Review: My Top 5 Kanji iPhone Apps
Saturday, April 10th, 2010
The iPhone app store is chock full of every imaginable application but quantity doesn’t always mean quality. While there is plenty of choice for Japanese students, many of the apps are of questionable quality and design. Some have fantastic content but are so poorly designed that they are not much fun to use.
I have listed below an overview of my top 5 Kanji learning apps, which is based solely on the trial and error of hundreds of applications since the iPhone debut in 2007. I download and test almost every Japanese learning app as they are released and most of them end up rarely used and/or deleted.
Please note all apps have been paid for by me and used extensively since their release.
1. iKanji Touch
iKanji Touch from ThinkMac Software is, without a doubt, the most fully featured of the iPhone kanji apps. If aesthetics mean much to you, you’ll also appreciate the stunning design – a rarity in the current crop of iPhone kanji apps.
- Kanji are grouped by grade/JLPT and divided into sets of 20 for easy practice
- Reference cards for each kanji with readings, stroke count, radical etc
- List of example compounds for each kanji
- Leitner System based spaced repetition Teach Me mode
- Reading test to quiz you on kanji readings (onyomi and kunyomi)
- Meaning test to practice your ability to recognise English meanings
- Compound test to complete words by filling in the missing kanji
- Stroke order test to practice writing most kanji
- Search for kanji by readings, stroke count or meaning
- Ability to create a practice set and track wrongly answer kanji
How It Works
iKanji touches on all areas of the kanji learning process with the ability to study the onyomi, kunyomi, stroke orders (currently 700 kanji covered) and English meanings of over 2000 kanji.
Having downloaded more than my fair share of Japanese Learning apps over the past couple of years, I would safely say that this is the only iPhone app that will teach you all aspects of the JLPT kanji. It is by no means perfect but it’s the closest I have seen if you want an all-in-one kanji learning app.
Kanji’s simplicity is immediately obvious with little in the way of screen bling, however underneath the hood it has everything you need to become a kanji ninja.
The app covers all JLPT levels with over 2000 kanji plus the standard on and kun readings along with the English meanings.
- A complete set of 2040 kanji characters from any level of the the JLPT
- Over 4000 example words with readings in hiragana and English meaning
- Select which kanji you want to learn and create your own custom lists
- Search for kanji by entering a meaning or drawing the kanji
- Intuitive, clean, and simple interface
- Your kanji selection is saved when you exit the application
- Shake to restart going through the list
- Does not require internet connection
How It Works
You work your way through each kanji by guessing the meaning and readings and then tapping the screen to reveal the answer. Much like Kanji Flip, this method requires you to be very honest with yourself. If you get it right, you tick the card as done otherwise you leave it and it will continue to appear until you master it.
The feature I enjoy most is the example words on each kanji card. These are very helpful in giving some context to the meaning of each kanji, which I find helps me to memorise them more quickly.
Although the app comes preloaded with most of the kanji you will ever need, you can add your own in and also create custom lists from existing or new kanji.
The custom list feature comes in handy if you use the Remembering The Kanji method rather than the included JLPT lists or you may simply want a targetted list of kanji to practice for your next class or to make a note of any kanji with which you are constantly struggling.
While it’s not the most exciting app to use, it does what it does very well and in the end that’s really all that matters.
UPDATE: This app is no longer available for purchase on iTunes
I first came across NihongoUp as a Flash-based desktop application and loved its clean design and of course the actual Japanese learning software part of it too. Eventually an iPhone version was released, which I quickly purchased and still enjoy using almost every day.
Some parts of the game don’t translate well to the smaller iPhone screen (eg Vocabulary) but overall this is a superb little app, which no kanji learner should be without.
How It Works
The app has four main parts: Kana, Kanji, Vocabulary and Grammar. All games work on the same basic premise; a question (in the form of a sentence or word) at the bottom of the screen and multiple choice answers floating down in balloons from the top of the screen. You have to choose the correct answer before the balloons hit the ground and the quicker this happens, the more points you get.
You also accumulate extra points with the more consecutive correct answers.
With regards to kanji, it’s strength is testing your knowledge of the readings of JLPT 3 and 4 kanji. A sentence appears at the bottom of the screen and you have to choose the correct kanji with the reading.
Although simple in premise, I have found it invaluable in testing my ability when it comes to on and kun readings – admittedly a weak point in my Japanese – one of many. ^_^
While I have only focussed on kanji, this app tests many core aspects of your Japanese knowledge and turns it in to a bit of fun.
The iPhone and desktop version are highly recommended.
KanjiPop is another app that is deceptive in its simplicity featuring 16 squares each containing one kanji and an English word at the top of the screen with its On and Kun readings below it.
How It Works
The aim of the game is to choose one kanji from the grid whose meaning correctly matches the English word at the top.
Seems pretty simple, huh?
Well, the kicker is that there is a time limit of two minutes, which is displayed at the very bottom of the screen and ticks away relentlessly as you fumble your way through each level.
If you finish a level and beat the clock, you are automagically taken to the next level where sixteen new kanji await you.
This cycle continues until you eventually reach a level where your kanji knowledge fails to beat the clock. Here you are presented with the option of choosing a lower level to re-try or you can simply test yourself on the same level again until you master it and can move on.
With over 2000 kanji across 127 levels, KanjiPop has something to offer everyone from newbies to advanced students of Japanese. Beginners can use it to revise and learn while more advanced students can use it as a fun way to keep their kanji knowledge fresh.
5. Kanji Flip
Kanji Flip was one of the first ever Japanese learning app I downloaded and I used it extensively at the time and still do.
It works like a standard paper-based flashcard system but with the added advantage of a spaced repetition system, that automagically tracks your progress and shows the cards you need to work the most on, while hiding the ones you have successfully learnt.
- 2230 Kanji & 255 Kana
- 4700 Example Words
- Hiragana & Katakana Study Set
- Progress Tracking With Stats & Auto Save
- Browse Mode Lets You Review All Words
- Add Your Own Kanji To Customize All Sets
- “How To” Guide Inside The Program
- Completely Offline
- Four Difficulty Levels As In The JLPT
- Meanings In English
- Readings In Hiragana & Katakana
How It Works
In the screenshots, you’ll notice a list of numbers at the right of the screen, which gives you an indication of how many cards you have mastered and what you have left to do on that level and also how long ago you were last tested.
Cards that have not been tested in a while will randomly reappear to make sure nothing is forgotten over longer time periods.
As per the Kanji app I mentioned previously, Kanji Flip relies on the user honesty system. You are shown a kanji, then you click “Show Answer” and choose “Right” or “Wrong” depending on your answer. If you choose “Right” when you were “Wrong” then you are only cheating yourself and this type of app may not be right for you.
Kanji Flip stores your answers in its database and builds up a list of what you know and don’t know and focuses on the problem kanji, while only showing the ones you already know at longer intervals.
While development work seems to have slowed in recent times as the company focusses on other languages, it works really well and will definitely help any serious kanji student.
- Kanji Touch – Best overall app that covers all aspects of kanji learning.
- Kanji – Basic but very usable. Its strength is in the ease of use and example kanji usage.
- NihongoUp – Beautifully designed app. Great overall app for JLPT 3 and 4 students.
- KanjiPop – Simple, easy to use. Fun way to test your Kanji/English meanings.
- Kanji Flip – Best kanji SRS app. Relies on user honesty to work well.
Any questions or suggestions of apps you like, please leave a comment below.