# Using Emacs to Study Japanese

posted on 2015-12-06 03:02:00

Tonight, I took my first steps into the world of emacs lisp!

Last January, when I had more time and energy to devote to studying Japanese, I started wondering about using org mode to help me. I was reading articles from the NHK News Easy website and spending a lot of time going back and forth between that, jisho.org, and emacs (where I was keeping my notes).

If you haven't used it, already, jisho is a wonderful site that is the best of what you could hope for in an online dictionary. It's fast, clean, and usually returns the most helpful results without having to fight it too much. I've also spent a bunch of time using LEO and, while I appreciate it, it suffers a bit from over design that hurts usability.

Anyway.

I really wanted to find a way to work in emacs with org mode. Maybe just copy articles from the NHK into a study log and then look up words and insert them under the sentence they were from. Last January, I wrote to the makers of jisho and Kim Ahlstrom was nice enough to write back and let me poke around with an API he'd been working on. Today, I spent a few hours learning my first emacs lisp and making a few functions to query it and format some nice defintions for me!

Starting with a background in Common Lisp was probably pretty helpful, because I was ready to understand the plist's and the like that were involved. Some of the json handling was nicer than in Common Lisp, since emacs seems to let keywords be lowercase by default, as are most of the json key names that they're decoded from. In CL, you need to do a lot of :|property-name| because the reader upcases everything. I also learned that you can modify that behavior and that it is terrifying. I recently had an experience like this, trying to make json access easier for myself:

CL-USER> (readtable-case *readtable*):UPCASECL-USER> (setf (readtable-case *readtable*) :preserve):PRESERVECL-USER> :thing:thingCL-USER> (print "Hello, world!"); Evaluation aborted on #<SB-INT:SIMPLE-READER-PACKAGE-ERROR "Package ~A does not exist." {1004729173}>.CL-USER> (PRINT "Hello, world!")"Hello, world!""Hello, world!";; ABORT! ABORT!CL-USER> (SETF (READTABLE-CASE *READTABLE*) :UPCASE):UPCASECL-USER> (cl:print "Hello, world!")"Hello, world!""Hello, world!"CL-USER>

Hopefully, I'll be able to share this emacs-jsiho integration work, soon, because I think people would like it. I was asked not to make the API public, so I will wait until I have permission to share. I'm excited to have finally dipped a toe into elisp and, hopefully, I'll have time to refine my code and make it even more useful (like selecting from a list of possible results after searching!) in the meantime, anyway. I was pretty impressed with how easy it was to do API call, parse the JSON and then crawl through it. I have the impression that some parts of elisp are even moldier than CL, but maybe people are making a good effort to modernize it and lower bars.