Electronic Dictionaries in Japan: How Denshi Jishos Have Managed to Survive Modern Day Technology

Denshi Jisho for Non-English Speakers: What is It?

A Denshi Jisho may sound like a complicated Japanese word to most people. However, it is not as complex as it sounds. A denshi jisho is simply an electronic dictionary in Japanese. While single language electronic dictionaries can only provide the definition for certain words, a denshi jisho has an added function of being bilingual in order to translate phrases from English to Japanese, and vice versa.

For the rest of the world, electronic dictionaries have become obsolete due to plenty of alternatives that are now available thanks to modern day advancements. Perhaps, the only electronic dictionaries that still exist are all in Japan. Upon hearing this fact for the first time, it may come as a total surprise how the Japanese who are known for their massive technological developments could rely on a gadget that is so old school and traditional. The answer for this is quite simple.

The Japanese, having closed their doors for more than a hundred years to the outside world, are extremely nationalistic people. They value their culture and heritage so much, including their national language. Given that fact, the Japanese are not the best English speakers in the world.

In contrast, a much less developed, third world country such as the Philippines would have absolutely no use for a denshi jisho since the population is an English speaking nation. People who fall under Class A and Class B are even possibly more adept towards speaking English than their own native language.

This is not the case for Japan, where regardless of social class, a good majority of the population can only comprehend certain English phrases. This the reason why denshi jisho's have managed to retain their popularity for the past forty years – starting from the time it was introduced, which was 1970.

How Sharp Introduced the Classic Denshi Jisho

Upon its introduction in 1970 by the Japanese company called Sharp, not much has changed in terms of design and feature. Upon comparing the first model to the current ones in the market, they are still extremely similar towards each other. The first model created by Sharp allowed its users to define words by searching for them.

Despite a lot of similarities in terms of functionality, there are two major advancements that have made a world of difference to present day users. The primary change that the denshi jisho has seen in forty years is the memory capacity. Upon its introduction, it was a time when digital devices were considered to be highly advanced when it could store a few kilobytes. These days, a single hard drive can store up to a few terabytes.

Given this advancement, the capacity of a denshi jisho to store a certain number of words has increased greatly. In the beginning, the first model could only hold around 5,000 words. The second improvement is equally significant, as manufacturers were able to successfully bring down the prices of denshi jisho through the years, making it much more accessible to the low-income people, such as students.

Since the world is slowly being brought closer and closer to various aspects, the need for communication also remains high. For the Japanese, it is important for them to understand the rest of the world and for the rest of the world to understand them. For this very reason, denshi jisho's or electronic dictionaries are still far from extinction in Japan.

A Guide on How to Buy and Current Prices of Denshi Jisho

Deciding to purchase a denshi jisho, regardless of the reason, would require careful evaluation in order to fully decide which features are essential for the user. Here are several guidelines that may help anyone who is looking into buying his or her own denshi jisho.

First of all, the future user must decide on the form of an electronic dictionary to use. Nowadays, there are plenty of options that go well beyond a hard dictionary copy. The first point that needs to be evaluated is if the user requires a standalone device that is solely dedicated to being an electronic dictionary; this is particularly handy for students who are planning to use the dictionary in school.

There are also limitations to other forms of electronic dictionaries, such as mobile apps, that a denshi jisho can specifically address. Hence, the next step is to assess what features one requires from his or her device. Of course, a heftier price tag may be expected from a device with more features. It is just a matter of evaluating if the price is worth it.

The primary feature that a future denshi jisho owner must assess is how many dictionaries he would require. People who are used to speaking in English may find this small detail irrelevant, but that is not the case for people who are still learning how to speak the language. Different dictionaries may also mean more opportunities for the user to learn the language.

A major feature that is usually present in Japanese denshi jisho’s is translation capabilities. The Japanese language itself is so complex, that forming translated sentences can be quite challenging. Luckily, manufacturers in Japan such as Seiko, Casio, and Sharp have all taken this into consideration with their local electronic dictionary versions.

Similarly, it is also important for a user to understand the context of a word further. This is where a thesaurus function may come in handy. Through a thesaurus function, a user may easily input a single word into his denshi jisho and the device would give feedback on a list of words that have a similar meaning. This feature, as simple as it may seem, can really make a difference towards one's understanding of a foreign language.

