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'Remembering the kanji' question...

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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 12.05.2007 6:48 pm

To me that study just shows the depth of learners' obsessions with kanji. I really think the Jouyou List is to blame for a lot of this; if that "1945" number didn't exist, I'm not sure people would focus on the number of kanji they supposedly know quite as much.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby HarakoMeshi » Wed 12.05.2007 9:42 pm

Glass half full: Obsession with kanji that leads to studying them more and reading more is motivational and leads to more reading ability.

Glass half empty: Obsession with kanji that leads to a fear of reading Japanese leads to less reading ability.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 12.05.2007 10:26 pm

I'm not talking about fear or motivation. I'm talking about an overemphasis on kanji leading people to counterproductive studying methods -- the most common one being just trying to memorize a huge list of meanings and readings.

People always think that they have to learn X number of kanji before they can start reading. But in fact you can start reading with 0 kanji if you have the right book. The earlier you build your reading fluency, the better. I know from experience that it is very demoralizing to "know" several hundred kanji but be barely able to make out even relatively simple texts using those kanji.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby morph » Thu 12.06.2007 12:15 am

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
To me that study just shows the depth of learners' obsessions with kanji. I really think the Jouyou List is to blame for a lot of this; if that "1945" number didn't exist, I'm not sure people would focus on the number of kanji they supposedly know quite as much.



Perhaps, but for better or worse there is a Jouyou List and Kanji is the "face" of Japanese. Call it whatever one likes, whether it is real or psychological, there is a "Kanji Barrier" to literacy. To some it's more pronounced and of more importance than to others, as this thread amply illustrates. And there is at least one Chinese Language learning site where there is an ongoing thread in anticipation of the Chinese versions of RtK (Simplified and Traditional) - so the interest is not limited to the study of Japanese alone.

In the case of the study there is a specific common denominator that is acting as a barrier. In a university setting I suppose there is not too much to do about it other than move forward, the students are on the clock.

But self study is an entirely different situation.

And therein lies part of the problem in determining the usefulness of RtK. Everyone seems to have different students/users in mind when thinking about and discussing the program and its merits, or lack thereof. A student in the middle of Japanese 101 is different and has differnt needs than a 17 year old anime fan who is different from an English teacher in Japan, etc., etc,. etc.

I think RtK is great for self study. But everyone's case will be unique.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby nukemarine » Thu 12.06.2007 8:17 am

Let me ask this: a big problem (well the one I agree with) was Heisig's insistance on 2042 Kanji (The Jouyou plus change). What if a book with the exact same method but only the JLPT2 list of Kanji got covered (with Kanji that are primitives but not on that list naturally).

Same order, same keywords, same everything. An RTK lite if you would. Would such a book be more readliy accepted and easier to use by beginners? Or would it be just as quickly panned by the critics and fans alike?
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 12.06.2007 10:16 am

I still would have problems with it, personally.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby everdream » Thu 12.06.2007 2:18 pm

I've got a question...
some people have mentioned the story idea that are in this book, could someone elaborate on that please?
Also I'm wondering if there is really any advantage to only learning the english meaning of kanji (at least at first)...?
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby morph » Thu 12.06.2007 3:18 pm

The best explanation is from the introduction to RtK. A google search for Remembering the Kanji Free Sample will turn it up. There is also a link to it through Wikipedia. And somewhere on Kanjiclinic.com

I don't think I've ever come across two people who agree exactly on what RtK is or isn't, so the best advice I can give is to read the source then read the opinions of others - Pro and Con.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby HarakoMeshi » Thu 12.06.2007 8:27 pm

everdream wrote:
I've got a question...
some people have mentioned the story idea that are in this book, could someone elaborate on that please?


Yeah. Basically you learn the common parts of kanji, giving them a name. Heisig calls these 'primitives'. Sometimes whole kanji are primitives too. Then to learn the writing of a new kanji you make up a short story that ties together the meaning and the primitives that make it up, and focus on visualising the story for a minute or two to make it stick.

Heisig only provides his own stories for about the first 250 kanji, then only plots for 250 more, then leaves you to do it yourself. Its kind of teaching you how to do it by yourself over that time. The Reviewing The Kanji website has a lot of great shared stories for all the kanji.

Its a very effective memory technique for me. I am pushing 1700 and I expect to finish the book quite soon. Nukemarine already finished the book.

