The Gadget Way - Learning Japanese, Tips – Part Two

The Gadget Way - Learning Japanese, Tips – Part Two

If you're a gadget freak, another really excellent tool for learning how to read Kanji is an electronic dictionary. While there are a number of these on sale at any Denkiya-san, the problem is that most of them are made for Japanese users trying to learn English, not the other way around.

There is one that stands out, however, and has been long regarded as the electronic dictionary of choice for those of us learning Japanese – the Canon Wordtank. I remember buying my first Wordtank back in the mid-80's, and although the functionality was limited, it was so much handier and quicker to use it to look up kanji I spotted in the subway and on the bus that it was really fun to use. But the early models suffered from battery problems and the occasional kanji "spelling" mistake.

These days, the Wordtank has come a long way, and now appears to have a fully accurate set of dictionaries and takes regular batteries. I just bought the G50, which I can recommend, at our local BIC Camera store in Shibuya. The store even had an English manual that they gave me free of charge. Having an English manual is a nice touch and something that Canon did from the very beginning. It does feel a bit strange, though, to be reading all these pages of English sentences interspersed with kanji characters and Japanese language buttons and screens. But it works, and you'll get used to the system in no time flat. My unit cost around 24,000 yen.

Although the actual word dictionaries in the Wordtank are good, there are other units which have the same functionality and are about 10,000 yen cheaper. So, the reason to buy the Wordtank is for the kanji jiten (kanji dictionary) function. This nifty screen, only a button push away, allows you to look at a kanji on a bill board or newspaper article, count the number of strokes (which Heisig's book will help you learn to do), then enter in the number of strokes for the predominant radical or for the whole kanji. Then up pops all the characters containing that radical – and you select the kanji of choice by pressing some arrow keys. This ability to quickly look up characters by their radicals is a fast and easy way to figure out those all important notices, such as, "Do NOT microwave this oden in the packet," and possibly save yourself getting sick or gassed in the process!

Of course, there is nothing like practice to make perfect, and with reading and writing this advice is particularly true. While there are various flash cards and computer programs to help you learn, I think the best way is to get out a pencil and paper, a dictionary (or the Wordtank), work up a bit of a sweat, and just get it done. One thing that I do to give myself more incentive is to promise myself that when I lust after a new gadget (often!), I can't open wrapping up until I have translated the key parts of the manual. The self-imposed carrot and stick approach really works for me.

For those of you who read Part One of the article, you were probably wondering where I got the source material for the Turtle Head translation from? Well it was a piece of email spam that came in outlining a Do-It-Yourself fix for an unfortunate male medical condition! And thus I was reminded that even though you may be able to translate with aplomb, human nature being what it is, ensures that most of what you're going to be able to read isn't actually worth reading in the first place!

Lastly, if you have been studying Japanese for a while, you will definitely want to have your level verified, for the purpose of getting a job. There are several tests that you can take, but one which is highly relevant to the business job market is the JETRO Test. And actually, JETRO is currently accepting applications for sitting the next test, scheduled November 28th. You can find out more information on the test and terms and conditions of taking it, at You can also register to take the test, by sending an email to

Terrie Lloyd is the founder of DaiJob, Inc. He also writes a weekly newsletter for entrepreneurs and business people about business and political opportunities in Japan. You can find the newsletter at For further contact with Terrie, email him at