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What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Have a textbook or grammar book that you find particularly helpful? What about a learning tip to share with others?

Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby gilozoaire » Tue 01.06.2009 8:09 pm

Thanks, I feel less ignorant now ;)
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby Dustin » Fri 01.09.2009 3:54 am

I guess I will add my opinion in here.

I am close to 3/4 done RTK1 so far, and what I have gained from the program, is a better understanding of the kanji as a whole and being able to break them down into recognizeable pieces. This allows me much better knowledge of the Kanji, and rather than recognizing on an ime, or simply reading ( which can be prone to error with similar kanji ) in a book, I have a much easier time distinguishing a new kanji from ones i know, as well as the similar kanji apart.

I immediately see a new kanji and start breaking it down into pieces now as well, I have much better knowledge of proper stroke order, and can skim japanese text, and see a compound I have never studied and guess that it matches some of the vocab I have learnt already, and usually be right.

This makes lookup a lot easier as well since I know the stroke counts and a proper order to count them now rather than looking at a 20 stroke kanji and getting lost halfway through.

2 months of study that I hope will be worth it :D
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby nukemarine » Fri 01.09.2009 6:57 am

Dustin, there are three men on my ship that I've also introduced to Heisig. Like you, they already know Japanese very well as a spoken language. I hope they get as much out of it as you have thus far.

Out of interest, any plans for formal study on the reading or vocabulary post-Heisig? The site iKnow has a "kanji focus" selection for it's vocabulary list which concentrates only on those words made of kanji. I don't know how it plays out for learning (I'm of the need vocabulary and kanji readings), but it may be of interest.
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby Dustin » Fri 01.09.2009 4:11 pm

nukemarine wrote:Dustin, there are three men on my ship that I've also introduced to Heisig. Like you, they already know Japanese very well as a spoken language. I hope they get as much out of it as you have thus far.

Out of interest, any plans for formal study on the reading or vocabulary post-Heisig? The site iKnow has a "kanji focus" selection for it's vocabulary list which concentrates only on those words made of kanji. I don't know how it plays out for learning (I'm of the need vocabulary and kanji readings), but it may be of interest.


I definitely am going to be doing some study for vocabulary, which in turn will educate me on the readings that I need to know. Personally I think it is a waste to learn readings by themselves, and I would much rather learn vocab for the kanji i know.

I will give iknow a try after rtk, see how I like it, I also will finish my Japanese for Everyone, and my Intermediate Japanese text, delving into most likely native materials after that.

It looks like iknow will be great for initially learning quite a bit of vocab ( between the core 2000 and core 6000 i believe there are 200 pieces per module and 20 total modules total ) and being able to throw these 4000 vocab into anki or another SRS after inkow will probably give a great base in vocab for the language. ( I have all of the sentences from iknow extracted with audio if anyone is interested )

Hope that was all you wanted to know, otherwise, just ask :D
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby Christine Tham » Sat 01.10.2009 1:28 am

Just a word of caution - the most important thing to learn after finishing RTK1 is that: 漢字 are NOT words, and DON'T have meanings. At least, not in Japanese anyway (although some Chinese scholars have argued the same for Chinese - indeed there has been at least one study that shows the Chinese use the words in a context other than the original semantic intent of the characters more than 50% of the time).

I know this is hard to believe, and I learnt this lesson the hard way. So I'll repeat: 漢字 are NOT words, and DON'T have meanings. For historical reasons, the Japanese tend to use 漢字 phonetically (the characters are used to denote sounds, not meanings).

A lot of beginners make the mistake of believing each character represents a word. After all, most of the characters initially taught to beginners represent single character words: 山 means mountain, 四 means 4, etc. It is easy to generalise and believe that therefore every character represents at least 1 word.

However, the more one learns the language, the more one realises characters with strong semantic associations are exceptions rather than the rule. Take 行 for example. It does NOT mean "travel" or "go" even though it is strongly associated with words such as 行く and 旅行. 行 by itself doesn't actually have a meaning as such, but some dictionaries list the meaning of 行 as "line/row" as in 一行 - but strictly speaking this meaning is only applicable if 行 is used as a suffix. And there are plenty of usages of 行 not related to travelling, or even lines, such as 銀行 or 行う.

