Learning Kanji
  • What do you think is the best way to learn Kanji? I'm toying with either the Heisig method (which looks faster) or a more traditional approach...
  • Can you give a bit more information? I guess you're just starting to learn kanji, but is that true? How's your vocabulary? If you know a lot of words already, but you don't know their written form, that's going to be different from if you're pretty new to Japanese.

    Anyhow if you're just starting out I'd recommend learning the 80 kanji for the JLPT Level 4 first, as it gives you a reasonable goal to aim for. Here's a link:

    http://www.kanjisite.com/html/start/jlpt/4/all/index.html

    You can use Heisig or something similar to get you going, but if you can come up with your own little stories and memory tricks, it'll be more memorable in the long run. I'd recommend doing some reading. I started out reading through the little reading texts in Minna no Nihongo, and my teacher often gave us photocopies from the accompanying reading comprehension book. If you don't have a teacher, maybe you could buy your own reading comp book:

    http://www.3anet.co.jp/english/books/text_e_m_topic.html

    Hope this is relevant.
  • There are a lot of different ways to learn kanji, and all of them have their pros and cons. You need to find what YOU enjoy, no matter how effective a method is, it won't help you if you're too bored to use it.

    For example, the Heisig method is very effective at making you recognize kanji. It also teaches you how to write kanji without actually having to write them over and over, which is very nice since actually remembering how to write the kanji is one of the hardest parts of learning them. However, Heisigs method teaches you nothing of the various meanings, the various readings and the various usages. You basically learn the kanji as images, not as a real form of text, which might not be what you want.

    Another method which we used when I studied in Japan was that we got 6 new kanji each day. With each new kanji we also got a list of all the readings, 3-4 example compounds which together gave both a good look on the readings and the semantics. We then had to learn how to read the kanji to a kanji test the next day. The day after that, we had to know how to write them at the kanji test. With this progression, we learned over 800 kanji in one year, and we learned them very well. Problem was of course, it took a lot of time, a lot of determination and a LOT of repetition to retain the knowledge. This is not a method I have been able to keep up now that I'm back in Sweden.

    The method I am currently using myself at the moment is Heisig. I fill a whole chapter into a flashcard program, then I repeat it when I have the time. When I feel I'm good enough at a set, I start a new one. From time to time I go back and repeat the earlier sets so I never forget them. However, I do not simply write down the kanji and the meaning (like Heisig do), I personally look the kanji up here at jisho.org, write down the readings and check what compounds exist (usually I only check "common words"). This method has worked well. I do not retain the knowledge of the readings and the compounds, but I usually get a better knowledge of the semantics and usage this way.
  • Thanks for the advice.

    I'm a little way into my studies, but not too far as yet. I've probably got a vocabulary of around 250 words so far as well as basic gramatical stuff and Hiragana / Katakana. Would you recommend learning a bit more of the language first or is diving into Kanji the right way to go from early on? I agree that the Heisig method seems to be very good for recognition (I downloaded the free sample of the first book and worked through about 80 Kanji very fast), but I think I'd like to have all the context and readings as I learn.

    The link to the Minna no Nihongo book looks interesting - I'd seen the course books, but never that one in particular.
  • We used this and the second volume book: http://www.amazon.com/Basic-Kanji-Book-Vol-1/dp/4893580914
    It gives about 10-13 kanji each chapter with varying number of readings (1-6) and about 4 compund words. After each chapter there are some reading exercises (and stuff). Although there is no key.
  • Posted By: mcdreamer
    [p]Thanks for the advice.[/p][p]I'm a little way into my studies, but not too far as yet. I've probably got a vocabulary of around 250 words so far as well as basic gramatical stuff and Hiragana / Katakana. Would you recommend learning a bit more of the language first or is diving into Kanji the right way to go from early on? I agree that the Heisig method seems to be very good for recognition (I downloaded the free sample of the first book and worked through about 80 Kanji very fast), but I think I'd like to have all the context and readings as I learn.[/p][p]The link to the Minna no Nihongo book looks interesting - I'd seen the course books, but never that one in particular.[/p]

    Starting on your kanji studies right away is a great idea. No matter what method you use, learning the 2-3 thousand needed kanji takes a long time, the faster you start, the better. Reading comprehensions and vocabulary training is boosted aswell by the knowledge of the kanji in the compounds.
  • Definitely agree with Tobberoth that you've got to find what works for you. Still, I think it's good to be prepared to come at things from different angles, not just using one method. One other thing I remember about learning kanji was that writing them out by hand worked for me. If I wrote a kanji ten times, that gave me some kind of physical memory, but it also meant I was concentrating on the shape very closely (more than I would just by looking) and I tried to think of a trick for remembering it in the time it took to write. I did this even though I wasn't that bothered about remembering how to write the kanji by hand (once I got on to the more complex ones).

