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The ingenious Heisig Method

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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Suedenjin » Wed 07.11.2007 3:31 am

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

Considering your posts about Heisig it seemed to be very important for you to more or less prevent people from even testing his method. I am amazed at the vitriol - "fraud", "the devil" and so on - you and some other people around here prefer as soon as Heisig is mentioned. If you are happy with the amount of kanji you have been able to learn using other methods, great. But I guess that I am not alone in being frustrated with how easy it is to forget kanji, considering the amount of people using Heisig (or other component-based methods).

And BTW, if some students of Heisig/kanji are stupid think that all they have learned The Entire Japanese Language when they are finished with memorizing 2000+ kanji, don't you think reality will correct this illusion pretty soon?
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 am still learning on an intermediate level. Heisig never pretends that you will be able to read a newspaper after learning kanji via his book. What he DO claim is that it will be easier for you to get to that level after knowing the full set of kanji in his book, since you don't forget kanji the way most students and even "natives" do. Learning kanji is not a goal in itself but just one step to smooth out further learning of the language (or Chinese for that matter).

(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.)

And despite all these enormous advantages she decided she needed a component-based approach (which is what Heisig is in essence) to learn "how not to forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese characters"! The beauty of Heisig's approach is that it can be equally well used by beginners or advanced students like the author of Kanji Clinic. Are you suggesting that a beginner would have more trouble learning kanji this way?

Funny. I found Yudans opinions 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.

For a starter: the kanji in Heisig's book almost of equal value if you want to study Chinese. The Chinese writing system is per se one of the most beautiful scripts ever developed by mankind. If you, like me, are interested in calligraphy (which was the main reason why I at all started to dabble with kanji) it makes sense to have an intimate "relationship" with the logic of the the kanji/hanzi system.

The main difference between other writing systems ("alphabets") is that kanji in themselves DO have meaning. If you know enough kanji it helps you a lot to decipher words that otherwise would be impenetrable without a dictionary (even if you may or may not be able to pronounce them). How come that a person fluent in kanji also can get a hint of written Chinese?

What makes you think that most students of kanji according to Heisig see that as excluding everything else when finished with this initial step? ("but never doing anything else"). Personally I am confident that it will help me to memorize words and their kanji much better than I could before starting all over with Heisig a second time.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby clay » Wed 07.11.2007 8:18 am

I don't have a comment on Heisig, but I will say welcome to the site to Suedenjin.

Keep it up and in no time you will have 1000 posts!
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 07.11.2007 9:05 am

The main difference between other writing systems ("alphabets") is that kanji in themselves DO have meaning.


Once a dictionary compiler assigns a meaning, I suppose it does. They have no meaning apart from the words in the language they are assigned to represent, though.

How come that a person fluent in kanji also can get a hint of written Chinese?


How come a person fluent in English can also get a hint of written Spanish? How come a person fluent in French can also get a hint of written Italian?
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby SirFirestorm » Wed 07.11.2007 11:28 am

Heisig can be good as a supplement but the mistake many beginners make is believing kanji is the end of the road, once they learn kanji they can watch anime without subtitles and stuff. They ignore the fundamental basics or even concept of grammar, like you seem to be doing. Knowing kanji gives you a false sense of progression, while you are just basically trying to run before learning to walk. There is no added benefit to learning kanji before grammar, but you can.

How much kanji you know is not an indicator of success or wealth or whatever it is you think kanji is supposed to do. Kanji are simply characters in a language. It does not give any benefit to know 2000 kanji if you cant read a children's book. You need a foundation to utilize any aspect of the written language, most importantly, grammar. You said you are at an intermediate level, I am curious to just how intermediate you believe yourself to be, what can you actually read? or what do you read if any.

You give too many excuses to why you cannot learn kanji any other way, blaming it on your "type" of memory or something. Unless you have a brain defect you are the same as everyone else, there is no such thing as teflon memory. I dont feel like studying sometimes so I dont, but I dont attribute my laziness to an imaginary memory defect; maybe personality.

