KDrill tips

[If you haven't seen it already, I strongly suggest you look through the kdrill tour first, then come back here]

Here are some tips for using kdrill, after you've gotten past the initial steps of compiling and installing it.

Current sections in this page:

Complete beginner

If you are a complete beginner in Japanese, I strongly suggest you do nothing else but learn the hiragana and katakana characters really well first.

To do that, you need to set your dictionary appropriately, to ONLY use one of the dictionaries in the "makedic" directory.

Assuming you are in that directory, and have "kdrill" in your path, you should use

kdrill -kdictfile none -edictfile hira.edic
This will help you learn the BASIC hiragana characters (46 chars)
Once you master them, you can then move on to the extended set, in hira.edic

This will probably take you about an hour a day, for a week.

Once you have THOSE down, you get to move on to the KATAKANA! (sorry.. no-one said this was going to be easy :-)

kdrill -kdictfile none -edictfile kata.edic
and so on for "kataplus.edic". When you feel really studly, you can quiz yourself on both, with

kdrill -kdictfile none -edictfile fullkatahira.edic
Unfortunately, I haven't released the better version of "fullkatahira", so if you want to drill on romaji -> hiragana/katakana with this one, you sometimes will have two possible answers. You can download a new makedic.tar.gz if you would like this fixed

Dictionaries are remembered

kdrill will remember which edictfile and kdictfile options you use, if you quit it normally. So after using kdrill -kdictfile none -edictfile xxx once, it will automatically use that if you just type kdrill

The next step

Once you feel comfortable with hiragana and katakana, use

kdrill -kdictfile /usr/local/lib/kanjidic.gz
or whereever you have put the kanjidic dictionary, to enable using the full dictionary there.

Normal use: Initial tips

First things first. Save memory!

If you are going to be using kdrill for quizzing yourself, and NOT for dictionary lookups... don't load the edict dictionary. That will save you 12 megabytes of ram, and make kdrill start a LOT faster.
(If you have not downloaded the edict dictionary, you can ignore this bit.)

You can avoid loading edict by one or more of the following ways:

A. Add "-edictfile none" to the startup arguments. Thus, start with

"kdrill -edictfile none"

B. Do the same thing, but with X resources.

You should have in your home directory, a file called ".Xresources", or ".Xdefaults", or something. Add "KDrill*edictfile: none" to that file.
Note that this will not take effect until the next time you log in, or until you run "xrdb -load $HOME/.Xresources, and restart kdrill.

C. Don't install/download the edict dictionary in the first place!

Learning new kanji

There are a LOT of kanji out there. Where to start? HOW to start?

I personally think the best place to start learning kanji, is with the once you are most likely to come across. Happily, the kanjidic dictionary ranks the most 1500 or so most frequently used kanji.

In the options window, you can limit drilling to be between a certain range of frequency. "1" is the rating for the most frequently used kanji in the entire written Japanese language. If you put "100" in the "low" frequency limit, that would mean "put a limit on low-frequency kanji. Only show me kanji more used than then 100th most commonly used kanji"

So lets start off at a sensible level, and say you want to learn the 10 most frequent kanji. Leave the "high" frequency window blank. Put "10" in the "low" frequency window(be sure to press return when done, or kdrill will not register the change). Also, click on the "showing randomly" button in the options window, to toggle it to "in order".

Okay, Phase One is now complete. Go to the main window, press the cheat button (or the letter 'c'), and you will see the correct answer highlighted. When you click what is highlighted, kdrill will move on to the next kanji that fits your restrictions.

From now on, kdrill will cycle through the 10 most frequently used characters. Just keep using the cheat button until you feel comfortable with the kanji, clicking the highlighted one when you think you have each one memorized. You can also middle-click on it to pop up the seach window with that kanji. It will show you kanji, english, and kana meanings all at once.

