Electronic dictionaries are a great tool whether they be the free one on your iPod or a standalone 電子辞書. A couple months ago I finally took the plunge and bought a new electronic dictionary. Compared to the one I bought more than seven years ago, I can say the quality of Japanese electronic dictionaries has gone up exponentially. And while free and readily available translation options will suit most foreign residents’ needs, there are many who can benefit from investing in a full-service electronic dictionary.
Who should buy one?
Let’s be clear, I’m not advocating everyone should go out and buy an electronic dictionary. They are expensive pieces of technology and a new one will set you back AT LEAST ¥25,000. If you need something to help you do simple singular translations then spending that kind of money when there are so many free services out there is a waste. I had been going off my old electronic dictionary as well as free translation sources for more than a year before I bought one. But after months of lamenting the shortcomings of single word translation it became clear to me that I needed more than simple word translation.
If you’re serious about your Japanese studies and have built up the vocabulary and kanji skill where you can generally understand semi-complex Japanese then you could benefit from a denshi jisho. The next time you’re at an electronics store, pick up one of the test models and try them out. If you can understand the various dictionaries and extras that are included in the machine then you’re likely to have the skill level to get the most out of your purchase. Look up something that you’ve recently had trouble explaining in a foreign language (for me it was “tetherball”) or something Japanese that you’ve wanted more to see in context. The myriad dictionary and encyclopedia options will give you a clear answer in no time. Bringing me to my next point …
A denshi jisho is more than just a dictionary
It’s true, older models usually were just Japanese-English, English-Japanese and Japanese-Japanese dictionaries in electronic form. But the models that have been released in the past one or two years have become so much more than that. My denshi jisho came complete with study modes for the Nihongo Kentei and Kanjiken, transcripts and translations of famous English speeches, 100 titles of classic English literature and fairy tales, 300 titles of classic Japanese literature and fairy tales, Japanese encyclopedias, travel dictionaries for 10+ languages, and Japanese cookbooks. The more you use one, the more you’ll find beneficial features. This past week I’ve caught up on some books I’ve been meaning to read, learned how to make Pumpkin Soy Milk Soup and learned the difference between the Yayoi and Jomon periods.
Denshi jishos are user-friendly
Yes the newer models have many features and there will be some growing pains with getting used to a new piece of technology, but I find electronic dictionaries very easy to use. Features such as “ジャンプ” and ミニ辞書 which are common on most models of electronic dictionaries make looking up words possible without having to move to a different screen or dictionary. For example if you look up a translation and can’t read the kanji use the ジャンプ feature to select the word you don’t know and it will give you the reading. Some even have a voice feature where you can hear the word being said by a native speaker, thus improving your pronunciation skills. I’ve also found searching my dictionary is much faster than unlocking my iPod, selecting the Japanese dictionary app, changing to the correct keyboard and typing it out on the touch screen. I can look up definitions in half the time as well as get more context about the words.
Denshi Jishos are professional
While this isn’t reason enough on its own to buy an electronic dictionary, it is an important thing to consider. In casual situations dictionaries on your phones, iPods and game consoles are perfectly suitable. In the office they can come off as less professional. I remember the commotion bringing my iPod to class (for the dictionary function) would cause and it never went without notice. Electronic dictionaries will make you seem more professional and serious in the work place (even if you’re just using it to read Pride & Prejudice).
While an electronic dictionary is a significant investment, you can find cheap(er) ones fairly easily. Yahoo Auctions and second-hand shops such as Second Street always have slightly older versions for sale. If you see one that catches your eye, ask the sales clerk to try it out. Or just take the plunge and get the latest versions currently on sale at an electronics store and feel superior because the new ones now come with educational videos.
Melanie is an ALT in Kahoku-shi who loves her denshi jisho and is Twitter pals with an Ambassador named John. We’d look up his last name, but who honestly has the time?