All you Need is an Internet Dictionary

The Japanese dictionary: with you from your beginnings, always by your side through the hardships, and fighting with you to the bitter end.  With such an important partner, you want to make sure that you’ve chosen wisely.  With so many options of paper, electronic, and internet dictionaries, it can seem difficult to make this important decision.

All you Need is an Internet Dictionary 1

But first, do you really need a dictionary?

Yes.  Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.  You are learning a language.  Japanese Level Up focuses on a lot on immersion-based methods, but you still need the dictionary.  How else do you plan on getting through Anki?

How about paper?

No.  Don’t even put one foot down that path.  Paper dictionaries are relics of an ancient education system.  They are time consuming to use, limited in depth, heavy, expensive, wear out, ugly, take up space, become outdated quickly, and give paper cuts.

And please ignore these 3 classic arguments paper fanatics love to present:

1.  They are good starter dictionaries.
– If you had the full ability to wield either one, would you rather start with a wooden sword or Excalibur?  Don’t start with crap just because you feel you aren’t ready.

2. I like looking at the words that appear before and after it.
–  I guarantee that your love affair with this will fade quickly, and just in case you still have this passion, you can do the same thing with electronic or internet dictionaries now (under similar words, or words that start with the same kanji).

3. I remember words better by putting in the effort of physically looking it up.
– I really don’t know where to begin with this statement . . .

Please don’t use a paper dictionary.

How about electronic?

I’ve owned and abused 2 electronic dictionaries with my studies.  They are portable, fast, modern, trendy, and have a very large database. While they carry a hefty price tag, usually around the range $300-$500, I was of the belief that it was worth it to have such a powerful tool at your fingertips.  My favorite feature was the stylus built into most of the newer dictionaries that allowed you to look up the reading of a kanji you didn’t know.  The electronic dictionary was at one time my dictionary of choice.  That is until I realized the superior power of the internet dictionary.

– The sacred internet dictionary –

The internet dictionary possesses all the beneficial features of my once prized electronic dictionary.  However it goes significantly above and beyond with some very valuable features.

– You can cut and paste words directly from any other website directly into the dictionary to look them up.
– You can cut and paste definitions and sample sentences directly into Anki sentence cards.
– They have much wider databases, with the most up to date modern, technical, and colloquial Japanese.
– The best ones gives you the candidates for the word you are looking for when you type in one character.
– There are often more sample sentences for you to input into Anki.
– You can use the stylus on IME to look up kanji you don’t know.  You do this by clicking on the IME language bar, Japanese, and IME pad.  You can then draw in the unknown character by using the mouse.  I surprisingly didn’t know about this incredible feature until fairly recently, and it has rocked my world.
– You’ll never lose it, you have access it to as long as you have access to the internet, and it’ll never get stepped on causing you to buy a new one (worst moment of my Japanese studies).
It is free.

Which internet dictionary is best?

I prefer the Goo Dictionary. The word candidate feature is what makes it really stand out above the rest.

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


All you Need is an Internet Dictionary — 28 Comments

  1. I agree, internet dictionaries are great. But for someone like me, who doesn’t have an i-phone or other devise with 3G, electronic dictionaries are still useful. And mine was free, since it was my husband’s old Japanese to English dictionary. Only downside is that since it’s for English learners in Japan, there’s no stylus. So I have to wait until I get home to look up kanji. But it’s much more portable than my big laptop and I love bringing it to school so I can read manga (with furigana) between classes.

    I still rely on J-E dictionaries… it’s hard not too. Do you think I should delete my bookmarks to the J-E dictionaries and start relying on just J-J dictionaries? Perhaps that should be my new years resolution…

    I’ve never used a Japanese paper dictionary, but I have a Japanese Sign Language one. Although there’s an online one ( there’s such limited vocabulary, paper dictionaries are actually better.

    • Make the jump. You have to get rid of your reliance on J-E. While it feels easier and more beneficial, it is leaving you handicapped. It’ll feel like you are taking one step back when you switch, but just remember you will be going 2 steps forward.

