So, you may remember last time we did study apps for the iPhone that 桃 and I landed on Kanji Flip and Kana Flip for our study needs.

And, as we said before, they are good.

Yes, there is a ‘but…’ coming on.

But like I said in my post about trying things, you have to find what works for you.  And what works for me is something that talks to me and actually says the Japanese pronunciation of the Kanji when I see it.  I retain faster when that happens and I have the added bonus of not only knowing the English meaning, but the Japanese pronunciation as well.

Feeling like Kanji Flip was not enough coming from my days, I decided to go hunting for more apps that would help me retain better.  Sadly, I was unable to find one that had any audio attached, though the reason for that is likely because anything with audio attached would likely be enormous.  On the bright side, I did end up sifting through two more learning applications and some were inevitably more effective than others.

(Sorry for the lack of pictures.)

So without further adieu, here they are:

 iKanji touch

When I first fired up iKanji touch I must admit, I was impressed.  The app offers all 2000 general use Kanji, organized by the original 4 levels of JLPT (That stands for Japanese Language Proficency Test for those of you not in the know.  Also, when I say ‘original’ four levels I am referring to the test pre-2010.  They have since added a fifth intermediate test level to bridge the gap between levels 2 and 3 as the jump in proficiency requirements is quite extreme.)  or by school grade, up to grade 6 which I thought was a nice touch.

Since learning Japanese– or any language for that matter –is all about immersion, having the grade school levels available was wonderful.

If that’s not enough to float your boat, iKanji allows for further customization by allowing you to create your own practice set of Kanji.  While you can’t add your own, you can select any of the Kanji already programmed into the app.  This allows you to select any Kanji you’re having trouble with and put them in their own practice set that you can review at your convenience.  Pretty sweet.

iKanji also allows you to view any Kanji you want at any time using a simple flash-card format that contains the definition of the Kanji, an example usage of the Kanji in a sentence and the Hiragana and Katakana variants of the Kanji (Which means if you want to study double hard and learn the English meaning and the way to say it in Japanese, you this app gives you all the tools to do that so long as you know your Kana.)

With a tap, you can then flip that card over and see how you would write the Kanji out, including the proper stroke order.  This is something missing from a lot of other apps, and although its usefulness is negligible if you’re using the app to study while you’re out and about, it’s great if you’re using it at home because you can actually write the Kanji out in a notebook.

As if that weren’t enough, you can also search for a certain Kanji using a variety of different ways, including by English meaning which makes iKanji pretty useful as a pocket dictionary as well.

But, really, what I wanted (And I imagine what you want as well) is an app that willteach you the Kanji.  iKanji does that too.

In fact, just like everything else iKanji offers, it can test you in a variety of different ways.  It has a ‘teach me’ mode, which will teach you everything about the Kanji you run through (English meaning, kana variations, grammatical usage and stroke order) and several test modes, which will then test you on the individual elements of each Kanji.

So if you want to test just your English meanings, you can do that.

If you want to test just the Kana variations, you can do that.

If you want to test just the stroke order, you can do that.

I won’t lie, it’s pretty good.

Now, here’s the down side:

If you’re just starting, ‘Teach me’ mode is ridiculously difficult.  Teach me mode works by showing you everything about the Kanji (For those of you with extreme short term memory problems, that’s: English meaning, Kana variations and stroke order.) and then immediately testing you on all elements of the Kanji you just saw.

For most people starting off, they won’t remember all the Kana combinations.  They just won’t.  For some Kanji there are upwards of five different Kana combinations and if you want to remember them, you’re going to need to know your Hiragana and Katakana backwards and forwards.  Add on top of that stroke order and English meaning and it’s just too much to remember for a beginner.  So while, yes, it is ‘teaching’ you the Kanji, it will take you ages and ages to actually memorize every element of even just one Kanji.

Consequently you always feel like you’re failing, and that is a very, very poor way to study.  You want to win.  We all want to win.

Ah!  ‘But 永次!’ you say, ‘it has a mode for each individual aspect of the Kanji!  You just pointed it out.  See?  Up there.’  Yes, astute reader, I did.  The problem is that those are testing modes, not teaching modes.

In the test modes, you don’t get to see the flash card for the Kanji first.  They just show you the Kanji and then give you a set of options as to what the answer is.  And while I suppose you could just go through the trial and error until you puzzle out the correct meanings for each Kanji in the set, that’s annoying, it involves failing over and over, which nobody really likes (And small, achievable wins are the key to learning a language.) and, to be honest, is not what I paid $8.99 for.  I can fail at reading Kanji for free.

That said, in terms of features and content, this app is absolutely killer and ultimately I would still recommend it, though maybe not until you get your Kana down pat.  I think it’s also worth mentioning that I’m reviewing iKanji touch version 1.2 and that I don’t know if these issues have been fixed in the most recent version, which as of this writing is version 1.5

Now, what this app did do for me was make me realize that I did not have as firm a grasp on my Kana as I would like to have believed, so I decided to try their Kana app.

Which brings us to:

iKana touch

I was excited about iKana touch mostly because I believed that it would have the exact same feature set as iKanji touch because, well…  that would make sense.

Boy was I wrong.

iKana touch organizes the Kana into six different categories.  Basic Hiragana, Dakuon & Handakuon and Youon for Hiragana and Katakana, Dakuon & Handakuon and Youon for Katakana.

The sets work in the same basic ways that they do in iKanji including stroke order which again is a nice touch and not something you see in many apps of this type.

But the problem with this app is the exact same problem with iKanji touch, only worse.  Instead of providing an overwhelming albeit good teaching mode like iKanji touch does, iKana touch decided “Screw it,” and didn’t bother providing a teaching mode at all.  Instead you get two modes: Speed Test and Writing Test.

Writing test is pretty self explanatory and has you tracing the stroke orders with your finger similar to iKanji touch.  Speed test is a multiple choice test that has you timed for each Kana while you pick out the pronunciation.  It’s a randomized test so far as I can tell and while it is an effective practice tool it is in no way suited for someone who doesn’t already know the meanings of the various Kana.  So unless you want to drill the digital flash cards yourself without a spaced repetition system, you aren’t going to be doing much learning with this one.

The final verdict

It’s obvious that the developers of iKanji and iKana touch wanted to create a really good learning tool for those of us studying Japanese, I just wish that they had field tested the app a little more before releasing it.  As it stands, I can definitely recommend iKanji touch as long as you know your Kana.  As for iKana touch, I’m afraid I really can’t recommend it to anyone.  With no learning system it is essentially just a fancy, paid Kana flashcard deck, and you can get those for free.

All in all I would still stick with Kanji Flip and Kana Flip for your iPhone needs, but if you’ve tried those and didn’t like them, iKanji touch is a nice, albeit more expensive and ultimately less beginner friendly alternative.

You can check out both apps here if you’re interested.

3 Responses to iKanji and iKana IPhone App Review

  1. Oliver says:

    Nice review, very good point about testing vs teaching. You might like my Kanji Wordsearch app, it offers a variety of things other apps don’t, in a game format. Try it and see (free version available).

  2. Dave says:

    Wow, fabulous review. As others have said, a very interesting point about teaching vs testing.

  3. Al H says:

    Thank you for the detailed review. I too wish that audio was available, and very much appreciate your comments abut the ‘teaching vs testing’ functions.

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