Ben Nielson wrote:...I could read and recognize a fair amount of Kanji (recognize like... 600-700? this is a hard number to nail down, but a lot...) but write so very few of them. In fact, if I even tried to write them I would just sort of draw a huge blank - I would have a general image of what they looked like in my mind...kinda... but really unable to write them.
I don't think that learning to _read_ kanji is that much more difficult than learning vocab from a book. You can do both at the same time- I guess my roots as a lapsed student of Chinese are showing (Chinese has no decent equivalent for kana that Chinese people actually use- if you want to read Chinese you have to read the characters, so from close to day one you learn them- I'm not sure that's even a good idea, but it is how it usually is, and Chinese students tend to learn a lot more characters than Japanese students, in a given amount of time.) Maintaining your ability to read those kanji is harder- for some reason they fade faster than the sounds.
But yeah, writing them is a whole different story. It's particularly hard now that it's so easy to type Japanese- when I first started learning Chinese typing characters was a black art that few westerners had mastered. The advantage to that was that you wound up writing stuff a lot, by hand. The disadvantages are manifest, or they ought to be
. I also remember being tested on my ability to read handwritten Chinese, and you have to have your stroke order pretty solid to read the Chinese equivalent of cursive.
Ben Nielson wrote:
One last thing to end this rather wandering post - I don't really like the criticisms of the story/keywords system. I just think this deserves special mention - like I've said earlier, the stories/keywords are useless (admitted by the author). They're only there to help serve as a mnemonic device that helps you recognize the character. For convenience, the keywords were chosen to correspond to at least one of the Kanji's meanings - but this is only just to provide a little extra help and to keep you from really confusing yourself a lot. Just use them to get the characters into your head, the writing down, then discard (replace, really) them as you learn their real Japanese meanings/readings.
Well, one of the sadder aspects of life is that you will often hear criticisms you don't like (I'm resisting the urge to veer off into current American politics.. resist.. resist.. successfully resisted, though at a high cost). I have to admit that I agree with you that many of the criticisms of Heisig are misguided, or in fact flat out straw. And I do think that calling him a huckster is going _way, way, way_ too far. But I'll absolutely agree with Yudan on one front. I really think that learning kanji should involve actually reading kanji.
I have a basic philosophy about learning things. It says that you need to use methods that are efficient to learn quickly, but that you also need to use inefficient methods to learn solidly. And I also believe that in most fields (particularly those dominated by memory, like languages) there will be several aspects to what you have to learn. If you grant me my premises I think you'll have to agree that the holy grail is an activity that is an efficient way of learning one aspect of Japanese, but that is at the same time an inefficient method of learning some other aspect[s]. The more aspects you can inefficiently learn while efficiently learning some other aspect, the better. Basically, I believe that your activities as a learner should be mutually reinforcing.
And that's the big problem with Heisig. He really wants you to do one thing efficiently, and do nothing else. And his system is set up in such a way that it enforces that, if you follow it religiously. This would be reasonable if there were a good reason for it (ok- I guess that's a tautology) but there isn't, or at least there isn't one that I can see. Heisig makes you forgo the benefits that you could get if you used the best parts of his system while also _actually reading Japanese_. And listening to Japanese. And maybe even speaking a bit.
This is why order matters. It's true that if you only know, say, 800 characters you won't be able to read arbitrary Japanese- it's also true that if you can write 2000 characters, but you know no Japanese, you won't be able to read arbitrary Japanese. But let's guess who can read more Japanese- the person who knows 800 characters (along with a lot of vocabulary that uses those characters, and their readings) and speaks a fair bit of Japanese, or the person who can write 2000 characters, but speaks no Japanese... I hope you didn't have to think about that one.
Heisig has good ideas. I wouldn't call him a huckster- I would call him the first guy to address the fact that where many westerners fall down is kanji. And he's right that that sucks. And Kazumoto is right that that sucks. Being illiterate robs you of the best opportunities to learn certain _very_ important things. Vocab is a big one- you can function fine in day to day life with a couple of thousand words, but you won't be listening to the evening news (more accurately, you won't be understanding it), and you'll be lost if the people around you are talking politics, or philosophy.
I mean, I have no problem understanding most Japanese TV because the dialog is 95% comprised of the same 2000 words- or less, and I am very used to hearing that core vocab. But the news is still hard for me, _even_ when I know the vocab, "sort of". When I don't... On the other hand I can watch the LA nodame cantabile easily because I _care_ about the (admittedly very limited) vocabulary they use that relates to music. I wind up wishing they talked about music a lot more.
And that's another place that Heisig falls down. Boring. I mean, the first 500 characters are likely exciting, but... it must take enormous intestinal fortitude to get through the next 1500. I'm willing to do a certain amount of terribly boring stuff if I'm sure it will help me do what I want to do, but.... wouldn't Heisig be more exciting if you were using the characters to actually read things? I mean, even boring contrived stuff would be better than 3-6 months of day-in-day-out Heisig SRS. Boring is bad- you have to ration boring. You need to do some boring things, but if you do too much boring stuff you'll stop caring. And if you stop caring...
Anyway, Heisig is the first guy to take a bite at the kanji apple, or at least the first guy to gain notoriety for doing it in the way he did. It's not surprising that he screwed it up to some degree. It's also not surprising that other people are going to come along and take the good parts and leave the bad... I think the Japanese have a word for that
The other thing about Heisig is that he is a writer from the last century. In his day the SRS was not well known. If there's one really great thing about Heisig it is that his adherents have popularized the SRS. The SRS is _great_. You just put what you want to remember in and _forget_ about it. So much overhead that I used to spend worrying about when I ought to review things, and how I ought to keep track of thousands of things that I had to review and.. the SRS solves that. I'm not usually a fan of easy solutions, because usually they are neither. The SRS is both.
I think there's a way to combine the SRS and Heisig that makes a lot more sense. The key would be to let people learn any kanji at any time. Just pick a target kanji, and the SRS introduces all the intermediate components for you. So you would just use it while reading and looking things up- see a new kanji, ask for it, get it. simple. The whole idea of ordering things so that everyone follows the same track is very _paper_. And _paper_ is very 90s, if not 80s. As a good rule of thumb- the more paper you use learning a language, these days, the less you will have learned- though there are obviously limits to that... you can't (in any obvious fashion) learn to handwrite kanji without using some paper.. yet.