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Reading Japanese Words Like a Pro with Rikaichan

Rikaichan screenshhot

In the last post: Using Firefox To Boost Your Japanese Learning Online, I talked about why you should use Firefox as the browser of choice for learning Japanese on the web. If you haven’t read that article yet, please do so and get Firefox installed before moving on. Today, I will be showing you a truly amazing add on for Firefox that will allow you to read Japanese, even if you can’t read Japanese. The add on is called Rikaichan, and  it really is an excellent Japanese learning tool.

There are two ways to install Rikaichan (you can find the other method here). The easiest is to go to the Rikaichan website and click on the files.. Firefox will automatically recognize and install them.

  1. You can find the Rikaichan website here: http://rikaichan.mozdev.org/.
  2. Under the Download/Install section, click on Rickaichan.
  3. A popup will appear at the top of the screen asking if it is okay to allow this site to install the software. Click “Allow” and then click install.
  4. Then do the same thing for the words dictionary that matches your language. If you are reading this then it will probably be English-Japanese. You can also add a names dictionary (though it isn’t necessary) to get readings of Japanese names.
  5. Once you ave finished installing, restart Firefox.

Now, to make Rikaichan easy to toggle on and off, you probably want to add it to the toolbar . Don’t worry, this is very easy to do.

Right click on your tool bar (if you are having trouble finding the correct place to click, simply click on one of the icons you would like to put it next to, ie: the home button) and choose customize. Now all you need to do is drag the little red happy face on to the bar where you want to add it. You can also add the “lookup bar” which will allow you to open a Japanese dictionary in your browser. Now you are all set and ready to read Japanese. You can also edit Rikaichan’s settings by going to Tools>Add-ons>Extensions> Clicking on RIkaichan and choosing preferences.

So navigate to your favorite Japanese page. If you don’t have one yet, then check out Asahi news to find a whole list of topics. Once the page has loaded, click on the little red smiley face icon you added to your toolbar. A little star should appear on the icon. Now put your pointer at the beginning of any word/ character and you will get a reading, definition, and a whole ton of other info! To turn it off, just click on the icon again.

Used diligently, this add-on has the potential to dramatically increase your reading ability and character recognition. While at the same time allowing you to navigate Japanese websites and articles. It can even be used to read e-mail. If you use webmail then it works like you are reading any other webpage. You can also add it to the Mozilla Thunderbird mail client the same way you did to Firefox.

I hope you enjoy this add-on and use it as often as possible. Let me know if this is helpful or if you have any problems with installation.

To Learn or Not to Learn Kanji?

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Without a doubt the most difficult part of learning Japanese is learning kanji. There are over 2000 kanji in the Japanese language and many of them are complex and look very similar to one another. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that each kanji can be read differently depending on the way it is used in a sentence. Because of this, learning to read and write kanji will take much more time to master than the rest of the language. So the question is should you spend the time to learn it or not?

I think this the answer really depends on your reasons for learning Japanese and how much time you plan to devote to it. If you are learning Japanese to live or work  there for a short time or plan to travel there for vacation, then you probably don’t need to learn more than a few very basic kanji. It’s not that learning the kanji won’t help you, but the time you will need to spend learning them won’t be worth the value you will get if you are only visiting Japan for a short time.

For those who who plan to master the Japanese language, live in Japan for more than a year, and especially for those who plan to seek work in Japan, then learning kanji is very important. It is also pretty much required for the majority of jobs in Japan. Since most writing is now done in electronic form (computers) you don’t necessarily need to be able to write them, but you do need to be able to read them. Most documents and government forms are written using kanji. If you can’t read them then you will have to depend on someone else to translate it for you. Not too mention if you can’t read kanji you will have to sign contracts for things like apartments and cell phones without knowing what they really say.

Once we learn to read and write we take these abilities as granted, but they are very important to live and function in society. Having lived in Japan now for a while I see just how important reading is. I also wish I would have spent more time studying kanji when I was I college. So if you are planning to learn kanji I recommend that you start as soon as possible and continue to study at a steady pace. It will take some time, but the benefits are well worth it. The positive side of learning kanji is that it is easier to remember Japanese words once you learn the corresponding kanji.