Learning kanji
  • Hello everyone,
    I am new here, although I have been using Denshi Jisho for quite a while. I am sort of intermediate, but when I am trying to read original texts, I don't always remember on-yomi, and also sometimes not sure how to read even a familiar kanji in defferent combinations. I dedicate a lot of time to studying Japanese (at least 2 or 3 hours a day), completed Minna no Nihongo Books 1 and 2, Basic Kanji Book 1 and 2 and I am curently using Intermediate Kanji Book 1, but it feels like I am not making any progress. Am I doing something wrong? Can anybody give me some advice or share his own kanji learning experience please?
  • In my opinion the important thing is to learn words, not just readings or kanji meanings on their own.

    I wouldn't say you're doing anything wrong though, there's a lot to remember, it just takes time.
  • Thanks, I agree that kanji should be learnt in context, and that's what I am trying to do. I started learning kanji about a year ago, but I am wondering how long it takes on average to get to the level when you can actually enjoy reading without the need to look up kanji every second ! Sometimes I just despair. I do read children's books and have started a novel by Ekuni Kaori recently. Bur reading newspapers is a nightmare, I give up after a few sentences.
  • I agree with Lanjimancer.
    Even if you know a good amount of kanji and check out a childrens book in japanese (all in hiragana usually), there are so many basic words that people won't recognize.
    Then again, in kanji study, the more you study, the less progress you might feel (since more complex kanji are used less often). 頑張ってね
  • To be honest it's a bit of a conflict for me... I want to learn Japanese, but I enjoy learning new kanji more than I do new words >.>

    I know all the 常用漢字, and quite a few more... but it still doesn't feel like enough.
  • Thanks, I wll of course persevere, it has become quite addictive now. I was sort of expecting a break-through, like a revelation or similar, when it all suddenly falls into place and start making sense, but I guess, I haven't done enough yet. Get to the drawing board...
  • If you aren't using a spaced repetition system (SRS) now, start immediately. I suggest Anki (http://ankisrs.net/), but Mnemosyne works great, too.

    It will drastically condense your study time (2 or 3 hours is A LOT. I spent a few months studying for that much time and found it a relief when I stopped.) If you really like studying that much, SRS will free you from the drudgery of memorization so you can do more expressive, contextual stuff like reading and writing.
  • I learn a lot without an SRS.

    Just sayin'.
  • Thanks guys, I will definitely give it a go.
  • Everybody learns differently, you just have to find what's best for you.

  • you can say it is vast thing.....you nevar say I learn totally kanji..:)
  • hmmmmm...Maybe I'll give SRS a go again soon. When you all use Anki, do you memorize EVERY on and kun reading?? Also, do you just do only have to spend less than ten minutes using it???
  • I've been trying to pick it up the last few months. Of course there's no easy way to go at it.... 2500 characters is going to be a lot no matter how you stab it. To complicate matters, there are kanjis that look almost the same like 矢 and 失, 体 and 休, or 牛 and 午.

    I'm struggling myself, but I've basically come up with 2 approaches, one is sort of a practical shotgun approach, the other systematically categorizing similar kanjis.

    Practical - go find sources of kanji - lyrics, food labels, common names and memorize them in groups of 10-20. The merit of this way is that you learn the kanji you are exposed to and this makes recalling them easier. However, if you come across a similar kanji with a different meaning to one you've learn awhile ago, it may throw you off.

    Systematic - go to the kyoiku kanji page on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyōiku_kanji , look for similar kanjis and seperate them into groups of 10-20 to learn. One of my list included 糸,細,線,紙,組,絵,後。 Another 首,道,通,遠,週,近。 You will notice that these have similar radicals which help you eliminate at least a portion of them you have to learn. The disadvantage of this method is that the similar kanjis are spread throughout the list so you're going to have to find them and it's like you won't find all the similar ones so you'll have to revisit a radical more than one.

    I'm currently trying out both ways seeing what fits better - for now, it appears that with the systematic approach, I learn my list better, but it takes a lot of time to come up with the list - time of which I sometimes get too lazy to spend.
  • It's just pointless to try learning words/kanji out of context, so I usually read texts (often something online that offers an explanations or is otherwise of interest). I began using several tools recently after deciding that I would again make an all out effort to increase my vocabulary, and thus my ability to read and in turn express myself in Japanese.

    I pay special attention to the kanji radicals when I look up a character by itself, which I often do when I want to commit the ON reading to memory after seeing the character used together with another character. I also do this when I am comparing similar characters, and concentrate on parts that may constitute sound or meaning in the character. But most of all, I focus on words as I have seen them used/heard them spoken. Then I mentally repeat or speak new phrases, often separating the character into it's parts mentally.

