Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign langua

Have a textbook or grammar book that you find particularly helpful? What about a learning tip to share with others?
Post Reply
Posts: 2
Joined: Thu 04.20.2006 12:54 pm

Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign langua

Post by pafel » Thu 04.20.2006 12:56 pm

Heisig's method of studying kanji seems quite convincing, so I'm planning to start learning kanji with his book. However, I'm Polish and although I know English quite well, I can imagine myself confusing keywords and not understanding puns intended for English-speaking readers. I have no problem with learning from English sources, but trying to memorize English content would be unnatural and troublesome. What should I do?

- Try to memorize English keywords, stories etc. anyway?
- Modify the system and use my native language's words, fixing the stories where needed?
- Or maybe just use Heisig's order of learning and try to think of everything myself? (probably pointless, because I wouldn't think of very different keywords - they must come from the same meaning)

Is there anyone that was facing similar problem?

Posts: 158
Joined: Wed 04.05.2006 10:46 am

RE: Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign la

Post by kotori » Thu 04.20.2006 12:58 pm

since Heisig's method relies on having an -easy- way to make a kanji seem relevant to you, I think changing the stories to something better in your own language is the best idea.

I will say though, that having to memorize extra stuff, in your native language or otherwise, in order to memorize kanji seems like a tremendous waste of time..... I don't like Heisig's method.

User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 5313
Joined: Sun 10.09.2005 11:29 am
Native language: English
Gender: Male
Location: Indiana

RE: Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign la

Post by AJBryant » Thu 04.20.2006 5:11 pm

Have you done a search here to get commentary on Heisig to see some pros and cons? Some of us (okay, ME) have very anti-Heisig views.


Posts: 517
Joined: Sun 07.24.2005 3:57 am

RE: Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign la

Post by skrhgh3b » Thu 04.20.2006 6:40 pm

Yes, but rote memorization is utterly inadequate for an adult learner. I'm approaching the 1/4 mark in Jyouyou kanji literacy, and I think I've already hit my plateau when it comes to the rote memorization of hundreds of complex abstract shapes. I can still read the almost 500 kanji I've learned up to this point when they appear in familiar vocabulary, but recalling how to write those kanji from memory is another matter altogether, look-alike kanji still throw me off, and I don't necessarily know every on- and kun-reading. So, before I learn another 500 kanji, I've taken up the massive task of reorganzing my kanji knowledge by researching their etymologies and analyzing their component shapes in the hopes that this knowledge will better aid my memory.

For example, knowing the left-hand shape of 絵 means 'thread' and the right-hand shape means 'to meet' is worth writing that kanji 10 times every day when I'm confronted with look-alike kanji or can't recall how to write it from memory. I could even come up with a helpful mnemonic device to make sense of it: "In the art of embroidery, THREADS 糸 MEET 会 to create a PICTURE 絵." In my research, I've also discovered that the 会 in 絵 is phonetic, which should help me recall its on-reading. Of course, learning 絵 before either 糸 or 会 doesn't make much sense. Thankfully, I already knew 会, but I had to look up the meaning of 糸 even though I've learned how to write it as a radical in maybe a half a dozen kanji. And the fact that I learned, for example, 読 before I learned 言 and long before I learned 売 is very illogical and ultimately frustrating. My point is, a component analysis approach is far more rewarding than the way kanji is taught to me in my university classes.

On the other hand, I too wouldn't personally adopt Heisig's approach 100%, especially because I'm learning to read and write at the same time I'm learning to speak. I've recently checked out Heisig and Henshall, and I would personally recommend Kanji ABC if you're a self-study learner, maybe along with The Complete Guide to Everyday Kanji if you want a more thorough knowledge of kanji etymology to help you create memory devices.

