Let’s be honest with ourselves here: Sometimes, we’re all a bit lazy.
We cancel plans to go out because we have a couch, a blanket, Netflix and a cat waiting for us after work.
We text somebody who’s literally in the next room because we don’t want to get up.
We don’t put the new toilet paper in the dispenser but rather just sort of stack it on top of the roller, like an animal.
And sometimes, we want to say something in Japanese or decipher a Japanese sentence in a book but we can’t be bothered to look up every word in a dictionary.
This is where Japanese translators come in!
There are so many available at varying levels of quality. Lucky for you, we found 11 of the best Japanese translators so you can just sit back and enjoy. More points for being lazy!
We’ve even tried to cover every device you might have in your vicinity. That’s right, our goal is to make sure you never have to get up again. Ever.
11 Top-notch Japanese Translators for Language Learners
Dictionaries are great but they won’t help you if you need to look up a phrase, a conjugated word or even a full sentence. Japanese translators can help you learn the language in context and see how words connect together to convey meaning. And that’s super useful!
Want a more visual way to learn new words in context? Check out the FluentU program, which takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
FluentU lets you experience the language as it’s actually used by real speakers. It also lets you pick out specific words to study as you watch. In a sense, it’s like a translator, dictionary and learning program all rolled into one. Awesome!
For all your other translating needs, check out these 11 useful Japanese translators. You may just find your new favorite to add to your Japanese study tool collection.
Romaji Desu (Browser)
This little website is both a kana to romaji translator as well as a kana to English translator, making it especially useful for those focusing on spoken Japanese.
Translating kana to romaji is notoriously difficult to do with software. This particular translator analyzes the kana by breaking it down into different parts to decipher the romaji translation.
This tool is also excellent for learning about sentence structure and particles since it places spaces between words and highlights the particles in blue text. And there’s an even more nifty feature: Hover over any word to see its translation, form, romaji and furigana.
J-Talk’s Kanji to Hiragana Translator (Browser)
Are you struggling with reading kanji? We get it. Japanese methods of writing can be a bit difficult to grasp at first. If you need to translate a sentence or phrase quickly, or you want to understand how to read a particular kanji in a sentence, try this translator.
Simply paste your kanji phrase and select “Convert” to be taken to the next page. You’ll be shown the romaji and English definition of the kanji right away. To view the hiragana, just click on “Kana” in the upper left-hand side of the screen. It’s as easy as pie.
Just keep in mind that you can only convert kanji a few times before the daily demo version runs out and you’ll have to pay for J-Talk’s services. If you like what you see, this might be a good investment for your learning needs.
Jisho is another popular translator that’s very simple to use, and it has its own set of unique specialties.
You can search for translations by drawing kanji or by verbally saying a word or phrase. Plus, you can search via kanji radicals, wildcards, multiple search terms and hashtags. Hashtags are used to search for words specifically used in the JLPT exams, as well as many other types of tags you can find via the site’s tag page.
This translator is powerful enough to allow for really specific searches, like common words that end in a particular kanji, organization and family names and even kanji with a specific number of strokes.
You can even search using both English and Japanese at the same time! For instance, if you can only remember one kanji in a specific word, you can search for that kanji and the English definition of the word you’re looking for. It’s a great way to remember that word that’s right on the tip of your tongue but just outside of your memory.
Google Translate (Browser, Android)
Chances are, you’ve already used Google Translate at some point. If you’re a Japanese learner, you may be rolling your eyes at this entry, as Google Translate is pretty notorious for not being the best at properly translating Japanese kana into English.
However, this massive app deserves a spot on our list purely for the fact that you can translate anything simply by pointing your smartphone camera at it. That’s some innovative technology right there, even if it isn’t perfect!
If you’re willing to overlook the occasional odd translation or two, there are plenty of other cool features included with this program. You can use audio to speak and listen to a particular translation, see definitions of related words to the ones you’re looking up and even see how often a word is used in Google’s database of translated documents.
It’s a pretty useful tool to have on hand for when you need to check a translation quickly.
Japanese Dictionary Tangorin (Browser, Android, iOS)
Tangorin is a classic Japanese translator with quite a few bells and whistles, making it ideal for learners who want more than a basic English-Japanese dictionary.
You can search for translations using English, kanji, kana and romaji with speed and ease. You can also search by Japanese radicals in order to find kanji with common or similar meanings. Tags make it easy to narrow down your searches to exactly the right translation. All translations include example sentences, as well.