    ① Denshi Jisho is my online tool for quick lookup of words and characters. When looking up words, it's usually best to click the box for "common words only". To remember specific characters, I look up the kanji by itself pay attention to the radicals listed to the right. It's also great for comparing similar characters that are all starting to get jumbled together in your mind. (墓・募・暮・幕)

    ② Rikaichan is an indispensable tool for reading online. This is one of the best ways to learn words in context without being slowed down by having to look up pronunciation or meaning. Instal the program in for use in Firefox (activate under 'tools'), then use the mouseover function to view both. (For Kanji by themselves, radicals are shown with their names!!) Enjoy reading, and study words as you see fit.

    ③ Kotobank is the last tool I have been using regularly online. If you want to truly understand the meaning of a word, it's often better to simply look it up in a Japanese dictionary. With Rikaichan enabled in Firefox's toolbar, I don't get slowed down at all by new and less familiar words within the definition. Also, there are synonyms and examples like in any normal dictionary.

    Use kotobank to compare words which have slightly different meaning depending on how they are written .. 張る↔貼る I recently looked this up, and wrote out the definitions even. My mac also has definitions for certain words like these when I am selecting the correct kanji. I read these as well.

    I never bother trying to memorize kanji by themselves out of context anymore, because even if you memorize them for a time, you probably won't be able to use these characters very easily in the future. Learning new words and writings takes time, and the best use of that time in my opinion is to read, read, read. Listening and speaking activities are important of course, but neither of these leave much time for looking up words or careful study!

    I have been working on the short stories in "Read Real Japanese". I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a starting point to reading literature. You don't have to read the stories in order like the author recommends though xp As always, study at your own pace, according to your ability and attention span.

    Finally, on occasion I browse through my Langenscheidt Pocket Dictionary, as one more way to help differentiate between different words, or study closer words I have previously encountered. It's a nice break from the glare of a computer monitor! The eyes get tired just as much as the mind, so I'm always changing it up to keep my study progressing.
  • I guess there is no right or wrong way when it comes to learning. We are all individuals. I agree with one comment however - you need to READ as much as possble, but I also find it easier to memorize new kanji when I WRITE down whole phrases or sentences 2 or 3 times. I am a traditionalist, and I strongly believe in "no pain, no gain" principle. But I certainly in favour of modern gadgetry like various computer games/tools etc. Every little helps....
  • Let the set W≔{Processes of learning Kanji in way X} for all possible X, M≔{Good, Bad, Neutral} and L≔"State of having learned the kanji"
    It is then possible to define a mapping the mapping Q:W→M in such a way that makes sense in practice:
    Q(x∈W)≔ {Good, if x∧(x⇒L); Bad, if (¬x)∧(¬x⇒¬L); Neutral otherwise}∈M
  • Personally I think I'll save "learning kanji" until after I'm fluent.

    By that I mean how to write, all of the readings etc.

    Until then I'm just going to keep learning it through vocabulary... you know, stuff I can actually use ;)
  • hear hear!
  • i've been learning Japanese for several months now and i always seem to be able remember the english for Kanji better than the japanese.
    like take the kanji for moon/month. i look at the kanji and read it as moon/month instead of tsuki.
    is it okay to do this or should i try to read it in japanese not english?
  • Seems fine to me LilDeadKitty. Many people do this with kanji as a first stage. But when you know the kanji well you should try to remember the readings.
  • Yeah, it's fine if you just remember the English meanings at first, as you learn more words the readings will come naturally.
  • aww thanx. yeah i'm starting to learn the readings now
  • Hi, I just recently started learning kanji but there is something that I don't understand and I hope you can explain it to me.
    Most of the KUN meanings are like this - for example the kanji 三 has KUN meaning mit(tsu) and the part I don't understand is the part in brackets. From what I've seen it's not pronounced when reading kanji text, but probably I'm wrong... Can someone help please? :)
    Also I think I should mention my learning source - I'm mostly using this website at the moment - http://www.genetickanji.com/
    I appreciate any comments :)
  • The part in brackets is the okurigana (or the hiragana that goes with the kanji). 三つ has the hiragana for 'tsu' after the kanji.
  • Just a general comment on learning Kanji. Remember that these characters were imported from China, some several times, and applied to the original spoken Japanese words. These are called compound words, and learning the words makes the kanji easier.

