Japanese Translators Overview
As language learners, we’re somewhat conditioned to think of electronic translators as the lazy option. At least I know that’s what I thought early in my language journey. Using a dictionary was one thing, but a translator? No way! Not only did I think that using a translator was lazy, but I was also afraid that they would lead to terrible mistranslations (I’m looking at you, Google Translate).
Thankfully, I have learned that a good translator can be an extremely useful tool when you’re on your way to fluency. Not only can it help you find words quickly, but it can also help you with conjugation and learning how to use words in the proper context.
It is important to note that I said a good translator. Not all electronic translators are created equal. If you’re learning one of the Asian languages, such as Japanese, then you should be particularly careful when using any translating program. These programs are notorious for mistranslating and overall murdering the Asian languages.
Not to worry though, there are translators that you can use. In fact, there are quite a few, so I decided to do a little research and compile the top 10 Japanese Translators. These translators are not listed in any particular order, simply laid out here for your educational enjoyment.
Before we start talking about translators, here is a little information that will make this article easier to understand. If you are already familiar with the basics of Japanese, then you can skip right to the list, but if you’re a newbie, read this first.
Japanese is a beautifully complicated language with its own unique writing system. There are a few different types of writing commonly used in Japanese and each type of writing has a name. Knowing the names and understanding the differences between each type will give you a better understanding of what each of these translators is capable of.
Kana is the syllabic system of writing Japanese. In other words, these are the symbols used to represent syllables in Japanese. There are two types of kana: katakana and hiragana.
Katakana consists of more angular looking symbols and is often used for translations from foreign languages and proper names.
Hiragana is more like the cursive of Japanese. The word hiragana means 'simple' or 'plain', the perfect description for this common form of writing.
Kanji are symbols adapted from traditional Chinese writing. These are the more elaborate symbols that you will see mixed in the katakana and hiragana.
Romaji is the romanization of Japanese (i.e. writing Japanese words using the English alphabet).
Most of the translators on this list will provide many examples of Japanese writing so you can begin to see the differences and recognize each style of writing individually. Okay, now that you know what you’re looking at, let’s dig in!
Top 10 Japanese Translators
Japanese Dictionary Tangorin
Not only is Japanese Dictionary Tangorin one of the best online Japanese translators, but it is also free! This program can be found on your browser as well as in the iOS and Android play stores, making it easy for everyone to access.
The extra features of this program are truly impressive. Not only can you search words in English, kana, kanji, and romaji, but you can search by Japanese radicals as well. This will help you find words with similar meanings or the common meanings of certain symbols.
Japanese Dictionary Tangorin can also assist you with conjugation and kanji. They offer a wide variety of conjugation tables as well as diagrams to teach you proper stroke order so you can perfect your beautiful kanji skills.
My favorite feature of this program is the specialized terminology dictionary. This will help you find the words you need for specialized fields such as medicine, business, science, and more!
Jisho is a browser-based translation program that can help you practice reading, writing, and even speaking Japanese! This translator allows you to search for words both in English and Japanese. You can choose between writing the words in romaji, drawing them in kanji, or even speaking the words to find translations and definitions.
Another interesting feature of this program is that it allows you to search for words using both kanji and English at the same time. This was a feature so unique that I simply had to try it out. I found this to be the most helpful translator when I could only remember part of a word but wasn’t sure about the whole thing. It was fun to see how close I was to remembering the correct word or phrase.
This program is super user-friendly and easy to navigate. I found myself getting lost looking up word after word just because it was so intuitive. I highly recommend this program for beginners and pros alike!
Japanese English Dictionary and Translator Free
If you’re looking for a straightforward app that will assist you in your language journey, then check out this aptly named program, Japanese English Dictionary and Translator Free. It is available for both iOS and Android and, as the name suggests, it’s completely free.
This app was designed and distributed by Bravolol Language Learning, so it is no surprise that this is more than just a translator or dictionary. This program includes helpful flashcards, detailed kana definitions, and even an advanced sentence analyzer. The analyzer will pick apart complicated sentences and break them down into easy to understand sections.
This is a handy app for anyone trying to learn Japanese, but it would be especially useful for beginners since it doubles as an extra practice tool. This program offers both American English and UK English, so no matter which side of the pond you're on, you can enjoy easy Japanese translations through this app.
If you’re an advanced language learner and just need a little help now and then when you’re reading Japanese online, why not check out Rikaikun? Rikaikun is a Chrome extension that is easy to install and even easier to use.
Once you have added Rikaikun to your browser, simply go to your favorite Japanese website and hover over any unfamiliar words. You’ll instantly be provided with a translation. It’s almost like magic. If the short translation isn’t quite enough, you can press Shift+Enter and you will be given an even more detailed definition of the kanji.
