Skrittering Away in Japanese

Quite happy to say that the next installment of Skritter‘s iOS presence is here! The Japanese app is finally available in the app store. You can read more in their official announcement post. Now let’s take a look and see if the Japanese app stacks up to the Chinese app.

Welcome screen

After seeing the above welcome screen, I knew  was in for a treat. The app definitely feels polished, and the syncing issues I mentioned before have been taken care of (in the Chinese app as well). I could actually look at that scene all day just to relax, but then I’d never get any Skrittering done!

Gettin’ your study on

The study interface is, more or less, the exact same as the Chinese version. For kana-only entries, from what I have observed thus far, you will get cards providing the English definition and asking for the phrase, or you will get the Japanese phrase and have to provide the English translation. At the very least, it isn’t limited to kanji-only and seems it can also be used for kana-based entries, though to what extent I am still not clear.

Add as you go

Another feature that I love–while, perhaps, not entirely refined yet–is the ability to add to lists on the fly from within the app. I find this extremely useful in the Chinese app, and am happy to see it just as useful in the Japanese one as well. I’ve been able to add words from Japanese restaurants I’ve gone to in Taiwan, and be fully prepared to read the kanji on the next visit. I’ve also used it was (currently) my primary source of Japanese. It’s been very handy, and surprisingly helpful when reading through books or articles. Still, grammar and example sentences you’ll have to look for elsewhere.

The app itself is gorgeous and suffers from very few bugs. It’s definitely recommended if you’re a Skritter user already, though if you’re not yet, definitely take advantage of the trial period to see if it is for you.

If anything, the Japanese portion of Skritter may seem to suffer from a lack of attention; that is, it seems to pale in comparison to the Chinese portion. Not surprising, as Skritter was initially envisioned for Chinese. However, the one great thing about Skritter is that it is also community run–so, if you think Skritter is perfect for learning kanji, though feel the Japanese is lacking, can use more content, etc., then there’s also the opportunity to add content yourself and share it with others. (I’m a big proponent of community based learning if you can’t tell :P).

Anyway, if you’re learning Japanese, give it a shot!

Japanese via Chinese

This past year I had to take 「日文史學名著選讀」(Selected Readings in Japanese Works on History), which has had us reading current and past works by Japanese scholars on a variety of historical topics, mostly in relation to China and colonial Taiwan. This has been a slightly intimidating class for me, as the three years of Japanese I had taken is now already an event that occurred seven years ago. (my god)

However, homework is homework, so I had to find a way to muddle through it despite the desperately low levels of Japanese.

One of the beautiful things about starting out with Chinese then moving (back) into Japanese is the amount of crossover that exists between the two. Because Kanji/Chinese characters retain so much meaning, I would almost argue it is more important than the grammar-y bits that follow them. (this is probably deeply influenced by my utter lack of knowledge with Japanese grammar)

Anyway, it is just because of my ability in Chinese that reading these Japanese articles seem a heck of a lot less impossible.

This calls to mind a really interesting post over at Mandarin Segments, Reading Chinese (In Japan!). Two important observations he made are:

  • In spite of the above points, I was still able to follow much of the Kanji which I read in signs, menus, posters, etc.
  • Even when signs were a mixture of Kanji and Hiragana (the one phonetic alphabet of Japanese), I sometimes found that the core meaning came from the Kanji.

Thus, even when going through an article like this one doesn’t seem nearly as intimidating:

Though this was still super intimidating.

Or, at the very least, my dog can help me study.

In conclusion: If anyone else tells you that Kanji is completely useless/unnecessary, they obviously don’t want to really read Japanese.

Skrittering for Japanese

As I mentioned in my last post, today I am going to take a look at Skritter for Japanese. I’ll admit that I don’t use it nearly as much as I do (or should) for Chinese, but I wanted to give anyone who might want to know about the Japanese version a decent introduction. So, let’s get started!

Not much changes from the Chinese interface, and you’ll find it to be familiar territory right away:

Proponents of Heisig or those that wish to focus on Kanji will feel instantly pleased that Skritter does this quite well. It does Kanji even for words that rarely use it, for example:

This also gives me a chance to showcase other aspects of Skritter that I couldn’t cover in my previous post. First, however, a look at the differences of the Japanese page. Here, we find that they also provide the various readings for each Kanji, as well as for the components that make up the Kanji. I wouldn’t suggest that one study those, but it provides a very nice reference. And, as you go through, they will start to stick without direct study.

Also, in this case, we can see a ‘failed card’. This can happen by completely forgetting how to write it. You would click the “show” button below, thus giving you a grayed out outline of the character:

Then you just trace it. One nice feature is that the outline doesn’t stay as you write. So it forces you to remember how to write it, and not just get into the habit of tracing the characters–and thereby not really learning it.

All the while it also provides pronunciation for all of the vocabulary that you come across. It also has a large selection of pre-made decks, including books such as Genki, JLPT study materials, my much hated Nakama, Yookoso, and many others. Rare words have red readings (see 「居る」above) so you can distinguish them. It switches between reading, writing, and meaning just as the Chinese version does.

So, what doesn’t Skritter for Japanese do? Well, it doesn’t seem to offer en engine to recognize the kana systems yet. Not a huge discredit, as the focus is on Kanji, but some users may wish you have the ability to write them to know particular verb endings. Second, there is no “pronunciation input”, like the pinyin input for Chinese, for Japanese. More than likely it is because of the difficulty getting the input to read kana, but it is also nice because they don’t just default to using roomaji just to have a pronunciation system in place. Finally, again, many people would wish for more context, but as I said for the Chinese, it can be found elsewhere.

Skritter makes a very useful supplement to your regular studies. I know the Japanese portion was recently implemented, so I look forward to seeing how it develops. Again, it’s always worth a shot!