Also I'm wondering if there is really any advantage to only learning the english meaning of kanji (at least at first)...?


Right now I'm still finishing off RTK1, so I have only used the new kanji meanings for a little reading practice on the side. After I finish I'm going to spend more time practicing reading.

So to answer your question, lets talk about the English kanji meanings, and after talk about what I'm seeing now by practicing reading with lots of RTK under my belt.

First lets ask a question. How much of Japanese vocab is made up of the following?

(A) single kanji all on their own
(B) kanji modified by various hiragana postfixes
(C) compound kanji

I think (A) is probably the smallest group. Learning a 'Japanese word' for individual kanji is ofcourse a way to expand your readable vocab (by 1 word), but its only scratching the surface of Japanese writing.

You may know 水 is read みず, but knowing the word みず doesn't help much to read 水道 (its not mizu-michi) or hundreds of other words that use 水. In fact you will have to learn on a word by word basis if the reading should be みず or すい. Just learning 水 = みず is only scratching the surface of the usage of 水 kanji.

What is quite useful, at least most of the time, is if you can recognize kanji and know what the kanji generally mean. Then you can see that large amounts of vocab in Japanese have some logic, and some pattern. And you can start to make connections right away on the first page of your textbook, looking at manga, watching JTV or anime, on the subway or street (if you're in Japan), everywhere you see kanji that you sort of *know*, a light will come on in your head.

So knowing a kanji meaning is certainly useful. So how about an English one instead of a Japanese one? When you consider that individual kanji words are only the smallest fraction of Japanese vocab, you realize that in the big scheme, knowing an English meaning is only slightly less useful than knowing a Japanese reading.

What is more conductive to learning 水道 すいどう (water supply), mizu-michi or water-way?

Its not like you will start to translate everything into English and keep doing that forever. If you do that you will end up with something even worse than computer based J->E translators: nonsense.

Its more like you have the kanji, they are your friends. You sort of know what they're supposed to mean. Now attach any Japanese words you need to them without boundaries of staying within only a few hundred elementary kanji.

---

What I've found so far is that it is very useful to know the writing and meaning. Basically, you can forget about the writing of individual kanji and focus on building readable vocab. I use the English meanings only the first few times I see new kanji words, then I learn the Japanese reading and I've found they stick better than ever before and I read them more fluently.

What you can do after RTK is start to attach kanji to vocab that you already have (if you have some). This lets you start to read more of what you already know, even if the kanji are not considered the most frequent.

You can then learn new words together with their kanji at the same time, so that your reading ability won't lag far behind your speaking ability. My current opinion is that learning new vocab is easier if you know the kanji than if you don't.
Last edited by HarakoMeshi on Thu 12.06.2007 9:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby jt » Thu 12.06.2007 10:55 pm

Let me ask this: a big problem (well the one I agree with) was Heisig's insistance on 2042 Kanji (The Jouyou plus change). What if a book with the exact same method but only the JLPT2 list of Kanji got covered (with Kanji that are primitives but not on that list naturally).

Same order, same keywords, same everything. An RTK lite if you would. Would such a book be more readliy accepted and easier to use by beginners? Or would it be just as quickly panned by the critics and fans alike?


It's not that 2042 kanji is "too many" to learn -- it's the idea that you should learn to write and associate English keywords (I refuse to call them "meanings" -- they're not) with a huge set of characters before learning how even _one_ of them actually fits into the larger picture of the Japanese language.

So for me, no -- the text you propose would not be an improvement.

You may know 水 is read みず, but knowing the word みず doesn't help much to read 水道 (its not mizu-michi) or hundreds of other words that use 水. In fact you will have to learn on a word by word basis if the reading should be みず or すい. Just learning 水 = みず is only scratching the surface of the usage of 水 kanji.

What is more conductive to learning 水道 すいどう (water supply), mizu-michi or water-way?


What would really be conducive to learning would be seeing the word 水道 in sentences that show how the word is actually used in Japanese.

Can you read these two sentences aloud and understand them?

・新しい家には水道がまだ引かれていない。
・料金を払わなかったので水道を止められた。

If not, then I'm sorry, but you don't really _know_ the compounds or kanji contained in them.

That's my biggest problem with Heisig. You can spend months with RTK1, going through this very involved study method to learn over 2000 characters and keywords, and when you finish -- congratulations! -- you are still 100% functionally illiterate in Japanese.

