It can be particularly frustrating to come across a new kanji and not be able to translate it without navigating to a time-consuming and often unreliable site, like Google Translate or Yahoo Babelfish. It's especially annoying when trying to fill out some unfamiliar form.
So for you lucky people, here are some resources to help you on your way.
This blog presumes you already have Japanese language support installed on your computer (Macs do). Do so by searching for "Japanese IME (your windows version)" on Microsoft Downloads.
- First of all it's very helpful to have a desktop dictionary program. Using a paper or handheld electronic one is fine, but there are also PC software options which have superior functions, including faster search methods. I suggest you check out JEDict.
- Today's portable electronics often boast touch screens, though, and that can be especially appealing to Japanese learners: If you encounter a kanji you don't know, you can look it up by writing on the screen. iPhone owners can find an app like this on the iPhone Store. But, another relatively inexpensive option for this kind of dictionary is to pick up a Nintendo DS and the Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten software. I bought a DS just for this. A lot of people in Japan buy an electronic dictionary with pretty much the same functions for several hundred dollars.
- Rikaichan is a great plugin for Firefox, Thunderbird and Seamonkey which will translate any Japanese word you hover over into English, German, French or Russian. It will also de-inflect verbs/adjectives and show detailed options for the kanji's meaning and readings. I'd go as far as to call this essential for Japanese learners. You will need to download a dictionary file to go with it.
- Perapera-kun is a slightly more low-tech version which also also offers Korean and Chinese translation.
- Rikaikun is the Google Chrome version of rikaichan and is just as good.
- Furigana Injector (Firefox) is another great addon that places the kana reading of a kanji directly above the characters so that you don't even need to look them up. Great for people who have limited kanji knowledge (or just hate kanji). You can also set your kanji level so that only certain characters are annotated. You will need to install HTML Ruby to make it display properly.
- Furigana Injector for Google Chrome.
- Nice alternatives to using a site like Google Translate are popjisyo.org and rikai.com. Both allow you to paste a web address and then view the page, still in Japanese, but with a translation when a troublesome word is hovered over. Good for advancing learners.
- Reading tutor is also a valuable study resource. On this page you can paste a large block of text (like a webpage). The site will then generate a list of the vocab used alongside a clickable version of your text. This is a very handy way of reading with quick lookup.
And that's it. That should get you on your way. If you know of any other good applications or plugins then please tell us about them below.