    My wife is a native Japanese teacher, and she just shrugs when I mention how difficult it is to remember all the readings, even for a first-grade kanji like 生 ( about 20 regular readings, 28 used just for proper names).

    The key, I found, is that when you see a reading like this: い(きる) or "i.kiru", it means that this "い" sound for this kanji will ONLY occur when used with those two other sounds (きる).

    So try to find a compound that uses the kanji, like "生きる” (ikiru, to live) you should try to remember い as a part of this compound word.

    Learning *all* the individual reading of a kanji doesn't make much sense, but learning a lot of the kanji compounds is where the readings come to life and can be remembered better. Plus, like, it's all good vocab. ;)

    I'm just struggling through the 1st-grade kanji, trying to take the kanji kentai test this week, and that's the strategy I've tried to follow so far. We'll see how well it sticks...



  • >"i.kiru", it means that this "い" sound for this kanji will ONLY occur when used with those two other sounds (きる).
    Actually, there is 生かす (ikasu), but I think you mean the right thing.

    And I hope no one would attempt to remember 48 readings of a kanji outside context... Remember the main on-reading and an approximate meaning of the character and you will learn&remember the rest through practice
  • You are right, I didn't check to see if other い readings were used. The point I was attempting to make was that the okurigana is very useful since it shows the one or two times that the kanji would be read that way.

    That helps reduce my panic when seeing the huge list of readings: any reading with okurigana is restricted to that particular compound, so it's not a "generally-used" reading that must be memorized.

    As you say, we can learn the main reading and then accumulate others as vocabulary.

    (Lately I've had fights with my Mac's IME, where I'm insisting that my kana typing should produce a specific kanji, which the IME stubbornly refuses to admit. Then I find out I'm trying to force a reading without the proper okurigana! Oops, sorry.)

  • I’d like to present three simple tricks for learning kanji:

    1. Make sure you read a lot of kanji
    This seems easy when you say it, but it is also easy to do, if you just do it. First of all get some books. Any book with kanji is pretty fine actually, but as I wrote in my previous post, I like “A Guide To Remembering Japanese Characters” by Kenneth G. Henshall. Get a Japanese dictionary, and flip through it as much as possible. One of my personal favorites on the toilet. Before going to sleep, during lunch, on the train, when there’s nothing fun on the tv, basically just spend some time with your books that contain kanji, any chance you have.

    I’ll leave the topic of how to most efficiently gain knowledge from books for later – the most important thing is that you just open and read your book. If your Japanese skill is good enough to read (even haltingly) real Japanese literature, then that’s so much better, because I for one prefer reading real books over “textbooks” etc. Anyway, as long as it contains real Japanese (i.e. hardcore kanji).

    The Japanese Wikipedia is a superb source of reading material! It is very hardcore both when it comes to kanji and formal grammar/vocabulary (relevant for JLPT1!), and since cross-referencing is central to the idea of a wiki, you can just keep reading and looking up concepts that you don’t understand. In fact, I strongly recommend reading the Japanese Wikipedia for improving any aspect of your Japanese – not to mention general knowledge. And you can read it at work while your code is compiling!

    2. Practice “series” of kanji
    There are a few gazillion permutations of the order in which you can study kanji. Like they do in Japanese elementary school, the order they appear on increasing levels of the JLPT tests, any kind of arbitrary order, or – the gods forbid – Remembering the Kanji order. Anyway that doesn’t matter much. What I think does matter is that you study “series” of characters that you think have something in common. The number of characters in a series can be basically whatever is suits you, but for me it’s usually between a quarter of a dozen to one and a half dozen characters.

    When I say “series”, I mean something like this: 激撤徹微徴懲 – these characters used to look very similar to me and when I saw one of them I used to go like “oh, one of those characters”. 哀衰衷褒喪畏 would be another example. Or maybe they don’t look similar, but their meanings/usages conceptually overlap, like 悼慨恨悔 vs 愉悦 etc.

    Whatever trick you use to remember these is mostly up to you I think. For me they just seem to stick after a while. But the important thing is to make sure you don’t forget them and can still distinguish between them. I print them out (I suppose you can write them by hand too if that’s your thing) and put them on the partitions (walls are equally usable if you are lucky enough to have that) at my office desk, and on my iGoogle sticky note, and in text files on my computer, etc. Anywhere where you’re bound to see them a lot. That way you’ll immediately notice if when you see the note, you can no longer recall the details about a character. That’s when it’s time review.

    3. Don’t study kanji in isolation
    I’ve seen it recommended on forums, web sites, and even books (do I even need to mention my arch nemesis any more?): learn the kanji then learn Japanese, or learn the meanings of kanji then learn vocabulary, or learn stupid keywords for all the kanji then learn their pronunciations (remember that pronunciation is the very core of each character!).

