For any native English speaker who is learning Japanese, the search for a good pocket electrionic Japanese <> English dictionary is like the quest for the Holy Grail: youfve heard that the gone true oneh is out there somewhere, but everything youfve always found has been a pale imitation. It really shocks me that, even to this day, no product (to my knowledge) has come out meant for English speakers - leaving us to make use as best we can with products tailored instead to Japanese speakers.
In that world of products, one new announcement specifically caught my interest: Nintendo was going to be bringing out a dictionary app for the Nintendo DS. Portable, use of the stylus, and far cheaper than your typical pocket electronic dictionary - if it was decent at all, it might very well be worth checking out.
DS Rakubiki Jiten is two products: a full Japanese dictionary, and two dictionaries meant for translation back and forth to English. Unless your level of Japanese is high, you will most likely be wanting this for the Japanese -> English and English -> Japanese functions.
When DS Rakubiki Jiten stars up, you are given the option to go through a tutorial on how to use the software, or you can dismiss the tutorial and get right into the action. If youfve used PictoChat at all, DS Rakubiki Jiten has an interface based on that general principal. On the lower touch screen are all of your controls and options, and everything pops up on the top screen, in boxes that will instantly remind you of a PictoChat chat session. For the most part, the inferface is really wonderful and well thought out.
The first place youfll want to start are the four main buttons on the left side of the touch screen. They are, in order: E>J dictionary, J>E dictionary, J>J dictionary, and then the option to search all three dictionaries at once. After choosing one of the four, two main navigations tools are available: a dictionary, and an input area. Using the stylus, you can flip page by page back and forth through the presented dictionary. Unless you are pretty close to the word that youfre looking for, however, you are better off using the input area, which gives you two writing boxes and three keyboards: hiragana, katakana, and a standard QWERTY keyboard. The real fun comes in those writing boxes - you can go back and forth between the two boxes, using the stylus to write in either hiragana, katakana, or English. As you finish with one box and move on to the next, that letter or character is recognized. The handwriting recognition takes a small amount of getting used to - it still often thinks my gehs are gohs - but it is very good, and once you get a feel for it, it is a wonderful input method.
There is also an extras section, which includes the following: PictoChat, Wolrd Clock, Calculator, Tutorial, Data Sharing, Calendar, Flip Book Maker, Font Size Bigger / Smaller, Options, Timer / Alarm, a Kanji gtesth of sorts, and Page Bookmarks.
So, is DS Rakubiki Jiten of any value to us foreigners?
Compared to many other electronic J<>E dictionaries, this is probably by far the most foreigner-friendly one to use, interface wise. Within the first minute or so of using it, even those with a low level of Japanese ability should have no problem getting the hang of things. The dictionaries themselves are a mixed bag. First, by far the biggest disappointment is that there is no support at all for entering or searching for kanji. If you donft know the reading for a particular kanji, donft bother. This is meant as a dictionary program for looking up the meaning of words, so a lack of kanji support is understandable - but it is still a real shame. When searching for words, most come up in full kanji, so if you know the reading but not the kanji for a word, it can take a bit of hunting and pecking to find what you are looking for.
Word entries are pretty much what is to be expected from a dictionary meant for Japanese speakers. When looking up a Japanese word, the word is listed in both hiragana and kanji, so it is easy to know the reading of the word - but to find the word in the first place, unless youfre just randomly looking around, you have to know the reading anyhow. When going from English to Japanese, your luck is far lower. Basic word entries are in kanji with no furigana reading, and word examples past that give a quick example in English and then a long explaination and whatnot in full Japanese. Without a high level of Japanese ability, most of these entries will be of little use to you on your own. Where this would be useful is when talking to somebody who is Japanese - a friend, your host family, a store clerk, whomever - where you can find the word in English, and then pass the DS to them to read.
DS Rakubiki Jiten has a Jump feature, but it only ever works with English words, no matter what dictionary mode you are in. As well, there is no support at all for entering in new words, which would have been a wonderful feature as there arenft a huge amount of slang words present in the built-in dictionaries.
The extras are a mixed bag. The PictoChat option is nice if you want to do Japanese study via PictoChat, or if you simply want to check for active chatrooms without having to turn your DS off afterwards. The Calculator is of course nice to have, and Page Bookmarks are handy for having a quick reference of those words you want to remember. However, overall the extras are another sign of Nintendo missing the change to really this a great app by not going just a bit farther. The world clock assumes your local time is Japan, no matter what, so itfs pretty much useless unless you make your DSfs internal clock be off. The Alarm only works if your DS is on or in sleep mode. Finally, while I guess I enjoy the ability to make my own flip-book animations, why in the world is that option there and yet there is no convertor for things like currency or units of measure? For any user, Japanese or otherwise, that would have been an indespensable function.
DS Rakubiki Jiten is the prefect example of a product with so much promise, cut short only by a lack of effort to put a bit more work into it. If a version 2 comes out and fixes the minor problems and builds in legit Kanji support, it could be the only electronic dictionary that most people would need (until we get one tailored to English speakers, that is). As it stands, DS Rakubiki Jiten probably will not replace the pocket electronic dictionary that you already have, and really wonft be a huge help for use with serious studying. If you want something just for conversational use, or just want a J<>E dictionary on the cheap, then by all means pick it up. Donft buy a DS just for this app, but if you already have one, are into Japanese, and have the extra cash, then go for it.
DS Rakubiki Jiten
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