    It's good to start on kanji early, but as you have some vocabulary that will make things easier at first as the meaning and reading are connected in your head already for some words, and you just have to connect them to the kanji. When you get to kanji for words you don't know yet, it might be difficult to balance learning the meaning and how to read it. I recommend limiting how many readings you learn as something like '上', for example has a ridiculous number of readings, but 'ue' and 'jou' are the main ones you need (although that is quite an extreme example).

    As you move on, and you have to go over the same kanji it can get really boring (not good for learning) using the same books and material, so I seem to remember using two books at once for learning the same kanji. Have a look round the internet too for kanji learning sites and games. Some are good.
  • Actually, in Japan they start with learning hiragana first and gradually, as you learn more kanji, you will replace certain words with their kanji equivalents. The rationale is that you can write complete sentences and learn grammar using only hiragana already. Focusing on kanji alone is asking for problems in my opinion, especially since more and more words are written in their hiragana-only form. (こんにちは versus 今日は, for example.)
  • It's a good point. Don't neglect the kana. Which is another good reason to practise reading.
  • Yeah, learning the kana was one of the first things I did. I'm very comfortable with the Hiragana these days, and fairly comfortable with Katakana.

    Asides from the Minna no Nihongo book can anyone recommend any good reading? I read a good paper on intensive reading in teaching Japanese where they had a pool of childrens books from a range of ages (from around 3 to 13), however they didn't give any reading examples....
  • Posted By: mcdreamer
    [p]Yeah, learning the kana was one of the first things I did. I'm very comfortable with the Hiragana these days, and fairly comfortable with Katakana.[/p][p]Asides from the Minna no Nihongo book can anyone recommend any good reading? I read a good paper on intensive reading in teaching Japanese where they had a pool of childrens books from a range of ages (from around 3 to 13), however they didn't give any reading examples....[/p]


    Personally I started with Genki Volume 1. It was so-so, kinda nice for an introduction if you know 0 japanese but other than that, i can't really recommend it. Then I moved to Japan for a year and studied japanese, in Japan they pretty much use ONLY minna no nihongo for the basic classes. When we moved up to chuukyuu (intermediate grade) we started to use a book called 中級から学ぶ, it is a very good book for reading comprehension when you're above the minna no nihongo volume 2 level, they cut down on the furigana a LOT and there's a lot of JLPT2 grammar. Great book IMO. We also started using a Kanzen Master book for training JLPT2 grammar. On the side, we used a book called JBridge. JBridge is MUCH more simple than 中級から学ぶ, but the point of JBridge is not to become good at japanese reading or grammar, it's purpose is to teach you how to speak more like a native... you learn what words and grammatic structures japanese people use when discussing various subjects. For example, when talking about when they were young, native japanese very commonly use "koro", for example "kodomo no koro". When recommending a place to travel, they use "nara" and "-tara" a lot in a special way... stuff like that. It's meant for people who allready speak Japanese but want to sound more natural. Kinda boring, but very useful.

    After those, I've pretty much stopped looking into textbooks for "teaching". Now I use jisho.org, kokugo jisho (japanese dictionaries explaining japanese words in japanese) and manga, anime, books, games and japanese websites, simply learn by using. If I wanted some actual textbooks, I'd probably buy more Kanzen Master books, they are REALLY good when your level of Japanese is high enough.
  • After looking at the Heisig books properly I decided they weren't for me. I went for the Minna No Nihongo Kanji book (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Minna-No-Nihongo-Kanji-English/dp/4883191478/) because I like the fact that it's (almost) all in Japanese so it's good for reading etc too.

    It seems pretty good so far, but it'd be good to hear some opinions on the approach I'm taking. Each unit in the book introduces around 12 kanji with related meanings (and gives vocabulary built around this). I guess my main concern is whether learning readings for a kanji based on the given vocabulary is the right way to go. There are kanji where not all of the readings are used by the words given but I guess they can be picked up later when I encounter new words?
  • Posted By: mcdreamer
    [p]There are kanji where not all of the readings are used by the words given but I guess they can be picked up later when I encounter new words?[/p]


    If the readings aren't used in the given words it's probably because they're less common, and I'd agree you can pick up the less common readings later.
  • That's what I was thinking too (I've read some similar comments before but it can be hard sometimes when you're learning without any guidance - perhaps I ought to join a class ;)). Thanks.

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