Yes, you have some kind of "foundation" on which to build, but it's not a necessary foundation -- you could have been learning the kanji as part of the Japanese language from the start.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby HarakoMeshi » Fri 12.07.2007 12:05 am

(I refuse to call them "meanings" -- they're not)


Care to ellaborate?

What would really be conducive to learning would be seeing the word 水道 in sentences that show how the word is actually used in Japanese.

Can you read these two sentences aloud and understand them?

・新しい家には水道がまだ引かれていない。
・料金を払わなかったので水道を止められた。

If not, then I'm sorry, but you don't really _know_ the compounds or kanji contained in them.


Well me personally, I could read most of it quite smoothly except for one word, 払わなかった, which I could guess means "did not pay" thanks to RTK but could not read it. But if I apply myself for a minute I will probably be able to read it from tomorrow without floundering.

Ofcourse 水道 is best learned in sentences. This is in fact what I did recently which is why I used it as an example.

http://www.coscom.co.jp/ebook/2001kanji ... 1-top.html

Its very easy for me to learn words like that. In fact I do that every day and lots of them stick right away.

But outside of kanji that are not already familiar, learning new words is not as easy as just reading them in sentences. There is a familiarity phaze, and for a while unfamiliar kanji remain a blur. This is a waste of learning energy that doesn't happen when the kanji are already quite familiar.

This is not something only someone who has done RTK can see. Any advanced learner should have had ample opportunity to see that it is easier to learn words made up of already familiar kanji than completely new ones.

That's my biggest problem with Heisig. You can spend months with RTK1, going through this very involved study method to learn over 2000 characters and keywords, and when you finish -- congratulations! -- you are still 100% functionally illiterate in Japanese.

Yes, you have some kind of "foundation" on which to build, but it's not a necessary foundation -- you could have been learning the kanji as part of the Japanese language from the start.


How do you know its not necessary? I think its very hard for you to see unless you're standing in the shoes of someone who has that foundation.

I didn't start with Heisig, but I sure appreciate its value now. Its hard to explain and harder to make people see, but it definitely helps to accelerate reading study.

Yes, you can start becoming literate right away. You can learn a few kanji along with learning some Japanese. But in the grand scheme of literacy its just "dumb and dumber". By the time someone finished RTK1 you may be a little more literate than they are, but just how literate in the big picture?

Anyway, I don't think that we could come to any conclusion about which approach could be better without some proper study of groups of students using each approach, and comparing results.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby morph » Fri 12.07.2007 1:48 am

That's my biggest problem with Heisig. You can spend months with RTK1, going through this very involved study method to learn over 2000 characters and keywords, and when you finish -- congratulations! -- you are still 100% functionally illiterate in Japanese.



Looking at the learning process in that way, from the bottom up, so to speak, yes, it does look like a waste of time. Your "student" is now 2-6 months in behind. But behind in what? Perhaps they were completing Pimsleur at the same time. Or perhaps a Romanji based course. Or perhaps had previously completed a course like Genki. There is no one path that everyone takes in learning.

Looking at it from the other end, 3-6 months at the beginning of a 20+ year Odessey means squat if that 3-6 months encourages and enhances the learning process.

The point is not what you are learning in 3-6 months, the point is what you are learning in years 3 to 6 to 9 to 12 etc., etc., etc.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby jt » Fri 12.07.2007 5:33 am

(I refuse to call them "meanings" -- they're not)

Care to ellaborate?

With the exception of characters that can be found on their own (outside of compounds) and be read as single words, it's really a stretch to claim that any kanji has one universal 'meaning' that can be encompassed by a single English word.

If you want to tell me that, say, 「馬」 "means" 'horse' or 「買」 "means" 'buy', fine -- I'll give you those. But it's another thing entirely to claim that 「徹」 "means" 'penetrate', 「築」 "means" 'fabricate' or the like. (I looked those keywords up -- I'm not normally familiar with what Heisig calls each kanji.)

If you were to show those characters to a native speaker and ask what they mean, you'd most likely get a response like "Oh, that's 徹夜(or 徹底)のテツ", or "That's 築(きず)く (or 「建築のチク」." These characters have 'meanings' only in so far as they exist as part of actual Japanese words.

