The University of Southampton

Web science entrepreneur innovates Handy Kanji language learning app

Published: 19 March 2017
Handy Kanji gamifies the teaching of the Japanese writing system

A web scientist from Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton has developed an interactive app that gamifies the teaching of the Japanese writing system.

Travis Ralph-Donaldson, a Research Assistant in the Web Science Institute, uses intelligent stroke recognition and scoring algorithms to teach hundreds of Japanese kanji characters in the Handy Kanji iOS app.

He is aiming to advertise the tool, which is set to be launched in the spring, to an international market of millions of Japanese learners.

Travis said: “Learning a new language is often strenuous, but when the written form involves over two thousand individual characters the challenge is far greater. Schoolchildren spend years with just pen and paper laboriously trying to master the intricate kanji characters through raw repetition. I too was frustrated when I tried to learn these kanji forms and thought there must be a better way. This app is quite simply the most intuitive way to memorise kanji. It is unique in providing tactile and instant visual feedback.”

Handy Kanji’s underlying analytics and feedback engine can also be applied to many other areas, such as helping teach users how to sketch or simply practice hand eye co-ordination. Vibration feedback gives a tactile sense of accuracy and speeds up learning.

“This novel concept opens up a completely new paradigm where users can autonomously learn to write without human supervision,” Travis adds. “This also creates a catalyst for healthy competition and sharing as the feedback is transparent and standardised, users can now compete to beat their own scores and also that of their friends.”

Travis previously spent 18 months teaching in the Far East after completing a degree in Japanese language and culture. Prior to arriving at the Web Science Institute, he accrued valuable experience in the tech industry as a cross platform software developer with companies including Jaguar Land Rover.

Travis has built a working prototype of Handy Kanji and is receiving support from the University’s Future Worlds startup incubator as he looks for investment to market and develop the technology.

“Competition in this area is extremely limited,” he adds. “The current leaders in the market lack the technical sophistication to give dynamic feedback, forcing their users to repeatedly mark their own work, which can be incredibly time consuming and disheartening for learners.”

Plans are also being developed to apply the technology’s algorithm to other written languages, for example Chinese, Indian, and even English, highlighting a rich potential to access additional markets.

For more information, watch Travis’ three-minute Handy Kanji video or get in touch through his new startup profile at

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