2005
02.14

A friend yesterday showed me the kanji cards he is making by hand. And the other day I was reading Roy’s post about kanji cards. These two things combined with the JLPT results being released have got me thinking I should start revising my kanji.

I have my first set of Tuttle flash cards which I have never really used. The idea of making cards by hand just sounds ideal but I know I’d never get around to it – or complete it if I started.

But what I realised after studying for the 2 kyu JLPT is that while I can recognise far more kanji compounds I can probably write fewer kanji than when I was studying for 3 kyu. So, firstly I’m interested in revising the kanji I should know and being able write basic kanji without straining my brain for 2 minutes before each stroke comes to mind!

Back to repetition? The daily (as much as possible) diary seemed to help a while back. I guess it just comes to down to sticking at it, whatever way you do it.



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  1. Hey, that Remembering the Kanji book is really good. I have just started and got to about 500 kanji already, when I get to 1000 kanji I’m going to blog about my impression of the book. I’ve been a long time naysayer of this book but after using it for a week I find I can remember AND write them too without even practice writing them at all. Some of the stories to help you remember the kanji are so stupid they stick in your mind. That’s the power of it.
    We’ll see if my good impression lasts or not, but you might want to take a look at it. Don’t bother with volume 2 though.

  2. Really? You can even write them using the stories to help? I’m not sure if it would work for me. I’ve always believed that making your own stories would be the best but even when I do I can’t seem to remember the kanji. Do you have to re-read the stories quite a few times before they sink in?

  3. Don’t fall for the kanji card trap. I know it feels good to organize the cards and track your progress but it’s not going to help you learn Kanji at all. The problem with kanji cards and kanji learning programs is the mistaken idea that if you learn a character, it’ll somehow magically teach you all the words that use that character. This is only true for single character words such as 私、食べる、or 静か.
    Let’s say you wanted to write 「じじょう」 in Kanji. Maybe you already know the character 「事」 and 「情」 but if you don’t know that the word 「事情」 uses those two characters, you won’t know how to write the Kanji.
    Roy, no offense, but I doubt whether you really know 500 kanji in a useful context. Do you know the 1,000+ words that use those Kanji? Because that’s utimately all Kanji is good for; making actual words. And please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think it’s practical to have to recall stories of every character when you are actually writing. The kanji has to be recalled instantaneously and that takes training no matter what. If you can write normal Japanese sentences at normal speed by recalling stories, then I’ll be convinced it works.
    Darren, here’s my suggestion if you want to make Kanji cards. Take a sentence with the word you want to study. Change the word to hiragana and write the kanji in the back. The sentence will provide the context to clear any ambiguities between possible homonyms. This will test yourself on the ability to write actual words in Kanji. Actually, I wish there was a program that did this since I need to work on my writing ability as well. But everything out there is so focused on reaching that magic number: 2000 characters. The real magic number is probably somewhere between 10,000-50,000 of kanji vocabulary. But then again, I hardly ever write Japanese without a computer so I can get by with hiragana for the hard ones every now and then.
    Don’t fall for the trap man. Everybody gives up on flash cards eventually.

  4. Tae Kim: That is exactly what I used to say but this book is really interesting in helping to remember the kanji. It’s not a book for learning Japanese and the Author clearly states that. The learning part comes afterwords. By the way, for me reading this book is mostly review and trying to get some formal Japanese studying going. I already know alot more kanji.

  5. Tae Kim: Also nice blog! You must have spent a long time creating the grammar guide. I’ll add your link to my site if you don’t mind.

