The idea to buy an electronic dictionary never crossed my mind until I read this post from Kotobites some time ago. I knew that electronic dictionaries were popular in Japan, but I never thought of acquiring one, even though I was not entirely satisfied with the dictionary apps I had tried.
After considering the pros and cons of an electronic dictionary, I knew that I needed one. It took me a lot of time to make my way through the extensive choice of dictionaries available in Japan. I decided to go for a Casio and didn’t bother to look at the other brands.
This is a review of my dictionary and how I chose it. Since I bought it, I am using it all the time and never consulted any other app or an online dictionary.
Note: This post is long, but I wanted to note all the information I would have liked to have myself when I began searching for the best dictionary. Before making the purchase, I wasn’t sure whether I would really use it or not. I was afraid to put a lot of money on it and finally continue using my phone and the Internet. I couldn’t find detailed explanations about the practical use of the device (even Casio’s commercial video were not convincing to me). Was it really so handy? Could I buy one without the lower screen to write kanji? etc. If you feel like you need an electronic dictionary but still have doubts, I hope this can help you.
How I chose it?
Step 1: English reviews
Once I realised that I needed an electronic dictionary, I read what I could find about electronic dictionaries online, and the most important information I drew out from my research was: the best Japanese-English dictionary on an electronic device is the 新和英大辞典 edited by 研究社. I confirm that this dictionary is very thorough and useful.
Step 2: Casio website
Then, I headed to Casio homepage, and that’s when I got my first source of consternation: so much choice? And they launch new models every year? It took me some time, but I compared the models I thought might suit me and decided which dictionaries I wanted to have no matter what. This is the list I made:
- 広辞苑 第六版
- オックスフォード現代英英辞典（第9版）Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
And then, I saw that some devices had:
- オックスフォード類語辞典（第2版）Oxford Thesaurus of English
- オックスフォード連語辞典 Oxford Collocations Dictionary
- オックスフォードイディオム辞典 Oxford Idioms
- オックスフォード句動詞辞典 Oxford Phrasal Verbs
And I knew I had to have them all!
As I continued my research, I came to the conclusion that the best dictionary was the “professional” model, which is the most comprehensive, I think. Models for high-school students were good candidates too, but they were packed with TOEIC training material and dictionaries about school stuff and had fewer choices regarding the Japanese-Japanese offer.
So, the dictionary I was aiming at was the XD-G200000 (2017 version)… but, you don’t get to see the price on Casio’s website!
Step 3: Amazon Japan
As I am not living in Japan, I thought that the best way to get an electronic dictionary was to order it via Amazon. That’s when I realised that the XD-G20000 was not only very expensive but also not shipped to my country… I thought I had to start from scratch again. That’s when I realised that the “professional” model (XD-Y20000) of the previous year (2016) was available on Amazon and could be shipped via Amazon Global. Other good news: it was 100 dollars cheaper than this year’s model.
I checked for 2016’s model on the Casio website and could see almost no difference between the two models (last year’s and this year’s). I also read almost all the comments posted on both dictionaries on Amazon. As they were all written in Japanese, I took it as a good opportunity to train my reading skills. It appeared that some criticism concerning the 2017’s model was motivated by the fact that only minor changes were added and that it didn’t differ much from last year product (apparently, some people do buy a new electronic dictionary every year…).
I found a very negative review concerning last year’s product, and it scared me a little. But reading the comment in details allowed me to exclude it as irrelevant to me.
Note: I don’t know how Amazon works but I have just checked out the page, and my dictionary is now 48,000 yen but I bought it for 35,000 yen some months ago… Maybe you should frequently check out the prices as they may vary depending on the seller.
About the device
No lower screen to write kanji?
What really made me think twice before buying the 2016’s product is that it had no lower screen to write kanji. In fact, Casio has removed entirely this feature from all its recent models. This means that if I wanted to have a lower screen I had to buy an older model. I considered it for some time, but I couldn’t find a dictionary that would suit me and could be shipped overseas.
I knew that one could write kanji directly on the upper screen in the recent models, but I was worried it might not be as functional as the lower screen.
However, if Casio had suppressed this feature altogether, it might be as well to trust the maker.
Now that I have been using my newly acquired dictionary for some time, I can say that the disappearance of the lower screen is nothing to worry about. Here are some reasons why:
- You can write the kanji on the upper screen in every dictionary with Japanese entries. You can even write kanji on the “home” page, which will do a cross search through all dictionaries.
- It recognises the kanji I write almost all the time, and I am using the Chinese stroke order, not the Japanese one. They are slightly different, but most of the time, the dictionary still recognise the kanji (you do have to trace it stroke by stroke, though, don’t try your calligraphic skills).
