Smart.fm and the Death of a Free Learning Tool

I haven’t been on it for a while, but smart.fm used to be one of my favorite websites to study Japanese. One I’d been meaning to return to recently. But it looks like that is not to be. Smart.fm is switching over to iKnow.jp (which it already was before, I think) and charging a monthly fee at the door.

Free, the site seemed invaluable, but for ¥1000 a month it seems superfluous. It is an annoying shock to see that the service is just going behind a pay-wall with nearly no warning. More or less it seems they’ve basically abused the goodwill of a community of language learners who’ve spread the word in addition to contributed content and ideas. ¥1000 a month may not seem like a lot, but there are far better ways to spend ¥12000 a year (around $120 USD) on language learning.

The move seems as boneheaded as it is heavy handed. Why not introduce premium services to maintain a large user base? Why not give current users more than a couple months to check out the new site, especially when the site is (by their own admission) buggy? In one stroke they’ve turned a former user and cheerleader into an alienated and upset loudmouth.

Interestingly, smart.fm seems to be keeping & profiting from the user generated content:

Very importantly, the perception of some users is that the majority of content studied in Smart.fm has been created by the user base and that the move to iKnow! is somehow an attempt to take all of this user created content and profit from it…

We appreciate the work that many users have put into creating content and we’re certainly not going to delete it…

Check back for some free sites and methods to study Japanese, along with suggestions where to better spend your $120 USD a year.

apple, ipod touch, japanese

Japanese in Your iPhone (or iPod Touch)

The Japanese dictionary app called, simply enough, Japanese is being updated. Version 2.0 is coming out soon. The developer, CodeFromTokyo, has said the app will be submitted to Apple this week.

I’ve been studying Japanese seriously for about a year now, I’ve already spent about a week with a beta version of 2.0 and I feel like it is safe to say that this app is an amazingly useful study companion. Why?

Japanese is based on Jim Breen’s freely available EDict, like a pile of other apps. What makes Japanese different from those other apps is what it does with the dictionary and what it adds to it.

Lets take a look at just few of things that I like. Bear in mind these are screenshots of the beta version, so some things might change.

This is the beginning of the entry for for 素晴らしい. As you’d expect you get the furigana, any alternative pronunciations, and the translation. You’ll also get the new example sentences! Example sentences are really important because you can see if it’s the right word and how to use the word.

Tapping on the sentence sends you to a page showing the sentence complete with furigana.

Many, but not all, kanji also have a stroke view where you can see the animated stroke order of kanji. This is really helpful if you want get props for well written kanji. Sadly this seems to be my primary area of praise from Japanese folks…

One of the most useful features is the conjugations, which show not just the formal and informal conjugations, but also also things like the て, ない, and a handful of other forms.

Of course if you are looking at a kanji you can also see a list of popular compounds. You can also search by radical or even grapheme. But even more impressive is that you can search using conjugated words, a feature that I haven’t seen in any iPod/iPhone dictionary.

The dictionary also lets you write notes for a word or kanji and even create lists of words which can then be practiced in a flash card function.

The truth is that a lot of the features in this app, along with it’s speedy search, make it the dictionary in the iTunes store to beat. I don’t think there isn’t room for improvement, but I can wholeheartedly recommend it over any other dictionary. The features, along with a very responsive developer, make this my dictionary of choice, hands down. Down, I say! (….oh man, it’s a little late for me to be blogging)

If you like it you can buy Japanese