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The Best Way to Learn Kanji

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The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby TheSlyPig » Tue 09.20.2011 5:30 pm

Having finished the 2 years of Japanese offered at my university and having returned from my summer study abroad program in Japan, I've been reduced to studying on my own if I wish to continue learning Japanese (I do). Since true speaking and listening practice are hard to come by in the US, that basically leaves grammar, vocabulary, and *shudder* kanji practice. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of kanji and I enjoy learning it, it just seems like an insurmountable task at times. Nevertheless, I've decided to start practicing kanji every night. In your experience or opinion, what is the best way to go about learning kanji? I am mostly wanting to be able to read kanji, learning to write them is secondary for me. I already know how to read maybe 200-300 and how to write maybe 100-150. Any help is greatly appreciated!
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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby AJBryant » Tue 09.20.2011 6:46 pm

As I always tell people:

Don't study KANJI. They do not exist separately from Japanese. Just learn WORDS. WHen you learn a word, learn how to write it properly in kanji. THat way you're doing two things: you're learning a kanji (or two) and you're learning the right way to write a word you're learning.
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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby micahcowan » Wed 09.21.2011 1:04 am

AJBryant wrote:As I always tell people:

Don't study KANJI. They do not exist separately from Japanese. Just learn WORDS. WHen you learn a word, learn how to write it properly in kanji. THat way you're doing two things: you're learning a kanji (or two) and you're learning the right way to write a word you're learning.


I've seen that in your sig several times.

I agree with the sentiment, but personally that advice doesn't work for me, as given. That is, assuming that you're saying one should learn both the words and the kanji together? I spent a number of years trying to learn kanji this way, with fairly limited success. My personal experience was that this provides too much simultaneous work to be practical. Learning the proper way to write a given kanji (actually, usually more than one, depending on the word), as well as associating each of those kanji with the reading that happens to be used for that word, as well as learning the meaning of the new word itself, proved to be too much to handle effectively in most cases. This is of course especially true for compound words; it may be less true for single-kanji kun-yomi words.

It's one of the reasons I found much greater success with Heisig than I had through (many) various other strategies—among the many things it probably gets wrong, it does two things pretty well that most other systems don't do: (a) limits the immediate amount of work you have to do for each character (just "how to write the character", and (b) a keyword-meaning (very bare and sometimes inappropriate, but still more often useful than otherwise). That got my foot in the door firmly enough that, now having befriended the characters, it was a much simpler task to then add more precise, contextualized meanings, readings, and general experience.

Of course, I suspect that the way native Japanese learn is more the reverse of Heisig, though: Japanese children obviously speak the language fluently before they even learn their first kanji character (officially, at any rate). When they encounter a new kanji, they, unlike us, don't have to learn new Japanese words alongside it, or even new readings. Every compound word or single-kanji word that employs the new character, they're probably already familiar with, and so the only new information they have to focus on is the character itself, and how it is written (and the connections between that character, and the words they've already long known). They don't even have to learn a "meaning" separately, since for them, the readings (especially kun'yomi) are the meanings.

Anyway, I don't make these remarks to be contrary, but to invite discussion. :)
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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby TheSlyPig » Wed 09.21.2011 1:01 pm

Thanks for the advice, both of you.

AJBryant, I actually do agree with this advice, as it's a good way to kill 2 birds with 1 stone, and I actually think people should do this from the beginning. Sadly though, I didn't. While studying at my university I did learn kanji with vocabulary sometimes, but of course you can learn vocabulary much faster than you can learn kanji. Also while staying in Japan for 3 months and speaking a lot of Japanese, I learned tons of new vocab while learning very few kanji. This left me in a state where I know plenty of simple and complicated vocabulary words, but I know the kanji for very few of them. So for a while at least, I will probably already know the meaning and the spelling for most of the kanji that I will be trying to learn.

micahcowan, I had heard of Heisig before but had never taken the time to check it out. Thanks, I'll try to start using it regularly. One method that I used was an app for my android phone called Ankidroid that I found incredibly useful for vocab and kanji alike. (It was useful for learning to read the kanji, not so much for writing.) Sadly I lost my phone and have yet to get it replaced, so that's not really an option for me anymore.

