My friends and I have been trying to coordinate a trip back to Japan for years. We’ve finally gotten our flights booked and now we’re working out the details in anticipation, reminiscing about our previous adventures and seeking out new places to explore near Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. We’re also brushing up on the language skills that we’ve let get a little rusty over the years. I thought I would share some of the modern tools that I’m using to restore my proficiency, in the hopes that this might give our readers some ideas for similar tools to look into for studying their own foreign languages of interest.
When I first visited Japan, I bought an electronic dictionary. This saved me from looking up kanji (the complex characters borrowed from Chinese) by counting strokes and identifying radicals (the root component of a kanji character) to index into the enormous tome that I had been using. The dictionary was much lighter, and had a stylus that could be used to draw kanji. Using this sort of input method, the order that you draw the strokes still matters, but it’s much faster than flipping pages. I used this dictionary for getting around Japan, studying, reading manga, and playing video games. Years later, after the Nintendo DS came out, I upgraded using a cartridge called Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten. It uses the same stylus input method, but the results are marked up in color and it has a nicer interface, including a history of recently looked-up words, which is extremely useful. One of the other tools that I was using at the time (and still use today) is a plugin for Firefox called Rikai-chan. When enabled, this plugin allows you to hover the mouse over a word and see the definition in a pop-up.
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