Fighting Easier Dictionary-Monsters

You’re playing a video game and there are two places you can go to fight monsters.  The mountains are dense with opponents that are very hard to kill and when you do they drop gear that you mostly can’t use until you level up some more.  The hills are more sparsely populated, but here the villains are a little easier to fight and drop equipment that you can use immediately.

If you make the transition to monolingual anki cards as soon as possible (~1000 J-E cards), it sometimes can feel like fighting in the mountains.  For each wordy definition, you add a number of relatively specific and uncommon words to your tree and it may have a tendency to get out of hand. This doesn’t mean you should avoid J-J cards. But it does mean employing strategies that prepare you for the mountains.

There is a dictionary equivalent of the hills: a dictionary made for elementary school kids.   If you’ve studied kanji, the simpler, shorter, kana-filled definitions aren’t necessarily easier to understand, but as soon as you start branching it makes a huge difference.  The next word you pick to look up is much more likely to be central to the definition, and more importantly the words that you add are ones you can use now.  They’re much more likely to be words that are coming up constantly in your input, and now it’s going to make that much more sense and everything in Japanese is a little easier with each new piece of loot.  For me, this has been a much more efficient way of leveling.

They’re not without disadvantages.  They only come in paper form, so you have to waste a little time looking up the word and typing in the definition.  (I type them in the Expression field in Anki and then double-check the generated reading before cutting and pasting it into the answer box and putting the actual expression in the expression field.)  Also they only use the elementary-school kanji in definitions and example sentences, but kanji for the entry is listed so you can use it when you enter the sentence.  I think it’s worth it.

The one I have is 例解学習国語辞典 from 小学館.  I don’t know if it’s the best; I picked it by going to a Japanese bookstore and looking at them all and picking the one that appeared to have the highest density of example sentences since that was the one trait of a better dictionary that I could judge at my level. By luck, that was also one of the cutest ones.

Have you tried using a Japanese elementary school dictionary? What did you think? Or have you found other ways to gain some of the same benefits?

fighting easier dictionary monsters 2

Written by: Cayenne

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Anki technical guru. Learning Japanese because it's a fun game.


Fighting Easier Dictionary-Monsters — 12 Comments

  1. My private teacher pulled one out one time and I was in awe (had Doremon on it too). Although I’m still pretty bad at the ‘alphabetic’ order so finding a word on my own takes some times till. I may buy one this year.

    • I saw the Doremon one in the store – I think it’s actually a different edition of the same one that I got.

      It doesn’t take long to get as fast with kana order as one is with alphabetic in English, and it’s occasionally a useful skill. But flipping through pages is always slower than simply typing.

      • Yeah, I guess that’s what usually turns me off from them but you’re right. If I get used to them I’ll get better at knowing the order.

  2. If I’m struggling with a definition plucked from Yahoo, I sometimes switch to the Sanseido dictionary because the definitions there are often much shorter. But, as you say about having lots of kana instead of lots of kanji, shorter definitions don’t necessarily make understanding easier.

    Using this method could leave holes in comprehension, lack of knowledge of multiple usages and doesn’t always give the best results. Exercise judgment!

  3. I never used a (Japanese) dead tree dictionary. I don’t know how to use one.
    For me, the best is:

    Now I’m about to end the hardcore sentences phase (over 9800). I switched to J-J sentences after ~1000 J-E cards. And yes, the switch was very very hard, but now, I can say that worth it. Absolutely!

  4. If you have an iPad, you can find this dictionary in the app store now (not sure if its for iPod as well). Just search 例解学習国語辞典 第九版. Its in the american store for $13

    • Nice! Can you copy and paste from it? How well does the character input work?

      But no, it’s not available for iPod/iPhone… this makes me want an iPad more than anything else has…

      • You can copy and paste but you have to hold it longer than usual. The character input works very well and you can draw out Kanji too so that’s always a plus :)

  5. I’m not sure how I missed this post when it first went up, or maybe I just didn’t make a note of it since I wasn’t quite ready to go monolingual at the time. Fortunately I came across the same advice over at ajatt a few weeks after I made the transition. Anyway, I just wanted to say what a huge difference going to a grade school dictionary, and 例解学習国語辞典 第九版 in particular, has made. I was muddling through with adult online dictionaries, but this has really made the whole process much easier, faster, and more fun. So, a bit after the fact, thanks for the tips Cayenne and kokujindayo!

  6. I remember looking for electronic dictionaries for elementary school and finding absolutely nothing, but apparently Casio did finally start releasing these in late 2012.

    That’s the new 2013 model but the previous model is somewhat more affordable. I played with yesterday and the definitions are roughly the level of Genki sentences so anyone in the intermediate stage should be able to understand the definitions with a reasonable amount of branching.

    • Thanks for telling us about this. It looks really nifty.

      It still has the disadvantage of not being able to copy and paste from the dictionary into anki cards, but if you ignore the price it’s probably the easiest way to get started using a J-J dictionary while reading, since it has handwriting recognition and I assume it has a jump feature.

      Also it could be fun to read the various reference materials, with very easy lookups.

      (Also the primary dictionary is the same one I have the paper version of.)

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