Important Importables: Games that might help you learn Japanese

Sections: Action, Casual, Columns, DS & DSi & DSi XL, Educational, Features, Game-Genres-Other, Genres, Handhelds, Japanese Imports, PSP & PSPgo

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One of the worst things about import games is the language barrier. Sure, there are some special people out there who happen to be bilingual, but others who only had access to Japanese I and II in college because there wasn’t enough interest in Japanese III or IV (ahem) weren’t fortunate enough to get the same opportunities.

To add to this misfortune, DS game developers and publishers seem to think that North American DS owners only want to learn Spanish and French. (Like I’d ever need those.) This causes a gaping gap in which a title teaching another, more useful language like, say, Japanese would go.

Unfortunately there aren’t any import games with the specific goal of teaching Japanese, since people from Japan apparently don’t need to learn their native language. However there are a few glittering gems that might offer slight assistance. These following titles aren’t designed to be learning tools, but they just might teach you a few things.


Original Purpose: The original intent of Talkman was to turn the PSP into a translator. You could purchase it with or without the PSP microphone, and the user was supposed to use the software to communicate with others when in a foreign land. It is dubious just how helpful it was, due to the finicky nature of voice recognition software, but at the very least it did offer a means to communicate basic ideas like “Where is the hotel?” or “Do you speak (insert your native tongue here)?”

What It Teaches You: Birds are multilingual. They can fluently chirp in over 25 different languages.

Talkman is probably the most useful of the three applications/games mentioned here today. You won’t be fluent in Japanese after using it, but it might help you learn some useful words and phrases. Something’s better than nothing.

I.I. Edutainment Rating: 2/5

Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten

Original Purpose: Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten is designed to function as a Japanese to English dictionary. Of course it can also function the reverse way as English to Japanese. Its fairly comprehensive, as it has three dictionaries included which cover 95,000 English words to Japanese, 82,000 Japanese words to English and a regular dictionary which provides definitions for 70,000 Japanese words. (Note: The regular dictionary provides entries in Japanese, not English.)

You enter information and search using the touch screen, a hirigana keyboard or an English keyboard. The touch screen function can recognize kanji, hirigana, katakana, romanji (English alphabet) or numbers. The program can then translate what you write into English or Japanese if the word is in its dictionaries.

It also has an alarm clock, a calendar, a calculator, quizzes and Pictochat support.

What It Teaches You: If you enter “BALL,” “FLAGMAN,” “JUDGE” or “MANHOLE,” you can play the classic Game and Watch games Ball, Flagman, Judge or Manhole.

Kanji Sonomama Rakubiki Jiten may stink as a teacher, but it is a more than adequate translation device. If you want to read a Japanese book or manga, or perhaps play a Japanese game on say a PSP or other system, you could have this nearby to decipher tricky kanji or words.

I.I. Edutainment Rating: 5/5

I don't know where he lives! Don't eat me!English of the Dead

Original Purpose: Oh English of the Dead, how I love your wacky premise. English of the Dead aims to teach Japanese speakers English with zombies. Its a lot like Typing of the Dead. This Sega made game uses House of the Dead as a base, and then requires players to speak, write, or decipher English to decimate the undead.

Progress is shown through medals, accuracy ratings and zombie weight. Yes, Zombie weight. At the end of a level a scale is shown displaying how many zombies were defeated by your mad English skills.

And for no reason other than the fact that the site itself brings me joy, here is an blatant plug for the English of the Dead site.

What It Teaches You: Zombies make great motivators.

Frankly, I doubt English of the Dead will teach English speakers anything. It seems a lot of the exercises require translating Japanese words into English, or vice versa. There are a few which appear to be totally in English, but it looks like those levels may be in the minority.

Of course if you already have some knowledge of the Japanese language, say two courses of it taken in college, then maybe it could be a helpful learning aid. Nothing to take seriously or rely on, but perhaps a helpful little assistant to remember some key words or kanji.

I.I. Edutainment Rating (Guesstimate – it isn’t out yet): 3/5

COMING NEXT WEEK: Next week Important Importables will offer a preview of the Nintendo DS game Soma Bringer. If you don’t miss a single installment of Important Importables, or want to know right away when the next column is up, then sign up for the Gamertell Newsletter and RSS feed.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Last week Important Importables talked about Bemani.

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  • alexa

    I always wanted to learn Japanese but didnt knw how then i saw this learn threw games! i was like yes i might have a chance i want to be fluent in 3 diff languages.
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