The analogy to English would be some letters of the alphabet are words - the letter "i" for example can be used to represent the word "I". But it doesn't mean everytime you see the letter "i" in the word, it has a semantic connotation to a personal pronoun.

At least, when the Japanese reappropriated Chinese characters to represent Yamato words (words of Japanese origin), there is (usually) a connection between the Chinese semantic association of the word with the Yamato meaning.

However, more often than not, the Japanese also used characters purely for their sound, and the original "meaning" of the character was ignored.

I know, it sounds complicated and silly, but then the Japanese writing system has had a chequered evolutionary history. For more information, refer to this article I wrote:

http://nihongonotto.blogspot.com/2008/0 ... anese.html

For a more detailed explanation, refer to the book "The Japanese Language" by Haruhiko Kindaichi which has a few good (and amusing) examples showing if you rely on the so called "meanings" of characters to guess the meaning of an unrecognised compound word, you will soon run into trouble.

So my advice after finishing RTK1 is: forget the keywords. You don't need them now that you are trying to learn a language instead of engaging in a memorization exercise.
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby Dustin » Sat 01.10.2009 2:33 am

Christine Tham wrote:I know this is hard to believe, and I learnt this lesson the hard way. So I'll repeat: 漢字 are NOT words, and DON'T have meanings. For historical reasons, the Japanese tend to use 漢字 phonetically (the characters are used to denote sounds, not meanings).

A lot of beginners make the mistake of believing each character represents a word. After all, most of the characters initially taught to beginners represent single character words: 山 means mountain, 四 means 4, etc. It is easy to generalise and believe that therefore every character represents at least 1 word.

The analogy to English would be some letters of the alphabet are words - the letter "i" for example can be used to represent the word "I". But it doesn't mean everytime you see the letter "i" in the word, it has a semantic connotation to a personal pronoun.

However, more often than not, the Japanese also used characters purely for their sound, and the original "meaning" of the character was ignored.

So my advice after finishing RTK1 is: forget the keywords. You don't need them now that you are trying to learn a language instead of engaging in a memorization exercise.


These are all great things to mention that I fully agree with. A VERY large portion of kanji compounds have nothing to do with what the characters within it, or are so far from the original context it is useless. This is similar to words in English of course, there are components that we recognize WITHIN a word that has nothing to do with it's meeting.

The keywords initially are a great tool to attach to the kanji, for remembering them and indexing them in your head, however the differences between similar kanji are not necessarily the correct connotations, just different enough for us to remember them. Other Kanji have NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with the Heisig Keyword attached to them. It is simply a memory aid. Once you are more proficient in the language, dropping the keywords should come naturally.

Pretty much if you are still using the keywords for a large period of time AFTER finishing the book, you probably should spend more time using the Kanji you learn, and in context it will eventually not make sense to use English keywords for Japanese Characters.

Thanks for the input :D
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby yukamina » Sat 01.10.2009 8:40 pm

Christine Tham wrote:
However, the more one learns the language, the more one realises characters with strong semantic associations are exceptions rather than the rule.

.....

However, more often than not, the Japanese also used characters purely for their sound, and the original "meaning" of the character was ignored.

I don't find this to be true.
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sat 01.10.2009 10:58 pm

Yeah, I'm not sure I agree with that either. What I would say is that few characters can have their usage summed up by a single word; most characters, especially the more common characters, have multiple meanings, and it's not at all uncommon for a character to have multiple unrelated meanings.

A lot of this meaning divergence was already present in Chinese and was not a result of the Chinese->Japanese transmission, although some of it comes from that as well.

