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The best way to learn kanji?

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The best way to learn kanji?

Postby Kira17 » Mon 06.30.2008 1:56 pm

Ok, I know that people say that it depends on the individual, but I would be so grateful if you could all share how you STARTED learning Kanji, and give me some tips (if you dont mind).

What were the first things you did? How?

Some people say that it's best to memorize words, and then when I know about 100 (vocab in Kanji), start on the ON and Kun readings of the kanji, and what it means.

Others say to learn the Kanji and most of its basic compositions.

There is also the thing about learning just the KUN readings, and radicals...

So please help! I swear Ive been staring at the kanji cards with no idea how I should start!


[I have 448 kanji flash cards (grade 1-3) and know/can regognize about 15 only....]
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Re: The best way to learn kanji?

Postby AJBryant » Mon 06.30.2008 2:18 pm

My standard reply:

Don't learn kanji. Learn WORDS.
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Re: The best way to learn kanji?

Postby katafei » Mon 06.30.2008 3:24 pm

And it helps if the first words you learn are single kanji, I think....

those are probably the best to start out with.

I'm way past my prime. When I was young, Iearning stuff like was a breeze, but now it takes ages for me to memorise things.
Personally, I don't really care about kun- or on-readings (I know many people will not agree, and I'm certainly not saying it's the best way to go about it...) But the more I get into vocab, the more the kanji fall into place. I like to take words apart and see what the seperate kanji stand for. Then the next time (or the time after that) that particular kanji will make more sense to me. And all the different readings will pop up at some point.

Like: 来(る) = to come
 来年= next year (coming year)

国民 = citizen
国語 = native language
国籍 = nationality

Learn these words and you'll have learned this kanji 国 means.

Also, I find that writing kanji out, or at least learn the stroke order, makes the kanji more alive. When you know how to write a kanji, all of a sudden it doesn't look that complicated any more. It's really like you get to know them, get a feel for them.
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Re: The best way to learn kanji?

Postby Yudan Taiteki » Mon 06.30.2008 4:58 pm

At first, you should be learning kanji from your textbook. Once you finish a beginner level textbook (which presumably covers 300-400 kanji), then you can worry about how to study them in isolation. Before that, just follow the textbook.
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Re: The best way to learn kanji?

Postby piepiepie75 » Mon 06.30.2008 9:16 pm

I have a similar question about this. Is it better to learn the KUN and ON readings of every Kanji right when you learn it, or is it better to learn the readings by seeing how they're used in different words?
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Re: The best way to learn kanji?

Postby richvh » Mon 06.30.2008 9:20 pm

The latter.
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Re: The best way to learn kanji?

Postby Wakannai » Tue 07.01.2008 1:45 am

Ok, I know that people say that it depends on the individual, but I would be so grateful if you could all share how you STARTED learning Kanji, and give me some tips (if you dont mind).

Most people will probably tell you that how they started learning kanji ended up being counterproductive and they had to change to another method. I certainly know that how I started learning kanji couldn't have been more unhelpful.

So please help! I swear Ive been staring at the kanji cards with no idea how I should start!


Kanji cards are good for review, but they suck for learning.

Your language textbook should teach kanji. If it doesn't and you aren't too far along, I'd switch to one that does since learning to read seems to be a priority of yours. As the kanji are taught, you can dig up the flashcard for that kanji and add it to your pile, but only concentrating on the reading that was taught by your textbook and not worrying about the others.

I prefer to write my dialogs and exercises out rather than just speaking them. It helps to drill the kanji in without the boringness of writing a single character over and over.
Some people say that it's best to memorize words, and then when I know about 100 (vocab in Kanji), start on the ON and Kun readings of the kanji, and what it means.


I've found little benefit in learning kun and on readings deliberately at the same time. I've found it much easier to simple keep track of what reading is being used when I learn a word. So if I learn kaisha 会社 I remember that both kai and sha are ON and move along without attempting to learn any other readings. The exception to this is if I already know an ON and Kun reading when I'm introduced to a kanji. If, for example, I already know the word kaisha and I already know the word au and THEN I learn 会 then it DOES pay to memorize both the KUN reading 会う and the ON reading kai.

