the creaking machinery

… has reluctantly begun to move again.  Gears mesh and groan, shafts grind and twirl, bearings screech, steam erupts from my ears – OK fine, it isn’t quite that dramatic, but the news is that I’ve seriously started Japanese study again after a too-long period of benign (?) neglect.  (Is there such a thing?)

Two factors conspired to create this happy state of affairs.  First was the fact that at the new job I have an hour lunch break and I decided that rather than spend an (additional) hour goofing off on the ‘net, I’d use the time for something useful.  I began with my main study book (Japanese For Everyone – highly recommended) but soon found that I was burning out on it yet again, perhaps because of the limited time I had during my break.  So then the second factor came into play, and that was my iPod Touch.  I would never have purchased such a thing, being way too cheap, but having had some good luck at the company Christmas do I got one for free (thanks John!).  It turns out I don’t use it for music much, but for small applications it’s a wonderful portable computer with some unique advantages – mainly, the touchscreen.  I had a look around and as it happened there has been a felicitous intersection of talent between iPhone developers and Japanese instructors.  These are the apps I mainly use.

For vocabulary I settled on Japanese Flip.  This is the app I use the most.  It’s almost addictive!  The app divides the vocabulary you will learn into five lists; untested, new, recent, old, and ancient.  As you correctly identify the meanings of the word flashcards, it moves it into an older list.  If you’ve been struggling with a word, it’ll require you to get it right more times before it moves it.  Sometimes it’ll test you from the recent list, less frequently from the old list, and once you’ve correctly answered a question from the old list it will move the word to the ancient list which you won’t see again until all the words in the set are mastered.  The lists it comes with are the standard JLPT lists, which you’d think are too big to deal with, but it simply chooses a random selection and then keeps the new list at 29 or 30 words.  The AI could use a little improvement, and of course the addition of sound files would be a massive improvement (at a massive cost of time and no doubt price of the app), but as it is it is simple and highly effective.

As a classroom replacement I have found Human Japanese to be exceptionally well done.  There are forty lessons (I think – I don’t have it in front of me) and I’m up to lesson fifteen.  So far it’s been mostly review but I expected that.  Should be getting into new material fairly soon.  It has plenty of interactivity and the text is written in such a tone that you can imagine a friendly teacher giving you a private lesson.  The cultural notes provide additional interest.

And lastly for my favourite part of this fascinating language, I really enjoy Kanji LS Touch.  I never thought I’d find a replacement for King Kanji but this is definitely it.  There are still some details to be ironed out though.  The latest update added the ability to import your own sets of kanji, which is invaluable if you are following a book as I am.  But it’s an awkward process, requiring the creation of text files that have to be in precisely the right format and encoding, and requiring access to a webspace.  Overall though, it’s a simply brilliant program.  I liked it so much that I also purchased the kana version, even though no one should need an app to learn kana.

In addition, I also installed the Kotoba dictionary program, which looks like it’s very nicely done, but to tell the truth I’ve almost not used it at all.   I used to use the Dokusha dictionary a fair bit on Palm devices, but mostly for the flashcard sets you could make and study in it, and that function is now achieved better by Japanese Flip.

The highly interactive approach to learning afforded by these different apps has, I must say, reignited my enthusiasm for Japanese study.  So much more than using my lunch break for study, often enough I find myself flipping through flashcards long after I should have been asleep at night.  Results have been steady and encouraging.  Watching anime is more enjoyable the more of it you can understand (although some fansubbers’ approach to translation results in more confusion if you understand half the dialogue than if you understood none of it!).  I’m now seriously planning to go through the JLPT tests as I near completion of the vocabulary set for the first test.