- There are two “boxes” so you can start writing your second kanji in the second box while the dictionary is computing the first one. Then, you can use the first box again, which emptied itself while you were using the second box, to write a third kanji if needed. When you finish, just click some kind of “okay” button. If you realise that, for example, your dictionary got the first kanji wrong, but you have already written your entire word of 3 or 4 kanji, you don’t need to erase the whole word! Just select the wrong kanji with your pen and your dictionary will present you similar kanji from which you can choose. No matter if it is the first, second, last kanji of the word. This is a fantastic feature that allows the user to save time and avoid frustration.
- I was afraid that one may have to select the writing panel every time one wants to write with the pen. It would have been a minus compared to the lower screen that was always available. But here again, a wonderful feature: the dictionary remembers that you used the panel and will automatically propose it whenever you return to the dictionary. Turning off the machine won’t erase that memory.
- The panel to write the kanji is big enough, it takes half of the screen. This is a good point compared to the lower screen which is smaller.
Conclusion: I would say that the lower screen looks more comfortable because it is more stable. But writing on the upper screen is not as uncomfortable as one might think, and the bigger panel makes up for the lack of stability. Personally, I don’t mind writing kanji on the upper screen, and the various features listed above makes it even easier to use.
Other cool features that I am using
There are a lot of features in this dictionary, but the ones I am really using are:
Start typing your research while still in a word’s “card”
When you make a search, you are presented with a list of results. If you want to get a closer look at a word, you can select one result and enter this word’s “card”. Now, if you want to search for another word, you don’t need to go back to the “search” screen, just type your new word while still in the word’s definition card, the search will begin automatically.
Instead of selecting one dictionary, just enter your word on the “home” page. It will give you the result for all the dictionaries installed on your device.
I am using it to slowly get used to consulting a Japanese-Japanese dictionary. If I were using my phone, I would never do it. The reason is simple: I know that there is a big probability that I would not understand the definition in Japanese. With my phone, it would mean making two different types of research in two different apps.
Having an electronic dictionary solves the problem. If you cross-search a word, first look at the definition in Japanese and, in case you don’t understand it, scroll until you find an English definition.
In fact, you don’t even need to scroll until you find an English translation. When cross-searching, the first results will be the main Japanese-Japanese dictionaries. Then, you can use the shortcut button at the top of the keyboard to directly go to the Kenkyusha New Japanese-English dictionary. You don’t need to enter the word again. It also works in the other direction. If you choose to look up a word in a dictionary and then think that you would have liked cross-search results, just press the “home” button without re-entering your word. As long as your word figures in the “search” bar, you can look it up in all the dictionaries that have a shortcut button. It is extremely easy and quick to switch between Japanese-Japanese to English-Japanese dictionaries!
When reading a word definition, if there is a word you don’t understand, you can easily jump to this word’s definition with the “jump” function. Of course, you can return very easily to your first word.
This function is useful when trying to read a Japanese definition, but if English is not your mother tongue, you will find it even more useful. When I look up a Japanese word that I don’t know in a Japanese-English dictionary and that I realise that I don’t know the English words given in the English definition… it really ruins my day, I can tell you.
You can choose a “priority” dictionary for the jump function (one for Japanese words, one for English). I chose the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary because I mainly use the jump function to look up English words. As long as you don’t change the battery, the dictionary will remember what is the dictionary you want to use for the jump function.
You can take notes, save words in a deck, attach post-it and do memorising cards. The only feature that I frequently use is the possibility to save words in a deck. When I read a novel and see an interesting word worth remembering, I won’t stop my reading to enter the word in my Anki deck. I only save it for later in the deck provided by my dictionary and check it once a week to add these words to my Anki repertoire.
From the menu, I can access an “easy search” area where I can enter up to 3 Japanese words to find example sentences in English. This is mainly aimed at Japanese who want to know how to express things in English by searching through the example sentences of their dictionary. But I found a very useful way of using this feature, which is when I am looking up idiomatic expressions. For example, if I want to know the meaning of 心が広い, I would have to decide whether I search for 心 or 広い and then, scroll through the whole definition (which is quite long for words like 心) to find the expression. By using the “easy search”, I enter both 心 and 広い, and I will get all the example sentences in Japanese and English that contain both words.
Other little things that I like
You can personalise the home page with 5 favourite dictionaries. I put there the whole Oxford family because I use them often.
When the dictionary turns off, it doesn’t lose any memory or history. When I turn it on, it automatically starts where I stopped. Even if I was in the middle of a “jump” activity, I can go back to the previous word. It’s more like a “sleeping mode”. It may be a detail, but it makes using the dictionary very much pleasant.
Among the shortcut buttons on top of the keyboard figure the Kenkyusha’s Japanese-English dictionary, which is the dictionary I use the most. I am glad they put it in the shortcuts! Another button devoted to English can be personalised. I configured it with the fantastic Oxford Thesaurus.
As the dictionary aims at Japanese learning English, there is a fantastic feature concerning pronunciation: whenever you are in a definition in English, you can press the “voice” button and select any word or combination of words that will be read out loud. I am aware that this feature does not interest English native speaker, but for people like me (to whom English pronunciation is the most esoteric thing in the world) it can be very helpful!
