Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Using an Amazon Kindle 3/4 Part 1: to Study Japanese

I just bought an Amazon Kindle and I love it. Nothing ever attracted me to ebook readers until I tried one, and now I can't see a reason not to immediately burn all physical books and start again.

This blog is about using your Kindle for studying Japanese. Next time I'll look at reading Japanese books and manga.

So, you should buy a Kindle. If you live in Japan you can get a 3G version delivered (from the USA) for around 18,000 yen, which is a bargain when you consider that you can use it to go on the internet, including using Google Maps like GPS, for free.

Books are usually cheaper than physical alternatives, and Amazon offers a huge range of pre-1923 novels for free. Not only that, but sites like Project Gutenburg and Google Books have TONS more.

If you have previously bought an ebook in an unsupported format, or have any other document you want to convert to view on your Kindle, use a program like mobipocket to switch to the .mobi file (.pdf also works on the newer versions).

Anyway, end of sales pitch.

Japanese Study

So you have a textbook or some other resource on your computer which you want to view on your Kindle? If it's a .pdf just copy it straight over, and for anything else just use mobipocket to convert it to .mobi first. You can also use Amazon's free conversion service (scroll down a little), although it reportedly sometimes messes with the formatting, plus it takes a few minutes. Why wait?!

The newest Kindles (3 and 4) let you rotate and zoom very easily, so you shouldn't have any problems with small text/furigana. You can also set up bookmarks so that you can flip between sections (e.g. dictionary entries, exercises). The only thing missing is a touchscreen and pen for practicing writing. Maybe next edition?

Japanese textbook in portrait mode
You can also study flashcards using the Kindle. The best way to do this, as pointed out by Minlawc in the comments, is to use Anki Online (you need to download and install it on a computer before the online feature is available). The third generation Kindle has built-in WiFi (there's also a 3G version), and using Anki this way couldn't be easier. Check it out.

One more great feature of the new Kindle is the audiobook function. This means you can (almost) use it as an mp3 player. Load up your Japanese lessons/podcasts and you have an all-in-one package which weighs almost nothing. I love it!

JapanesePod101 mp3 playing in internal speaker mode
Of course, another great way to study Japanese is to read books/stories in Japanese, which is the subject of the 3rd part of our series:

__________________________________________________'s 3-part Kindle guide series
  1. Using a Kindle to Study Japanese
  2. Converting and Adding Manga to a Kindle
  3. Reading Japanese Books and Manga on a Kindle


  1. Seriously. Flash cards on a Kindle? Get one of the 4,000 iPhone apps that do this, from anywhere from Free to $5. Not only can you get great Flashcard applications, but some very slick Test Prep Apps for a few bucks. I got on called TOPIK Study (Korean study) which not only tests your spelling, but your listening skills as well. Amazing!

    Use your Kindle for reading.

  2. Thanks for the comment, 21tiger.

    That's good advice... if you have an iPhone. This entry is solely about the Kindle (which clearly isn't the most innovative flashcard reader).

  3. Nice, I did not know you could get Japanese on a kindle.

  4. @21tiger

    I would use my phone except for the fact that its battery life while on long trips has nowhere near the longevity of this device.

  5. The way I've been studying flashcards with the Kindle is using Anki Online. If you have the free 3g you can do this just about anywhere.

  6. Minlawc, that's an excellent tip! Thank you, I will add it to the entry.

  7. @Dom
    you've done a great job on your website. I appreciate all the themes you've picked, all ideas you suggest and he incredible links! I just love it!

    At the moment, I'm testing a Kindle and probably I get one myself. Reading Manga and Books on computers I can't really appreciate but Kindle is different :-)

    Not every person owns an ifon...
    I love my really small Nokia even thouth it is antique - well I should get a new battery sometimes :-D
    For surfing and stuff I prefer a netbook, ifon would be too small.
    For reading books the Kindle is perfect - I can read books, mangas, whatever for days without recharging.


  8. Thanks a lot Susanne, I really appreciate it! It's not just me, though. There's another guy lurking around here and another on a trial period. Stay tuned!

  9. I can do everything you mentioned on my iPhone already.

    What I need is a source of Japanese eBooks and a reader with a built-in Jp/En dictionary. Is that so much to ask?

    Apple's iBooks Store offers English titles only, so it's useless for Japanese study. Even logging in with a Japanese Apple ID doesn't help.

    If Kindle has Japanese ebooks for sale on then I'll buy one. I'd pay big money to be able to read books in Japanese without having to pause to count kanji strokes and spend five minutes in a dictionary every time I hit a word I don't know.

  10. Thanks Anon.

    I hear you. Luckily, I wrote an article about finding Japanese-language eBooks. It may not be as simple as using the iStore or Kindle download service, but it isn't much harder.

    I completely agree about the Jp/En dictionary. It's a totally untapped market for the Kindle. E-readers are really catching on here in Japan now, though, so I imagine it won't be too long until such a thing exists.

  11. The Sony Reader PRS-G1 (and maybe PRS-T1) released a few months ago and sold only domestically in Japan has a built in Oubunsha dictionary on it. You can long press with your finger on any word in a text document and the ereader will look it up for you.