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Which method for Kanji

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

RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby jt » Mon 06.11.2007 9:24 pm

Like many others here, I would strongly recommend against using Heisig -- or any other method that attempts to teach kanji primarily by associating them with English "meanings" or keywords. Any serious student is learning kanji so that they'll be able to read Japanese -- so what's the point of learning the characters through a method that completely divorces them from this context?

I'd recommend the following texts, all of which include extensive integrated reading practice, introducing plenty of compounds and example sentences for each character:

- Bonjinsha's Basic Kanji Books vol. 1 and vol. 2
- The Inter-University Center for Japanese Studies' Kanji in Context:

Also -- not to overstate the obvious -- but I'd encourage beginning learners to devote at least as much time to learning and internalizing Japanese grammar and sentence structure as you spend memorizing kanji. There's this tendency (especially when you're just starting out) to equate knowing more characters with knowing more "Japanese"... but if you neglect the grammar/structure, you'll reach this awkward point where you can "decode" Japanese sentences by looking at the kanji, but are completely incapable of actually reading Japanese in the way that a native speaker "reads" his/her own language.

(edit-- fixed long URLs)
Last edited by jt on Mon 06.11.2007 9:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby tanuki » Mon 06.11.2007 9:35 pm

jt, please give your urls short names so they don't ruin the page layout.

Example:

{url=www.superlongurl.com/thisisaverylongurlthatwillrunthepagelayout}Short name{/url}

Replace {} with [] and you can have your fancy urls. ;)
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Mon 06.11.2007 9:51 pm

I'll just have to completely agree with jt again; those are the exact books I used when I was at that level and they did a world of good. And his comments about grammar and structure are spot on, and not at all obvious judging from a lot of the stuff I see not only on the Internet but in published books.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Groccoli » Mon 06.11.2007 9:57 pm

Naturally, tanuki, you had to link that video...

I tried the Heisig sample. I'm really indifferent about it. I like the idea of learning by primitive elements (and the stories), but if you can't read them there really isn't much of a point. Knowing without knowing is a waste of time.

I prefer just to spend countless hours in front of Kanji Gold or some sort of flash card thing. (although I guess this isn't much better :p).
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby jt » Mon 06.11.2007 10:08 pm

Whoops... sorry about that -- I guess it didn't take me too long to screw something up.

Anyway, it should be fixed now. Thanks for the heads-up.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby yukamina » Tue 06.12.2007 3:21 pm

When I was learning kanji the regular way, grade one was easy and I can still remember it...but with grade two, I'd keep forgetting them after a little while. So learning the kanji with mnemonics really helped, and the heisig order helped too because I knew the components of each kanji first.

In my experience, I've never found a book that goes through kanji higher than 500... In school we only studied a couple hundred. Everything else was just a long list of pronounciations and meanings to memorize. I never heard of that Kanji in Context book before*sigh* Grammar's not my problem, just kanji and vocabulary.
Actually, I'm using that Henshall book too now.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby rouge03 » Sun 06.17.2007 4:27 am

みんな, どもありがとうがおざいました for all of your replies. I really appreciate it.
My path to learning japanese is much clearer to me now ^_^
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Gundaetiapo » Sun 06.17.2007 9:45 am

みんな, どもありがとうがおざいました


みんな、どうもありがとうざいました。
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Sumi » Sun 06.17.2007 11:11 am

Well, I pretty much take it one step at a time. I learn the kanji's components, how its made the onyomi and kunyomi. Then I learn some of the words that kanji and I eventually learn to read it on a website or something.

I just take my time, I'm in no hurry.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Suedenjin » Tue 07.10.2007 12:23 pm

arbalest71 wrote:
Yudan Taiteki wrote: I think Heisig is a huckster and his book is one of the cruelest frauds perpetuated on hopeful Japanese learners that I've seen. It's very rare to see a recommendation of Heisig from someone who has actually attained a high level reading proficiency in Japanese.


