If you are learning Japanese on Memrise, you have probably come across one of our most active and long standing contributors, jlptbootcamp. Other than adding and editing a good proportion of the words in the Japanese wiki, he also runs the invaluable blog, jlptbootcamp, which is full of crucial tips on how to pass the JLPT tests.
Here he has kindly agreed to help fellow Memrisers learn to type in Japanese using the Google IME, which is a pretty cool and quite new tool that makes this a bit easier than before (it can also help with other scripts; more on that later!). Take it away Mac!
jltpbootcamp: Typing has become such a critical part of our lives. Can you even imagine how much typing you do on a daily basis? Between Facebook, Twitter and email, your little fingers are probably quite busy typing away on the average day.
So it only makes sense that if you are practicing a language, you should be able to type in that language as well, right? These days you have it pretty easy. Before the dawn of Windows, people who wanted to type in Japanese had to type with a kana keyboard. As a matter of fact Japanese keyboards still have kana printed on them, but only older people use them anymore.
Nowadays, you have this handy thing called the IME (Input Method Editors) that does some crazy voodoo magic to allow you to type pretty easily in Japanese. There is actually a little freebie IME that has been thrown into Windows, and which I have already written another post describing how to use. Today, I want to go over a different IME, which is quite a bit better than the built in Microsoft IME: it appears that Google has now created their own IME that is compatible with Windows and Mac.
Basic Use of a Japanese IME
As you type, you’ll see roman letters on the screen until you type in a kana. Once you type in a full kana, the kana will appear. In the case of the Google IME, you will also see suggestions pop up below your typing to assist you. To change the kana into kanji, all you have to do is hit the space bar. (If this all sounds like a complete mystery to you, then sorry about that! – it might be worth first taking a look at that article I wrote on the Microsoft IME – be sure to check out the video in particular.)
Some extra things I didn’t go over though was how to type a few tricky characters like づ or ぇ (little え). There is a simple trick to both of these.
For づ, you only need to type the letters ‘du’ and this kana will pop up.
For small letters, you need to put an l as in little before the kana or an x. For example if you want to type waitress in katakana, you need to type ‘uxeto-resu’. This should give you ウェトレース.
All IMEs aren’t created Equal
I use to think that an IME was an IME. I mean how fancy can a piece of input software really get right? Well, as always, Google proved me wrong on that account. I’ve been playing around with it for a few weeks now and I have to say it is better than the built in Microsoft IME for a couple of different reasons.
The Google IME will suggest words as you are typing. With the Microsoft IME, you have to hit the space bar in order to see suggestions. This can be extremely handy for spelling issues. As you are typing in Japanese the Google IME will suggest words for you. Like this:
This feature also has the full weight of the Google ‘brain’ behind it. The suggestions get smarter and smarter as more and more people use the system. Also, it will help correct words that you have misspelled as well.
Although, it is worth noting that if you use it with memrise a lot, it kind of amounts to cheating because it will suggest words to you based on what you have previously typed! So, if you are practicing words, chances are it will help you spell some of the longer more complicated ones.
Backspace Gives you back your Hiragana
After you type in a word in kana and hit the space bar, the Google IME will change this into kanji. If you want to use the hiragana instead, you can hit the backspace key and it will revert back to the hiragana. This can be annoying or convenient depending on what you are used to.
You can Type Un-Typeable Kanji
There are some kanji that are so rarely used that some IMEs (mainly Microsoft’s) won’t even give you the option to select these. However, the Google IME will let you choose kanji for things like 此の (kono, this) or 其の (sono, that).
It will even give you kanji for words that are commonly written in katakana, but have rare kanji for them, like typing in コーヒー (coffee) will get you 珈琲. Time Shortcuts
There are a whole bunch of typing shortcuts that you can use and Google will give you the time. For example,
If you type 今日 (today), you can hit the space bar and get today’s date:
You can get similar options if you type a day of the week (月曜, 火曜, …), which will give you the date of those days for the current week. Typing words like yesterday (昨日) or tomorrow (明日) will get you some similar suggestions.
You can even do this for years. Typing 今年 (this year) will bring up 2012年 or 平成24年 (Heisei 24 using the Japanese era name system of years). This is especially useful, because I often forget what Heisei year it is and this is needed for official paperwork sometimes.
Finally, typing 今 (now) will get you the current time.
Other Cool Shortcuts
Japan is famous for かおもじ (lit. face letters) these are essentially emoticons on steroids. Your typical Japanese email is usually chock full of them. They have hundreds of different expressions for laughing, crying, smiling, shock, etc…
If you want to try some of these out you can simply type かおもじ using the Google IME and it will suggest some to you. Also, chances are that any kind of onomatopoeia word (擬音語) is going to have some kind of かおもじ attached to it. Look at all the options for ニコニコ (smiling brightly):
Another cool feature is that if you live in Japan, it can look up addresses for you by typing in the zip code:
And finally, as if that wasn’t cool enough. It can function as a calculator. If you type in a math problem and put an equals sign at the end, Google IME will do the math for you.
78 → 78＝ → 56
There are also some handy, arrow key, ellipsis and tilde shortcuts as well:
|Z + H||Z + J||Z + K||Z + L||Z + [|
|Z + ]||Z + ,||Z + .||Z + –||Z + /|
Give it a Shot
You can pick up the Google IME for free over at their website. They have a Windows version as well as a Mac version. The site is all in Japanese, but the program itself is in English, so all the menus and settings are available in English.
Google made up a nifty little video (all in Japanese) that shows off a lot of the main features as well.