New in kdrill 5.9.7: You can show the current kanji in the popup window with a single step: SuperCheat, with 'C' (Shift-c)

If you wanted to stick with just keyboard, and no mouse, you can pick the correct value with 1,2,3,4,5. That makes going through them with 'C' even faster.

When you think you are ready, go back to the options window. Toggle it back to showing randomly, stop "cheating", and really test your memory! (You can also toggle this with 'o' for 'o'rder)

[Note: You could have done the initial steps from the command line, with: "kdrill -showinorder -lowfrequency 10" ]

When you can reliably remember the first 10, you have a few different possibilities available. You could run through only the next 10, by setting a low frequency limit of 20, and a high frequency limit of 11. You should then presumably set kdrill to show in order again. When you have familiarized yourself with the new set, go back to random order.

If you are of a less methodical nature, another method would be to just increase the "low frequency" limit, and use the cheat button when an unknown kanji comes up. That way, kdrill would mix ones you "know", with new ones. And of course, there are other learning combinations that can be derived from these methods.

Daily study

Unless you do a little every day... it probably wont stick with you. A new method I'm trying is to leave kdrill running in the background, on one character. I glance at it every hour or so, just for 20 seconds, and see if I can recall the meaning. After a few hours, I change to the next kanji.

Studying from a list

You can also hand-pick kanji you want to drill on. This will be useful if you are taking a class, and need to learn 10 or so specific kanji for next week's quiz ;-) Note however that there MUST BE AT LEAST 10 in the list.

The way to do this is to pull up the search window, and find each kanji you are interested in studying. For each kanji you find, click on the "usefile" button at the top right. That button will then be highlighted, meaning that the kanji has been added to the "usefile" list. Once you have the ones you want, go to the options window, and toggle the "No usefile" button, to "Using usefile". Kdrill will then quiz you only on the kanji you have selected.
(Make sure you have taken off any other restrictions, like frequency, otherwise there may be no characters left to quiz on!)

A usefile is also useful for making your way through a "grade". If you want to start learning by grade level, instead of by frequency, then set the options to show the grade you want, in order. Then use the SuperCheat (shift-c) feature to pull up the search window for each of the first 10-40 kanji in that grade, and put them in your usefile. Once you have enough, then switch on "Use usefile", and loop on those kanji.
This is much more reasonable than trying to swallow all 200 kanji in grade 3 at once!

What IS that kanji?

kdrill has a search window to help you quickly look up new characters you encounter elsewhere. If you are reading Japanese text on-line, and come across a Kanji you do not recognise, you can probably cut-n-paste it into the small green window there. Unfortunately, sometimes the character is embedded in a graphic. (or you are trying to translate a book! ;-) In which case, you will have to try more tedious methods, like the "four-corner lookup" method also provided in kdrill.


kdrill can tell you how to pronounce a kanji character.

Normally, it displays the "meaning" in kana characters. This is actually a pronunciation guide. (See "Complete beginner", above!)

However, if you can't read hiragana or katakana very well yet, you might want to go to the options window, and press the "Kana/romaji" toggle. Meanings will then be displayed in Anglicized form, otherwise known as "romaji".
For example, you will then see "byou neko" in the "meaning" slot for kanji #472d, instead of something that may be unpronouncable to you.

Note:I strongly recommend you try to learn kana as soon as you can! Remember, alternate dictionaries come with kdrill, in the "makedic" subdirectory. Or perhaps your system administrator has installed them in the same place as "kanjidic.gz". Look for hira.edic and kana.edic


I have recently been made aware that kdrill will crash, in the rare instance that you are using the replacement library Xaw3d,and some other specialized programs. This is a bug in Xaw3d, not kdrill. It is also an indication that you probably have a bad resource setting somewhere.
But to work around it, you may try putting
KDrill*international: false
in your .Xdefaults or .Xresources file.

For any other difficulties with kdrill, feel free to email me at the address below.

Comments? Please email me at phil@bolthole.com