|Learn Japanese with Innovative Language's Proven Language System - Level 1: Introduction to Japanese|
At the start, I was just taking pictures of Japanese characters in Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Kanji are traditional Chinese characters. But a friend told me that in China, they have simplified the Chinese characters that it is impossible for the Japanese to read them. Katakana are simplifications of some Chinese characters, with a preponderance of angular strokes. Katakana is for the translation of foreign-derived words into Japanese syllabary. Finally, Hiragana is the Japanese syllabary with a preponderance of curved strokes. You may think of Hiragana as snails and Katakana as starfishes with different numbers of arms.
Taking pictures may not be polite when riding trains, so I learned to draw the characters with my hand in my iPad and let Google Translate translate the sequence of Japanese characters to English. Right now, I am still learning my hiragana and katakana, so I remember only one character at a time when looking at some posters and signs in the train or bus. Google Translate does an excellent job of knowing the characters that I have written. For the case of kanji, I had trouble with Google Translate. Well, actually it's my fault: I have to remember what the kanji character looks like and draw it in my iPad. This really exercises my imagination. I am an artist. I can draw faces. But Google Translate allows you only a second or two to draw the character before it translate it into a well-written Japanese character which Google then translates to English. So with complicated kanjis that are compounds of different basic characters, I cannot write fast enough, because my mind still has to pause to recall the next set of strokes. We humans can only remember seven chunks of information in our short-term memory. A kanji with 20 strokes is difficult to remember. But if you can remember the basic characters within a compound kanji character, you can bring down those 20 strokes into just 2 to 3 word-characters, which is easier to remember.
The good thing with Google translate is that it keeps a record of all characters that you have written and suggests some of them if it sees a similar pattern. It also gives suggestions of other related characters to see if there is something there that you intended. It's something like a thesaurus on the fly. You can also use the microphone too, and speak the speech as you pronounce it trippingly on your tongue. I have used this feature once when we were having lunch in the office. To show off the capabilities of Google Translate, I touched the microphone icon and spoke, "My name is Quirino." And the voice of a lovely lady translated them in Japanese: "Watashinonamaeha karinadesu" My friends laughed. This boy has turned into a woman. But hey, I can now have a sensible dialogue with another person if we have Google Translate in our phones or iPads.