  2. Here’s what I’ve been using since I started the branching process with Anki:

    Main dictionaries:
    – Goo ( has clear definitions, example sentences (not always and not always more than 1 or 2). Last time I checked, the definitions are exactly the same than on Yahoo Japan Dictionary. I just prefer Goo’s presentation I guess.
    – Weblio ( equally good.

    I use them both interchangeably. When I don’t “like” the definition of one or when one doesn’t offer an example sentence, I check the other one.

    Secondary dictionary:
    – Sanseido ( when all else fails, I use this one. It has the benefit of having very short definitions which is very useful when you’re looking up scientific words, or related to law etc. where the definition contains a lot of other new words that are equally complicated, not very useful to know (for a beginner anyway) and would be a chore to add to your deck.

    For sentences:
    – Weblio Thesaurus ( when I don’t like/understand/find any example sentence in Goo or Weblio, my next stop is here. You can find here short expressions that the word you’re looking for is often seen in. Sometimes there are also more wordy/full sentences too.
    There are also an example sentence section (例文) worth checking.

    – Tangorin ( Great for many things (words breakup, kanji breakup, …) but I mainly use it for the example sentences. Some are the same as in Weblio Thesaurus but are easier to read on this site.

    – ALC ( Great to find tons of example sentences but not suitable for beginners. The translations of the sentences can sometimes be confusing if you don’t know enough about the how Japanese works. Use with caution if you’re not sure!

    So far, using all these tools have been great and pretty straightforward.
    It’s also been surprisingly easy and quick to switch to J-J dictionaries. Once you know the main words that make up most of the definitions, you’re good to go. When I can’t find any example sentence after checking on all of them, I sometimes try Google or Google Images (I remember finding a sentence for 混じり合う using Google Images, using the little text below the image) but when it comes to that, I begin doubting that the word is useful to know at all and sometimes do not bother adding it.

  3. Also, I would use the IME pad much much more if I knew the keyboard shortcut to bring it up. Kind of annoying to have to go into the language bar menu, click “add more icons” (because I don’t like them on all the time) and then click the IME icon… (and remove the icons again once you’re done)

    I’m pretty sure there is a shortcut but can’t find it. If anyone knows…!

    • Right Click on the Language Icon in your toolbar, then choose options. In the window that opens click on the tab on the far right and you have your shortcuts and you can edit them too. ^^ (I can only tell you how it works for Windows 7 though.)

  4. I like Sanseido too; sometimes the definitions are almost too short, but more often I turn to Sanseido when some other dictionary attempts to give me an essay and my eyes starting glazing over and then I look it up on Sanseido and say “oh so that’s all it is, why didn’t you say so in the first place”.

    I wish the paper 小学国語学習辞典 I have were available in electronic form somewhere. The definitions are so understandable, but the paperness is such a nuisance.

    I really like the 大辞泉 app for iPhone. To the benefits of internet dictionaries it adds more convenience (because you’re not always reading at your computer, but if you’re like me, your phone is never out of reach) and a nice interface for drawing characters on the screen. Pricey for an app, but a lot cheaper than a dedicated electronic dictionary.

      • I think it is, although Kotoba! actually has more useful features, like the ability to make lists and then export them. I wish there were a J-J Kotoba!, that’d be perfect. 大辞泉 does have a nifty word screensaver though, that’s gotta count for something!

        By the way you probably know this but one of the best “upgrades” for any iPhone dictionary app is to install the Chinese character handwriting recognition keyboard, under General>Keyboard>International Keyboards>Chinese – Traditional (Handwriting). I wasted so much time in Kotoba! looking up characters with SKIP before I found this out.

  5. I have bookmarked Yahoo Dictionary and Weblio, and one thing that I’ve noticed is that while they have the same definitions, Weblio allows you to click on words and it’ll take you to more definitions, a feature I like.

