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Cyberspace — the final frontier of kanji-learning

by Mary Sisk Noguchi

Last fall, I reported the results of my search for kanji-learning gold in cyberspace. Today, in this second report, I am happy to inform you that the panning has never been better.

My bookshelf sags from the weight of kanji dictionaries and textbooks, and I do not wish to part with these old friends. But as Web sites offering free kanji-learning tools become increasingly numerous and sophisticated, I often use my computer to head straight for the gold.

Rikai.com (www.rikai.com) is an online character translator that allows you to enjoy Japanese Web pages. Simply enter the URL of a Japanese home page and Rikai will open it for you. Run your cursor over any kanji in the text and — Eureka! — the kanji’s pronunciation (along with a definition in English) will appear. You can also paste text — such as e-mail from Japanese colleagues and friends — into Rikai and it will do the same job of kanji translation.

E-Kanji (www.geocities.com/easykanji) and Reading Tutor (language.tiu.ac.jp/index_e.html) enable you to read extensively without relying on old-fashioned character dictionaries. Both sites provide passages in Japanese on topics of interest to adults, at a variety of levels. Each kanji is hyperlinked to its pronunciation and definition.

Joji Miwa at Iwate University has created an easy-to-use English page for accessing the Goo furigana service. (Furigana are the small hiragana characters written above kanji to indicate pronunciation.) Go to sp.cis.iwate-u.ac.jp/sp/lesson/j/doc/furigana.html , enter a Japanese URL and the page will be returned to you with furigana added to all kanji characters. Is this amazing or what?

If you would like to study an online text by looking up the unknown kanji and vocabulary items it contains, you can download the free JWPce Japanese word processor at Glenn Rosenthal’s Japanese Page (www.physics.ucla.edu/%7Egrosenth/japanese.html).

First, paste in the text you want to study. The JWPce has an excellent dictionary look-up capability and allows you to make lists of the kanji and vocabulary you wish to drill. Then, using Rosenthal’s Intelligent Flashcards — also downloadable for free at his site — you can generate personalized electronic flashcards.

Online versions of kanji-learning flashcards (i.e. those that do not need to be downloaded) are beginning to appear in languages besides English. French speakers may utilize Drilling the Kanji cards (www.asahi-net.or.jp/~ik2r-myr/kanji/kanji1a.htm). For speakers of Spanish, Kanji Tarjetas De Estudio are located at www.nippein.cjb.net/

Folks who prefer English may go to www.nuthatch.com for Java Kanji Flashcards 500. Each version reviews the pronunciations, meanings and a few sample compounds of some of the most commonly occurring characters. Java 500 also features a nifty animation feature demonstrating the correct stroke order for each character.

In case you have not yet searched for nuggets at Jim Breen’s extensive online kanji dictionary (www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/wwwjdic.html), please check it out immediately. Breen allows you to look up unfamiliar characters by entering an on/kun pronunciation, English keyword, radical number, or by cutting and pasting the kanji itself. There is also a unique and efficient multiradical kanji look-up tool: Simply click on any of the character’s radicals that you happen to recognize. Or, if you prefer, you may also look up characters by using your cursor to write them yourself in an input window. (Makes you wonder what Internet kanji study will be like in, say, 2012).

Finally, here are two lovable sites, featuring animation, that enable you to see how individual kanji are the sum of their parts, or components. The Radicals (web.utk.edu/~shashimo/kanji/radicalindex.html) offers a particularly foreigner-friendly introduction to the radicals used to classify kanji in dictionaries.

Gakushuu Anime no Kan (The Animated Learning Place) is aimed at Japanese youngsters. I have enjoyed myself for hours there watching the components of kanji for Japanese first-, second- and third-graders come alive on the screen. The construction of each kanji is demonstrated through animation and is accompanied by a short script — written in easy-to-understand Japanese — that gives information on the character’s evolution (www.sabah.edu.my/meiko).

Don’t throw away your kanji textbooks and dictionaries. Supplement them instead with these and other excellent kanji-learning sites. They are kanji gold, free for the taking.