So what about the actual method of studying, what does everyone find works best for them? Traditional flashcards? Repetitive writing? How many per day should I try to learn? How much is too much?
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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby jimbreen » Wed 09.21.2011 10:40 pm

AJBryant wrote:As I always tell people:

Don't study KANJI. They do not exist separately from Japanese. Just learn WORDS. WHen you learn a word, learn how to write it properly in kanji. THat way you're doing two things: you're learning a kanji (or two) and you're learning the right way to write a word you're learning.


I give similar advice, particularly when people seems to concentrate on kanji to the exclusion of everything else.

That said, kanji practice and review is appropriate. When I have been studying Japanese I have used kanji flashcards with the main readings and typical/common compounds. I can carry them around, look at them in idle moments, sort them into known/unknown/etc. Initially I used handwritten ones of my own, but then I got sets of the Tuttle ones. I find the good old cards better than any app.

But none of this really replaces concentrating on WORDS, as Tony says. Remember:
- Japanese kids speak fluent Japanese before they learn to read or write a single kanji;
- blind Japanese people also speak fluently, with no kanji capability whatsoever.

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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby Shiroisan » Thu 09.22.2011 3:19 am

TheSlyPig wrote:having returned from my summer study abroad program in Japan,


It wouldn't have happened to be KCP international would it?



But as for the topic, please just keep in mind that studying kanji to read but not write is question at BEST. :think:
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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby TheSlyPig » Thu 09.22.2011 6:19 am

Shiroisan wrote:
TheSlyPig wrote:having returned from my summer study abroad program in Japan,


It wouldn't have happened to be KCP international would it?



No, I just went through my university's program to a private language school.

Shiroisan wrote:But as for the topic, please just keep in mind that studying kanji to read but not write is question at BEST. :think:


I don't know... Having been in Japan I found that being able to read kanji is almost an imperative if you want to be able to understand anything. I mean street signs, dinner menus, spam mail, anything. Writing though... Like many others I almost always use the PC when writing kanji and have had to write kanji in real life situations almost never. I realize it's also important and I would love to be able to write all of them, but realistically I feel like I should prioritize a little better. Those are my thoughts, anyways.
jimbreen wrote:When I have been studying Japanese I have used kanji flashcards with the main readings and typical/common compounds. I can carry them around, look at them in idle moments, sort them into known/unknown/etc. Initially I used handwritten ones of my own, but then I got sets of the Tuttle ones. I find the good old cards better than any app.


Thank you, I'll look into the Tuttle cards.

Everyone seems to really be stressing the vocab/meanings along with the kanji, so what do you guys think about just switching off? Kanji one day, vocab the next? Obviously while I am learning the kanji I will learn their readings and meanings too, this just might be a better way to spread things around.
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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby Ongakuka » Thu 09.22.2011 6:48 am

Everyone seems to really be stressing the vocab/meanings along with the kanji, so what do you guys think about just switching off? Kanji one day, vocab the next? Obviously while I am learning the kanji I will learn their readings and meanings too, this just might be a better way to spread things around.


It sounds paradoxical, but when you care about it this much, you're not studying as efficiently as you could be. Just pick up a book and get lost in it.

understanding 10-20% ... you should maybe choose a book with more simple content

understanding 30-60% ... this is the best case scenario. Don't look up every word you don't know, but Do look up words that seem useful, words which have kanji that you've already learnt, words that appear multiple times.

understanding 70-100% ... look up words as much as you feel inclined to.
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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby jimbreen » Thu 09.22.2011 7:40 am

TheSlyPig wrote:Thank you, I'll look into the Tuttle cards.


There are now the ones published by White Rabbit:
http://www.whiterabbitpress.com/catalog ... 16165.html

I think they have JLPT levels, etc.

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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby AJBryant » Fri 09.23.2011 4:07 pm

TheSlyPig wrote:Everyone seems to really be stressing the vocab/meanings along with the kanji, so what do you guys think about just switching off? Kanji one day, vocab the next? Obviously while I am learning the kanji I will learn their readings and meanings too, this just might be a better way to spread things around.


But studying kanji *is* studying vocab. Readings are words, after all.
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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby furrykef » Sat 09.24.2011 4:15 am

I'm not going to get into details in this thread (it's off topic and the subject of many a flame war anyway), but I will say that without Heisig's method I would never have bothered to get this far in Japanese. It doesn't matter how effective the "learn words not kanji" method might be theoretically if it's going to frustrate me out of my mind and turn me off completely.
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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby Dr.Etheredge » Mon 07.30.2012 4:47 pm

TheSlyPig wrote:Having finished the 2 years of Japanese offered at my university and having returned from my summer study abroad program in Japan, I've been reduced to studying on my own if I wish to continue learning Japanese (I do). Since true speaking and listening practice are hard to come by in the US, that basically leaves grammar, vocabulary, and *shudder* kanji practice. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of kanji and I enjoy learning it, it just seems like an insurmountable task at times. Nevertheless, I've decided to start practicing kanji every night. In your experience or opinion, what is the best way to go about learning kanji? I am mostly wanting to be able to read kanji, learning to write them is secondary for me. I already know how to read maybe 200-300 and how to write maybe 100-150. Any help is greatly appreciated!