  6. “Before you look down on it because it has the word “Yahoo” in it”

    Unfortunately, that decision isn’t up to me… Due to some setting in Firefox (probably an adblock entry I can’t find), I’m unable to access ANY Yahoo domains (other than Flickr, which is only owned by Yahoo and isn’t a direct subdomain). However, is pretty effective. Sure it’s J-E, but it works, and also gives links to other dictionaries including Goo.

    And don’t forget about Rikaichan, a total lifesaver when I juuuust can’t quite remember the reading of that kanji (or the font’s so freaking small I can’t tell which one it’s supposed to be!) Bonus points for being a browser extension instead of having to open another tab (I usually have 40-50 open at once).

  7. Anyone know of any good J-J dictionaries for iphone? I like having everything right there, easy to use.

    • I don’t know of any local J-J dictionaries (that is to say, a dictionary which you can access without internet connection, like Kotoba) available on the iPhone, but redirects to a convenient mobile version of the site if you visit it with your iPhone!

      Sorry if that isn’t much help…

    • If you set the phone’s language to Japanese, the built-in dictionary will be J-J. Select text anywhere to access it.

      I also bought Daijisen; I got it for the kanji-recognition because I can’t always get the Chinese input to recognize the stroke order I use.

  8. “You can cut and paste words directly from any other website directly”

    Well not really. Otherwise the Internet would be full of holes. You can however *copy* and paste.

  9. Does anyone know of a J-J dictionary that might cover weirder slang, or something?

    例) Today I’ve been trying to understand the meaning of おにゃか, but it doesn’t seem to appear in any of the dictionaries I use. I eventually realized from staring at the google images results that it means tummy/stomach, making it a variation of お腹, I guess (though the prevalence of cats in the google images result combined with the にゃreally threw me for a loop)…

    Is there any online resource where I would find a definition for this?

    • Considering there aren’t even that many google search results, it’s safe to say it’s word play and not a word on it’s own.

      Japanese slang dictionary, has a lot of words not in Yahoo or Goo etc.

      • ” it’s safe to say it’s word play and not a word on it’s own.”

        Oh, of course! にゃあ + お腹 = おにゃか. Cool.

        Today is actually the first time I’ve even had to deal with word play (I managed to figure out one earlier, but it at least had kanji, and now another one).

        And thanks for the 俗語辞書, it’s exactly what I wanted (I actually had tried to google “俗辞書” a couple of days ago but that site didn’t pop up… total noob here…)

  10. Slight problem with J-J dictionary’s. In that I can’t find any example sentences on any of the one’s I use (yahoo & Goo). Yahoo has none whatsoever, and Goo’s one’s are ridiculously long. Maybe I’m just not using it right? I’d appreciate if anyone could help.

  11. I have a new Samsung III mini smartphone. What is the best Japanese-English dictionary free android app which can be used off-line? After many years of downtime, living in Hawaii, I am dedicating myself again to studying Japanese, trying to use the modern tools. I consider myself a beginner to intermediate level. Know Hiragana, katakana and few kanji. My basic vocabulary is ok, but I have a hard time conjugation and constructing good sentences.

    • Any android users have any good offline app recommendations?

      I’m an iPhone user, and while I don’t actually use the J-E dictionary, I’ve taken a look at the built in one and it seems pretty decent and extremely convenient. There is no built in dictionary for android?

    • Probably a bit late with my response but I have been using Jsho on my Samsung. It has both English and Japanese input and allows for radical search for kanji it has saved me a few times. If you already found one what is it and is it any good?

      • I’m using a so called EPWING viewer on my android phone to use dictionaries. The best and by far the most comprehensive J-E- dictionary I’ve come across is 研究社 (5th ed), but there’s a number of J-J ones floating around as well that you can load into the same program. The android app for 研究社 costs hundreds of dollars though, unless you (hypothetically speaking) happen to stumble across in through… other means… perhaps the koohii forum has some good suggestions there.

        I use JED for just looking up quick words, and kenkyusha for a more detailed translation with example sentences (works even better with Rikaisama for Firefox on the computer).

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