Spectra Kanji (Paradigm)

System Requirements: Should run on a 4-meg RAM system; ca. 5-6 Meg hard drive space; JLK not required
Price: $199 (same as Windows version already available)
Review by Cliff Darnall, Elk Grove High School (IL)

Spectra Kanji, currently available for DOS-machines only but to become available for Macintosh Machines in the next few months, is a kanji study tutorial with some powerful features and options. The user has the ability to generate lists for study based on parameters he or she controls, including the relative frequency of use in Japanese newspapers, the stroke count, the grade level taught in Japan, or the index numbers in particular dictionaries, as well as meaning, reading, and components. Kanji can also be automatically pasted from a text file into a group or from one group into another. The program contains the 2,111 kanji for common use and names and even comes with kanji groups already generated for every issue to date of Mangajin magazine.

An overview list of kanji in any group is easily available. By clicking on any of these, the user enters the card view mode. Displayed attractively at the top of the card are the kanji itself in a large font, as well as its meaning its stroke count, grade level taught, relative frequency, and Nelson, Spahn and Hadamitsky, and O'Neill indices. Parts of the card can be masked. Readings are then given in roomaji, with capitals used for on-yomi., and with readings for names so indicated. What is particularly useful for non-native speakers learning the language is the list of graphical elements which follow, listed in the order in which they are written and with meanings and pronunciations (when the elements are stand-alone kanji as well), thus allowing the user to create his or her own mnemonics for remembering the kanji. By clicking on any of those graphical elements, the student can reference any of the graphical elements to see, for example, what other characters the elements are used in.

At the bottom of the card view are buttons allowing the display of useful reference lists. One list contains compounds which involve the various pronunciations. An advantage that might allow Spectra Kanji to be used for a large group presentation is that when the compounds are clicked on, an individual compound card appears in which the compound itself is written in the extremely large font. Another shows kanji which are contained within the kanji while another shows kanji which contain the target kanji within them. A final list shows words containing the kanji or part of the kanji which have similar on-yomi, which helps the learner to begin to be able to guess the pronunciation of unfamiliar kanji in compounds.

Although the program does not allow the user to easily mark and unmark kanji from a group for additional study, it does have a useful related option. Then the student feels he has mastered a particular kanji, he or she can mark it as "familiar." It then appears in blue rather than black wherever and whenever the kanji appears in Spectra Kanji, even in other lists and compounds listed under other words. Fortunately for those of us who forget kanji we have already learned, the familiarity marking can be toggle back out. Each user can have his or her own personal list of familiar kanji; the next user merely keys in a his/her own list of familiar kanji.

The labeling of the elements, the powerful search features, and the additional lists for creating groups are indeed strong points of Spectra Kanji. If I had my wish list, the mnemonics portion could be made even more valuable by including graphics showing sketches of how at least the basic graphemes came about, for example, how éq could be derived from the picture of a child ; and stroke order diagrams for those basic elements would also help the novice learner. Although the program lacks sentences showing how the kanji and compounds are used in context and voice recordings of the pronunciation of the kanji and compounds, it is still a very powerful study tool for the serious student of the written language at any level.

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