5 of the best apps to help English speakers translate and learn Japanese on Android


There are plentiful options for translation when it comes to the big European dialects. Virtually every major company with a hope of breaking into new markets immediately tries to localize its English websites into Spanish, French, German, and Italian. But the Asian languages are just as important for business growth and worth study. Far fewer students, however, take the plunge and despite the massive importance of Mandarin, Korean, and Cantonese, that lower demand has held back some of the options available online for quick translation.

While Mandarin Chinese’s large speaking population has ameliorated the situation for students of the language, it might surprise some that there are still some limits to major languages like Japanese.

Here are a few of the options available to you when you need to get some fast help.

1. Yomiwa

Strengths: Strong advanced content, works offline, great Kanji recognition power
Weaknesses: Not best for beginners

Yomiwa is an object-character recognition app (OCR) that opens directly from your image gallery. Reviews give it good scores on Kanji recognition, though some report it can be wonky from time to time on certain characters.

“Good app for those with their basics down. Not for those completely new to the language,” remarked Marc Anthony Corla in a review on Google Play. “Don’t expect instant literal translations for media such as books or manga. But it’s a great help for those who want to polish up their kana skills and are having trouble with them pesky kanji. Great app overall. Can be a bit wonky with character recognition at times. Still bought the feature though lol.”

Download on Google Play.

2. Jsho – Japanese Dictionary (4.6 in Play Store)

Jsho (screenshot)

Strengths: Analyzes every element of a full phrase for better insight
Weaknesses: Absurd ad placement

When you set out to make a dictionary for the student of a new language, you need to balance skill level and practicality. Jsho apparently has an extremely strong vocabulary database, covering things as far flung as deep science-related terms.

“It’s useful in helping you find words, and if you’re trying to understand a sentence without Google Translate, you can input the sentence in this app and it will tell you what each word means, allowing you to understand it in your own way,” Aish Halter wrote on February 3, 2016.

While all apps need to sustain themselves, the way Jsho situates its apps solicits visceral irritation from some users to the point it drops their app ratings from five down to three stars.

“It’s effing hard to concentrate when there’s a man walking underneath your eye line or a tank driving just below you. Makes looking at this dictionary almost impossible. Kill the ads, charge a £1 for this app and I’ll buy it,” wrote Ashley Cowan in his review from June 10, 2016.

Download on Google Play.

3. Japanese English Translator by GreenLife Apps (4.4 in Play Store)

Japanese English Translator screenshot

Strengths: Word of the day feature, phonetic option, very quick access
Weaknesses: Some archaic translations of Kanji, some errors in Romaji spelling/pronunciation correspondence, no offline option

Complaints seem to be nit picky, like the inability to highlight a translation and copy it rather than using the app’s sharing function. It has over 5,400 five-star recommendations out of just more than 8,600 reviews. There might be some concern that the translations are a bit too archaic or formal.

“It’s a good app, some of the translation is a little off,” wrote Victoria Apolinar in a review. “Kanji Japanese people don’t use anymore but its close enough if your [sic] lost and alone someone could help you.”

Download on Google Play.

4. Japanese Kanji Study (4.8 in the Play Store)

Japanese Kanji Study – 漢字学習 (screenshot)

Strengths: Can make your own study lists, gives feedback, includes study targets
Weaknesses: It’s not free?

This app lets you draw Kanji symbols on your screen. Developed by Chase Colburn, it has a 4.8 score with over 500,000 downloads. More than 7,300 of its 8,500 reviews give it five stars. A common thread in the reviews is it’s a quick app to use to kill time and practice, making good use of a spare five minutes. The most recent non-five-star review comes from a user complaining some of the app’s features aren’t free when he was under the impression they would be.

“This is a fun way to practice kanji and my favorite app for studying stroke order and accuracy,” wrote user E Leaf in a recent review. “I was hesitant to pay for a study app but this one was well worth it. Some time ago I wrote the developer with a suggestion they replied right away. So they value your input!”

“Now this app is convenient to refresh ur kanji knowledge during daily commutes, while chilling in bed, on the toilet…” wrote Chris Lang in a review on January 13, a review he probably didn’t expect to get quoted in a tech publication. “Really quite hyped atm.”

Download on Google Play.

5. Learn Japanese Free (4.6 in the Play Store)

Learn Japanese Free (screenshot)

Strengths: Good for teaching critical phrases in Japanese
Weaknesses: Annoying notifications even when the app isn’t open, some bugs with font size

While it’s not going to teach you the basics, it hits on an often neglected element of language learning: phrases and expressions. The name doesn’t inform users of this, but that has not hurt its score all that much with a 4.6 rating and over 100,000 downloads (4,400 five-star reviews out of 6,200).

A good review that covers the pluses and minuses can be found with Valerie Meiss, who wrote hers at the beginning of December.

“At first this app annoyed me, it kept telling me random phrases and I couldn’t figure out how to get it to turn off. I still can’t, but now I enjoy the subtle new sentences, and while I’m not memorizing all of them, I know they are there for me to look up when needed. I’ll be in Japan in less than a month, and this has been a confidence booster!”

Download on Google Play.


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