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'Remembering the kanji' question...

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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby Wakannai » Fri 12.07.2007 10:37 am

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


Care to ellaborate?


No language, at least no natural language, is created as a translation of another language. Each word has a meaning and connotation that is divorced from other languages especially when words are translated one-for-one. Allowing oneself to believe that a word in one language means another word in a different language is completely wrong. It's better to think that a word in one language can be translated to another word, depending on context. Midori in Japanese doesn't mean green in English, but sometimes it can be translated green.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby yukamina » Fri 12.07.2007 2:26 pm

jt wrote:
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.

It's just a way to help remember them and why they are used. What do you purpose? Learning several thousand words without relating the ("random")kanji to the words they're used in? Sounds extremely difficult and boring. We don't all have the opportunity to be immersed in or raised in Japan. The extent of my exposure is what I have a chance to watch or read. I don't get to hear 築く thousands of times before I study it actively. Why make things more difficult than they have to be?

No language, at least no natural language, is created as a translation of another language. Each word has a meaning and connotation that is divorced from other languages especially when words are translated one-for-one. Allowing oneself to believe that a word in one language means another word in a different language is completely wrong. It's better to think that a word in one language can be translated to another word, depending on context. Midori in Japanese doesn't mean green in English, but sometimes it can be translated green.

No, Japanese words do not mean English words. But we're all human with the same ideas and concepts. Language is representative, to my English brain, green isn't just a word, it's the color it represents. To learn the colors in Japanese I could use pictures instead of English words but I can't do that for much else. Can someone please explain to me how people are supposed to learn a foreign language without relating it to their native language? Without being immersed.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby HarakoMeshi » Fri 12.07.2007 2:48 pm

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.

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."


I think you're exhagerating this. People don't end up thinking kanji have exact meanings. Its not supposed to be used for literal translation. I've said that, how many times...?

Keywords are not something new that Heisig invented. Halpern gives keywords, which are intended to give a useful relation between the kanji and most uses of the kanji.

If anything Heisig teaches you to be a lot more malleable and understand that its not always exact or easy and obvious, its often crazy, but he teaches how to make sense of crazyness.

If one can make something like this kanji memorable: 融 dissolve = "ceiling+mouth+belt+human-legs+spike+insect", one should have little trouble to make 新聞 and 生徒 memorable.

When you take 先生 and 生徒 together its easy to see some logic and remember them.

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.


Let me rephrase that. Ofcourse its not "an absolute necessity" to have that foundation. Just when you say "its not necessary", it implies to me that its not useful and you can learn to read kanji just as well without that foundation.

I'm just asking, how do you know that it doesn't have a positive effect on one's ability to learn how to read?

I argue that it does have a very positive effect, because I can see it in myself. I have some before & after insight right here.

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


Look, if everyone who started learning Japanese was just a kid who thought "Hey wouldn't it be cool to lear a little Japanese?" with no long term interest in mastering the language and its reading then this kind of agument against Heisig would be valid because RTK would be overkill.

Its not an argument against RTK for the serious learner.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby Chris Hart » Fri 12.07.2007 2:58 pm

Unfortunately, without imersion, or direct examples, it is dificult, which is why many learners of a second language end up translating their own comments in their head before speaking. (I include myself in that comment most of the time.) However, there are great resources available. Personally, I use Japanesepod101.com for lessons, and their new sister site Englishpod101.com for listening practice. In their comments and forums, I attempt to use Japanese as much as I can. (currently that's rather limited)

JP101 has a target audience of English speakers learning Japanese
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby HarakoMeshi » Fri 12.07.2007 3:07 pm

Yudan Taiteki wrote:
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.


There are people with varied commitment and time to spend on the book. There are some who were on vacation and spent most of their time studying RTK and finished in 25 days.

Speaking only for myself, I don't usually have time for more than 1 to 2 hours on RTK every day, but that's enough to finish RTK1 in about 3 months.

If one only has 2 hours a week... it will take years to finish.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby Wakannai » Fri 12.07.2007 4:36 pm

yukamina wrote:

No language, at least no natural language, is created as a translation of another language. Each word has a meaning and connotation that is divorced from other languages especially when words are translated one-for-one. Allowing oneself to believe that a word in one language means another word in a different language is completely wrong. It's better to think that a word in one language can be translated to another word, depending on context. Midori in Japanese doesn't mean green in English, but sometimes it can be translated green.

