Aren’t There Any iPad Apps to Help Japanese Kids Study Kanji?
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I think I'm going to have to get into iPad app development... I just can't find the flashcard-type app I know should exist: to help Japanese kids study kanji (“Chinese characters”).

There are about 2,000 kanji that an educated Japanese uses on a daily basis, and Japanese kids start learning in first grade. The Japanese Ministry of Education sets out exactly which characters are learned in each of the first six years of grade school (currently 80 characters in first grade, 160 in second grade, and so on).

By the time kids start learning kanji in the middle of first grade, they already know how to write the entire language in the simple, purely-phonetic kana scripts, so learning kanji is an exercise in replacing the appropriate phonetic parts with kanji, as they get to them throughout the school years.

For example “summer vacation” is natsuyasumi, and any mid-year first grader would be able to read or write it phonetically as なつやすみ. The character for the “vacation” part is a first-grader kanji, so some time during first grade they'll learn to write the vacation part like 休み instead of やすみ, so “summer vacation” becomes read/written as なつ休み, at least until they learn the character for “summer” as well.

The character for “summer”, , is a second-grader kanji, so once they learn that, “summer vacation” finally becomes read and written as the 夏休 that adults use.

So, anything that helps Japanese kids study kanji must take into account not only what grade they're in, but how far along in the year they are.... if a second-grade class hasn't yet gotten to the character for “summer” in their curriculum, you would quiz with なつ休み, but starting on the day they study the character for “summer”, you need to quiz on 夏休. Simply breaking up the quiz into grades (“first-grader quiz”, “second-grader quiz”) is helpful only after they've completed the year. (Anthony loves the Mojipa game, but can't play the second-grader version because he's still in second grade and so far has studied only some of the characters that pop up.)

Furthermore, each kanji can have multiple meanings and readings (“sounds”), and they're not all necessarily learned at the same time, so while Anthony has already learned that “summer” ,, fills in for natsu, he hasn't yet learned that it can also fill in as ga in some words. So, anything that helps Japanese kids study kanji needs to take this into account as well.

A good study app would quiz the kid on words that use kanji in a ways appropriate to their specific location in the school year, using a large list of common words and phrases, quizzing both kanji→kana, kana→kanji, with standard flashcard stuff like repeating new or oft-missed items more often than others. It would quiz reading and writing, kanji production and recognition. And be fun.

There are about seven million Japanese elementary kids, every single one of which could benefit from something like this, and many with parents more than willing to spend whatever is required to help educate their kids. Personally, if it were well done, I'd easily pay $100 for an app like this. Getting the parents of just 1 in 1,000 to buy it at that price would net $700,000, as would getting 1 in 100 to buy at $10.

I'm way to busy with Lightroom to think about climbing the learning curve of Apple App development.... is there no one up to the challenge that I can give my money to?

(I know it's probably not effective ranting in English on my blog, but that's all I've got.)

All 9 comments so far, oldest first...

I’m in the choir that you are preaching in front of. As a J language learner, I find myself ranting/screaming about how we live in the information age and yet there is little to no good Japanese language learning software. Kanji? forget it.

A company called Tuttle makes paper kanji cards but they are way too small and grown adults end up losing them.

Rosetta Stone supposedly shows kanji but is way to expensive, especially for your native speaking son.

A good website to try is livemocha(dot)com. This is like a free version of Rosetta stone. The good thing about livemocha is that when you learn Japanese, it has an option to allow the words/sentences to appear with full hira/kata +kanji.

They also have tests and reviews. The downside of livemocha is that if you don’t pay then you have to tutor other users in exchange for using the site. This social media aspect is probably not appropriate for a 7 year old. However if you pay to play, you may not have to do the social media aspect.

Please keep us informed of any progress you find, I am also searching for this. And for what its worth, if you come up with a software, I’ll create a gui/front-end for your website, whatever for the cause. Hallelujah! Amen!

There are oodles of apps (iPhone/iPad/Web) to help other-language adults learn kanji… just search for “kanji” and “japanese” in the iTunes store and you’ll find a dozen. But they’re no help to a Japanese elementary-schooler. —Jeffrey

— comment by Ron Evans on August 14th, 2010 at 5:58am JST (13 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

So an iPad app is required.
I can not assist. Must admit looked at the iPad and decided my 15″ Macbook Pro is somewhat better
for my applications. The majority of work is done at home on the 27: iMac.

