I am a big fan of rikai and it’s various browser plugins (little programs you can download to add to the Firefox or Chrome browsers that give you rikai’s functionality), but the main page has personal ads on it, so I feel a bit hesitant about introducing it to students. Rikai allows you to copy and paste text or go to a website, and then provides mouseover (popup) vocabulary for words on the page. Basically, if you don’t know a word, you can move your mouse cursor over it, and a translation will pop up. It is incredibly quick and makes reading online very easy. Mouseover translations are much better than using translation software because they allow you to figure out a text rather than scrambling it, as is so often the case with machine translation between Japanese and European languages.
A while ago I found an acceptable alternative in popjisyo. It has the same functionality as rikai, but looks much more respectable. It also has a very cool ‘save to vocabulary list’ function, where if you double click on a word it saves it and then gives you the option of emailing the list to yourself. A great way to keep track of all the words you couldn’t understand during your web surfing session. Best of all popjisyo doesn’t require registration and is available in both Japanese and English, so it is very easy to introduce to students.
On the whole, junior and senior high school students tend not to be as impressed with the site, as almost all of their English studying is still through textbooks. University students, on the other hand, were extremely excited by the prospect of being able to read articles online in a more efficient way.
I recommend popjisyo (or rikai, they are very similar) to anyone who is studying or using Japanese or English (they have functionality for other languages too, but I haven’t personally tried them). I use them for two main tasks:
1. Reading email
I get a lot of group emails at work, most of which do not really pertain to me. If I can’t get the gist quickly, I cut and paste the email into popjisyo and can scan it easily using the popup translations to fill in unknown words.
2. Reading websites
This is a form of extensive reading, where I use popjisyo to make websites easy enough to read for fun. As an added bonus, I can save words by emailing them to myself and come back and review them later.
As tools, these websites can allow us to interact with our target language much more quickly and effectively. While there is a place for intensive reading and meticulous dictionary use in study, sometimes we just need to get a rough idea of the meaning and move on. Popjisyo and rikai allow us to do that.
*I talk about rikai in a previous post about learning Japanese here.