Using 行 as an example, the Koujien gives 6 definitions for it, with some example words for each:
1. Go. Advance. (歩行, 行進, 行軍)
2. Travel. A travel road. (旅行, 紀行, 行脚, 行灯)
3. Do. An action. (行為, 行動, 実行)
4. Print (i.e. printing a book). (発行, 単行本)
5. A type of old Chinese poetry.
6. An ancient Chinese merchant organization, sort of like Western "guilds".

Given that, I think it's important not to get too hung up on "the meaning" of a character; it's especially dangerous to think that you can predict what words mean if you know the "meanings" of the characters that make up the word. Using 行 again, if all you had for that character was "go", you would have no chance of figuring out the meaning of 行為 or 発行, and a greater danger than not knowing the word at all is thinking that you have guessed the meaning correctly when in fact you've guessed wrong.

(This isn't meant to be anti-Heisig, just caution on relying too much on English words associated with kanji.)
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby Christine Tham » Sat 01.10.2009 11:38 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:4. Print (i.e. printing a book). (発行, 単行本)


Not quite. The ぎょう reading of 行 actually means "line/row" (which could be a line or row of text, or possibly something else). This semantic association comes from the original connotation of 行 as "crossroads."

In this regard, the explanation in 大辞林 makes this clear: 文字などの並び (note the など).

To prevent any further misunderstandings caused by translating from Japanese to English, here is the actual entry for 行in 広辞苑:
1.ゆく。
a.歩いていく。すすむ。「行進・行住坐臥ぎょうじゅうざが・歩行・通行・急行」
b.よそへ出かける。旅(にゆく)。「行を共にする」「行程・行李こうり・行在所あんざいしょ・壮行・紀行」
c.ゆかせる。すすめる。動かす。「行軍・行文・行脚あんぎゃ・発行・刊行」
d.持ちあるく。「行火あんか・行灯あんどん」
e.歩きながら。ゆくゆく。「行吟・行商ぎょうしょう」
2.おこなう。
a.ある事をする。おこない。ふるまい。「行為・行政ぎょうせい・興行こうぎょう・言行・品行・非行」
b.ギョウ〔仏〕悟りにいたるための実践。「無言の行」「行者・勤行ごんぎょう・修行しゅぎょう・難行」
3.とどこおらない。
a.ギョウ漢字の書体の一つ。「行書・楷行草かいぎょうそう」
b.漢詩の一体。音調がとどこおらない詩。「琵琶びわ行」
4.ギョウ(文字の)たてのならび。「行列・行間・行頭・改行・ア行」
5.ギョウ令制で、官位を称する際、官が位に相応せず低い官である場合に挿入する語。__守。「正二位行大納言」
6.問屋。みせ。「銀行・行員」__もと、同列に並ぶ意から、中国の唐・宋そう以後に起こった同業組合の称。

Also for reference, is the explanation for the character's origin:
解字十字路を描いた象形文字。人通りの多い大通り(を歩いて進む)の意。
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Sun 01.11.2009 12:01 am

Christine Tham wrote:
Yudan Taiteki wrote:4. Print (i.e. printing a book). (発行, 単行本)


Not quite. The ぎょう reading of 行 actually means "line/row"


発行 is read はっこう, not はつぎょう.

You evidently have a different edition of Koujien than mine. The 5th edition has this for definition 4 of 行(こう):
印刷して世に出すこと。「発行・単行本」

But the difference here shows how ephemeral the idea of kanji "meanings" are -- they're invented by dictionary and textbook writers based on the words they're used in, and different people are going to come up with different divisions of meaning and definitions.

(There is a different set of 9 definitions for 行(ぎょう)).
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Sun 01.11.2009 12:10 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby Christine Tham » Sun 01.11.2009 12:05 am

Forgot to mention. I have also seen 行 used as a suffix to denote a bus route/line (one can notice this usage for example in the movie となりのトトロ when the girls are at the bus stop). I thought it was a very clever usage - combining both the "travel" and the "line" semantic connotations into an entirely new meaning.
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby Christine Tham » Sun 01.11.2009 12:12 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:You evidently have a different edition of Koujien than mine.


Mine is the 6th (2008) edition. Suggest you may want to consider updating your copy.