Without endorsing Heisig, I think Yudan goes a bit far here. At any rate, the point, IMHO, is that learning to read kanji and learning to write them are separate issues. Heisig is not useful for learning to read them, and that is what you should concentrate on at first- being able to write them stroke by stroke is not as important in the modern world as being able to read them. I was taught to write every character I learned to read when learning Chinese, but back then computer interfaces for typing Chinese were new- even so I think it introduced an artificial bottleneck in learning to read.


I guess it all depends on how you define "reading". To be able to read at all you first have to recognize the character from your memory. The next step is to associate some sort of meaning to the memorized character. That's reading too. The final step is to be able to know the pronunciation of the character and all other strictly language-related information. Heisig makes the first two steps easy as well as writing the characters, but never claims to offer anything beyond that in the first book.

To call this one of the cruelest fraud ever is beyond silly.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Tue 07.10.2007 2:49 pm

To be able to read at all you first have to recognize the character from your memory. The next step is to associate some sort of meaning to the memorized character. That's reading too.

Identifying readings and meanings of individual characters is only "reading" in a very strained sense. Associating "some sort of meaning" is irrelevant, and is not a step in reading. Assigning *the* meaning that the word has in context is what's important, and that is not necessarily aided by knowing the "meanings" of individual characters.

If you know that 本当 means "really", it doesn't matter if you can assign English meanings to those individual characters. That's just an extra step that slows you down.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby stevie » Tue 07.10.2007 4:21 pm

I agree with Yudan here - not about the fraud thing (I've never touched Heisig so I really can't judge), but about the learning of Kanji in general. As I'm sure has been said many times, learning words is preferable to learning kanji.

When I first got interested in Japanese I was trying to powerlearn how to recognise Kanji and I was good at it. I was able to learn around 20 a day. After about a week I stopped and went "this is so stupid." Sure I could recognise almost 200 Kanji and assign meanings to them after just a week but I couldn't 'read' (ie pronounce) them and I didn't understand actual words made up of multiple kanji at all, outside of 大丈夫. Also I found a lot of Kanji have many meanings - learning in this fashion how can you ever tell one from another? I always figured I'd learn grammar later but it quickly becomes apparent that it just doesn't work that way. Or at least it doesn't for me.

Moreover, learning how to recognise a Kanji, and how to write a Kanji alone just isn't fun for me. Hoopla, I can learn 20 kanji a day but god damn is it boring. I find learning actual words, grammar, and sentences far more enjoyable, not to mention more rewarding.

The bottom line is, that in my experience if you focus on learning words, the Kanji seem to learn themselves (this is also why I never understood the whole 'the first 500 are easy, then the next 500 are hard' approach. They all seem kinda the same for me - mind I only know 200 or so so perhaps I should shut up, huh? :))
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Tue 07.10.2007 4:52 pm

I personally think that one of the most harmful concepts that I see on the Internet about Japanese learning is the idea that learning English meanings of kanji is an important step towards reading Japanese. In the most naive people, it leads them into thinking that all they need is the English meanings, and then they can guess the meaning of any word they come across. But even people who don't buy that still seem to think that this concept of English meanings or "keywords" is very important to the study of kanji.

It's very unfortunate because it tricks people into thinking they're making progress, when they really aren't. Kanji are such a seductive lure because it looks like you can quantify your Japanese progress in a single number (i.e. all these "X/1945" sigs on the site), but it causes people to take fundamentally wrong approaches to studying kanji that will only betray them in the end.

(I'm not saying that books should not provide meanings at all, although I do think people should realize that they're one of the least important things related to kanji, and you can easily come up with your own conceptions of the "meaning" of the kanji just by learning a number of compound words -- which is how native Japanese people think of kanji meanings.)
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Chris Hart » Tue 07.10.2007 4:58 pm

stevie wrote:
When I first got interested in Japanese I was trying to powerlearn how to recognise Kanji and I was good at it. I was able to learn around 20 a day. After about a week I stopped and went "this is so stupid." Sure I could recognise almost 200 Kanji and assign meanings to them after just a week but I couldn't 'read' (ie pronounce) them and I didn't understand actual words made up of multiple kanji at all, outside of 大丈夫. Also I found a lot of Kanji have many meanings - learning in this fashion how can you ever tell one from another? I always figured I'd learn grammar later but it quickly becomes apparent that it just doesn't work that way. Or at least it doesn't for me.


