Any native English speakers living in Japan will have experienced Japanese English speakers/students when lost for either words or courage flip out their electronic dictionaries and deftly tap away with their thumbs till they come up with the English word they need. At this point they will either show you the screen or say the word, depending on their level of confidence, and instil in said native English speaker denshi jisho envy. If only it could be so easy to find the right word from the other direction… to BIC CAMERA POST HASTE!
Unfortunately, browsing of the denshi jisho available in Japan quickly deflates one’s excitement – they are so clearly made for Japanese learning English and not the other way round. If you have an intermediate or above knowledge of Japanese I’m sure they would be great and I know many translators use the big ones with the extra technical/medical etc… dictionaries but they really are inaccessible for the complete beginner.
First, only the Canon Wordtank series has an OS available in English so even working out how to use them is less than transparent and the second main restriction is that they simply contain the wrong dictionaries for us. Say you want to know what a particular kanji means – now assuming you have bought one of the new ones which allow you to draw the kanji on the device and therefor you don’t need to know the furigana to type in order to look it up at all, the dictionary meaning you first get will be in Japanese and you then have to translate that by “jumping” to the Japanese to English dictionary to translate whichever word you highlighted in the first definition – assuming your model has that “jump” function. What’s more, you have to keep re-entering the kanji to get back to the definition to “jump” again if the first word you translated wasn’t enough for you to understand the meaning. And still you are unlikely to find the translation you need unless you know for sure you have the starting kanji of the compound (as most will only let you search for kanji in the first place of a compound) and further still, only the very expensive models have extensive Japanese to English dictionaries 50,000yen upwards. SO, the upshot is – there is no cheap and cheerful denshi jisho that will work for a beginner AND there isn’t really an expensive one which will do the job either until you are far more advance in your language.
What about that DS lite kanji dictionary? I hear you ask. Well I have to say that Superman bought this one before we left for Japan and he has had good success with it. It doesn’t require that you know keystroke order and he says he uses it at work quite a bit. It is, however, only for kanji and again the application itself is all Japanese so it takes a bit of working out.
But all is not lost for those who want a true denshi jisho for English (or German or some other languages for that matter) speakers!! A lovely guy named Peter who lives in Japan has taken it upon himself to meet the need of this rather large niche of people by providing a product which is actually far beyond a denshi jisho. It’s not his day job but his commitment to improving his systems and his customer service wouldn’t give that away!
All the information you could possibly need is on his site: Japanese Language Tools Site the site itself is mostly text and screenshots doesn’t look that swish but he doesn’t need it – the system speaks for itself. In brief, he offers a fully reconditioned, recent model ( I chose the Dell Axim x51v, though there is another option) PDA with a dictionary application called Edict and a several dictionaries including Eijiro/Waeijiro installed as well as a range of more advanced dictionaries which you opt to either have installed on your original system or can later download or buy on memory card if and when you feel your language needs more. He also offers the whole system on card or for download IF you already have a PDA which is setup to read Japanese text as well as English. If you are in Japan, though, the full system is the only thing which is worth getting as PDAs are not available here and the whole system costs about as much as buying a brand new PDA which you would still have to set up to be compatible in the first place but of course it would be up to you.
Why I love it!
Drawing Kanji: Obviously, being a PDA and a touch screen, you can write your kanji directly on the screen – it does not seem to require a stroke order at all but if you are at all interested in learning it, the kanji dictionary (“kanjidic” hehe) will give you not only the meaning but also a stroke order diagram for next time! This is what I have used it for most of all – checking the kanji on food in the supermarket or to work out what mysterious pieces of paper with my name and address on them in the mail are lol!
Cross Searching: This doesn’t just mean being able to search in all dictionaries (which you can do) but searching for more than one word at a time so that you can actually find phrases in both languages for example you can put in “reside” “for” and you will get example sentences for how to tell someone how long you have lived in a place (very useful). Three days after I received my PDA I got a failure to deliver notice for a package I was expecting. Using Kanjidic and Daijirin I worked out that they were keeping the package for me at a post office but I couldn’t quite get the kanji for what was clearly the place but definitely wasn’t Kakuouzan (place name kanji is notoriously difficult, working on different rules and so I wasn’t surprised it didn’t find a local place name though it was probably user error anyway!) So I mosied up to my very very local post office tapping away at my dictionary and by the time I got there I was able to ask at which post office the package was being held and which train station and exit it was near. That seems pretty basic, I know, and I had many of the words I need already from the study I’ve done but there were some key words I needed to actually make my communication work and the PDA made it easy because it allows for cross searches (unlike most denshi jisho) so I was able to search for the phrase “pick up” and get an example sentence I didn’t quickly get by putting in “collect”.
Clipboard facility: Like any windows PDA, you can highlight any word or words and put them on a clipboard for pasting into any other application and is sooo useful if you are using the dictionary to decipher more than one word or kanji at a time.
I sent my first query email on a weekend, had a response from Peter on Monday and had my system in my hand the Sunday after (mail 7days a week in Japan)! The PDA looks absolutely new – came in all the Dell packaging including a sync and charge cradle and all the cables you would expect in a new PDA. It also comes with CDs and license keys etc… for all the software – there is nothing dodgy going on here! So how much was it? Well the full system on the Axim starts at 55,000yen – which is where any denshi jisho with even a basic set of Japanese to English dictionaries and a kanji drawing facility would cost – and you can add options/dictionaries from there. I added one extra dictionary to the standard set and you can see to the left all the choices I have on mine. Yes, you can get the Kenkyusha intermediate and the big one (he would have to get you a price for the big one though) BUT you may not even need them as it has dictionaries not available to the Japanese denshi jisho which will likely do you just as well. Of course you also have a fully functional PDA as well – it’s my calendar and alarm clock and everything but my phone now!
Peter is absolutely lovely (from the emails, I haven’t actually met him) and will happily answer any questions you have before buying – just fill in the contact form with just the minimum required details and type your query in the space, he won’t be mad it’s not an immediate order and he will answer!