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Turn the Web into Reading Practice

Posted December 23rd, 2011 by Enrico in Learning Japanese

So in our previous post, we expounded the importance of reading to building vocabulary and leveling up your Japanese ability. But you may have read that and wondered how to find things to read, particularly since not knowing a lot of kanji can make reading just about anything (except perhaps children’s books) a tedious ordeal. But if you’ve got an up-to-date web browser that supports extensions you can turn the entire web into reading practice, complete with the aid you need to read those complicated kanji! This article will cover extensions for Firefox and Chrome, but please send us feedback if you’ve heard of other great browser extensions that we haven’t covered here.

Rikaichan (Firefox/Chrome)

Rikaichan is one of the most popular Japanese pop-up dictionary browser extensions for Firefox. When the extension is turned on, you can hover over Japanese words and the reading and definition will appear. Rikaichan automatically de-inflects verbs and adjectives, meaning you can hover over a conjugated verb or adjective and it will know how to undo that conjugation back to the dictionary form to give you the definition.

To install, you need to install the core extension, as well as one or more extensions that provide the dictionaries. If your native language isn’t English, try installing one of the other dictionaries, like Japanese-French, Japanese-German, and Japanese-Russian. And if you need help with reading people’s names written in kanji, the Japanese Names dictionary might be able to help.

Need a Japanese dictionary you can call right from your browser? Rikaichan can expose a search bar for manually looking up words and can also show detailed entries for individual kanji. It is truly a one-stop shop for Japanese reading aid. The major downside to Rikaichan is that it will operate on every single Japanese word you hover over, which can make it almost too good of a crutch.

A port of the extension for Chrome is available here.

Furigana Injector (Chrome/Firefox)

Rikaichan is a pretty excellent tool and it probably wouldn’t be amiss to simply end this post without discussing any other extensions, but I want to highlight a Chrome extension that I’ve started using instead of Rikaichan, because it offers a very interesting feature that I think makes it an even better reading aid.

Furigana Injector is a Chrome extension that will insert furigana into a Japanese web site after it has rendered. There are a couple of benefits to this approach over Rikaichan’s approach:

  • Definitions aren’t shown by default. You can tell Furigana Injector to show the definition on hover, but you might find it beneficial to challenge your own vocabulary knowledge by not having the definition immediately accessible.
  • Furigana display means less hovering and more fluid reading, particularly if you’re familiar with many words but not how they are written in kanji. You can hover over a word just when you need its definition, if you turn the setting on.
  • Furigana Injector has a difficulty slider. You can tell the extension not to inject furigana for a certain number of the common-use (常用) kanji, or if you’re so inclined you can even edit the list yourself. This again allows you to challenge your own knowledge without having the answer immediately available.

So as you can see, Furigana Injector is a Japanese reading aid that can adjust itself to your level, something that Rikaichan simply doesn’t do. The major downside is that Furigana Injector doesn’t provide a manual lookup bar or detailed kanji entries. I’m also not sure how it performs on names, so if you start using this extension and run into trouble with names, please let us know!

I believe that there is a Firefox version and it is available here.

Now Go Read!

Once you’ve got the tools you need to make sense of difficult Japanese text on the web, all you need is to find things to read. We’ll be covering this gradually in future posts, either on the blog or on Facebook and Google+. What are your favourite Japanese sites on the web? Let us know!

  1. One Response to “Turn the Web into Reading Practice”

  2. By Lan on Dec 23, 2011

    There’s a furigana injector available for Opera too – https://addons.opera.com/en/addons/extensions/details/furigana/1.0/?display=en

    I also highly recommend GoldenDict (http://goldendict.org/). It comes with several dictionaries, and you can add more – I have a monolingual dictionary installed, which is very useful. It’s a bit manual compared to RikaiChan but it works on any text on your screen, highlight and hit the hotkey and get the reading and definition.

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