No, Japanese words do not mean English words. But we're all human with the same ideas and concepts. Language is representative, to my English brain, green isn't just a word, it's the color it represents. To learn the colors in Japanese I could use pictures instead of English words but I can't do that for much else. Can someone please explain to me how people are supposed to learn a foreign language without relating it to their native language? Without being immersed.


We are all human with similar ideas and concepts. They are not the same. The "color" midori represents in Japanese in not the same color Green represents in English. In fact, both languages have a different conceptualization of what "color" is to begin with. Even what parts of speech a word is in one language can differ in another. It is common for a verb in one language to be a noun in another, or an adjective in one language to be a noun in the other.

Of course you will need to link foreign words to native words. The important thing is to never forget that this is an inherently flawed approach even as it's necessary. As long as you realize that Midori doesn't mean Green, and sometimes means something else and the word isn't necessarily used in the same way in Japanese as Green is used in English, then you're ok. Just don't allow yourself to fall into the trap of thinking the two words mean the same thing.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby yukamina » Fri 12.07.2007 5:39 pm

Wakannai wrote:


We are all human with similar ideas and concepts. They are not the same. The "color" midori represents in Japanese in not the same color Green represents in English. In fact, both languages have a different conceptualization of what "color" is to begin with. Even what parts of speech a word is in one language can differ in another. It is common for a verb in one language to be a noun in another, or an adjective in one language to be a noun in the other.

The same capacity for those concepts. They're just formed and expressed differently. What's the difference between midori and green then? Or the idea of colors? I only use English to get the rough idea, if it's a verb in English and a noun in Japanese that doesn't matter.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby Wakannai » Fri 12.07.2007 6:03 pm

I only use English to get the rough idea,


Just keep in mind that it's very rough.

What's the difference between midori and green then?


Midori can be used in the following ways and doesn't mean green in the English sense, but obviously means Midori still in Japanese.

緑の黒髪

公園の緑は私たちの目を慰めてくれる。
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby HarakoMeshi » Fri 12.07.2007 6:57 pm

Wakannai wrote:
I only use English to get the rough idea,


Just keep in mind that it's very rough.

What's the difference between midori and green then?


Midori can be used in the following ways and doesn't mean green in the English sense, but obviously means Midori still in Japanese.

緑の黒髪

公園の緑は私たちの目を慰めてくれる。



Midori is green (except when its blue) :).

What you're talking about is usage of the word "midori"/"green" in Japanese. We have many of our own idiomatic usages of "green" that don't mean "green in color" too, for example

"green fingered" - good at making plants grow
"green car" - environmentally friendly
"give the green light" - Give permission to someone to proceed.
Its also used for young/youthful/healthy/immature/unripe among other things.

In order to learn a language it means to learn the words and then to learn how to use them.

There's no need to put the cart before the horse and teach an English student "green" idioms before you teach them the color "green". One can learn the most basic usage first, and then through hearing or reading other uses of "green" one can start to learn the different ways its used within the language.

Whether you first learned 緑 is "midori" or 緑 is "green", the specific meaning of 緑の黒髪 still remains to be learned in both cases, and its not a matter of literacy. In both cases you'll have a big question mark, and the only way to learn what it really means is to have it explained, or see it used often and learn by association.

As far as the ability to read you don't need to know all the idioms. As far as the ability to comprehend, you do. But I think these are distinct abilities.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby Wakannai » Fri 12.07.2007 7:36 pm

Which is just another way of making my point. That a word in one language doesn't always correspond to given word in another.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby saraLynne » Fri 12.07.2007 8:17 pm

You're focusing too hard on wakannai's specific example and not his point.

You can be a serious student and still be stuck inside the box. There's a huge invisible barrier that one must break in language learning related to how literally people expect another language to correspond to their own.

I took two years of German classes in high school and never broke through that barrier. I can say with confidence that none of my classmates did, either. It was just another school subject. We were concerned with technical accuracy and test scores, where language is waaaay more complicated than that. We didn't care.

Even when I did care (IE, when I decided I wanted to learn Japanese), I was already trapped inside that box. It may be a very melodramatic statement, but the very moment I was pulled out of my ignorance, it was like the whole world of language study was tossed into my lap to do with as I please.

I owe Tony-sensei an infinite debt of gratitude for the day he posted the links to the two essays that accomplished that breakthrough for me.

http://www.english-learning.co.uk/voc.html
http://www.english-learning.co.uk/vocdb.html

These two essays sort of point-counterpoint each other.

Before someone reaches the stage where they can allow themselves to accept the concepts covered in those essays, I personally believe Heisig's method can be DANGEROUS for their chances of success.

