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The ingenious Heisig Method

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The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Suedenjin » Tue 07.10.2007 9:36 am

Ouch! New member jumping into a mine field :D

I've spent a couple of hours today reading about Heisig and his Remembering the Kanji here, and I am really amazed at the confusion regarding both kanji and Heisig's book. In particular I find it a bit depressing seeing the ignorant and aggressive attacks on what I consider to be a linguistic pioneering work. Really reamarkable, indeed.

My own entry point into "kanji" was very simple: I like various ways to write languages. Just like some people collect stamps, I "collect" writing systems. I happened to first pick Japanese, but it could having been Chinese instead.

"Kanji" (or "hanzi", if you prefer) is first of all a writing system with ancient roots. Per se it has very little to do with the Japanese language, apart from the fact that some freaks long ago decided that it would be cool to be able to write the Japanese language in some way or another. Since everything Chinese was popular in Japan at that time, they decided to press a REALLY alien writing system on a TOTALLY different language. I know very little about the Chinese languages, but as far as I've been able to tell there are very few similarities apart from the use of Chinese Characters in both Japanese and Chinese.

So confusing the nature of "kanji" studies and pretending that it's the same as learning the Japanese language is utterly misdirected. On the other hand you will be able to decipher quite a lot of the meaning of both written Japanese and (to a lesser extent) Chinese written/printed material. You are no longer assualted by a flood of alien lines and dots but are able to see that "this text is about dogs and cats" and so on.

When I first learned a considerable chunk of kanji using Heisig's first book I was really happy to be able to "read" some Japanese texts and get a clue what it was about. Even if his keywords are a bit off target now and then most of them are right on the spot to get the core meaning of the character. Really encouraging if you aim at being able to read Japanese.

My first attempt using the Heisg method broke down at around 1300 kanji learned. Why? Since I didn't take his advice seriously enough and studied the "stories" used as mnemonics, and in particular I was sloppy making up my own stuff after the first 500 kanji. So I went the conventional root and started to Learn Kanji In Context. Since then - several years ago - I've been able to learn several hundred kanji, their meaning, reading and pronunciation In ConText.

The problem for me has been that my knowledge of written Japanese has been a onesided one: can read but cannot write. AND above all I was never able to remember what blasted kanji was used in a particular word and I have been mixing up this kanji with that kanji in absurdum.

So I decided to go back to where I started and learn all kanji in Remembering the Kanji I and this time do it as Heisig adviced. Volia! And it works this time! Suddenly I am both able to tell the difference between look-alike kanji when I read and also able to write those words I couldn't remember at all. That's really a huge step forward in my Japanese skills.

So why are some people so negative when Heisig is mentioned here? Protecting their own waste of time learning kanji (CHINESE CHARACTERS!) in a very inefficient way? Heisig NEVER says that his book is a Japanese textbook or whatever. He states in the clearest possible way that this is a book that teaches you to memorize, recognize and write (the shape, lines and dots of) 2000+ kanji. Nothing more and nothing less. The fact that the ancients in Japan added layer on layer of equally imported Chinese "readings" as well as native words to these symbols is an entirely different story.

Now when I've been taking my kanji studies more seriously I've been able to really learn the first half of the book (1080 kanji, to be precise) in a month. I use the handy J-Quick program to test my progress as well as to offer hints on alternative meanings, keywords and so on. Works like magic.

BTW: I assume that the Heisig method would be EVEN MORE useful to students of Chinese since it is my impression that this language 1) requires more hanzi to be able to be considered litterate and 2) the characters used tend to be more complex than their Japanese cousins (even when using simplified hanzi).

So please stop all biased and ignorant attacks on a method that could be very useful for many students of Japanese wanting to read and write FULL Japanese early on in their studies and not having to suffer from these endless hiragana-threads crawling across the pages. KANJI RULES!! :)
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby hyperconjugated » Tue 07.10.2007 10:06 am

Please read some old threads about
the heisig-method. There are plenty
of well-informed opinions against it.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Suedenjin » Tue 07.10.2007 10:12 am

Please read some old threads about
the heisig-method. There are plenty
of well-informed opinions against it.


I've spent a couple of hours today reading about Heisig and his Remembering the Kanji here, and I am really amazed at the confusion regarding both kanji and Heisig's book.


Isn't a couple of hours enough to get a well-informed view here?

I DID find some well-informed opinions, but most of the anti-Heisig stuff was really nothing based on reality.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby hyperconjugated » Tue 07.10.2007 10:20 am

Suedenjin wrote:
Isn't a couple of hours enough to get a well-informed view here?

I DID find some well-informed opinions, but most of the anti-Heisig stuff was really nothing based on reality.