Just my 2 yen :)
Last edited by skrhgh3b on Thu 04.20.2006 6:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
♪夢も見たくない 幸せなんか要らない
恋もしたくない お金なんか要らない

User avatar
Posts: 775
Joined: Fri 02.18.2005 3:30 am
Native language: English
Gender: Male
Location: Osaka

RE: Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign la

Post by Mukade » Thu 04.20.2006 11:51 pm

Whether you use Heisig's precise wording or not, using the radicals can be a helpful way to remember those easy to forget/confuse kanji. One problem with this method, however, is that there are often very different radicals which have the same meaning. Hand is a good example. Believe it or not, all of these characters contain an element meaning hand:

So, when you are trying to remember how to write a character, and you think "hand, sun" (for example), you need a way to remember which hand that particular character uses.

Heisig designed his method so that each radical had a unique name, specifically to avoid this sort of confusion. As some people have pointed out, however, Heisig will often assign his own meaning to a radical, and so you will find yourself having to learn a lot of new ideas just to remember the kanji. It seems odd that Heisig would have done this, considering that the original meanings of the radicals are far more relevant than his own, invented ones.

Nonetheless, if you choose to use your own system/language in order to utilize the radicals as memory aids, one important thing to remember is that you need to devise a way to keep radicals with similar meanings seperate in your mind. So, with my previous example, I might instead remember that character "hand with brush, sun." Now I know which hand I'm talking about, and I can correctly write the character from memory: 書

To this end, I think Heisig's book can be a good source to see the different ways that you can divide a character. Most books tend to just use the historical radicals, but those radicals don't account for all elements that occur in a character. For example, 帰 is classified under the ヨ radical, but what about all those other elements? How do I remember them? What are they?

If you want to use Heisigs book, I would suggest using it as a guide. When you get to a new character, do your homework and find out what the elements really mean, come up with your own (unique) names for those elements, and create a story for the character that makes sense to you.

I get the feeling, though, that Kanji ABC (previously mentioned) does all this for you. I haven't used the book myself, though, so I can't comment.

This all may seem like a lot of work, but:

1) You don't really want to do this with every character. Only use this method with characters that you are having trouble remembering or keeping seperate from other characters. If you are having no problems remembering 見, for example, don't waste your time learning a mnemonic device for it!

2) The vast majority of characters use a very limited list of elements. Sure, there are a lot of elements (both radical and non-radical), but most characters use the same group of 20 or so commonly occuring elements.

A couple good resources for looking up character etymology (a starting point for this kind of kanji study):

Good luck with your kanji study!
Last edited by Mukade on Fri 04.21.2006 12:03 am, edited 1 time in total.

Machina Maw
Posts: 480
Joined: Sat 01.28.2006 9:39 pm

RE: Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign la

Post by Machina Maw » Fri 04.21.2006 12:13 am

Sounds like a waste of time to me. To learn kanji you must be able to:
1. Recognise.
2. Pronounce.
3. Write.

If you wanted to learn 2000 kanji and a story for remembering each one; you'd spend far too much time making up stories (or translating stories into your first language); probably so much that you would forget how to write it, or say it, or similar.

That may work for some people, but to me it's all a bother. Except, as Mukade said, you may need stories behind certain characters that are too difficult to remember outright.

Posts: 3
Joined: Tue 10.04.2005 10:17 pm

RE: Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign la

Post by f00f » Fri 04.21.2006 1:02 am

I think that making up mnemonics just to get through the initial recognization part is good, as long as you don't rely on the mnemonic for too long.

Like for example:
広 (I Love spacious rooms)

You would think: Ahh! that looks like the one with the L... I love spacious rooms! so that's the one for wide/broad/spacious.

But, eventually you want to get to: Ahh, [insert reading here].

Am I getting my point across well enough? :|
Last edited by f00f on Fri 04.21.2006 1:02 am, edited 1 time in total.

