you've "learned" a kanji, it never shows it to you again, and even manually reviewing things is very tedious
  • It's been 6 months to a year since I last looked for software, so I thought I'd see if anything I'm not aware of is availble. Price is not an issue, I'll gladly buy an iPhone/iPod Touch / PDA / other gaming system / Nintendo DS card / expensive software suite if it allows me to use software that truly suits my needs. Can anyone help me? I'd really appreciate it.
posted by Vorteks to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't know if you're going to find all of these in one application, but you can probably find them all on one system.

For Kanji flash cards I really really like Kanji Flip for the iPhone. It does exactly what you ask in #1 and #4.

What's your Japanese proficiency level? There are tons of "Japanese for Japanese" Kanji practice but not for the novice Japanese reader.
posted by Ookseer at 11:44 AM on April 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @Ookseer - I speak Japanese with conversational fluency. Conversations that involve political, scientific, medical, or other advanced terms, or that involve a lot of cultural references and idioms go over my head. However, my reading is not nearly so advanced. I estimate I can read about 700 Kanji right now, and I can only write 100 or so.

I don't mind the "Japanese for Japanese" software in general, the problem is they tend to assume that you already finished high school and have covered all of this already, and now are just sharpening your skills.

I will definitely check Kanji Flip out.
posted by Vorteks at 12:00 PM on April 23, 2009

Give me a couple more months to get my app out :(

skritter is pretty cool and they're working on a Japanese version, and an iPhone version.
posted by mrt at 12:26 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: I think with it's touch screen, the DS is a great system for learning kanji. But I doubt any company outside of Japan is really going to take advantage of the hardware for an English speaking audience. (Sigh) You might want to check out the Learn Japanese with DS blog for a good overview of which games have what features.

But, like you said, they're Japanese for the Japanese. I had the same problem you mentioned with Nazotte Oboeru Otona no Kanji Renshu DS ...while I often know the kanji in the lesson, I can't always read the sentence it's put in context with.
posted by Caravantea at 12:52 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: Anki is working great for me. Plenty of decks available for Kanji, including ones in Heisig ordering.
posted by dubitable at 2:13 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: Oh, and I think most everything you asked for is taken care of with the bebert deck in particular. Anki is portable in the sense that you can use it as a web app or client application, and the client app will sync with the web site. I think the only thing that I haven't covered is stroke order, but maybe there are decks out there that I don't know about...
posted by dubitable at 2:15 PM on April 23, 2009

Anki has also been ported to work with your Android device.
posted by kanemano at 5:57 PM on April 23, 2009

I don't mind the "Japanese for Japanese" software in general, the problem is they tend to assume that you already finished high school and have covered all of this already, and now are just sharpening your skills.

700 kanji means you're about 1/4 of the way towards average adult ability. Maybe at early middle school level? There's got to be applications for Japanese natives at your level. is a great place to look.

I read Japanese with native fluency, from 1800's Japanese onward. Japanese people ask me for readings of kanji sometimes. Not to brag but to underscore that not a damn thing I learned in Japanese (kanji) for foreigners helped me get here.

I learned by working above my comfort level with materials made for Japanese and a big dictionary.

In the end, you need to know how to use Japanese like a Japanese person, not in the way some foreigner imagines you need to know them based on his/her idiosyncratic experience.

You will learn much faster if you use Japanese for Japanese software even if it is at a level slightly above your own.
posted by vincele at 7:49 PM on April 23, 2009

Best answer: I've been using Read the Kanji since it was suggested here when I asked. It's flash card based, no writing, but lots of review. For the iPod, I've got three flashcard programs on my touch, one just called Kanji (Orange tile that says 'kanji' in, well, kanji), ShinKanji, and Tango Town.

The Kanji app is pretty useful, as it is just a slide through flash card that you tap for the readings. ShinKanji, though, might be better for you, as it has animations showing the stroke order. Tango Town is an app where you type the reading of a word or phrase to a time limit, but it's downfall is that it doesn't include meanings anywhere. It's from a Japanese cellphone program, which is purportedly for learning Japanese, but, well, it's a touch lacking.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:40 PM on April 23, 2009

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