New Projects - Fresh from the Labs

Kanatest—Japanese Flashcard Tool (

I was delighted this month to see that Kanatest still is in development, as it's a tool I've been using for quite some time now, and I used it to learn Katakana for the first time (part of a Japanese phonetic alphabet). Recently, there have been improvements and added features, so I thought I'd jump in and have a look. According to the Web site:

Kanatest is a Japanese kana (Hiragana and Katakana) simple flashcard tool. During testing, Kanatest displays a randomly selected kana char (respecting mode and lesson) and waits for the user to answer with the expected romaji equivalent. This process continues until all questions are answered or all questions are answered correctly (depends on options). At the end of the test, a short info page about drilling time and correctness ratio is displayed. The results are stored, and users can review their performance at any time.

Kanatest presents you with a character in Japanese (kana), and you type it in below in the Roman alphabet.

Newer features in Kanatest include a character chart.

Kanatest also includes user-defined lessons.

At the end of each test, you are presented with your score and accuracy rate—it's been a while since my last lesson, as you can see!


Although Kanatest is available in a number of repositories, chances are that it's an old version (at least it was at the time of this writing). I went with the tarball for the latest features and didn't run into any pesky requirements during the compilation. To compile it yourself, head to the Web site, grab the latest tarball, extract it, and open a terminal in the new folder.

Compiling Kanatest is the usual case of:

$ ./configure
$ make
$ sudo make install

Once it's compiled, you might find it in your menu (mine was under Applications), or you can start it with:

$ kanatest


Once the program has loaded, Kanatest is ready to go with that tempting Start button on the bottom left, but you might want to define what kind of lesson you want to run first. If you go with the defaults, Kanatest tests you on Katakana and goes through all the characters. If you want to change the lesson, check the drop-down box called Test mode:, where you can choose between Hiragana, Katakana and Mixed. And, for those who know what they're doing, under Kana set:, you can choose from All kanas, Basic kanas, A-I-U-E-O, KA-KI-KU-KE-KO and so on.

When you're ready to go, click Start. You'll be presented with a screen that shows Japanese phonetic characters above, with an input box where you type in what the character says in Romaji (Japanese using the Roman alphabet). In the middle is a progress bar that shows how many characters you have to go through, and a timer keeps track for those wanting to improve their reading and reaction times. When you get a character wrong on the default settings, the program corrects you, reading out the proper answer, and tallies your correct answers and mistakes against the stopwatch at the end.

What's great for advanced students is that you also can be tested on kana combos such as kyo, ji, kyu and so on. For beginners who have only seen kana for the first time, don't panic, as there's a kana chart available on the program's main screen in that cluster of four buttons on the right. Included in the chart are all the characters in both Hiragana and Katakana, as well as their combinations, such as pya, myu and so on.

For those who aren't really into tweaking things and happily accept defaults, I do recommend checking out the Options section, as this is where you can choose your wanted characters in a user-defined lesson. I thoroughly endorse this move, as there's certain characters I always get confused over, such as Katakana's n, so, shi and tsu. You also can choose to repeat wrongly answered questions instead of having it correct you, as well as change colors, fonts and so on.

Check out the Statistics section too, because here you can keep track of your test scores over time and see your correctness ratio for each kana character.

If you're a Japanese-language student and haven't used Kanatest before, you should do so. It's simple, elegant, painless and probably the best choice there is for testing yourself against kana. If you have used Kanatest before, and it's been a while, check the latest releases, as it really has improved. The user-defined lessons, combined with the Statistics section in particular, make things much better than before.


John Knight is the New Projects columnist for Linux Journal.