- Education and Science
Best way to learn Kanji
Kanji practice techniques
How to start, keep on going and succeed in learning kanji? There's no doubt that learning kanji is the most complex and time consuming part of learning the Japanese language, and often that part that causes the most headaches, and makes you feel like giving up. But how can you keep the learning process going without frustration? There are many ways of how to approach this seemingly daunting task, and over the last decade I have tried out a fair few methods covering basically everything from online recognition software and imaginative memory techniques, to flash cards and writing repetition. Having recently started to brush up my kanji knowledge, I have finally reached a conclusion of which method I found the most effective. So here's an overview of a few methods - hope it will help making the process a little less painful.
Without passion forget it!
Before you start find out what motivates you. Find that passion! If you don't really know what drives you, Kanji just like anything else will be a lot harder to learn. Therefore no matter what method you chose, keep your hobbies going at the same time. For example when not cramming characters watch that great Japanese movie you like, or read your favorite Japan site. If you are into Anime or Manga don't put it aside but really get into it. I love Japanese movies and a variety of Japanese style designs, and find great inspiration in seeking out anything new, so I try to surround myself with as many Japanese things that I like. Think about places you want to go, read travel books or manga, continue planning your trip... whatever it is, keep yourself motivated to avoid moving at snail's pace and discouragement.
Japanese animations - All time favorites
Online games and practice
There are many free games and online software available, in fact so many that it's hard to find your way. To me they all seem to be quite similar: Practice the On'yomi (Chinese) and Kun'yomi (Japanese) readings of the characters, learn the English meaning and pick up a few new Kanji. All this is without a doubt quite useful to some extent, the only thing I find, is just that it usually doesn't encourage you to physically write the characters yourself, as you sit there clicking away, and it's easy to lose concentration, and turn to something more interesting. I found that if done occasionally, or just to have a bit of a go, it's a good way to refresh your memory, and practice the recognition of the individual characters. The thing to be aware of, is just that it can be hard when you are going to hand write something, as you may not have remembered all the strokes.
Do imaginative memory techniques work?
"Imaginative memory techniques" differ from the "usual" study in the sense that you don't initially focus on the readings, but learn to remember the meaning of the kanji as well as the writing of the character first. This method originally created by philosopher James Heisig is heavily debated as individual learning experiences differ tremendously.
For me it was quite a negative experience as I feel that I invested a lot of time and didn't get very far in the end. Anyway, with this method a unique story it created around each kanji (which basically revolve around what radicals the characters are built upon) and you learn to associate the character with the story. If your study method is based on the book "Remembering the kanji" by Heisig you will learn simple to complex stories to assist in memorization, and also learn to create your own kanji stories to spice up your memory. His method sure has its benefits in regards to radicals, but I'm personally not much of a believer in its sublime advantages, as I believe that reading & writing should go hand in hand. However some people have great success with it, so it may work for you.
Flash Cards - Essentials for the Kanji learner
Why Flash Cards are GREAT
Flash cards are a great way to learn kanji. They are easy to carry around so you can study anywhere from the couch to the plane! Of course you can create them your self, but it's an awful lot of work though. I started out creating my own cards, but eventually it just got soo time consuming and tedious so I had to give in. I have been using Tuttle's kanji cards for years now, and I'm still really happy with them. There's a variety of flash cards available, so have a look around and see which ones suits you best. I have mainly been using Tuttle's and as they are the ones I know the best I will focus on those. So, WHAT'S ON THE CARDS?
The FRONT of each card shows:
- A single character in large
- 4 combinations where the character is used
- The number of strokes
- Dictionary reference number e.g. "KKN 29" ( Kanji & Kana by Wolfgang Hadamitzky & Mark Spahn)
The BACK of each card shows:
- The On' yomi and Kun' yomi reading of the character
- The meanings
- The reading in Kana + English meanings of the 4 combinations
- Stroke order - how to correctly write the character
All cards provide references to:
- "Kanji & Kana" by Wolfgang Hadamitzky & Mark Spahn
- "The New Nelson Japanese - English Character Dictionary" by Andrew Nelson
- "A Guide to Reading and Writing Japanese" by Florence Sakade
- "The Kanji Dictionary" Mark Spahn & Wolfgang Hadamitzky
I have personally found it very useful to reference the cards to "Kanji and Kana" and "The New Nelson Japanese - English character dictionary", but have a look through all of them and see what suits you best.
Great Kanji reference books - easy to use with flash cards
The artistic way
Although time consuming Calligraphy practice is one of the best ways to learn kanji. Focus is 100% on the stroke order and as you slowly work your way through the characters, one stroke at the time, it allows you to fully embrace the elements of the kanji.
If studying for a test and time is limited it's probably not the recommended method, as it simply takes too long. However, if calligraphy is done as a hobby it's a great way to both learn & express your self artistically at the same time.
As a part of one's kanji study I would highly recommend calligraphy practice. It provides an essential base for understanding the elements/radicals and the characters as a whole.
For more information on Japanese calligraphy please click HERE
Japanese Calligraphy - How to start
Why traditional pen & paper is the key
Repetition, yeah it sounds boring I know. Most people don't hand write much these days, so why is hand writing still important? Or is it at all? I think it still may be, not just for the odd letter but mainly for your memory. Online kanji games and recognition software are useful, just like study books and flash cards, but if only visually studying Kanji without not much focus on physically writing them, it seems that the characters don't sink it in the same way. You may initially get far, but once more and more characters add on to the pile, the picture starts getting blurry, and it's hard to remember. I found that if I not just flicked the flash cards, but actually spent the time writing the combinations listed on the cards, using the traditional method of pen and paper, the characters seemed to stick better. So that's the conclusion I have reached so far, it may initially seem tedious, but it sure pays off in the long run.
Unfortunately I haven't found any magic software or supernatural ways to conquer Kanji in no time, but what I have realized is that passion, persistence and repetitive writing combined with flash cards, are one of the best ways to easily soak up Kanji without them vanishing again. However if you do find a miracle cure please make sure to let me know :-)