Japanese is probably one of the most popular languages to learn for English speakers. As a result, you can find more online and offline resources compared to other languages such as Korean. I’ve seen great online resources pop up on the internet over the years and some that are… not so good. I was ecstatic when I first discovered the WWWJDIC and it has continued to improve; adding example sentences and expanding the edict dictionary. (Some entries, I’m proud to say were submitted by yours truly such as 「夢うつつ」). Then, I discovered 英辞郎, which has an E->J dictionary that is actually useful and Yahoo!辞書, which has TWO awesome J->J dictionaries: 大辞泉 and 大辞林 for free. I’m surprised if people even buy paper dictionaries anymore.
If you think about it, a dictionary is a perfect fit for the internet. It’s accessible from any computer with internet access, searches are instantaneous, and you can copy/paste words without having to know the reading. Any type of instructional written and audio material such as ebooks and podcasts can also benefit from worldwide access and fast search capabilities. I also applaud sites that brings people together to talk, discuss, and ask questions such as forums and social networking sites such as Mixxer.
While these online resources are helping people from all over learn Japanese, it seems that there’s some sort of carnal instinct to create not so helpful index card programs. I’m talking about the numerous kanji/vocabulary sites or applications that you can store kanji/vocab into. Some of them make index cards for you, some might send you emails daily, others even have algorithms to determine how often you should review a word based on how many times you tell the program you’ve learned the word.
All of these sites and programs share the same critical flaw of being based on the index card learning routine. They might have some nice features to dress it up but underneath it’s the same process of writing words down with definitions and testing yourself by going through them one by one.
The reason why these sites never seem to help me is because the index card method has the following problems:
1. It’s boring
2. Lack of meaningful context
3. It requires too much work for little benefit
I mean, sure it might work if you expended enough time and energy but guess what? With enough time and effort, I can memorize the entire dictionary. Sure it’s theoretically possible but is it realistic? I’ve said before that index cards are only good for preparing for tests in the short-term and the tests themselves are only useful for teachers in grading. They don’t actually help you learn or retain the language very well.
There’s a lot of obvious or meaningless stuff in the whole web 2.0 hype like rounded-corners and larger fonts but the idea of users sharing data online, while obvious in hindsight, is really quite innovative. And yet there is still no site that I know of where we can share our vocabulary and kanji learning beyond the level of stuff you can find in dictionaries anyway. There’s a lot more to a word than: reading, stroke order, and definition. What we need is a site where people can share interesting content on the web like digg but with enhancements for studying Japanese. The key to that idea is an index card truly made for the web: wwwindex cards.
A wwwindex card is kind of like a digg submission but instead of a description of the link, you have an excerpt that pertains to your study. You mark the part that interests you and decide what you want to test yourself on. The submission will include information like the following:
1. Level (beginner to advanced)
2. Type (grammar/kanji/vocabulary)
3. Source (link or title/author or maybe even link to the book)
4. Excerpt to test with specific portions highlighted.
Here’s an example of a card I could make.
5. Doing one action without doing another.
I can make a vocab version of the same card by highlighting a word like 「勉強」 instead and putting 「べんきょう – study」 in the answer. Or I can test my kanji writing ability by replacing the kanji with hiragana and putting the kanji in the answer. The point is that it’s more than just information you can find in a dictionary because it comes with context and potentially interesting material.
You can even copy short paragraphs from a book or textbook. All the site would have to do is restrict the size of the text to abide with copyright laws. Pretty soon, with enough users, the site should be rich with contextual study materials and links that can be shared for further study. If you add voting and ranking, you can have a site that is fresh with interesting materials to explore everyday. You can find links to interesting websites, video, images, audio, or excerpts from books and textbooks. The excerpts might even help you find and decide on what books to buy. I know I have trouble finding books that are easy enough for beginner to intermediate learners. You can even test yourself with other peoples’ wwwindex cards based on level and type. It solves all the problems of traditional index card sites by making the content interesting, adding context to what you’re studying, and removing the tedium of having to make the cards all by yourself.
Notice also, that there’s nothing in the index card that is specific to Japanese. You can simply add a language field to the wwwindex card to have the site work for any language.
Does this sound interesting to you?
Unfortunately, while I have the necessary skills to make a site like this, I don’t have the time to drive such a large project. So if you’re interested in making this project come to life, feel free to email me at taekim.japanese AT gmail.com and I will setup a new project on http://code.google.com/hosting/. Ibiblio gives me unlimited space for php websites as long as it’s not for profit. Or if you’d rather start your own project, feel free to send me a link to your work.