    First of all: that to me that would be really boring. Don’t encourage yourself to give up – have fun! Secondly: as I mentioned in the previous entry: kanji is the character set used to write Japanese. So don’t study kanji without studying Japanese, and vice versa!

    When I say “read a lot of kanji” and “practice series of kanji” above I don’t mean just learn the pronunciation and meaning of each kanji and remember that like some damn parrot. What I’m talking about is to learn not only pronunciation(s) and meaning(s), but also words the kanji is used in – at least one, possibly many – the history/evolution of that character (if it’s interesting, and it often is), and try to read texts containing that character (often you’d go from finding a character frequently used in a text to actively studying that character; I don’t mean you have to find texts that match every character you want to study). Associate that character to other similar characters through “series” of characters.

    Here again finding good reading material is essential. Besides Wikipedia, newspapers (i.e. news websites) are extremely good. The kanji in newspapers are definitely hardcore. A nice trick is to try and read the same kind of articles every day. Say you’re interested – or just pretend you’re interested – in economy – the stock markets, even. Then read some stock market articles every day. The first few days you’ll find that the kanji and words used are extremely hard. But after a week or two you’ll find that the same kanji and even the same words reoccur all the time. That’s when you know which kanji you have to learn, and you’ve already got a great source of texts for putting them in context. I’d arbitrarily recommend Asahi Shimbun for a dose of daily reading practice.

    Lastly I’ve been recommended and lately seen a lot of recommendations on forums etc on using software/services for studying kanji. Programs such as Anki and Mnemosyne come to mind. I even saw some dude recommend using something called a “kanji box” or something for you Facebook. Now, I don’t have a Facebook account, but I don’t think being logged in to Facebook is going to do any good at all for your kanji studies, even with your fancy kanji box on your profile page. You’re much more likely to spend hours randomly clicking around and not doing much intellectually challenging activities at all.

    Color me old-fashioned, but if anything I’d recommend ordinary paper flash cards. But it’s really boring to construct those… so I just keep my kanji and vocabulary in text files on the computer and print them out every once in a while and review those lists a few times. And since I’m surrounding myself with study material – always keeping a book within arm’s reach, a kanji series on the wall, a computer that runs in Japanese, an rss feed with news in Japanese, etc – there’s constant repetition, all the time. If you know you need to learn a certain kanji character, you’ll active take notice every time it pops up. Just make sure to you maximize the chances of it popping up!
  • I'm a huge fan of "Heisig's Method" (which was propounded by others as well). As in "Remembering the Kanji 1".

    However, I don't like this method being called "LEARNING the Kanji".

    I much prefer to think of Heisig's method as being "PREPARING to learn the Kanji". With his method you can learn certain aspects of the Kanji characters, an approximation of the single character meaning and the writing.

    Then, once these are learned, you can actually start "learning the Kanji". With Heisig (first book only) familiarity with the characters, you can simply start learning readings and vocabulary in context. (E.g. reading manga, and making wordlists really worked for me).

    Personally I didn't use any of the subsequent books in his series, as they just didn't seem right to me. I found that the "preparation" that the first book gave me was enough to make the task of actually learning the Kanji relatively easy. "Relatively" because learning sufficient vocabulary to become fluent in a foreign language is always a large task.

    However, since I didn't use the reading learning methods from his later books, I'm not qualified to comment on their effectiveness. I looked at them, and didn't feel that I needed to keep up what seemed to me to be an artificial method, when I could just learn the language through daily use and reading.

    I first learned Japanese over twenty years ago when I first went to live in Japan, where I stayed for four years. I can still read OK, so something worked. (I've joined at Jisho.org because I've never been satisfied with my listening comprehension of film/TV, and am starting to work on it again - with some success and with . I was always OK in real conversation, never much good at listening to TV etc.)
  • Being a translator, I have reached a level of proficiency where I don’t need to study kanji on a daily basis like I once did. Back when I was a student I used a combo of flashcards and rote repetition (writing kanji, particularly those I had a hard time remembering, over and over again.) Mnemonic devices (associating them with little rhymes or whatever) can be a big help on that front too.

    But rote study is not enough to make anything stick. You have to put yourself into a place where you are reading (and also hopefully writing) a certain amount of Japanese every day. Whether this means plowing through a newspaper, novel, magazine, manga, or favorite website doesn’t matter. It’s the act of actually using the information on a daily basis that locks it in.

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