If you work on a computer it is much more convenient to have your dictionary running on the computer than use a handheld device or a paper dictionary. Not least because you can cut and paste between the dictionary and whatever application you are using. The main choice you have is between a stand alone application where the database is on your computer or an internet application where you have to be connected to the Web to use it. Unless you buy a commercial package all these dictionaries will use the same data which is the EDICT at Monash University.
I like EDICT and think it’s a great project and resource but it has it’s limitations. Typically an entry will be 1 line. A dictionary may have a paragraph or a page per entry and will usually have some sort of usage notes. There is an examples database available at EDICT which can help with usage to an extent. A commercial dictionary, paper or electronic, will have had a more comprehensive editing by lexicographers.
A big problem I have with EDICT is indiscriminate entries for kanji with the same reading. Take おりる for instance. You’ll get two listings but the kanji are not interchangeable.
下りる [おりる] (v1,vi) to alight (e.g., from bus), to get off, to descend (e.g., a mountain).
降りる [おりる] (v1,vi) to alight (e.g., from bus), to get off, to descend (e.g., a mountain).
下りる should be: descend a mountain or staircase. 降りる should be: alight, get off. It happens enough that I noticed. It is more a J to E resource than E to J.
JMDict is meant to address these issues as it has extended the original specifications but as yet the only difference is that the two entries are now merged and have French and Russian entries as well.
I use a Mac so I don’t know standalone dictionaries for Windows. You might try Jim Breen’s site for a listing of suitable programs.
And I’ve read good things about jQuicktrans for Windows although it’s no longer under development. The ability to do wildcard searches seems very useful.
JEDict is my new favourite mac-based dictionary reader.
Again it uses data from the EDICT project like WordLookup, but it’s searches are much more powerful and speedy. It doesn’t only search on the first character. It has single kanji searches so you can find the meaning of individual components. It has a built in user dictionary so you can collect word lists. You can search for kanji you don’t know the reading of by using a radical index. It has a built in web browser that allows you to click on a word and get a translation!!! There is also a dictionary of example sentences which can help in using words. I liked JEDict so much I upgraded my OS version to 10.4 in order to use it.
On the down side it isn’t as well designed as Word Lookup and I find it a bit cluttered and hard to read sometimes. However I think this will improve. The changes between 4.0 and 4.0.1 addressed a lot of things I found difficult.
It is shareware at a very reasonable $25. The unregistered version is completely usable but doesn’t allow you extra dictionaries.
Version 4 needs OSX 10.4 but version 3.8 will run on OS8 and above. (version 3 isn’t as full featured however)
Eijiro is a commercial Japanese <> English dictionary. It is huge. The base file has 1.5 million entries. It’s cheap at 2138円 as a CD/book from Amazon.jp. (It is also available in a more up to date version at the eijiro website. But this route is much more complex for people without very good Japanese. For the moment I can make do without the more recent file.) The drawback is that it’s for Japanese people learning English. Which are similar to the problems encountered when using a Wordtank.
Some features aren’t useful for English speakers such as words being spoken or the ability to have Japanese popups over english words in a text editor. The supplied reader is also only in Japanese. However the base files are just text files so they can be used in any program that might be able to read them. The files are also given in the popular PDIC format and there are Mac and Windows PDIC readers on the CD.
Worst of all there are no furigana.This means that it’ll only search on kanji not their readings and that only kanji are returned in a search. There are no furigana. Essentially you ned to use it in conjunction with another dictionary like EDICT in order to get kanji readings. I tend to look up in EDICT then get expanded information and examples from Eijiro.
Peter Rivard at Japanese Language Tools provides a service to buy a fully loaded Dell Axim X50V PDA pre-installed with Eijiro and other dictionaries for circa 4.5万円 including shipping. This is comparable in cost to stand alone Electronic Dictionaries but is far more versatile, in terms of other things you can do with it and upgrading the dictionaries when new versions become available. He also sells memory cards with dictionaries preloaded to use with your own PDA system or, very usefully, he will mediate getting a password so you can download and use Eijiro direct from the Eijiro site. Be warned that the downloads are .exe files so you’ll probably need a windows system to extract them properly.
On the Mac it is possible to get a shareware version of PDIC Viewer in English (or mosty in English at any rate). You can either pay the $12 shareware fee or use it to figure out the Japanese menu commands etc. in the registered version that comes with Eijiro.
WordLookup is a bilingual dictionary reader. For Japanese it uses data from the EDICT project co-ordinated by James Breen at the Monash University in Melbourne Australia. WordLookup allows the user to perform searches on the EDICT data. You will need kana to input a Japanese search or to understand the results of an English search. WordLookup can also read other dictionaries such as English-German and English-Chinese, for details see their site.
WordLookup was once free but since version 3 it is now shareware (€10). As always I’d encourage you to support the author. Unfortunately in order to search for anything beyond “A” you have to buy a licence.
The best new feature of 3 is that it now stores searches. Very useful when checking the meaning of individual kanji in compounds.
The author now has an iPhone version of his application as well.
The author has now discontinued and withdrawn all versions of this program. 残念