Looking up the entry for 行【ぎょう】 also reveals they have revised their definition - the first line now reads: 文字などの縦のならび (again, note the use of など).
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby Christine Tham » Sun 01.11.2009 12:48 am

yukamina wrote:
Christine Tham wrote:
However, the more one learns the language, the more one realises characters with strong semantic associations are exceptions rather than the rule.

.....

However, more often than not, the Japanese also used characters purely for their sound, and the original "meaning" of the character was ignored.

I don't find this to be true.


May I ask what evidence do you have to support your assertion?

To support my statement ("more often than not") I refer to DeFrancis' statistical analysis of 漢字 (Phonetic versus semantic predictability in Chinese characters), in which he found that in 67% of the cases, the phonetic element of the 漢字 was more relevant in determining meaning than the semantic element. Hence, he concluded "... we should work to dispel the misconception of Chinese as an ideographic system of writing. ... Chinese characters must be recognised as primarily phonetic and secondarily semantic in their orientation. Chinese is basically a phonetic system of writing of the syllabic type."

Note that DeFrancis' research refers to Chinese, not Japanese, but surely his statements are even more true for Japanese, which has greater phonetic use of the characters compared to Chinese. In any case, his research has been quoted by several Japanese scholars as evidence that 漢字 usage is primarily phonetic.

I also refer you to the seminal work by Haruhiko Kindaichi "The Japanese Language" where he makes exactly the same argument. As you may know, this has been a very influential book that has helped shape the evolution of the Japanese language since World War II. You can find this book translated into English and published by Tuttle.
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby nukemarine » Sun 01.11.2009 2:17 am

You know, it's all fine and well to give warnings. But at a certain point, I'd prefer it that person's have 2000 to 3000 characters with 10% to 20% misconception than 300 characters with 0% misconceptions. What I mean is worrying so much about the details that you don't get a lot of material in your head is counterproductive.

Yeah, maybe the real benefit of Heisig or other streamlined method to kanji recognition and writing is that false knowledge that you're learning Kanji. Hopefully, those students are continuing later and realizing there's more to these characters than one or two English words. They soon get into Ateji and variants. They learn some kanji are not seen outside of compounds and there's a reason there were similar English words picked. Some of this is picked up quick, others you get now and again just through study and exposure.

Really, it does boil down to breaking kanji into radicals. You're not put off by pages of kanji. You can look at almost any kanji and get stroke order. For vocabulary, you can "cheat" and use keywords as a sort of ready made mnemonic device for those not so obvious combination. It won't be 100% perfect, but again, 80% of 3000 is better than 100% of 300. Same will go with vocabulary. Plus, by increasing your exposure, you cover up initial weakness from Heisig.
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Re: What have you gained by using Heisig RTK1?

Postby Christine Tham » Sun 01.11.2009 3:33 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
Christine Tham wrote:
Yudan Taiteki wrote:4. Print (i.e. printing a book). (発行, 単行本)


Not quite. The ぎょう reading of 行 actually means "line/row"


発行 is read はっこう, not はつぎょう.

You evidently have a different edition of Koujien than mine. The 5th edition has this for definition 4 of 行(こう):
印刷して世に出すこと。「発行・単行本」


By the way, I should point out (just in case anyone else misinterprets the sentence), 印刷して世に出すこと。 does not mean "Print (i.e. printing a book). ". I think you parsed this sentence incorrectly, the こと here does not refer to 印刷する, but refers to the release or the issue of the output (出すこと) of the printing to the world at large (世), hence the reference to 発行 (publication) and 単行本 (publishing in one volume).

My translation of the sentence would be something like "the act of releasing something that was printed to the world/public" [not a perfect translation, I really should try to avoid using passive verbs to represent non-passive Japanese sentences - Jay Rubin would probably scream at me]

In any case, to draw this out as a potential "meaning" for the character 行 is fairly dubious, which may explain why the publishers decided to remove this interpretation from the latest edition of the dictionary.
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