Some denshi jishos/electronic dictionaries provide their users with a guide on how to pronounce a certain word. For students who are using the electronic dictionary simply to prepare for a written or non-oral exam, this feature can be neglected easily.  However, it is a different case for professionals who are using the denshi jisho for work. Employees who engage in a lot of teleconference meetings with foreigners may find it embarrassing to mispronounce words, so a denshi jisho may come in handy for that use.

A feature that comes in handy for speakers of languages that are written with symbols is the ability to input words through a stylus. In Japan, there are selected models that offer translation by allowing the user to input words in Kanji. A challenge for the user is to keep his or her handwriting neat enough in order for the device to recognize the input.

While the features mentioned above are useful for many users, there are selected added features which buyers can look for depending on their specific need and capability to pay. A more advanced feature for modern denshi jishos is having a built-in camera that allows the users to take a picture of any printed word, and the dictionary will automatically define the word based on its database. For some, this feature is not as important since typing a word can easily be done anyway.

On the other hand, students may or may not want to invest on a denshi jisho with embedded learning programs. This can include quizzes and other activities that allow the user to test his knowledge through the use of his or her denshi jisho.

With all the points stated above, a user is completely free to decide on what functions he would require from his device. It is important to note that denshi jisho prices are rather diverse, with the most basic ones priced as low at $50 dollars. However, fancier denshi jishos can be priced up to $200.

The Best of the Best: The Casio Ex-Word

An example of a popular denshi jisho is the Casio Ex-Word. Having gone through several model iterations, the Ex-Word is the top model among Casio's roster of electronic dictionaries. Be warned it is advanced, however, it does come at a steeper price point.

So how exactly does the denshi jisho vary from most electronic dictionaries produced within Japan? One of its main attractive features is a clear colored screen, coupled with a touch screen display. Aside from having a touch screen display, the stylus feature also allows users to input words in Kanji and this could be translated into several languages, not just in English, such as German, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Portuguese, and more.

If those features are not attractive enough, the denshi jisho itself has a voice capability which translates native Japanese words orally so the user could have an idea on how to correctly pronounce specific words. It is quite an impressive feature.

The Casio Ex-Word is also a popular gift to students during Christmas time, particularly in the month of December, because of it's many student-friendly features. The device boasts of its built-in learning guides wherein users can personalize his or her own flash cards to be used for studying.

Considering all those nifty features included, it is truly worth considering the Ex-Word as a companion to learning foreign languages. Even English speakers may benefit from this useful little device if they want to learn more French, Italian, Spanish or any other language.

Modern Day Denshi Jisho: Helpful Android and iPhone Apps

It is a given fact that not everyone needs a denshi jisho. Those who are just interested in learning to expand their vocabulary leisurely may opt to just download android and iPhone apps. Of course, the functionality of these apps is extremely limited. However, it comes with a price tag that is absolutely free.

One of the more popular apps for Japanese to English translation is called "Japanese English Dictionary & Translator Free", which is available for download through Apple Store or Google Play Store. The company Bravolol came up with this app to aid users who are traveling to Japan. It is beginner friendly and contains more than three hundred thousand words and phrases in Japanese that would definitely make communicating easier. Best of all, it comes with a feature that allows the user to listen to the specific pronunciation of the words so he or she may easily imitate it.

Online Denshi Jisho: English to Japanese Dictionary with Kanji Translations

The Internet is indeed a powerful tool. Nowadays, users who have access to the Internet can easily translate words using the Internet.  Usually, there are websites that provide Japanese to English dictionary and translation.

One of the more popular and useful websites in this aspect is jisho.org. It is a free website that anyone can easily access to search for English to Japanese. It is equipped with a comprehensive search engine with similar features to that of Google. For example, a user can just type the phrase "Convert to Japanese Years" and the website will come up with specific responses that are curated to fit the user's demand.

The website itself is extremely reminiscent of a traditional denshi jisho since it comes with functions that allow users to draw, dictate or input selected words. Its "Draw" feature allows users to input through handwriting any word in kanji, and the software will effortlessly convert and translate it.

Those who are not equipped with tools to draw the symbols manually may click the option "Radicals", which is a site feature that allows the user to click on the specific symbols to form words and phrases to be translated by the engine. Lastly, a user can opt to dictate the words using voice recognition. From there, the website will detect the word or phrases and give feedback based on what the user needs.

Overall, Jisho is a great and comprehensive website for anyone who wants to easily translate one phrase to another.  Best of all, the website is free for anyone with access to the Internet. There are also other similar websites with the same features that can be accessed through the web.