Learning grammar and vocab will start to induct someone into the culture behind the language -sooner- than Heisig, which does not try to take someone outside their native language element.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby jt » Fri 12.07.2007 9:28 pm

This "midori doesn't really mean green, because there's never an exact one-to-one correspondence between two words in different languages" argument is interesting (and I agree with many of Wakannai's points), but it's going off onto a bit of a tangent.

I think you're exhagerating this. People don't end up thinking kanji have exact meanings. Its not supposed to be used for literal translation. I've said that, how many times...?

Does everyone take it to this extreme? No, of course not. But in my experience, many naive learners start out with this skewed idea of kanji as ideograms, and Heisig certainly doesn't do anything to discourage this. On the contrary, the sheer amount of time RTK has you spend reinforcing kanji<->English keyword connections can only encourage this sort of thinking (to one degree or another) on both the conscious and subconscious level.

If anything Heisig teaches you to be a lot more malleable and understand that its not always exact or easy and obvious, its often crazy, but he teaches how to make sense of crazyness.

If one can make something like this kanji memorable: 融 dissolve = "ceiling+mouth+belt+human-legs+spike+insect", one should have little trouble to make 新聞 and 生徒 memorable.

When you take 先生 and 生徒 together its easy to see some logic and remember them.

See, this is exactly what I don't get about Heisig. Why are kanji "crazy"? Why does learning kanji have to involve "making sense of craziness?" As far as I'm concerned, Heisig _encourages_ this view of kanji as wacky hieroglyphs.

I mean, do you really have to make up some silly story about a belt-wearing half-human insect-man (think "The Fly") perched on the ceiling spitting some acidic phlegm from his mouth that dissolves a metal spike on the ground below him (how was that for a first try? ;>) to associate the above character with "dissolve"?

Which brings us to the larger problem... how well does the keyword "dissolve" _really_ help a learner understand words like 融資, 融通, and 融合? That's a rhetorical question -- I'm sure you (or any Heisig devotee) can come up with some explanation of the connection. But at some point, don't you ever feel like you (and Heisig) are _overcomplicating_ all of this rather than making it easier? I mean, you're making up elaborate stories to associate a character with an English keyword, then in turn having to make other associations to connect those keywords with actual Japanese words that are often only tangentially related to the keywords.

I mean, it just seems like a [url=en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rube_Goldberg_machine]Rube Goldberg machine[/url] to me.

I mean, I see how it could be "fun" in some way -- and if there's one thing I give Heisig credit for, it's that he seems to have figured out how to make kanji study enjoyable for certain types of people (which is no small feat.) Still, it just seems like a lot of unnecessary work -- work that takes your time and attention away from the actual Japanese language.

Also, let me add that it's also a rather poor use of the beginning student's time to learn 「融」 months (or years?) before they will have the necessary foundation in the language to understand words like 融資, 融通, and 融合 in context.

Let me rephrase that. Ofcourse its not "an absolute necessity" to have that foundation. Just when you say "its not necessary", it implies to me that its not useful and you can learn to read kanji just as well without that foundation.


Yes, I learned to read Japanese (saying "read kanji" is misleading because there is far more to reading Japanese than just kanji) just fine without going through the RTK method, and I know many others who have done the same.

I'm just asking, how do you know that it doesn't have a positive effect on one's ability to learn how to read?
I argue that it does have a very positive effect, because I can see it in myself. I have some before & after insight right here.


I'm sorry, but this is not necessarily an argument in favor of Heisig -- it could simply be that your previous study methods were even more ineffective.

Mind you, I'm not saying that Heisig's method offers _no_ benefits whatsoever -- one benefit I can possibly see is that it might help certain people not forget how to _write_ some of the more complex characters, which is something that even some native speakers struggle with.

My question is -- is this whole system really worth the time and effort it asks you to invest? Given the ultimate goal of becoming literate in Japanese, does Heisig really offer concrete, tangible benefits over a more context-based system of kanji study?

I have yet to see a compelling argument in favor of this.

Look, if everyone who started learning Japanese was just a kid who thought "Hey wouldn't it be cool to lear a little Japanese?" with no long term interest in mastering the language and its reading then this kind of agument against Heisig would be valid because RTK would be overkill.

Its not an argument against RTK for the serious learner.

The argument against RTK for the "serious" learner is that the serious learner has a goal of actually becoming functionally proficient in the Japanese language (i.e. able to handle authentic material) as soon as possible, and for these people, expending a not-insignificant amount of time and effort on an English-keyword-and-story-based kanji study program that has nothing to do with the actual Japanese language is not a particularly effective use of their resources.