No ;D Ok, i think many of those anti-Heisig
opinions are reasonable, especially Yudan's.
But don't worry, I'll think you will get the
other side started with opening like this.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Suedenjin » Tue 07.10.2007 10:56 am

My aim was not to get anyone "started" but to give credits where credits are due. I think the Heisig method has been distorted here and this has turned many potential kanji students away from something that would benefit them greatly.

Funny. I found Yudans opinons particularly misinformed. He can't even see the difference between "kanji" (CHINESE CHARACTERS!!) and the Japanese language.

To get a well-balanced view of all kanji matters I would recommend the Kanji Clinic column published in The Japan Times. All 80+ columns are available as well as plenty of reviews of books including very favorable ones on the Heisig series.

http://kanjiclinic.com/preart.htm

It's really nothing unique for us gaijins living outside Japan to have trouble remembering kanji, but also foreigners fluent in spoken Japanese as well as native readers.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Jotrin » Tue 07.10.2007 5:11 pm

This reads like a commercial.

Also: One method of learning might not work for everyone. The way I learn Chinese confuses the hell out of anyone who asks - but I managed to learn in the average week - the 20 or so new hanzi that the teacher gave the class. I've used other methods in the past which don't work. Same with my classmates. We all had to find something that worked for US. NOT just some random "cure-all" for learning.

And if there are already threads debating this why is this post not a reply to one?
Last edited by Jotrin on Tue 07.10.2007 5:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby SirFirestorm » Tue 07.10.2007 6:05 pm

Unfortunately, Heisig works, and you have folks with pokemon badges coming in boasting about how many cat/dog/fish mnemonics changed their life and how they lost 60 pounds in 2 months. If you can count the number of kanji you "know", you are probably doing it wrong.

If you are into collecting stamps I suppose heisig is fine for you. The popular opinion of heisig though is even though you learn kanji, you do not know how to use kanji. There really isnt a point in knowing kanji if you cant read it in a sentence.
The only way to learn how to read is to read, you should be aware of that fact after you memorized hiragana. Humans language recognition is based on the shape of letters and words, even though you memorized hiragana you should find it much more difficult to read hiragana. Even though I practice reading japanese everyday I am not even at 1/10 the reading speed for english because of my limited experience.

Heisig is a bunch of mnenomics designed to give an inflated opinion of your flawed progression in the Japanese language. The arguments found on this forum are for the well being of its readers, there are no shortcuts to learning a language.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Suedenjin » Tue 07.10.2007 6:19 pm

Jotrin wrote:
This reads like a commercial.

Your interpretation. I've paid for all of my Japanese books and tested various approaches to get this complex language to stay in my memory and after several years I find that this is the best approach for me to get a solid foundation in reading Japanese texts and remembering the new words I encounter.

Also: One method of learning might not work for everyone.

Absolutely true. If I gave the impression that Heisig's method is the only and only way to go, I surely don't think so. For those who suffer from Teflon-memory, like I do, I think it indeed can be a very efficient way to get something sticky there where you more easily can add other pieces of information (on/kun readings, multiple meanings and so on). Those with better memory able to accommodate all layers of information at the same time might find the conventional methods more suitable.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Infidel » Tue 07.10.2007 6:28 pm

Funny. I found Yudans opinons particularly misinformed. He can't even see the difference between "kanji" (CHINESE CHARACTERS!!) and the Japanese language.


You misunderstood.
So please stop all biased and ignorant attacks on a method that could be very useful for many students of Japanese wanting to read and write FULL Japanese early on in their studies and not having to suffer from these endless hiragana-threads crawling across the pages. KANJI RULES!!


Heisig has one Major thing going against it--among all the other problems. There is still not 1 person that has claimed to use Heisig as a primary source that progressed to an advanced level. Only complete beginners rave about Heisig. They rave for a few weeks, then gives up on Japanese and we never hear from them again. I can't think of any better reason to avoid Heisig than that. It's the black hole of kanji learning. Once you fall in, you never come out. The proof is in the results, and Heisig is still batting zero.
Last edited by Infidel on Tue 07.10.2007 6:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby richvh » Tue 07.10.2007 6:36 pm

But, see, you aren't using the Heisig method as he lays it out in his introduction (as reported by Chris here in various threads), i.e., you aren't using it in isolation to learn kanji, you are using it to supplement what you already know. I don't think the major objections to Heisig are to using it as a supplement; it's using it in isolation, using it to learn all the Jouyou kanji before you start reading.

I haven't used Heisig, but I have used Slime Forest Adventure, and the kanji portion of that is reminiscent of the descriptions I've read of Heisig. Frankly, Slime Forest helped me recognize some kanji, but it didn't help me read them very much - and now that the limited kanji vocabulary drill has been removed, it's even less useful for that purpose.