Posts: 17
Joined: Sun 04.09.2006 9:55 am

RE: Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign la

Post by Lauver » Fri 04.21.2006 1:02 am

thanks pplz ^^:)
*i just lauve u*

User avatar
Posts: 1200
Joined: Sun 05.29.2005 10:16 pm

RE: Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign la

Post by zengargoyle » Fri 04.21.2006 1:31 am

pafel wrote:
- Try to memorize English keywords, stories etc. anyway?
this is your best bet if you go with the Heisig method. but it won't be as hard as it sounds. here's the secret to the first Heisig book...

for the first 300 or so kanji Heisig gives complete, fleshed-out Stories. for the next 200 or so kanji he only gives a basic simple Plot and you have to do the imagination part yourself. after those 500 or so kanji, you're on your own. Heisig just gives you the Bones, the primitive elements that make up the kanji and you have to create your own stories from beginning to end. so if you're English can take you through the first few hundred or so kanji then you'll do just fine. even i (a native English speaker) had to look up a few of the keywords Heisig used. :D

i wouldn't recommend changing the keywords or primitive elements into your native language, if you do then the majority of the book (except for the ordering) will be useless. you'll have to remember what word you chose for each element.

if by change your French, German or Spanish is better than your English, then there are translations for those languages.

the second secret is that you don't have to remember the stories forever. they're just there to train your thinking/remembering process. after the first 1000 or so kanji your brain is familiar with the keywork/primitive/kanji way of learning and they just fall into place without much need for stories (except a few here and there).

i've been at it about 9 months or so and i'm now about 300 readings into the second volume (the second volume teaches the On readings with some vocabulary) and given the limited amout of time and effort i'm able to put into learning on a regular basis... i'm quite pleased with the results.

Posts: 186
Joined: Sun 03.26.2006 8:47 pm

RE: Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign la

Post by queshaw » Tue 05.02.2006 12:39 am

I was really happy with the Hirigana half of the Heisig Kana book. So, I like the idea of using mnemonic devices of the sort that he creates, which are not just "this image = that symbol", but devised in such a way that it sticks in my brain, even when I didn't think it would. The mnemonics that relate to the shape of the character and the sound are just stuck there in my brain.

However, the Kanji book mnemonics are so far not as great as those in the Hirigana half of the other book, for me (I'm on lesson 4). Also, other comments like above about needing to learn them in context, and the article about how to learn any language, have made me have some doubts.

So, even though Heisig says you should do first things first, has anyone encountered any problems with changing his keywords slightly to match what's in Kodansha's Kanji learner's dictionary say? For example, "member" instead of "employee". And then also noting the pronouncations.

I think I do have to worry about getting depressed about my progress, which I'm afraid will happen if I wait until I learn 2000 kanji without knowing their pronounciation... So, I think I do want to mix Heisig's technique with others, like making cards such as Mukade suggests above, and also learning Kanji for phrases that I learn. Thoughts?
Last edited by queshaw on Tue 05.02.2006 12:43 am, edited 1 time in total.

Posts: 2
Joined: Thu 04.20.2006 12:54 pm

RE: Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign la

Post by pafel » Tue 05.30.2006 9:20 am

In case anyone wonders: I did start learning with Heisig's book, about a month ago. I've done 600 by now and it goes quite smoothly. I translate all keywords to Polish (writing them down in my notepad, and making flashcards). Sometimes I run into problems (who would have thought that "plane" refers to carpenter's tool? - I, for one, didn't know that meaning), so I frequently consult English-Polish dictionary and kanji dictionary.
Heisig's stories were in most part usable, except when they were based on some pun - some I fixed, some I invented from scratch.
To sum up - I think using RTK when you don't know English well isn't hard, and I'm very satisfied with this method.

User avatar
Posts: 3103
Joined: Sun 10.09.2005 1:12 am
Native language: 英語

RE: Heisig (Remembering the Kanji) and English as foreign la

Post by Infidel » Tue 05.30.2006 10:00 am

heh, plane meant carpenter's tool long before it meant that thing in the sky.

Post Reply