Japanese children successfully learn ON and Kun at the same time because they already know most of the words. They are mostly just learning how to use the kanji. In general, Japanese students are learning the words and the kanji simultaneously which creates problems because a Japanese student has no learned context to associate new kanji. I think too many texts attempt to teach foreign students the way Japanese children are taught going under the false assumption that something made for children is easy.

If you've already completed an oral Japanese course that was all in romaji, so even though you are somewhat fluent you still can't read. Then a kanji book could be right up your ally. Otherwise, I suggest you stick with a good textbook that also teaches kanji and don't worry about learning Kanji separately until after you complete it.
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Re: The best way to learn kanji?

Postby fielle » Tue 07.01.2008 8:46 am

I also learn kanji through the "learn words" method. Eventually after seeing the kanji in some collection of words, I get a good idea of the meaning, or I get curious and look up the actual meaning.

I started off learning kanji many moons ago with the Basic Kanji Book, which I think is still a reasonable primer (although I lost my copy of volume one somewhere in the sands of time), but after I got more comfortable with Japanese, I just learned the new kanji with the new words I was learning.

Learning them in isolation doesn't seem to help very much--it's the words and the context which really make kanji useful.
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Re: The best way to learn kanji?

Postby Kira17 » Tue 07.01.2008 5:59 pm

Thanks so much for your replies!

OK! I'm going to buy a kanji book (no... I didnt have one ^^;;) try to memorize the most basic ones, and then start reading. I have some Japanese childrens books... so I'll start out with those... and then i'll pretty much experiment to see which study method works best for me...

I really needed alternatives ^_^

Thanks so much, once again!
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Re: The best way to learn kanji?

Postby richvh » Tue 07.01.2008 6:30 pm

I'd recommend getting a textbook and working your way through it before attempting those childrens books. Just because they are for children, doesn't mean that they are easy to read for a foreign language learner. You'll need a good grasp of the grammar before you can even look up most words.
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Re: The best way to learn kanji?

Postby Wakannai » Tue 07.01.2008 11:27 pm

Kira17 wrote:Thanks so much for your replies!

OK! I'm going to buy a kanji book (no... I didnt have one ^^;;) try to memorize the most basic ones, and then start reading. I have some Japanese childrens books... so I'll start out with those... and then i'll pretty much experiment to see which study method works best for me...

I really needed alternatives ^_^

Thanks so much, once again!



If you already know Japanese a kanji book is good, if you don't, which is my impression, then you should stick with your textbook for now.

I tried the children's book route, it's not easier at all. Remember, "for Japanese kids" means harder not easier.
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Re: The best way to learn kanji?

Postby rina-chi-coccomi » Wed 07.16.2008 9:33 am

If you learnt Kanji at school it's alot easier and you should know the basics, but I'm guessing that if you're just starting out Kanji, then you haven't. Definently don't start off with any children's Kanji books. I'm learning from them right now, but you have to know a lot of grammar and particles, and quite frankly i think that some of what the kids are learning here in Japan are at a bit higher level than what you would learn in your own country at school. It is Japan, after all. I have to ask my friends a bit what some of the stuff kids learn.
Normal childrens books also need fairly ok grammar knowledge, but they're good to try once you've got the basics downpat.

What i used to do (before i got lazy - I really need to start studying again now) is write down the kanji with all the seperate meanings, a sample sentence (which i usually got from childrens kanji books), write out the full meaning of it, and then write each kanji like, 10 times, and then write them out again the next day. It's not really fun, but I find it easier to remember if you only learn about 10 or so kanji in a few days, and then move on to some more and review at the end of a few weeks.

It really depends what kind of a studier you are. Right now I'm not really studying that much, and i can't really remember what i did to learn Kanji last year at school, but keep at it.

Break the kanji apart. That's the easiest option to understand the meaning of a kanji. My Japanese teacher always gave us stories for each kanji she taught us.
Like, for example 酒 (さけ) The three strokes on the left are practically always found in kanji with things to do with water, the top bit on the right is like a cork, the square is the bottle, and because さけ is so good, someone's been drinking it and its only half full (Yeah, that was a bad story, but i'm explaining it in more of a simpler form than what my teacher would do).
Alot of time i don't know what the reading of a Kanji is, but if you can understand what each little part of the kanji is, then you can usually get the meaning in english.

Probably so hasn't helped you, but if you just keep at it, Kanji sin't that hard to remember - most of the time.
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