Language Learning Tool Reviews: Electronic dictionaries

Canon Wordtank V80 electronic dictionary

Hiroshima-ken JET Jonathan Fisher reviews various tools for learning Japanese, including books, websites, flashcards, podcasts and more. Tools are rated on a scale of 1 to 5 stars, with 5 being the best.

By Jonathan Fisher

Electronic Dictionaries: Canon Wordtank V80

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I am hesitant to pronounce this a dead technology. Many high schools in Japan require students to bring them to their English classes. They can be incredibly convenient in the absence of consistent Internet access. They are certainly compact, and their contents are fairly comprehensive. I imagine that one day, I’ll be trekking across a central Asian desert in Mongolia or Kazakhstan somewhere, wanting to bone up on my Japanese in my spare time — and then, I imagine my Wordtank will come in handy. But with the growing popularity of handhelds like the iPhone with convenient interfaces, the proliferation of free translation and dictionary software applications, and ready Internet access almost everywhere, highly specialized technology like Canon’s line of electronic dictionaries seems likely to go the way of the laser disc sooner rather than later.

That said, if you are dead set on purchasing an electronic dictionary, as I was when I first arrived in Japan a year and a half ago, here are a few more points to consider. Most electronic Japanese-English Dictionaries are manufactured it seems, primarily for the use of native Japanese speakers. Dictionary menus and key pads (particularly if you are buying in Japan) are likely to be in Japanese. When you buy, I recommend asking specifically for an English Language instruction manual. These should be readily available, but are likely not the default. Also, keep in mind that you will likely be paying for a lot of technology that you may not be capable of using right away. The Wordtank V80 actually contains a Japanese-Chinese dictionary in addition to the Japanese-English/English-Japanese dictionaries. Using the stylus for kanji input can be extremely frustrating if you aren’t familiar with basic stroke order rules, or are a slow writer (as many beginning Japanese learners tend to be). And finally, it is important to know that nearly all electronic dictionary function is duplicable for free given access to the proper Internet sites (e.g. the WWWJDIC). So, I’m afraid that the best thing I can say about electronic dictionaries is that they’re not quite dead yet.

Do you have an electronic dictionary? Leave a comment and tell us what you think about it.

8 comments

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  • Ben

    To add to that, the portability of an electronic dictionary is a cool but rather useless feature. I ultimately don’t learn that much from looking up the kanji on a billboard or whatever.

    I do want to say, though, that the example sentences that electronic dictionaries offer have no parallel when it comes to dictionaries online. (For example, all of the example sentences on jisho.org are STUDENT generated, as in non-native speaker generated.) And understanding how a word is commonly used is paramount in any language. Unlike jisho.org, my EX-word provides several example sentences for EVERY word I look up.

    And the definitions of words are much more accurate than the general idea of a word that most online dictionaries offer. Plus, for people at JLPT 2 or 1 level, making the transition from a JP-English dictionary to a JP-JP dictionary is a must, and since electronic dictionaries contain the JP version of our OED, it again is unparalleled by anything online.

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