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New Dictionaries Teach by Talking (June 26, 2006)

Talking electronic dictionaries have proved popular. (Jiji)
Foreign-language dictionaries, whether paper or electronic, have long been seen and not heard. But that is changing quickly with the growing popularity of a slew of advanced "talking" electronic dictionaries. With these devices, a recorded voice reads out words or expressions after they are looked up. The voices are those of native speakers, which is greatly appreciated by Japan's foreign-language students, who are increasingly keen to sharpen their listening skills.

Sales Talk
Sales of electronic dictionaries have risen steadily in Japan in recent years. During fiscal 2006 (April 2006 to March 2007), sales are expected to hit around ¥65 billion (about $569 million at ¥114 to the dollar), up from ¥60 billion in fiscal 2005 and ¥55 billion in fiscal 2004.  Much of that growth stems from the surging popularity of talking dictionaries, as they account for a larger and larger share of the total market. In March 2006, talking dictionaries accounted for 50.6% of the electronic dictionary market, nearly double the figure for the same month the previous year (26.8%).

Of the 18 electronic dictionaries released in the spring of 2006 by Casio Computer Co., the largest manufacturer of electronic dictionaries, 15 can "speak" in the voices of native speakers.  Previously, no more than half of Casio's electronic dictionaries were of the speaking variety.

A talking electronic dictionary (CASIO COMPUTER CO., LTD.)

All Ears
One factor behind the popularity of the speaking devices is the introduction in 2006 of a listening section in the National Center Test run by the National Center for University Entrance Examinations. "Demand for voice-related products has surged. High schools are also encouraging listening skills," an industry source says.

Another factor is the current boom in Japan for Chinese-language study. Many students of Chinese, bedeviled by the language's difficult pronunciation and tonal system, are keen to have a device that speaks out words and expressions in the voice of a native speaker. A dictionary made by Canon Inc. that went on sale in April 2006 features voices screened for accuracy by a training school for TV presenters in China. When the students use the record function, they can compare their own pronunciation with that of the native speakers.

As electronic dictionaries pack in more and more features, they are increasingly finding favor not just among young people but older generations as well. Now that the market for electronic dictionaries has reportedly grown in size to more than double that for book dictionaries, the question on the minds of many prospective buyers is not, "How many words does it contain?" but rather, "How many can it speak?"

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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