Chinese grammar is very different especially in written chinese. You would not be able to read chinese with knowledge of kanji, although you could probably pick out some words it would be pretty much useless. Unless your only goal was for the calligraphy aspect rather than the language.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Suedenjin » Wed 07.11.2007 1:26 pm

clay wrote:
I don't have a comment on Heisig, but I will say welcome to the site to Suedenjin.

Keep it up and in no time you will have 1000 posts!


Thank you, Clay! Much appreciated.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Suedenjin » Wed 07.11.2007 2:02 pm

SirFirestorm wrote:
Heisig can be good as a supplement but the mistake many beginners make is believing kanji is the end of the road, once they learn kanji they can watch anime without subtitles and stuff.

Pity the ignorant herd.

They ignore the fundamental basics or even concept of grammar, like you seem to be doing. Knowing kanji gives you a false sense of progression, while you are just basically trying to run before learning to walk. There is no added benefit to learning kanji before grammar, but you can.

Huh? Like I seem to be doing? Mind reader? I've actually spent a lot of time - albeit very much on and off - for many years on grammar studies.

How much kanji you know is not an indicator of success or wealth or whatever it is you think kanji is supposed to do. Kanji are simply characters in a language. It does not give any benefit to know 2000 kanji if you cant read a children's book.

Exactly! Kanji are charcters in two languages. In any other language I've studied the first step was to learn the alphabet. The main difference is that you CAN understand quite a lot in a children book (unless it is 100% hiragana) by only knowing kanji though you of course have no clure regarding how it actaully sounds when read by a Japanese. No other language(s) offer this benefit. Learn devanagari script and the Vedas and other ancient texts in Sanskrit are still a 100% mystery.

You need a foundation to utilize any aspect of the written language, most importantly, grammar. You said you are at an intermediate level, I am curious to just how intermediate you believe yourself to be, what can you actually read? or what do you read if any.

I am not really sure myself :D I have most of Kodansha's textbooks (some previously called Power Japanese) like Japanese verbs at a glance, Japanese Sentence Patterns, The Hanbook of Japanese Adjectives and Adverbs to mention a few of some 20-some titles. Some stuff is advanced beginner, some is low-level intermediate, and some is fairly advanced, sometimes too advanced for me. I am not a very structured student but have some fun messing around with Japanese texts.
You give too many excuses to why you cannot learn kanji any other way, blaming it on your "type" of memory or something. Unless you have a brain defect you are the same as everyone else, there is no such thing as teflon memory. I dont feel like studying sometimes so I dont, but I dont attribute my laziness to an imaginary memory defect; maybe personality.

I have no need for excuses. I am merely trying to write about my own experiences. Wouldn't be surprised if I have a brain defect :(

Unless your only goal was for the calligraphy aspect rather than the language.

What made me to at all pick up a book on Japanese characters was the calligraphy aspect, but when I've been messing around with that for a while I thought "heck, why not give the Japanese language a try?!?"
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby richvh » Wed 07.11.2007 2:48 pm

This, copied from the online sample of Remembering the Kanji (page 8, Note to the Fourth Edition), is what people really object to about Heisig.

The reader will not have to finish more than a few lessons to realize that this book was designed for self-learning. What may not be so apparent is that using it to supplement the study of kanji in the classroom or to review for examinations has an adverse influence on the learning process. The more you try to combine the study of the written kanji through the method outlined in these pages with traditional study of the kanji, the less good this book will do you. I know of no exceptions.


Now, then, my preferred method of kanji study is to read, and write, actual texts. I've transcribed one novel into word processor files, and am nearly halfway through a second. I've also been writing a novel in Japanese. In Skype sessions, I have read sections of text to a native speaker, with only occasional stumbles over unknown/unfamiliar kanji. To what extent would you be able to duplicate that, and how much of that is do to Heisig?
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 07.11.2007 2:56 pm

The main difference is that you CAN understand quite a lot in a children book (unless it is 100% hiragana) by only knowing kanji though you of course have no clure regarding how it actaully sounds when read by a Japanese.