And to be honest with you, I think the average beginning learner's attitude is much closer to the "Hey, wouldn't it be cool..." kid than the overly idealistic picture of the "Let's dive into Heisig as the first part of my foolproof, unwavering 10-year plan to master Japanese!" learner you describe.

Not that there's anything wrong with this -- I would suspect that very few people (this includes myself) went into Japanese knowing from day one that it was going to become one of their major life studies. This is yet another argument for making one's study of the language as meaningful as it can be from the earliest stage possible.

(This will probably be my last extensive post on this topic -- I think I've made all the points I wanted to make -- but of course I'd still be happy to respond to individual arguments about anything I've said.)
Last edited by jt on Fri 12.07.2007 9:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby Christine Tham » Fri 12.07.2007 11:21 pm

jt wrote:
(This will probably be my last extensive post on this topic -- I think I've made all the points I wanted to make -- but of course I'd still be happy to respond to individual arguments about anything I've said.)


I've been away for a few days and can see this discussion has progressed a fair bit in my absence.

Like you, I decided about a week ago not to post any further on this topic - clearly the various parties are not budging from their views so there's no point.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for your posts - I agree with just about everything you have said, and you have said it better than me.
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby HarakoMeshi » Fri 12.07.2007 11:31 pm

I mean, do you really have to make up some silly story about a belt-wearing half-human insect-man (think "The Fly") perched on the ceiling spitting some acidic phlegm from his mouth that dissolves a metal spike on the ground below him (how was that for a first try? ;>) to associate the above character with "dissolve"?


Excellent story for a first try. You would do splendidly with RTK ;).

The thing is that this is extremely easy and effective to associate the writing with the keyword, so why not use a story method if that works?

But in my experience, many naive learners start out with this skewed idea of kanji as ideograms, and Heisig certainly doesn't do anything to discourage this. On the contrary, the sheer amount of time RTK has you spend reinforcing kanji<->English keyword connections can only encourage this sort of thinking (to one degree or another) on both the conscious and subconscious level.


I think that anyone who finishes RTK will learn to have a very very open mind to what kanji can and cannot be :D.

You haven't offered any explanation why thinking of kanji as ideographs is such a bad thing. Kanji carry sound and ideas. Who would want to ignore the ideas? That would be ignoring a very useful attribute of the kanji.

See, this is exactly what I don't get about Heisig. Why are kanji "crazy"? Why does learning kanji have to involve "making sense of craziness?" As far as I'm concerned, Heisig _encourages_ this view of kanji as wacky hieroglyphs.


No, the Japanese writing system is complex and wacky enough, all on its own. Heisig encourages a more rational view, to see the kanji clearly and discretely.

Which brings us to the larger problem... how well does the keyword "dissolve" _really_ help a learner understand words like 融資, 融通, and 融合? That's a rhetorical question -- I'm sure you (or any Heisig devotee) can come up with some explanation of the connection. But at some point, don't you ever feel like you (and Heisig) are _overcomplicating_ all of this rather than making it easier? I mean, you're making up elaborate stories to associate a character with an English keyword, then in turn having to make other associations to connect those keywords with actual Japanese words that are often only tangentially related to the keywords.

I mean, it just seems like a [url=en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rube_Goldberg_machine]Rube Goldberg machine[/url] to me.


The answer is in your own writing. Kanji keywords are only tangentially related to the Japanese words. And further, kanji writings themselves are at best only tangentially related to their core keywords (more often they are not at all easy to relate). So kanji writings and meanings are chaotic. But the goal is to bring order to this beutiful chaos so that you can learn to read it nice and simple.

I'm just wondering how do YOU go about learning something like 融資? Are you just going to learn this out of thin air? Are you going to learn the compound kanji as two shapes of total 29 brush strokes with no rhyme or reason or relation to anything else? I doubt it.

You have to make some associations otherwise you're wasting energy. 融 in 融資 has the same writing as in 融く. Are you going to remember these completely distinclty? I wouldn't. And yet associating 融資 with 融く is just as hard as with "dissolve".


I mean, I see how it could be "fun" in some way -- and if there's one thing I give Heisig credit for, it's that he seems to have figured out how to make kanji study enjoyable for certain types of people (which is no small feat.) Still, it just seems like a lot of unnecessary work -- work that takes your time and attention away from the actual Japanese language.

