Best Android apps to learn Japanese

A couple of months ago, I bought a new Android smartphone. When I started looking for apps to install on it, I thought about what I wanted my phone to do for me, turning to the wide selection of Japanese apps to help my studies.

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Japanese android app in Tokyo
photo by Tim Arai

Firstly, I like to keep my Japanese pretty sharp, and am a fan of word games. I also needed a good Input Method Editor (IME) to input Japanese text with my on-screen and physical QWERTY keyboard. Lastly, I wanted a good Japanese-English dictionary that I could use even if the phone didn’t have a good 3G or wireless connection.

I’ve searched all four corners of the Market, and discovered a few really useful apps for Japanese text input, learning, and reference with clean, easy-to-use interfaces. Here is what I discovered.

Japanese dictionary

ColorDict

I keep two dictionaries on my phone, the first of which is called ColorDict. Once you have installed ColorDict (free) you can download a number of different dictionaries including Japanese-English/English-Japanese. The entries in ColorDict are fairly simple and could be improved to show the kanji next to their respective readings instead of just a list of words listed somewhat haphazardly.

JED

ColorDict is really good for a quick reference, but a more complete and well-organized dictionary is JED. It can be used without an internet connection, as it can be loaded onto the phone’s SD card. Much more organized than ColorDict, JED (free) offers alternatives to and sentences using the word you’ve looked up. If you hit [menu] and go to [show diagram] there’s an animation of the kanji stroke order, which is essential knowledge if you are handwriting anything. JED is just so well organized—just about as good as using my denshi jisho (電子辞書, electronic dictionary).

Japanese IME

Android hearts Japan

Having a good and easy-to-use IME is invaluable. After having used both Kaede and OpenWnn plus, Simeji has been my go-to IME on Android. Simeji (free) offers many suggestions from a user network, and also remembers words you’ve recently typed. It works incredibly well with my physical keyboard and has its own on-screen keyboard. Simeji is definitely one app I could not do without.

Games & flashcards

Flash! Crossword

I’ve found that Japanese learning games are a great way to keep my Japanese in good shape, since they often require me to quickly recall words. One fun app I found, called ひらめき!クロスワード (paid), is a cute crossword-type game that’s probably meant for children, but good vocabulary practice nonetheless! It may be a little daunting for a beginner since the UI is in Japanese, but it has fairly basic vocabulary and all of the words are in hiragana—it’s worth trying out if you don’t mind paying a little.

NihongoUp

My other favorite game-type-app is NihongoUp (free). It’s fun to review things I’ve already learned while trying to hit as many pink balloons as possible! The app is really targeted for JLPT study. In the kanji section, you can study up to JLPT level 2, and in the Vocabulary section, up to JLPT level 1. Besides kanji and vocabulary, you can review particles, verb transitivity, kana, and counters. It’s well-organized, beautifully designed, easy to use, and offers much more than some other Japanese study apps.

Obenkyo

The last app I’d like to share is a study tool called Obenkyo (free), which is less game-like and more like quizzes and flashcards. It has a handwriting recognition feature to help you practice kanji stroke order, as well as quiz you on them, which I found interesting. Obenkyo is also offered in a number of locales, so if your native tongue is not English, it’s also available in French, Swedish, Spanish, and more!

I found these apps to be versatile enough for a wide range of skill level and are great for review and practice, anytime and anywhere. Most of these are free, so don’t hesitate to start using them as your go-to Japanese apps.

Editor’s choice

Editor's choice badge

ひらめき!クロスワード

For originality, exceptional design, and promotion of educational games.

What do you think of the apps presented in this blog post? Are there any which you regularly use which I have left out? If so, please let me know in the comments!

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Bridget Beaver is a native Pittsburgher with a little bit of Japan in her heart.

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