Frankly, I think that the reason that you are getting more out of Heisig now than you did before is because you have used other methods in between, and have experience reading. Heisig may well be more useful for remembering how to write kanji than for learning how to read them.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Suedenjin » Tue 07.10.2007 6:46 pm

Infidel wrote:
Heisig has one Major thing going against it--among all the other problems.

What other problems?

There is still not 1 person that has claimed to use Heisig as a primary source that progressed to an advanced level. Only complete beginners rave about Heisig.

Are you sure about that? I was a complete beginner when I first got started using Heisig's first book and I guess that was six or seven years ago. I have been studying Japanese on and off since then just for the fun of it, so I have little experience of other students levels of knowledge.

They rave for a few weeks, then gives up on Japanese and we never hear from them again. I can't think of any better reason to avoid Heisig than that. It's the black hole of kanji learning. Once you fall in, you never come out.

I came out, spent several years in the enlightened world out there, but recently realized I have neither the kind of memory and time needed for me to make serious progress reading Japanese. So I'm back to finish what I gave up in the beginning: to be able to remember kanji I encounter in texts (no matter if I already know their reading or not). If I remember the kanji I find that I have a real help in also remembering vocabulary, but that's how MY memory works.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Suedenjin » Tue 07.10.2007 7:08 pm

richvh wrote:
But, see, you aren't using the Heisig method as he lays it out in his introduction (as reported by Chris here in various threads), i.e., you aren't using it in isolation to learn kanji, you are using it to supplement what you already know. I don't think the major objections to Heisig are to using it as a supplement; it's using it in isolation, using it to learn all the Jouyou kanji before you start reading.

I was using it that way the first time. The reason I gave up was that I didn't follow his method in memorizing the kanji, i.e. I paid to little attention to the process of creating my own "stories" after the first 500 kanji. Up to that point it worked just as "advertised": I could remember the kanji and could write them.

Frankly, I think that the reason that you are getting more out of Heisig now than you did before is because you have used other methods in between, and have experience reading. Heisig may well be more useful for remembering how to write kanji than for learning how to read them.

Actually, I think the reason why I am appreciating Heisig more today is that I found all other methods to learn new kanji, compounds, ordinary vocabulary and so on, extremely frustrating since I too often forgot it unless I spent more time repeating "learned" stuff than getting on with new material. "Sheesh, what kanji was used here??" "What kanji is that?" in absurdum. In this mess of multiple on/kun readings, complex grammar and sound-alike words it is really a relief to at least have one solid point of reference: the Chinese Characters and how to remember the difference between them. Enough for me.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Tue 07.10.2007 8:11 pm

I've pretty much said my piece against Heisig. If people want to use it despite my objections, that's not my concern.

I will never recommend Heisig to anyone. Does that mean I think it will be of absolutely no help to anybody? Of course not, but I set the bar higher than that.

You didn't indicate how much Japanese you are able to read, though. Can you read a newspaper article, or a short story, or a recipe, or instructions on an appliance, or how to fill out a government form? If not, then what has Heisig really done for you, in terms of practical language use?

(I agree with Infidel's comments, although it is true that the kanjiclinic.com writer did use Heisig to good profit. HOWEVER, keep in mind that she is (a) living in Japan, (b) married to a Japanese native, and (c) had considerable proficiency in the spoken language when she started using Heisig. All of these are significant advantages, and they're very similar to the circumstances Heisig himself was in when he developed his own method.)

Funny. I found Yudans opinons particularly misinformed. He can't even see the difference between "kanji" (CHINESE CHARACTERS!!) and the Japanese language.


On the contrary, I understand that very well. But why would you ever want to learn kanji apart from the Japanese language? What's the point? That's like memorizing lists of words in a foreign language but never doing anything else.
Last edited by Yudan Taiteki on Tue 07.10.2007 8:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby stevie » Tue 07.10.2007 9:37 pm

To me it just seems natural to learn kanji through repeated use. Not just by writing them out again and again and again, more by forming sentences with the kanji in it, using them in conversations with Japanese friends on MSN, or whatever. It reinforces grammar too I guess (or it does if your grammar is quite poor like mine!)

I've never tried to use mnemonics really. Mnemonics might help me recognise a character but they don't teach me how to say the thing.

If I wanted to learn 1000 kanji in a month or two then maybe I'd give Heisig a shot based on what I've heard. But I don't.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Kendra » Tue 07.10.2007 10:32 pm

I don't like the Heisig method one bit. Well not for me at least. I can't stuff that many words, especially kanji into my head that quickly. As Stevie has said before I, I also find it more natural to learn kanji through repeated use. To "learn" the kanji and other words and from there to read, write and hear the kanji being used in everyday situations.

I'm currently in a summer Intensive Chinese program. I'm a upcoming junior by the way. The only way we truly learn the words we hear is because we constantly hear, read and write the words and hanzi everyday. Even though hearing is much harder for me, I'm grasping onto better than I could with Spanish or French at regular school.
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