Also, let me add that it's also a rather poor use of the beginning student's time to learn 「融」 months (or years?) before they will have the necessary foundation in the language to understand words like 融資, 融通, and 融合 in context.


See, some naive learners (two can play at this game ;)) end up thinking that the communicational value of Japanese words is related how hard the words are to write. That is not the case, since the complexity of the writing of kanji and kanji compounds has no relation to the function of the words in the Japanese language.

昼御飯 (御 is often written in kana) uses kanji that all have a frequency of over 1000 (in newspapers), yet the word for a midday meal (lunch) is such a trivial word that people commonly learn in beginner Japanese.

融資 (ゆうし) may seem 'complex' in its writing but it is a very simple and common word that can be quite easily incorporated in a dialogue using only 1st day beginner Japanese grammar. However it isn't used in beginner courses, because its so much more useful to talk about pencils ;).

My question is -- is this whole system really worth the time and effort it asks you to invest? Given the ultimate goal of becoming literate in Japanese, does Heisig really offer concrete, tangible benefits over a more context-based system of kanji study?

I have yet to see a compelling argument in favor of this.


Since you discounted my insight because "I may have been studying ineffectively before RTK", you are not likely to ever get a complete answer to your question unless someone does a controlled study.

A certain Khatsumoto from AJATT who started with RTK, claims that in 18 months he went from zero to "enough to read technical material, conduct business correspondence and job interviews in Japanese".

I have asked several times for people here to tell us how long they studied Japanese before they got to an advanced reading level, but nobody has yet given any answer to this question.

The argument against RTK for the "serious" learner is that the serious learner has a goal of actually becoming functionally proficient in the Japanese language (i.e. able to handle authentic material) as soon as possible, and for these people, expending a not-insignificant amount of time and effort on an English-keyword-and-story-based kanji study program that has nothing to do with the actual Japanese language is not a particularly effective use of their resources.


Yes, one has the goal of being able to handle authentic material, like work material, books, newspapers, reports, manuals. How much of that material could I learn to handle in 3 months, 1 to 2 hours a day, of basic Japanese study? Very little I think.

As a long term goal to read, I see the benefit of using a kanji writing learning order that is not by usage frequency but by ease of learning.

Not that there's anything wrong with this -- I would suspect that very few people (this includes myself) went into Japanese knowing from day one that it was going to become one of their major life studies. This is yet another argument for making one's study of the language as meaningful as it can be from the earliest stage possible.

(This will probably be my last extensive post on this topic -- I think I've made all the points I wanted to make -- but of course I'd still be happy to respond to individual arguments about anything I've said.)


In earlier posts I stated that I myself did not jump into RTK first thing, and that I believe that getting a taste of Japanese before diving into RTK is likely to improve the odds of completing RTK and putting it to good use.

Post RTK however, it is diffult not to feel like "why didn't I just do this a year ago!".
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RE: 'Remembering the kanji' question...

Postby hungryhotei » Sat 12.08.2007 12:41 am

HarakoMeshi wrote:
I have asked several times for people here to tell us how long they studied Japanese before they got to an advanced reading level, but nobody has yet given any answer to this question.


I'll tell you my story. I think I'm one example of the benefits of context based systems of study.

Like many (all?) of the posters here with a level of literacy at or above JLPT1 level, I learned Japanese through a variety of non-Heisig methods including intensive flashcard study (from maybe 500 kanji to 1000 kanji) and reading normal Japanese (1000+). I was familiar with kanji components (or primitves/radicals whatever) from the book Kanji ABC. I have never been to Japan, and until very recently I have never been to a class anywhere near appropriate for my level, neither did I have any background in East Asian langages. The study of Japanese I describe below took place in my spare time and holidays while I was studying for my undergraduate degree here in the UK.

After around 6 months of study with a grammar knowledge around JLPT3, and after that intensive flashcard study (which included learning readings and words using the kanji) I started reading manga. After 12 months of study, around the time I started reading books for children like Harry Potter, I passed JLPT2. Around 18 months, when I was reading books by authors like Murakami Haruki and Yoshimoto Banana I was passing JLPT 1 past papers. It's probably safe to say that by then I could read somewhere around 2000 kanji, although I hadn't really done any kanji study apart from reading and JLPT practice. After 24 months of study I was reading more difficult books like those by Soseki, and easily passed JLPT1 and Kanken 5.
天気がいいから、散歩しましょう。
hungryhotei
 
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Joined: Wed 04.12.2006 5:06 am
Location: Germany
Native language: English

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