When I first began studying, I tried the same thing. I feel that method of studing has set me back big time, I still get things confused. For example, I can tell you that 火 means fire, 山 means mountain, and 火山 means volcano, but have dificulty associating those words with appropriate pronounciation.
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RE: Which method for Kanji

Postby Suedenjin » Wed 07.11.2007 4:45 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
To be able to read at all you first have to recognize the character from your memory. The next step is to associate some sort of meaning to the memorized character. That's reading too.

Identifying readings and meanings of individual characters is only "reading" in a very strained sense. Associating "some sort of meaning" is irrelevant, and is not a step in reading. Assigning *the* meaning that the word has in context is what's important, and that is not necessarily aided by knowing the "meanings" of individual characters.

If you know that 本当 means "really", it doesn't matter if you can assign English meanings to those individual characters. That's just an extra step that slows you down.


I don't know what experience you have with USING Heisig ('s first book) but his keywords are not really meant to be exact Japanese "words". They are mnemonic aids to avoid forgetting the kanji (shapes, recognizing and writing). Then it happens that quite a few of the keywords also are "*the* meaning" in Japanese.

Even if you know nothing of the Japanese (or Chinese) language you will be able to get some really meaningful information out of texts by only knowing kanji. You can even have fun analyzing how clever some compounds/words are formed in Japanese, like in reizouko (refrigerator): cool + storehouse + warehouse! Cool! Any person with some knowledge of kanji and the Japanese language can offer tons of similar examples. This is not possible in any other writing/reading system I know of.

If you have gone through the first two sections and a bit more in RTK1 there will no slowing down whatsoever in this process. On the contrary the English keywords are replaced with "universal concepts" after a certain point and I know this since English is not my native tongue. Actually the only serious problem I've had with Heisig is his use of rather archaic English in some cases and some keywords that are very close to each other ("storehouse" and "warehouse" to mention one very concrete example).

The script is nevertheless the foundation of reading in any kind of language. Japanese is admittedly a very special case where you have one ideographic/pictographic set of characters and two sets of phonetic scripts. What makes Japanese studies flexible - if that is the kind of term one wants to associate Japanese with - is that you can get along up to a certain point without properly knowing the most complex part of this alphabet soup, i.e. kanji.

Personally I really hate reading stuff where there are as little kanji as possible and all you get is a hard-to-digest string of hiragana. As I wrote yesterday in my post "The Ingenious Heisig Method" I decided to tackle as much kanji as possible as the very first step in my love affair with the Japanese language. When I started to study texts it was then fairly easy to get the right reading of quite a few words I first had met via hiragana and romaji. The more kanji I knew, the more fluent I became in reading (saying/pronouncing/understanding) words I previously only had met in phonetic shorthand.

If you know all the basic 2000+ kanji in Heisig's - or any other book covering them - you have a HUGE advantage compared with not knowing them. Almost instantly you are able to understand most verbs and adjectives as well as a considerable amount of nouns. You can avoid mixing up almost similar kanji with totally different meanings. Etc, etc. I can only see benefits with FIRST knowing as much kanji as possible and THEN starting to add more layers of information to these symbols. At your own pace and not according to any rigid rules you think Heisig forces you to follow. (Even if you stop at 1000 you have learned a lot in a shorter time you would have done with most other methods.)

I am perfectly aware of the fact that the Heisig method is not the ultimate one for all students. I failed the first time I tried to use his book. But then I failed even more using more conventional methods and forgetting things just as fast as I learned them. So I am now a happy second time RTK1-user happily writing pretty and neat kanji every day :-), today at 1080. I think that writing any "exotic" language is big fun, but when it comes to kanji it also helps you to get a better understanding of the logic embedded in these dots and lines. You don't get this added dimension if you write Arabic, Hindi or any other language. Do you write Japanese, Chris?
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