For Japanese As a Second Language (JSL) learners, a Japanese-English character dictionary is much more than a reference tool: It is also the most comprehensive self-instructional tool available for learning new kanji and vocabulary. JSL learners in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s relied on the “grandfather” of modern Japanese-English character dictionaries, Andrew Nelson’s The Modern Reader’s Japanese-English Character Dictionary, (1962). Owing to the appearance during the 1990’s of three new Japanese-English character dictionaries, however, JSL learners today can tailor their choice of a dictionary to their own particular learning needs. The three new dictionaries are: Jack Halpern’s New Japanese-English Character Dictionary, (1990), Mark Spahn and Wolfgang Hadamitzky’s, The Kanji Dictionary,(1996), and John Haig’s, The New Nelson Japanese-English Character Dictionary, (1997).
JSL learners can save themselves both time and money by being well-informed when choosing among these four dictionaries. Not only are they relatively expensive, but a considerable investment of the user’s time is also required in order to become proficient at using the unique indexing system of each. At first glance, the four– all thick, heavy tomes– may appear similar, but in fact they differ in a number of important aspects. The purpose of this paper is to detail differences in the following features of Japanese-English character dictionaries: indexing system, treatment of compound words (jukugo), number of entries, as well as a variety of other minor features. All of these differences are summarized in a chart for easy reference at the end of the paper.