I have been playing with @tuzen’s Kanji Solitaire App for iOS over the past week. This app is a great idea, and a much needed fresh approach to kanji study. There are lots of kanji Apps out there, but none like this.
Kanji Solitaire App is a kanji puzzle game where you slide kanji around the board to make two-character kanji combinations. This is difficult in itself, but to win the game you also have to end up using all of the kanji, which is the puzzle aspect.
Even if you are just haphazardly sliding kanji around trying to find a match you’ll still learn something. Every time a match is made the app will show the hiragana, kanji, English, and also pronounce the word.
The nature of the game is such that you will often see 4 or 5 words that use the same Kanji per game. For example, in a game I just fired up I used 「草」to make the following: 草木 草花 下草. That’s a lot of 「草」, and repetition is great for practice.
You get kanji, hiragana, English translation, and the audio of the Japanese word.
The app is smooth! It works on iPod, iPhone, iPhone 5, iPad. No technical issues there.
I let my wife, who is a native Japanese speaker, play with the app for a while, and after some time she figured that even if you couldn’t find the kanji matches you could kind of just start at an edge and work your way to the middle. That’s what you’ll need to do in order to use all the pieces and solve the puzzle in most cases anyway. However, this isn’t all bad. Even if one uses this method the game is still educational because you will still be seeing a lot of kanji pairs and building your random Japanese vocabulary database.
The Personal Qualms:
I think the most productive way to play this game is to use the “hint” feature liberally. This way you see the hiragana and the meaning first, and then can look for characters that match. Once you find a match, you can see the kanji, the Hiragana, and the English translation.
The App is universal, but when playing on an iPad you only get the same 4/4 square to work with which leaves a lot of blank space on the screen. It might have been fun to be able to work with a super 6×6 or 7×7 spread! @tuzen mentioned that he has updates planned that will better use the space.
@tuzen was kind enough to answer a few questions over email about the app and it’s development.
Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your Japanese background. Are you a programmer? A student of Japanese? Both? How long have you been at Japanese and how would you describe your level?
A: I studied both Japanese and computer science in college, and the Japanese department let me study in Japan after three years. During my exchange in Japan, I switched from speaking Japanese a few hours a week, to speaking English only a few hours a week. That made a huge difference in my conversation skills, but not my reading. I describe my level as Intermediate even though I’ve been casually studying well over a decade.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Kanji Solitaire?
A: I noticed native Japanese speakers could guess characters that they had probably never seen before, but they couldn’t really explain the trick. So I spread out my flashcards over the floor looking for these patterns. It was a mess and there were too many cards, so I crafted a small chess program to help match patterns. After a while, that program became the game.
Q: What level Japanese student do you think Kanji Solitaire is best for?
A: The ideal player enjoys puzzle games and already knows hiragana, basic grammar, and a few kanji. I found that for these intermediate students, there are not as many choices as there are for beginners.
Q: For me the most difficult aspect of this game is that some of the words that can be created are really “dictionary” words that are rarely used in daily life. How do you feel about this? I have to say though, they -are- indeed real words so I shouldn’t complain.
A: The original goal was to find the patterns in the pronunciations, and so we match the whole dictionary. That said, there are many rare words I avoid using in puzzles, especially in early levels. I plan to continue to gather usage frequency data to improve puzzles.
Q: Do you have any plans for future updates?
A: Yes, I’m always thinking about the feedback from users, and I have pages of ideas to try. Right now I’m working on level 1 for new users, so that difficulty ramps up more slowly.
Q: What was your favorite part about creating Kanji Solitaire? What was the most difficult?
A: I really enjoy how much kanji I’ve learned. The challenging part is to keep the game elements super fun and long lasting. There are a lot of kanji, and the goal is to help keep everybody learning.
If you’re looking for another way to study Japanese, give this a shot! This app won’t teach you kanji from scratch, but it will do a great job of building your vocabulary and getting you familiar with the different Kanji combinations.
That’s a wrap. If you’re looking for another way to increase your kanji powers, you should give this app a shot.
Here is an interactive Kickfolio thing you can use to try beta 1.3!
Here is a screen cast of Kanji Solitaire from version 1.0. The app has been updated since then.