Monolingual dictionaries

I made the decision to transition over to Japanese dictionary lookups several months ago, and bought the 明鏡国語辞典 based on what (little) information I could find. I’m generally happy with it, but I’m also wondering if I may have aimed a little too high for where I’m at currently. The dictionary entries that I can read (about half my lookups so far) are clear and straightforward, but the ones I can’t are nearly 100% due to kanji and/or definition vocab. Obviously, the long-term answer is to improve those, and that is the plan, but I’m debating whether I should be looking at a monolingual dictionary for younger users as part of that plan.

The main source for my earlier dictionary research was the Wanikani thread on the topic, which was the best and most complete information source by far.

However, it only has a brief side tangent about childrens’ dictionaries by a couple of commenters. (Both concluded that childrens’ dictionaries were not particularly helpful. Both also seemed much farther along in learning the language than I am, and a sample size of two is pretty small.)

The LearnJapanese subreddit also had a couple of isolated tidbits of knowledge, but what’s there mostly focuses on talking about switching to a monolingual dictionary rather than anything useful concerning methods, resources, etc. I did find out about one dictionary aimed at middle-school students, published by 旺文社, but that was about it. In general, from my search months ago, this seems like one of those topics that gets talked about a lot, but actual information is scarce and hard to find. (And finding that WaniKani thread felt like hitting the jackpot.)

Does anyone have any experience or knowledge regarding monolingual dictionaries for children (小学生 or 中学生)? Or even advice for dictionaries in general?


Well, I can’t help with increasing that sample size, but I can elaborate a bit. Apparently I got the elementary school dictionary I mentioned roughly a month after my switch to monolingual definitions, a short while after having gotten some of the dictionaries on the monokakido app. I think back then I was N4’ish? (I used a payed premade deck to help with the monolingual transition though, so that info probably isn’t very useful.)
I think I tried using it along the other dictionaries for a while, but I don’t think there were very many occasions where I preferred its definition over others. Personally, if I were to name a use for it, I wouldn’t think of it as a “This is going to make the monolingual transition easy”-tool, but something to diversify your definitions. Most of the definitions do end up being somewhat different after all. In a way I’m not sure if the definitions in these are significantly easier at all, or if they just don’t use lots of “big concepts” and kanji. (And this might be why we language learners find them less useful, since we already know the big concepts from our native language and perhaps even learned more kanji)
I only used it for a couple weeks to months though, so perhaps my opinion would be different had I used it at an intermediate level. Also, since it was 小学生向け, you might have a different experience using a 中学生向け one. If you happen to find one of those for purchase digitally I’d certainly appreciate it if you could share :wave:

Based on my experience and others I have talked to, 明鏡国語辞典 does seem like it is one of the easiest monolingual dictionaries out there for foreign language learners. There might be some that are slightly easier for you, but I wouldn’t expect things to get a lot easier.
Generally, as I mentioned in that thread, I think having lots of different dictionaries (if you can afford it or don’t mind the piracy) is the best approach for making things easier on yourself. Reading over multiple definitions for the same word, using different phrasing and words, both helps with finding ones that mostly use things you know and arriving at the correct understanding.


I have a 国語辞典 and a 漢字辞典, both for elementary students, and both in physical form rather than digital. I’m quite fond of them.

I don’t know that I would recommend children’s monolingual dictionaries to every learner, though. They’ve worked well for me, because they provide exactly what I need at this point in my studies: simple definitions (with furigana) for the words I come across while reading children/teen fiction, synonym comparisons, and lots of brief example sentences I can use in my flashcards. Plus they’re colorful and well-made, a real pleasure to use and browse through randomly.

However, as much as I love them, I can’t credit them with any huge leap forward in my Japanese abilities. They have been a handy supplement, but even if I didn’t have them I’d probably be at basically the same level in my studies anyway.


Is that a general statement or in comparison to any particular monolingual dictionaries targeted at adults? I’d be especially curious to know if you have e.g. compared them to other easier dictionaries like 明鏡 :thinking:

A general statement; I haven’t compared the children’s monolingual dictionaries directly to any adult monolingual dictionaries, because I don’t own or have easy access to any of the latter. I’d be happy to post some scans, if you’d like to compare them yourself.

Personally, I like to just Google a word (either just on it’s own, or like “〇〇 意味”) when I want a Japanese definition. Kotobank, Weblio, or goo辞書 are usually the first results so I just pick one of those. Though they must get their definitions from somewhere else originally because most of the time all three sites have the same definition.


They’ll tell you somewhere on the web page where the definition is from. Goo uses the 大辞泉 dictionary, for instance.


The elaboration is much appreciated! I’d call my current reading level an “N3 kludge” due to the unevenness of my learning (including a roughly 15-year hiatus). Reading 青い鳥文庫ができるまで currently and seeing some of the publishing terms defined within the text was one of the things that had me considering a kids’ dictionary, since that’s roughly the same target demographic.

It’s a couple of years old, but there’s an in-depth Reddit review post for the aforementioned 旺文社, which includes purchase information for both digital and physical (and also states that the physical edition includes a digital code).

That’s another factor - I just plain like dictionaries! They’re neat! (I think I have half a dozen in English alone, not counting additional languages.) But they are expensive compared to other books, so I have to consider that, too. At this point, I think I am leaning toward the 三省堂例解小学国語辞典, because I like what I see in the sample on the publisher’s website, and could see myself going through it simply for fun as well as for vocabulary lookups.


Almost everything you mentioned there sounds like pluses to me, but especially that last part. I’ve always enjoyed just reading through dictionaries, encyclopedias, reference books, etc., and a dictionary that’s a pleasure to just read is a selling point.

And that excerpt PDF on the 三省堂 website has all but convinced me. I think I’ll be adding that to my next book order…

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I have a dictionary for elementary school kids and find it very accessible. I went with a full colour one just because it’s more fun. I think it’s a good resource to transition from bilingual to monolingual dictionaries if one so chooses. I still have an English one in my yomichan just because monolingual would hinder my reading flow too much.