This is a nice bit of fiction but is easily proven false simply by trying it out. Give any text in Japanese to a native Chinese and see what they can make of it. Do the same thing in reverse. You will find that it is essentially incomprehensible.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby witega » Wed 07.11.2007 4:36 pm

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.


I find it rather ironic that Suedenjin has chosen to single out Yudan in this thread. If there is anything to criticize about Yudan's take on Japanese or linguistics in general, it would be the degree to which he emphasizes the orality of language, to the point that he occasionally neglects the importance of textuality and the feedback loop it forms with the spoken form in any literarate society. But Suedenjin's argument is based on the same prejudice--only taken to a far greater extreme than Yudan, who is definitely within the mainstream of linguistic theory even if biased to one side of that stream, ever has.

Yes, a very long time ago, the Japanese borrowed a foreign writing system in order to transcribe their language. In doing so, Japanese is like the vast majority of languages. Very few languages (basically Chinese and Korean among major living languages) use a truly native writing system. English, Russian, Arabic and modern Vietnamese all use a writing system borrowed (via intermediaries) from Phoenician--which in turn was developed in iterated borrowings from Sumerian cuneiform. But knowledge of any one of those writing systems is not going to be of much help in even pronouncing any of those other languages much less actually reading. Languages do not simply borrow--they adopt and then make changes as necessary until the borrowing meets their needs, irregardless of original form.

Japanese kanji derives from Chinese characters. But they are not the same thing. In the first place, Chinese characters are a full writing system. Kanji is not. Kanji is one part of the native Japanese writing system. A common misapprehnsion is that Japanese has '3 writing systems'. This is no more true than that English has '2 writing systems' because we have small and capital letters. Native Japanese is written and read as a seamless combination of kanji, hiragana, and katakana symbols. Knowing one part of that complex without knowing the other parts is like knowing only capital letters in English. You may find the occasional 1st grade text or just plain odd document that you can read but you certainly won't be functionally literate. Knowing that 店 'means' "store" and 行 'means' "go" does not allow you to read Japanese--unless you also know kana and *their* meaning, the best you can tell about a sentence with those two kanji is that it involves motion and a store. You don't know if the motion is towards, away, or inside the store; if the motion was in the past, present, or future; if it is actual, hypothetical, planned, counter-to-fact, etc. etc. I can look at a French text, pick out the word 'Catholic' and assume its about the Catholic chuch but that doesn't mean I can read it to know if I'm looking at a doctrinal statement, an anti-clerical rant, or a history of the Roman Empire.

Furthermore, even sticking to just kanji; kanji still does not equal hanzi. And knowing the 'meanings' of kanji (I do think Yudan is sometimes too dismissive of the ideogrammatic aspect of kanji--but I agree with him that someone like Suedenjin is placing far too much emphasis on that aspect). Take 手紙. A compound with two common kanji with rather straight-forward meanings. Knowing the readings of the two kanji will at least let you look up the word in a Japanese dictionary (probably after incorrectly trying しゅし), but 'hand-paper' means two very different things in Japanese and Chinese. And knowing just 'hand-paper' will not get you to the actual meaning of that kanji in either language.

Suedenjin is correct that kanji often makes etymology clearer than simple alphabetical spelling. And in that sense kanji is fun--but etymology is a separate issue from actually speaking a language. Knowing that in the year 800AD, 'weird' meant 'fate, destiny' will not help anyone realize when they should or shouldn't say 'you are weird' in modern English. Suedenjin is also correct that knowing kanji allows you to recognize--or think you recognize related terms in Chinese text. Just as any English speaker with a good vocabulary will recognize many words in a German, French, Italian, or Spanish text--because they are related. That doesn't mean they'll understand it: I just went to the Italian Wikipedia and pulled up a random article that begins with this sentence:

In microeconomia per domanda s'intende la quantità richiesta dal mercato e dai consumatori di un certo bene o servizio.

I recognize the roots of every single word in that sentence (except possibly 'dai' though I suspect its like dal and related to french de). And I still don't know what that sentence means although its certainly something about consumers (or consumerism) and microeconomy.

