Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Do you need a japanese electronic dictionary?

If you've ever been to Japan, or if you've been to university lectures popular with Chinese students, you'll know what an electronic dictionary looks like. If you don't.... then take a look at this photo!
An electronic dictionary is... well... an electronic dictionary :) It's a little computer which includes a number of dictionaries (Japanese-Japanese, Japanese-English, English-Japanese, English-English) among other things which I'll outline in the post - but the question is: do YOU really need one?

Electronic dictionaries are very popular with Japanese students, and many buy them early on in their English learning journey - most likely during middle or high school. They have been around for many years now, with features such as a touch panel (and later, touch-enabled main screens) before such features were prominent in phones in Japan.

NOTE: The Japanese were relatively late in taking up what we might regard as smartphones (with a full touch screen and very few physical buttons), it's also interesting to note that they had 'gala-kei' phones (clamshell-style handsets) with impressive specs long before we had 'feature-phones' beyond the most basic of handsets.

Below is a video I made 4 years ago (but still very relevant!) which runs you through a typical Casio Ex-Word Japanese-English electronic dictionary, including features and how to use it. I've got almost 10,000 views, and people seem to think it was useful, so please take a look!

If you don't want to watch a video, I'll outline the features of a typical JP-EN electronic dictionary:

  • Backlit LCD resistive touch screen 
  • Full-featured keyboard
  • Stylus
  • Small resistive touch strip below the keyboard
  • Built-in audio with headphone jack
  • MicroSD expansion slot
  • Battery powered

  • Dictionaries
    • Kanji dictionary(s)
    • JP-JP dictionary(s)
    • JP-EN dictionary(s)
    • EN-JP dictionary(s)
    • EN-EN dictionary(s)
  • Encyclopedias
    • various, but includes stuff like cooking, medicine, travel.
  • Phrasebooks
    • English, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Korean.
  • Famous speeches
    • Heads of states, scholars etc.
  • Notebook function 
  • Annotation function
  • The ability to search for Kanji by writing them on the screen
that's all fine and dandy... but... what are the pros and cons to owning an electronic dictionary?


  • It's a portable device dedicated to helping you translate between Japanese and English. 
  • Very good battery life (a few days) providing you don't go overboard with the backlight, because it's only switched on when you use it.
  • More suited to professional settings where it'd be inappropriate to use your phone.
  • Everything is in Japanese - it gives you the 'immersive' feeling that everyone wants.
  • Learners at any level can use it, given the right direction and instructions.
  • You can find them cheap if you're in Japan, especially used models - potentially less than £100/$150 for some.


  • It's portable but it's still much bigger, and heavier than your average smartphone.
  • It's designed to help Japanese people to English, not for you to learn Japanese. (For example, it will read out words in English, but not in Japanese, not that useful for us!)
  • The screen resolution is far lower than your average smartphone.
  • It can really only fulfill a handful of functions.
  • Instructions and keys are all in Japanese - beginners might struggle without external help.
  • They can be very expensive if you're outside of Japan, as there's very little selection and importers typically sell models which go for $250+ on Amazon, even then you might be hit by import tax. 


So in answer to the question, 'Do you need a Japanese Electronic Dictionary?' - it depends. 

If you're using it for business purposes or in academic setting where you (1) can't access a personal computer AND (2) you either don't have a smartphone or it'd be inappropriate to use it when you need it - YES you probably do need one.

If none of the conditions above apply to you - it's more likely that the answer will be NO. You can replicate and even improve upon ALL of the functionality of an electronic dictionary using stuff you already own, like your phone, your computer and even your gaming devices!

Stay tuned for more information on that, but for now...

Thanks for reading ;]


  1. Yes it is very necessary to have a dictionary of the language you are learning! And to Build Vocabulary with Japanese is not that easy.

  2. Amazing post!! I really like it. This blog has new information about dictionary. Thanks for sharing this post. drawback dictionary

  3. Thank you for a very interesting article. I greatly appreciate the time you take to do all the research to put together your posts. I especially enjoyed this one!!
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