In my Honest Opinion, as a self-studier. The best way I learn kanji is to do it the old fashion way, repetition. for an example:

- write the kanji...maybe 20-50X each?

- 10 different sentences, -and maybe it wouldn't hurt to write out all the conjugation?

-and do not worry about the On/Kun readings. almost every kanji you learn You WILL see it again in a kanji compound with different sounds which makes it stay in your head. I've never taken a class before but I can say this can totally work, if you don't mind the old drawing board that is.
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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby play_on_my_words » Tue 07.31.2012 3:45 am

I agree with learning kanji in context and learning them along with words. However, recently a friend of mine linked me to a page called KanjiDamage. It's pretty interesting, it's like Heiseg but better I would say. It's not perfect of course because he fits some things in there to fit his paradigm but the method he has is quite good, in my opinion. Anyway, that's just my 2 cents worth. Hope that helps.
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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby Shiroisan » Tue 07.31.2012 12:25 pm

Hmm, I feel like I have new insight to say about this after using a new textbook this summer. And that is:

Don't ever study a kanji's meaning, or readings. Period. Yes you read that right. Don't ever try to vaguely learn/ recognize a kanji that you often see, it's a waste of brain space to partially learn something. Do nothing more or less than exactly what's necessary. Thorough but succinct. Normally such a task could be daunting to organize, but with SRS programs like Anki there's honestly no trouble to be had, so long as you turn the program on.

Before the summer, I only truly knew 317 kanji (The genki textbook's kanji). After buying this new intermediate kanji textbook, I've jumped from perfectly knowing (the readings/ vocabulary/ meaning/ writing) of 317 to well over 600. That's just this summer. I've never learnt Kanji so fast, it's almost unreal. I've also never learnt kanji so thoroughly.

In this book, the kanji is introduced with a boat-load of vocabulary. Most of the vocabulary I don't even know; In other words, the ideal case. After thoroughly memorizing and writing the vocabulary, a kanji's meaning is more completely, succinctly understood than an "overall" vague-memorized-meaning-word could ever hope to be. The readings are attached to the words forever by this method, never to be forgotten.

Basically, knowing how to WRITE a kanji means that It's image is thoroughly burnt into your brain, making it impossible to not be able to READ on sight. whenever I see any of the kanji I learnt from this book now, the ability to recall and read is more or less instantaneous. I'm gonna take a little break from new kanji for a week or so, because I think I need to have more of a social life :sweatdrop: , but honestly I can't wait to keep using this method and start heading into the more advanced kanji.

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Re: The Best Way to Learn Kanji

Postby Brooklyn » Tue 07.31.2012 8:13 pm

Hmm I just finished "learning" (in some way, all I did was reading them and writing lines of them on graph paper with on' and kun' pronunciations) the All the Kanji on the Level 4, and by reading the replies on this topic and guessing people on the ChatBox, what I concluded was that Kanji will come with the time. So "each thing in its time", by the way people replied, I know that I will learn it automatically.

However there are points that I think are maybe important and I want to suggest (or verify) :
- writing Kanji, you've to learn how to write them at one time or another ;
- learn the "verbs Kanji" (which are less variable than noun or adjectives) will always be useful, don't you think ?
- then, TJP has an huge list of Kanji with a lot of examples ("分かりました wakarimashita - I understand" for 分 is very helpful for example) and I think it's very important to don't omit any article on this site ^^ ;
- hmm, recognize a Kanji will always be useful, at least if you can't give the pronunciation you know the mean and can deduce something.

However I'll follow the advice of my senpai (LOTF, Joey...) and stop here for learning the Kanji (I postpone it to later because it was a great experience to write and learn Kanji).
I just wonder, it looks like books as Heisig, etc. help a lot for the Kanji, but unfortunately they don't exist in my native language, so is it really so important to learn with them, will this be faster and more complete than on any webiste ?
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