Take your kanji knowledge and try the same test with a random Chinese sentence--unless you actually know Chinese I suspect the comprehension level will be even lower.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Wed 07.11.2007 4:51 pm

I did that on a different thread (I forget which one); I went to Chinese yahoo and pulled up a news story about the recent CIA declassification. Even though I already knew what the article was about, I could only figure out a few words in the article.

I think many people realize that kanji alone will not enable them to read Japanese, but somehow they still get drawn into the trap of thinking that they have to isolate kanji from the rest of the language, master it first, and only then can they start reading
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Suedenjin » Thu 07.12.2007 7:18 am

witega wrote:

I find it rather ironic that Suedenjin has chosen to single out Yudan in this thread. If there is anything to criticize about Yudan's take on Japanese or linguistics in general, it would be the degree to which he emphasizes the orality of language, to the point that he occasionally neglects the importance of textuality and the feedback loop it forms with the spoken form in any literarate society. But Suedenjin's argument is based on the same prejudice--only taken to a far greater extreme than Yudan, who is definitely within the mainstream of linguistic theory even if biased to one side of that stream, ever has.

I happened to find this place recently. I also happen to use James Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji - a complete course on how not to forget the meaning and writing of Japanese characters" for the second time to achieve exactly that: not to forget the kanji all the time.

The first time I used the "Heisig Method" I didn't follow it with enough vigilance, i.e. I didn't bother to pay enough attention to creating my own "stories" (mnemonics) after the first 500 kanji where Heisig supplies the goods.

This time I am more meticulous and it works like magic. After less than a month I am able to remember the stroke order and the writing of 1000+ kanji. This is of course of tremendous use regarding how to recognize the kanji in texts (and to know the difference between look-alike characters) and in extension to that how to remember new vocabulary (compounds and so on). I no longer forget these little beasts called kanji.

Thus I was very surprised to find the amount of misrepresentation produced in this forum regarding Heisig and RTK-books (where I only have the first one). Yudan was the most vocal of the anti-Heisig jihad :-) and thus I "chosen to single out" him in my posts. I find it OK to say "I don't like Heisig", but I really think "heisig is a trickster and a fraud" is way over the edge. Period.

After reading more of what Yudan writes here I also think he knows very little about Chinese characters, their history and evolution into what we call Japanese characters or kanji today. It is simply not correct to say that "kanji have no meaning" on their own. They indeed do as I've tried to explain in the thread called "Which method for Kanji".

Knowing that 店 'means' "store" and 行 'means' "go" does not allow you to read Japanese--unless you also know kana and *their* meaning, the best you can tell about a sentence with those two kanji is that it involves motion and a store. You don't know if the motion is towards, away, or inside the store; if the motion was in the past, present, or future; if it is actual, hypothetical, planned, counter-to-fact, etc. etc.


I have never suggested that anything resembling a FULL understanding or FULL reading ability of Japanese is possible by merely knowing how kanji looks and having a general idea of their meaning (like a keyword). I thought it would be obvious that this is not the case. It's still a pretty good thing to look at the characters of a totally alien language and be able to see at once that someone is talking about "going" in relation to "a store". I would never be able to do that in any other language using a different script (Arabic, Hindi, or whatever). Thus Yudan's false claim that "kanji has no meaning outside context and phonetics" is proven to be wrong.

I find Japanese to be a very difficult language to learn and anything that eases the learning curve is good. Knowing tons of kanji (characters and general meaning isolated from context) helps *me*. Thus I find the Heisig method be an excellent method to achieve this goal. In a reasonably short time. Remember the full title: "Remembering the Kanji - a complete course on how not to forget the meaning and writing of Japanese characters" and not "how to be fluent in Japanese in two months" or "How to be able to read a newspaper in two month" or "How to be able to read written Japanese and understand the full meaning in two months". Personally I now find that spending TWO MONTHS on remembering and being able to write the 2000+ kanji in Heisig's RTK1 to be extremely well spent time. But that's me and not every single student of Japanese.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Suedenjin » Thu 07.12.2007 8:20 am

richvh wrote:
This, copied from the online sample of Remembering the Kanji (page 8, Note to the Fourth Edition), is what people really object to about Heisig.