Although there are many browser extensions out there, I found this one to be the most user-friendly and informative. As I mentioned, this is geared a bit more toward advanced learners, but it could be helpful to learners of all levels as long as you don’t become too dependent on it.
Romaji Desu Japanese
I think all language learners will agree that speaking practice is a vital part of language learning, but it can sometimes be the most difficult part of the process. Well, with Romaji Desu, you can work on building your vocabulary and speaking at the same time. How? You may be wondering. Simple: romaji.
Japanese is a complicated language with many intricate sounds. It can be very difficult to hear and reproduce all those sounds correctly, so we use romaji to remind us how each word is meant to sound.
This is where Romaji Desu comes in. You can use this translator to translate kana into romaji as well as English, giving you the opportunity to practice the sounds of the words as well as the kana. This translator focused specifically on particles and sentence structure, making it a good choice for detail-oriented language learners.
Linguee English-Japanese Dictionary
If I was going to tell you one thing about my learning style, I would have to tell you that I am all about user-friendly learning options. Who needs complicated, over-the-top programs when you’re trying to learn a new language? Not me and obviously not the program designers behind the Linguee English-Japanese Dictionary.
This program is simple, super user-friendly, and yet contains an unbelievable amount of information. Every word you search will bring up not only the translation, but it will also provide a wide variety of sentences in which the word can be used. Not just typical, “The cat jumped over the frog.” sentences, but real-world sentences pulled from active websites.
Being able to see how the word is used in everyday sentences will help you to learn proper context and conjugation as well as keep you more engaged while you learn. The only downside to this program is that it does not translate full sentences very well, but it is still worth using, especially if you’re focusing on building your vocabulary. You can find this dictionary on your browser, iOS store, and Android app store.
Japanese Translator Offline
Whether you’re taking a long ride on the subway or off-roading in the wilderness, sometimes you just need to go offline. Well, if you’re offline, but still need a translator, check out the Japanese Translator Offline from the iOS store.
This program offers translation of more than 200,000 Japanese words and is totally free. You won’t find any specialized vocabulary here, but you will find most of what you need for everyday conversation such as what you would experience when shopping, asking for directions, or eating at a restaurant.
As you can imagine, it does take up a bit of space on your phone, but it is totally worth it if you’re in a pinch and need a quick translation or you just want to work on your Japanese without eating up all your data.
Japanese Dictionary Mazii
This is another Chrome extension, much like Rikaikun, but with a special twist. This extension can translate Japanese into 13 different languages including Chinese, Russian, French, and Indonesian.
Once added to your browser, Mazii allows you to simply double-click on any word to view a translation and definition. This extension also comes with a variety of customization options, making it a good choice for those who like a more tailored experience.
Mazii also has an app available on the Google Play store that will turn your phone into a translation machine. It offers all the great features of the browser version with a few extras that you’ll want to try. You can use this app for voice translations as well as written translation and it will allow you to scan things with your camera for instant translations.
J-Talk’s Kanji to Hiragana Translator
For all of the language learners struggling with reading kanji, this may be just what you’ve been looking for. This is a browser-based program that allows you to translate full sentences of kanji into easy to understand romaji with the English definition included.
If you come up against a word or phrase that you just don’t understand, copy and paste and let J-Talk do the rest. Once you input a sentence, you’ll be shown everything you need to know from the romaji to the hiragana.
This program is the perfect choice for anyone who is fully committed to learning kanji, just be aware that it is pay-to-play. You can translate a few sentences for free each day, but for more consistent use, you’ll have to create an official account and pay for the service. Don’t let that deter you though, many users have found this program to be a total game-changer that is absolutely worth the price.
Japanese Pocketalk Classic Language Translator
Last, but not least, you knew we had to talk about at least one translating device. These little devices have gained a lot of popularity over the last few years and for good reason. This instant translator is pretty impressive. It can translate 82 languages instantly, how cool is that?
You literally just press the button, speak, and the device translates for you. This unit comes with two years of data service and will work in more than 130 countries worldwide. It has a speech-to-text display so you can both hear and see the words as you speak. It is Bluetooth compatible and is constantly updating to improve accuracy.
Although I would hesitate to call this a learning tool, it would be extremely helpful if you were traveling in Japan and weren’t quite confident enough in your Japanese skills to communicate independently. Since this is a two-way translator, you could also use it to practice your speaking skills by speaking Japanese and seeing how well the device can translate it into English.
Japanese Translator: Final Thoughts
Overall, electronic translators can be very helpful tools along the way to fluency. With all the incredible improvements in language software that we’ve been seeing recently, it’s safe to say that they are only going to get better! Just remember, do not become too dependent on a translator if fluency is your goal. Use it as a learning tool, not a quick fix every time you feel stuck. I hope you find this list helpful and happy learning!