The adage “it’s only easy if you know the answer” is especially true when dealing with Japanese kanji. Even the most diligent student gets struck on that weird kanji that she swears that she’s seen before but can’t quite recall how to read it. Rather than dusting off your old-school kanji dictionary, reach for your computer or smart phone and try out “The Furiganizer” and “Google Translate”.
The Furiganizer is a handy website that will provide the furigana of the contents of any Japanese text that you copy into its text field. It’s handy if you’re on a computer surfing the web or even perusing a documents that allows you to select its text content. As helpful as it is, it has its limits, and sometimes you’ll get some weird readings, but its a handy tool in a pinch if you’ve got a computer handy.
Alternatively, if you’re on the go, give Google Translate a try. You can actually take photos of Japanese texts (menus, signs, book titles…etc) and as long as the app can recognize the text, it can translate it. There is also an option to write in the kanji on your touch screen, which the software will actually recognize! Google Translate also has a webpage that allows you to copy and paste text in Japanese to get the English translation. As with The Furiganizer, however, Google Translate is a work in progress, and sometimes the translations you get of full sentences are scrambled and drunk-sounding – especially if you are translating a dense newspaper headline. Then, there are translation that are just plain wrong, as comically demonstrated by this advertisement for Berlitz:
That said, Google Translate is a great springboard for language comprehension, and if you’re like me any help is welcome…except in the case of the Berlitz example. Yikes!