Tofugu Review:

Pulling material from both NHK News and Hukumusume, TangoRisto allows users to make the most of their reading experience with unique features, customizable vocabulary lists, and easy Japanese dictionary lookup.

When you open the app, you’re given a few options to choose from:

  1. NHK News Easy
  2. Top NHK News
  3. Hukumusume.

NHK News Easy is Japanese news written for kids – think of it as “Baby’s First Newspaper.” Hukumusume is a site with folktales and spooky stories aimed at Japanese children.

When you choose an article, it’s presented in text format, though you can look at the original web version (it’s not pretty, don’t do it). You can also choose to view all the vocabulary words with their readings, English meanings, and the number of times they appear in that article.

While reading the article you have a few other options too:

  • Show furigana based on JLPT level (or none at all)
  • Underline and color content based on JLPT level
  • Adjust text size
  • Translate with Google Translate
  • Bookmark article

Clicking on a word in the text will highlight it in pink, bring up a Japanese dictionary from the bottom of the screen, and include the JLPT level. All other instances of the word are also highlighted in a lighter pink.

When browsing the articles, a color breakdown of the JLPT levels is presented in a bar on the left side of the title:

  • More orange = more N5 level content = easier read
  • More pink and green = intermediate content = more difficult read

Words can be explored even further, showing parts of speech. There’s even external linking from the word to other dictionaries like Jisho.org and Tangorin, plus good old Google Search, Google Image Search (very useful!), and Japanese Stack Exchange. These words can then be added to a “Saved Words” list, which you can either study at your leisure or add to a third-party SRS tool like Anki.

Warning: TangoRisto gathers its information (text, dictionary entries, JLPT levels, etc.) automatically from various sources, so there are issues. Many vocabulary words lack JLPT level classifications (even super simple words like てら or イベント). This isn’t completely the fault of the app – the Japan Foundation hasn’t released “official” JLPT lists since their revamp of the test in 2010.

Also, if you click on a person’s name, the app has trouble. For example, trying to get a definition for a name like ウサイン・ボルト (Usain Bolt) gives you nothing for ウサイン and “volt, bolt” for ボルト. For native Japanese names, instead you get individual kanji definitions and no indication that the word you’re looking at is, in fact, someone’s last name. This is a really common problem with automated apps – so while it isn’t a huge drawback, it is a bit disappointing.

All in all, TangoRisto a fun app that can make learning with sites like NHK easier. But it does have some flaws, that will hopefully be improved upon with time.

Platform: iOS and Android
Cost: Free!

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