I’m not a translator, but being an English-speaker in Japan, I often need to translate words and documents as part of my teaching job. I used to have a collection of large dictionaries, but now of course everything is online and there’s a zillion apps as well.

My first stop for translating is always ALC because you can look up not just words but also phrases, and it will quickly search its database of news articles and find it or a close equivalent. This is particularly necessary when translating between very dissimilar languages (like English and Japanese) because you can’t be sure that the other language uses words in the same way. In fact, you can be fairly sure it won’t.

For example, I recently looked up “realm“, but what I really needed to translate was the phrase “in the realm of”. I know “in” and “of”, but does Japanese actually use those prepositions with the noun “realm”? If not, and I just stick “no naka ni” and “no” onto “realm”, I’m just going to look silly as well as perhaps not get my meaning across.

So, type in “in the realm of” into the ALC search engine and see what you get. First it gives you the titles of 2 controversial movies by (recently deceased) Japanese film-maker Oshima, and if you’re looking for an excuse to digress, follow those links. But below those come the meat of our search results, and you can see that, in fact, Japanese has many different ways of expressing the idea of “in the realm of”, depending on context. Very useful.

Now, in order to check which Japanese word for “realm” comes closest to the one you want, the only thing to do is pick one at a time and translate them back into English. You can do that right on the ALC website because it handles translation both ways. You can just copy and paste the Japanese kanji into the search box.

Copying and pasting is very convenient, not only because it is quick but also because you don’t need to know exactly how to say those kanji. If you want to look them up in an old-fashioned book-dictioanry (for whatever strange reason), you will need to know how to say the kanji (OK, I know there are other ways, such as by looking up the radical in a radical-based dictionary, but that takes a long time, especially if you’re like me and not entirely up to scratch on your radicals and stroke numbers).

But what if you don’t know how to say the kanji (of course  do know really, but you’ve just temporarily forgotten)? ALC doesn’t help you there.

In such cases I used to use Yahoo! Japan’s dictionary. You copy and paste the kanji you’re looking for into Yahoo’s search box and the results will give you not only the meaning but also how’s it “read” or pronounced. (It won’t give you the pronunciation in the Roman alphabet, though; you do need to read hiragana, the Japanese syllabary, which is no problem because, if you can’t, you probably wouldn’t be using ALC in the first place.)

But not any more. For some reason, Yahoo! Japan has changed the dictionary they use, or changed the format or something, but now you only get the English meaning and Japanese definitions, but not how to say it.

Goo’s dictionary does, however, so Goo goes into my bookmarks and Yahoo dictionary gets the boot. It’s a harsh world, isn’t it? (If you don’t need English translation, Sanseido‘s Japanese dictionary looks useful, as well.)

What’s Japanese for “get the boot”? ALC (via Goo) will tell you: it’s kaiko sareru or kubi ni naru