With the above iPad situation in mind,
what do you and your wife speak at home?
And Anthony is also learning Japaense or English or both?

Is Anthony comfortable with both languages or is it a matter
of knowing Japanese takes precedent; except when you travel to Ohio?

Bryce Lee (Iam not Asian)
Burlington, Ontario

I just got an iPad so that’s why I’m looking. Anthony speaks both natively; I make a point to speak English in Japan, but sprinkle some Japanese during summers in Ohio. Fumie’s English is better than my Japanese, so we’re probably 60/40 English at home. —Jeffrey

— comment by Bryce lee on August 14th, 2010 at 5:59am JST (13 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Have you ever looked into SRS software? Anki is a well supported FOSS version which is available in some form for just about every single platform there is. The author recently started to dev it full time and in an attempt to monetize the software he’s created a native version for iOS which he is selling in the Apple Store. The software already has translations for a bazzilion languages including Japanese.

Then all you’d need is a “deck”, a set of flash cards. Which is a bit harder, since nearly everything deck commonly available is designed for westerners learning the language many for not arranged in grade order. That leaves you with a few options: Get Anthony to add cards as school introduces them as part of his homework, ie they introduce 食, so he adds “もっと食べて!” and then the hiragana equiv in the answer field. Or maybe the more traditional kanji + readings out of context. Another option would be to find a deck organized by grade.

There isn’t exactly what you want already out there but SRS comes pretty close.

— comment by Warll on August 14th, 2010 at 6:03am JST (13 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

I don’t know if this helps but my spouse loves a flashcard app called iFlipr for her botany classes, so I did a quick google for you on “iFlipr Kanji” that popped up another app that sounds like it could work:

— comment by Jao on August 14th, 2010 at 8:26am JST (13 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink


One program I use to study Kanji is なぞっておぼえる大人の漢字練習改訂版 for the DS, which seems to be similar to what you are talking about. It also has a “Draw the kanji for this reading in this phrase”, so it tests seeing a reading and writing the Kanji.

The problem is that it is made for Adults, as the name suggests, so the vocabulary isn’t limited, and unknown Kanji can be used in the phrase (but with furigana)

— comment by Olaf on August 14th, 2010 at 9:05am JST (13 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Do you think it would be more intuitive to learn kanji the way Japanese schoolchildren do (i.e., via these approved lists) as an adult learner? I understand quite a lot of spoken japanese, but can only read kana with a few very number of easily recognizable kanji (e.g. 私).

You’ve got to start somewhere. If you already know the vocabulary (unlike most adult students, but like Japanese kids), it seems smart. There are whole bookstores full of books and study guides and such catered to each grade level, so you can practice reading with just the kanji you’re supposed to know about at that point in your study. —Jeffrey

— comment by Anna M on August 14th, 2010 at 9:56am JST (13 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

There are two iPhone apps – Kotoba (Free) and Japanese($15?). Japanese has a flash card system where you can test yourself. It is also sorted by school year. So he can study that way too. It is an iPhone app but if you make it 2x size, then it is still usable in my opinion on the iPad.

There is also a DS game that I used as well, it was blue with yellow text, can’t remember the name. That actually might be better because it teaches you write the kanji correctly and also has combinations as well. Hope that helps.

— comment by Jason M on August 15th, 2010 at 11:01am JST (13 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

iOS apps for Kanji:

1) Kobota, Pierre-Philippe de Costanzo
2) Japanese, codefromtokyo
3) Kanji
4) KanjiBox
5) JMW, Kanji Writer Pro

— comment by Kurt on September 8th, 2010 at 4:34am JST (13 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

I do not know about any specific kanji app for the iPad, but…. the Japanese learning system is so messed up that I believe Japanese kids would learn kanji faster, and a lot more of them, if they stopped grinding and just were instructed to follow a method like Heisig’s Remembering The Kanji, and use SRS software like Supermemo or Anki.

By the way, Anki is an application I think you could find useful. I believe there’s a version for the iPhone and one for Android.

— comment by Anonymous on May 10th, 2011 at 6:03am JST (12 years, 10 months ago) comment permalink
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