The reader will not have to finish more than a few lessons to realize that this book was designed for self-learning. What may not be so apparent is that using it to supplement the study of kanji in the classroom or to review for examinations has an adverse influence on the learning process. The more you try to combine the study of the written kanji through the method outlined in these pages with traditional study of the kanji, the less good this book will do you. I know of no exceptions.


Now, then, my preferred method of kanji study is to read, and write, actual texts. I've transcribed one novel into word processor files, and am nearly halfway through a second. I've also been writing a novel in Japanese. In Skype sessions, I have read sections of text to a native speaker, with only occasional stumbles over unknown/unfamiliar kanji. To what extent would you be able to duplicate that, and how much of that is do to Heisig?


I think what Heisig is trying to say is that it's best to focus on the characters and the basic "meaning" without too much distraction from other sources. From my own point of view this second round of Heisig (RTK1 only) studies is an entirely new learning experience for me (and I wan't born 20 years ago ;)). I have never been able to create "inner images" or mnemonic devises as I do know and I am amazed that it suddenly works. I r-e-m-e-m-b-e-r all the kanji (shapes and basic meanings) as I go through Heisig's book.

I have no doubt whatsoever that you know more Real Japanese than I do, since I haven't really studied the language systematically until recently to learn it in depth. The other years I have spent with Japanese has been more like a hobby, having fun while seeing how much I could understand decoding written text in textbooks (like the bi-lingual Power Japanese series).

I also have entertained myself by learning to write Japanese so it looks reasonably good. Personally I find that I learn things a lot better when I write it down (whereas some people learn more by listening or reading only). I REALLY like the look and feel of Chinese characters more than any other "writing system". Arabic can look pretty too but it lacks the depth of kanji/hanzi and you learn it pretty quickly too.
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Thu 07.12.2007 9:00 am

After reading more of what Yudan writes here I also think he knows very little about Chinese characters, their history and evolution into what we call Japanese characters or kanji today.


You might want to rethink that.

It's still a pretty good thing to look at the characters of a totally alien language and be able to see at once that someone is talking about "going" in relation to "a store".


Perhaps a curiosity, but this sort of thing is useless for any real-life purpose. The problem I have with all these Heisig testimonials is that nobody can ever talk about how Heisig fits into the study of actual Japanese. Everything is just theory talk from people who have done the first 100 pages of Heisig I. I would be much more convinced if some of these people arguing for Heisig could actually read Japanese.

I know that the response is always "Heisig doesn't claim to teach you how to read Japanese". OK, fine, but presumably he intends his book to be a step towards reading Japanese. I would just like to see some people verify that it actually can be used in this way.

Thus Yudan's false claim that "kanji has no meaning outside context and phonetics" is proven to be wrong.


店 only represents "store" to someone because it's used to represent the word "store" in their language (or words related to "store").
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby stevie » Thu 07.12.2007 9:05 am

It is simply not correct to say that "kanji have no meaning" on their own.

I think there's just a big misunderstanding here. I can see what you mean and I can see what Yudan means as well. Yudan's point is that on its own a Kanji is just a bunch of lines with no meaning outside of the language it represents, every bit as much as the word 'fiancé' is just a bunch of lines with no meaning outside of the language it represents. Of course 'fiancé' as a word has meaning to those who understand it within the language(s) it is a part of. To an alien, a piece of paper with 'fiancé' written on it is just a bunch of squiggles. Just so for han characters - outside the context of language itself, the characters mean nothing.

Finally, if everyone in the world got wiped out save for one man with no knowledge of chinese script, and he travelled the world and landed in china, and saw the hanzi all around him... what would they mean then?

(morbid example I know... sounds like a pretty grim life for that guy... and everyone else I suppose!)
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RE: The ingenious Heisig Method

Postby Chikubi » Sat 07.14.2007 8:16 am

Hey, what does everybody like to put on their tuna sandwich, besides tuna ofcourse?
(just trying to lighten up the atmosphere :) )
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