Kongzi: Japanese

Okay I finally decided to start learning Japanese. I’ve been “learning” Chinese for 20 years, don’t hate me for switching horses midstream, okay? I will always love the old horse too.


As soon as I started learning Japanese I realized that I would have to first learn Hiragana. Hiragana is of course the primary writing system, or “kana” in Japanese. So I dutifully started entering Hiragana into Kongzi. I immediately discovered much to my chagrin that for all the “talk” I made about using Kongzi to learn Japanese as well as Chinese, it wasn’t nearly as convenient. Here’s what I was faced with:

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I always knew I would have to design a new set of tags, so I wasn’t too worried about that. What bothered me was that it said “Traditional / Simplified”, “Pinyin”, “Zhuyin” and so forth. Terms which i’m sure Japanese-learning users would grow to love, but which were unsettling to me, personally. Call me a perfectionist. I was almost going to let it go when I realized that there were deeper, structural problems. Japanese has six peices of information which need to be remembered – Kanji, of course, hiragana and katakana, yes — but also romaji and phonetics, alongside a definition.

I realized I had been cheating with Chinese as well, because I had not included a space for phonetics. After some tinkering however, it all worked out well. I modified the options dialog to include a spot for learning Japanese:

and added the relevant fields to the Add Entries dialog:


Then I realized the “phonetic display options” and certain selections in the quiz settings dialog weren’t set up to handle the default display of a third phonetic. Nevermind that quizzes themselves weren’t coded to accept or display a third phonetic. Oh bother. So I coded new interfaces for setting up what’s shown on flashcards, as follows:

Right now i’m slowly changing all the labels to reflect what language is being learned. You can see that in the add entries dialog above where it says “Hiragana” but not in the quiz configuration directly above, where it says “Phonetic 3”.

But, other than those few cosmetic display issues, Kongzi is up and running… in Japanese! やった!

Some final comments.

I can now see how some of the comments I made about Anki vs. Kongzi were unfounded. I understand now why they stirred up a hornet’s nest of Anki supporters who accused me of not knowing what I was talking about. However, after updating the program to support Chinese and Japanese properly, I can at least reaffirm one aspect of that discussion. What I said about Japanese programs claiming they can be used to teach Chinese, “or anything”, are very true. Such as Stackz’ claim that it can be used to teach flags, or Anki’s claim it can be used to teach guitar chords. It’s a gimmick.

To truly be able to use a program to learn a language, that program must be specifically designed to handle that language.

Saying your program is versatile may be true, and it may be possible to hack and kludge your way into using a program in a way it wasn’t truly designed to be used — but I feel very happy with Kongzi now and I feel very happy with it’s native support for Japanese learners.

And Korean? Thai? Tagalog? At the moment I wouldn’t even think of saying Kongzi could be used to learn Korean. I realize now that although it COULD be, it never WOULD be, until proper coding is done, and proper support is given for Korean users. Yet this remains my dream — a single, simple, small and beautiful program that runs on anything, and can be used to learn any language in the world. So I’m sorry Korean learners, but I have a lot on my plate fixing this pig up for dual-language support. Korean will have to wait until next year.

And about releasing the program, well, one day…. I promise….

This is renli, over and out.


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