Another thing I don't like about Heisig's method is that it promotes the idea that kanji are ideograms, with each individual character possessing some "true meaning" that can then be combined with other characters to produce words that may seem abstract at first, but when you think about them -- look, they really make sense!

You see people implying or saying things like:
"Oh, the way you say 'newspaper" in Japanese is 新聞, which literally means 'new-hear' and is pronounced しんぶん."
And that's one of the more straightforward ones -- if you take an example like 生徒 as "life-junior" it's even more clear how absurd this is.

(as a sidebar -- see this guy's ridiculous, offensive journal of his trip to Japan for an example of what happens if you take the "ideogram" myth way too far.)

Anyway, if this sort of thing helps you as a memory aid, that's great, but please don't try to argue that the word 生徒 -- as it's actually used in the Japanese language -- has anything to do with "life-junior."

That's why I call them "keywords", not "meanings."

A "meaning" sounds like something you absolutely _must_ know to truly understand that character. It is perfectly possible to understand 「徒」 in terms of actual Japanese words like 生徒 and 教徒 without ever learning the "meaning" of 'junior.'

How do you know its not necessary? I think its very hard for you to see unless you're standing in the shoes of someone who has that foundation.

I know it's not necessary because many people (including myself and others on this forum) have achieved a high level of Japanese literacy without learning English "meanings" for the complete 常用漢字 set.

Or are you going to argue that the foundation provided by Heisig _is_ necessary for true Japanese literacy, despite the fact that you (using Heisig) have not yet achieved this level of ability, and others (without using Heisig) have?

I'm honestly sorry if it sounds like I'm being condescending here, but I'm really just trying to figure out where you're coming from here.

This is not something only someone who has done RTK can see. Any advanced learner should have had ample opportunity to see that it is easier to learn words made up of already familiar kanji than completely new ones.

Actually, it is far easier for me to pick up new kanji for words that I have already heard in context and have some familiarity with. This is how native speakers learn kanji -- a Japanese child has already heard the word しんぶん probably a thousand times and knows exactly what a しんぶん is before he learns in school that it's written with the characters for 新しい and 聞く.

Yes, you can start becoming literate right away. You can learn a few kanji along with learning some Japanese. But in the grand scheme of literacy its just "dumb and dumber". By the time someone finished RTK1 you may be a little more literate than they are, but just how literate in the big picture?

Looking at it from the other end, 3-6 months at the beginning of a 20+ year Odessey means squat if that 3-6 months encourages and enhances the learning process.

The point is not what you are learning in 3-6 months, the point is what you are learning in years 3 to 6 to 9 to 12 etc., etc., etc.

Look, if everyone who used Heisig used it as part of a balanced, carefully-planned long-term Japanese study program, that would be great.

The problem is that while 3-6 months may not be a very long time when compared to the many years it will take to master Japanese, it's still an extremely long time for a beginning student to spend on a task with no immediate benefits -- a task which is completely divorced from the ultimate goal of actually reading Japanese. That time could be much better spent getting started internalizing Japanese grammar and sentence structure, which is just as much (if not more) of an obstacle to mastering the language as kanji.

Heisig pretty much comes out and says, "Hey, the biggest obstacle to learning Japanese is kanji. Learning the kanji -- all of them! -- is _so_ important that you should devote months and months of your time to systematically learning the kanji -- and only the kanji -- before you even think about doing anything else. And learning the kanji is _so_ difficult that you should focus on just learning the characters themselves and a single English keyword for each of them before we even talk about how they're used in the Japanese language."

I just think this (all of it) is false and misleading to learners -- it's really that simple.

---

Okay, this post was way too long. (Speaking of finding better uses of one's time, why do I let myself get sucked into this same debate over and over again?)
Last edited by jt on Fri 12.07.2007 5:44 am, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby hyperconjugated » Fri 12.07.2007 8:40 am

jt wrote:
Okay, this post was way too long. (Speaking of finding better uses of one's time, why do I let myself get sucked into this same debate over and over again?)

That was a great post (among many in this thread).
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Fri 12.07.2007 10:10 am

Yes, good post.

3-6 months is a very ambitious prediction, as I said. You cannot keep using "3-6 months" as if this is some absolute figure, that nobody will ever need beyond 6 months to finish it. Just looking over on the RTK forums, I've seen people mentioning 9-10 months, 9 months, 2 years, 1.5 years, etc. There are some 3-6 month people, but they seem to be half or less.
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