Having an electronic dictionary allowed me to definitively expelled my phone out of my desk. Before, I had to keep my phone, because it was my dictionary. I used the “traditional Chinese handwriting input” of my iPhone to look up kanji words on the internet (why they have handwriting input for Chinese and not for Japanese, I don’t know). Then, you certainly know what happens. You reach for your phone to look up a word and realise you got this notification… without knowing how it happened, 20 minutes have disappeared and the time you had to study is almost over.
When I want to read a challenging novel that requires efforts, I know that my mind would be more than willing to escape this strain if my phone solicits me, so it’s best not to have it around!
About the dictionaries
I am massively using the 新和英大辞典第五版 which is one of the best Japanese-English dictionaries according to many.
Online dictionaries and apps are so popular, easy to use and often free that I forgot the undeniable superiority of a dictionary edited by a renown publisher. Now that I am using the Kyudansha dictionary, I really can tell the difference, and I am still baffled, every time I use it, by its quality.
The definition is very thorough, the dictionary gives English equivalent words for every situation in which the word can be used. With a less comprehensive dictionary, you may have only two or three equivalent English words, when in fact, the Japanese word you are looking up can have more meanings depending on the situation in which it is used.
Another thing that is worth noting is the presence of Japanese definition among the English one to clarify the context in which the word can be used. For example, the word 見込む’s first meaning will be:
予想する expect, anticipate, calculate; 算出する estimate; 勘定に入れる allow for (damage) (…); 当てにする rely on…
This is just an extract of the definition, but it shows you how Japanese words are included in the English definition. I guess it helps Japanese to understand in which context the word can be used, but to us Japanese learners, it is a way to start reading Japanese definition.
Last but not least, the example sentences are very useful. They are not just random sentences that contain the word you are looking up and that are picked up from the web, they show in which situation and context the word is mainly used. I often come across the same kind of sentences in my dictionary and my JLPT books.
English to Japanese dictionary: 英和活用大辞典 (The Kenkyusha Dictionary of English Collocations)
I don’t use English>Japanese dictionaries much, but the easiest to use seems to be the 英和活用大辞典. The thing is that most English-Japanese dictionaries are made for Japanese users who want to know the meaning of an English word, so I personally find them a bit difficult to use. The 英和活用大辞典 is more for Japanese users who want to learn how to use an English word correctly, with an emphasis on which words go well together or are often used together.
For example, looking up the word “government”, the dictionary first gives a bunch of translations: 政治, 政体, 政府, 政庁, 内閣, 管理, 支配. I think that this is not very useful as it’s hard to know which word to use. But then it gives a lot of example sentences based on how you want to use the word in the sentence:
The goal of the dictionary is to learn English collocations, but I think that it can be equally useful for Japanese learners.
Using Japanese-Japanese dictionaries
I really felt the need to use Japanese-Japanese dictionaries when I started reading challenging books like 『舟を編む』 or 『金閣寺』(I have given up this last one!). These are the kind of books that contain words unknown from an English-Japanese dictionary. Moreover, an English-Japanese dictionary will usually show the kanji that is or are used nowadays. But if you read a novel that was written 50 years before, the kanji used at the time may be different. This is the case for Yukio Mishima’s novel. Thankfully, the Japanese-Japanese dictionaries always give all the kanji that can be used for a given word.
If English is not your mother tongue, you will certainly make the most of these dictionaries. I have the Oxford series which contains a dictionary for collocations, one for idioms and one for phrasal verbs. Needless to say that they are extremely useful to any English learner.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is, I think, in most Casio dictionaries. I use it all the time, and I configured it to be the first result when I use the function “jump” in an English definition.
But most of all, I love the Oxford Thesaurus. I would certainly not need it if I weren’t writing my blog in English. To anyone who is writing in English (even English native speaker), the Thesaurus can really become your best friend. The Thesaurus provides you with an impressive list of synonyms for any word. Here again, you can use the “jump” function to verify the meaning and way of using a word in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary.
I have been using my electronic dictionary for some time now (I already changed the battery twice) and, emphatically, I want to say that it changed my life 🤩
Something recently struck me about buying devices that can be easily replaced by your phone. I read several times, on different WordPress blogs, that bloggers who take photographs were more than happy to have bought a professional camera. For someone who only takes pictures occasionally, the camera of any smartphone is more than enough. I would certainly not feel the need to buy an extra camera when my phone can take such gorgeous pictures. But I definitively understand why some people do, if they are serious about photography, if it is their hobby or their work, if they want or need more functionalities and more influence of the results they get…
Buying an electronic dictionary is similar to buying a camera. Apps and internet dictionaries are more than enough for casual use, but if learning Japanese is your passion and if you read a lot of novels in Japanese, buying an electronic dictionary is not superfluous, in my opinion.
Thank you for reading!