And that’s just the beginning! View conjugation tables and kanji diagrams to help you learn stroke order. Find the katakana version of your own name or someone else’s name. If you’re a specialist in a particular field and need to learn some very specific Japanese words for business, there’s a specialized terminology dictionary for you to explore.
With all of these features, it’s shocking that Tangorin is free to use!
Linguee English-Japanese Dictionary (Browser, Android, iOS)
Do you hate ads? Do you want a translator that works offline? Are you a sucker for user-friendliness and simplicity in app interfaces? Check out Linguee!
Search English to Japanese and vice-versa to enjoy nearly a billion translations and example sentences, right at your fingertips.
Even more useful is the massive amount of context Linguee includes for every search. Looking up a word gives you access to a huge number of real sentences from around the internet that use it. Click through to the source to see the words in use “in the wild.” This is a great way to see how words are really used!
Every translation also includes a list of related words and synonyms so you can be sure you’re finding exactly the right word for your needs.
Searching for full sentences doesn’t translate the sentence but rather finds word-for-word translation options for you to construct the sentence translation yourself. Because of that, Linguee is more like a dictionary than a translator. However, the many real examples make it a valuable addition to any learner’s translation toolbox.
Japanese English Dictionary & Translator Free (Android, iOS)
This app from Bravolol Language Learning doubles as a dictionary and language-learning tool. It’s a great app to add to any beginner’s study regiment. Plus, it’s totally free!
The app has tons of features, including detailed kana definitions, lots of example sentences, flashcards and even various font sizes to choose from. Also included is an advanced sentence analyzer, which breaks down sentences into individual words and components—a useful addition for Japanese learners.
Unlike most similar translators, this translator also features British English support for UK-based learners out there.
Not all of us have the best data plans or internet connections. It’s okay, you’re not alone. Sometimes it’s just nice to have an app that’ll work offline. Xung Le’s offline Japanese translator is a totally free offline app for iPhone and iPad users who prefer their translations done off the grid.
Installing the app may take some time and requires quite a bit of memory space, so be forewarned. But once the app’s on your device, you can enjoy speedy translations of over 200,000 words, sentences and phrases whenever you need them.
If you’re traveling abroad in Japan and don’t have a proper data setup for your phone yet, this is a great app to have on hand to help with directions, interactions with locals and every other situation you may need a translator for.
Rikaikun and Rikaichan (Chrome and Firefox Extensions)
Note: Rikaichan is no longer available to install (though it sometimes makes an appearance as fans bring it back to life, so do a search just to be sure!)
There are many useful browser extensions out there for productivity, social media connections, website customization and language learning. Rikaikun for Chrome and Rikaichan for Firefox are incredibly handy extensions for Japanese learners who need an on-the-spot translator.
To use Rikaikun or Rikaichan, simply add the extension to your Chrome or Firefox browser, respectively. Once it’s activated, all you need to do to translate a Japanese word or phrase is hover over the text with your cursor. A translation will pop up and you can hit Shift+Enter to see a more detailed explanation of the kanji you’ve selected.
If you’re an advanced learner who reads Japanese text online, whether it’s through Japanese social media or reading materials, you’ll find this translator extremely useful for looking up unfamiliar kana quickly and easily.
Japanese Dictionary Mazii (Chrome Extension)
Another great Chrome extension is Mazii. It works very similarly to Rikaikun, but has more extension customization, like the ability to control pop-up speed, enable different features and more.
It also features multiple languages to translate Japanese into. If neither English nor Japanese are your first language, you also have the option to translate to 13 languages, including French, Chinese, Korean, Russian and more.
Once it’s installed, all you have to do is double-click on any word to see a translation, or hold down Alt and click to select an entire sentence to translate.
Let’s talk innovation! This device is something straight out of a science-fiction film, but it’s 100% real and extremely useful for traveling to different countries.
This small translator device works offline, no internet connection required. Currently, the device supports Japanese, Chinese and Spanish.
To use ili, simply press the circular button to speak and the speaker on the opposite side of the device will audibly translate what you’ve said.
This is the perfect tool to have on hand for those traveling abroad with very little Japanese language skills. It’s even optimized for travelers with a database of common travel phrases, so you’ll know that the translation you get is accurate.
Plus, people are definitely going to be entertained by your futuristic device! At $199 USD, ili is the most expensive option on our list. But it’s definitely also the coolest!
You’ve got quite the arsenal of awesome Japanese translators now!
Don’t feel like you need to put a sentence through each and every one to get the most accurate translation. Find one (or two) that you’re comfortable with and that suits your needs and keep it handy throughout your Japanese study time.
Good luck! Now get off that couch and get back to work!
Em Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. They write about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.
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