iPad: The ultimate Japanese study tool?


By Joshua Zimmerman

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or have a social life with real people, you’ve probably heard about Apple’s crazy new product: the iPad. What is the iPad, you ask? It’s a 9.7-inch touch-screen tablet that lets you watch movies, listen to music, surf the Web, and read books. While all those other things are all nice and dandy, for those of us studying Japanese it may also turn into an amazing study tool. Those things are all nice and dandy, but what’s really exciting about the iPad is its potential to become an amazing study tool for those of us learning Japanese.

Here is how I see it. If you’re a hard-core learner of Japanese, you’ve probably got a bag full of study materials that you haul around everywhere you go. There’s your Japanese language grammar book, your kanji book, your electric dictionary, the Japanese children’s book you’re trying to read, your study notebook and journal, flash cards and note cards, and if you’re lucky also an iPod filled with J-pop music and maybe a Japanese movie you’re trying to get through. Now imagine you can replace all those things with an iPad. It’s not such a stretch.

Image from tofugu.com

First and foremost, Apple is trying to sell people on using the iPad as an eReader. Meaning you can download books from their store (just as you can download music from the iTunes store) and you read them on the go. Instead of carrying around four or five books you now just carry around a 1.5-pound iPad. The best part is you no longer have to decide which book to carry when you leave the house, because you’ll have them all with you.

The area in which the iPad will really shine is software. Since the iPad is running the same operating system as Apple’s iPhone, the iPad has access to any of the 120,000 iPhone applications that have been written. For example, all the Japanese learning tools outlined in this or this WIV article can be run on the iPad, no problem. What does this mean for you? Now you can leave behind your electronic dictionary, your flash cards and your notebook. The iPad can serve all these functions.

If that doesn’t thrill you, then how about watching videos and listening to music? You could download Japanese podcasts for studying, or put your favorite Japanese movies and music on your iPad. Plus, if you sign up for the Japanese version of the iTunes store you can have access to thousands of Japanese movies, TV shows, music and books to help you study. If you spring for the more expensive iPad (and a $30 wireless plan) you could use the always-on Internet connection to access any Web-based Japanese content you want.

While the iPad hasn’t been released yet in any country, it’s worth a look if you’re a frequent traveler and dedicated learner. And with an entry level price point of $500, it’s something that will be affordable to most people.


  1. iPad: The ultimate Japanese study tool?…

    If you’re a dedicated learner of Japanese, you’re probably used to hauling around all sorts of study materials with you — your electronic dictionary, flashcards, Japanese journal, a Japanese childre……

  2. I don’t understand why people think the iPad is the next revolutionary tool for study and learning. Other than it’s speed, worldwide computer companies have been making very good tablet computers and standard computers that can do more than any iPad could ever hope to do. Fujitsu, IBM/Lenovo, Acer, to name a few. Here is the link to a video I made that touts all the things my tablet can do. http://ow.ly/11Yet

    I have been using my tablet for work and play just about everyday with no complaints. Even the speed, though not as fast, is just fine for working. And the pen/stylus (for me) is a necessity for taking down notes and drawing pictures of things I learn as well as when I make notes and tests for my students.

    It’s really quite a surprise how people are just finding out about tablets because of Apple. Please don’t forget about the others though, in many ways, they are better.

  3. Except for the fact that the Japan iTunes Store doesn’t sell movies or TV shows…

    I’ll take a look at the iPad but I’m still not convinced I’ll be buying one. If it were a fully-fledged computer instead of a giant iPod Touch, I’d have much more interest.

  4. it doesn’t do flash. 80% of websites out there use flash. 🙁

    that’ll keep me from buying one. that and my iphone crashes all the time. i don’t think the software is ready for the big time yet.

  5. @Ken – A lot of people have been making a lot of tablets for the past ten years. Microsoft has been trying to start a ‘tablet revolution’ since 2001. The problem is that they’ve never taken off. Personally, I think this has been because of the OS. Regular tablets run more or less the same Windows as you see on a desktop computer. Problem is desktop computers use mice and keyboard, tablets do not (if you’re actually using it as a tablet). The iPhone/ iPod OS is made to be used with your fingers. Not a plastic pen, or an add – on mouse. But a finger. Also, the trend for tablet hardware has been to just take a laptop and throw a touchscreen on it. Feature overkill made them large, heavy, and with a weak battery life. You might as well just carry around a laptop at that point because you’d get more bang for your buck. The iPad isn’t being marketed as a full on laptop or desktop replacement. It is a sort of ‘in-between’ product. Better than a regular eReader, but not as good as a regular laptop. I personally would have loved one of these in college. I could have ditched carrying around a bag full of books, flash card, a dictionary, and my iPod. In fact it probably would have covered most of my ‘casual’ laptop use during the day as well.

    Now I’m not saying that the iPad is better than other products out there, it does lack certain features and hardware bits, but for the ‘average’ user the iPad will be more than enough. I always personally subject any product to what I call “the parent test.” Meaning, “will my parents be able to use it without having to call me once a day.” For some reason I think the iPad will pass that test.

    @ Dibbs – Eh, what things do people use flash for? Videos and games mostly. I can’t say I’ve missed having flash all that much when using my iPhone. While having it would be nice for many people, I also have to agree with Apple that flash is really buggy. I think Steve Jobs said that the #1 cause of crashes on Macs these days was due to flash. I hope that html5 removes the need for flash videos, and that people move away from insane flash webpages (which get blocked by my workplace web filter!). Though on the upside, the lack of flash means no annoying flash ads!

  6. Also, it was listed somewhere that in iPhoneOS 3.2, they ported the Japanese-English and Japanese-Japanese dictionaries from Mac OSX.

    I’ve used many Japanese dictionares (even electronic dictionaries) and the Apple dictionaries are the best, since they cover so many nuances and have great example sentences to back them up.

    And let’s not forget that the dictionaries are free with MAC OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard.

    Yet another reason why the iPad might be an awesome Japanese learning tool.

  7. I’ve never used the built in dictionaries on the iPhone. I find the free application kotoba to be an awesome Japanese-English dictionary. For one, it gives you the kanji for a word but then also tells you what each of the kanji for the word mean individually. It helps when studying.

  8. Well this was interesting. Most of the comments are from a few years back before the iPad took the world by storm. The initial comment that tablets are a great learning tool is more or less taken for granted now.
    But the above was thinking only of apps. But ebooks might have an even bigger effect – lowering the price while adding interactive content. I was looking at a new one today: Japanese Grammar Patterns at a Glance, Intermediate 1 (N3) by Harumi Morrissey in the iBookstore. Wow. Since when do books have hundreds of images, sound files, and interactive tests? Feels like an app. I guess the difference is that apps are standalone but the ebooks need the iBooks app. (And you still can’t buy any book from the dumb Japan iBookstore!)
    Still, I reckon the original idea in this post was right.

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