  6. Darren: In case you are interested, this review of the book convinced me to buy it, and after working through the first 500 or so kanji I could understand and agree with most points of this reviewer.
    http://www.kanjiclinic.com/reviewheisigharper.htm

  7. Thanks Roy. Yeah, I did spend quite a bit of time on the guide. And the end is nowhere in sight.
    I hope that book works out for you though it’s not my style of learning. I personally prefer learning while reading real stuff because I like to read anyway and studying off cards bores me to tears.
    I think the best way to check it out is to read the actual thing. Here’s the first hundred some pages.
    http://www.ic.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/miscPublications/pdf/RK4/RK4-00.pdf

  8. It would be nice to think that one day I could see any kanji and list off its on/kun yomi and know a few words in which it’s used. For me, this is probably just an ideal, though. Can the Japanese do this for all the kanji they are supposed to know?
    Knowing kanji from a compound kanji word is all very well, but I’ve found that I can recognise the kanji only in certain compounds – seeing the whole word as a picture or familiar image. So if I see it in another word I may not even recognise it. Also, even if I did I’d probably only know one on yomi for it.
    Knowing the core meanings of individual kanji has helped to roughly decipher unknown words I think kanji cards could help with this.
    The book Roy talks about sounds tempting because I want to be able to write kanji. With keitai and computers I hardly ever try to write by hand and have realised that I can’t! Thanks for the links, I’ll have a look.

  9. I just wanted to add that though it may not be practical to recall stories for every kanji we need somewhere to start, some way to recall them in the first place. Hopefully this is the first stage in reaching instantaneous recall – this is the beginning of the training, right?
    I really appreciate the link to the book preview. I’ve just started having a look and it looks good.

  10. They give stories for the first 500 or so kanji and after that you have to make up your own stories, I’m a visual thinker so it helps me to imagine something to remember it. Some of the stories are not that good but others really “stick”. I think recalling them is fairly easy, you don’t have to think to much for it to come back. I guess the real test will be to finish the book and see if recall is easier or not. I like the guys theory though.

  11. Yeah, that guy has some imagination. But the stories which you can’t relate to are not too helpful. That’s where your own mind comes in, huh.
    So after the first 500 kanji what happens? The kanji are just listed showing only stroke order?

  12. Try reading the first part of Chapter 11. He gives more concrete advice on his methodology which I found helpful.

  13. I actually took a look at the book but I’m still not convinced that it’ll help. For sake of argument, let’s say the book is a wild success and you can write 2,000 characters based on each keyword. How does that help me write actual words in Kanji? Do I have to memorize keyword combinations for every 熟語?
    When I want to write 真珠, I don’t think, “Gosh, how do you write true-pearl?” I want to be able to recall the kanji for しんじゅ. That’s because you need to be able to directly think in Japanese to be any good at it.
    In the end, you need to be able to map hiragana to kanji. I don’t see how adding another layer of abstraction by memorizing English keywords is going to help. In my experience, adding any type of English thought processes into Japanese always causes trouble. I’d like to meet the author or see any of his Japanese writing to see how good his Japanese really is.

  14. OK, I’ll bite.
    Tae, I don’t disagree with you on what you are saying. I said the exact same thing about this book to at least 20 people whom I knew used it in the past. And I even tried to discourage them.
    I cannot speak for other people but I can tell you about my experience so far as a basis to argue the other side.
    I owned the kanji cards that went with this book and never really used them. I decided to start some proper study this year and for the sake of blog fodder or whatever, pulled that box out of the closet and went thru all the kanji just to see how many I knew. As I wrote on my blog about it, I noticed that I could recognize some of the kanji easier when I looked at the compound word on the card. This was expected I guess since I learned Japanese in a school with all chinese so they never taught me kanji, I just had to remember all the words and read as best as I could. When I first came to Japan, my priority was speaking/listening so I focused my energy on that and had many false starts with kanji. After I could get level 2 I got lazy about studying kanji because I always started from the beginning and got bored before I could get to a “difficult” level.
    Anyway, when I realized that this card set was for that book, I decided to take a closer look. I read the PDF and thought it was interesting enough to buy. As I said before, I worked my way through the first 500 kanji. I already knew all of them except for a few I forgot the meaning of. But what was interesting about this experience is that when I did it I could see some kanji in a completely different way.
    His idea of using imaginative memory to remember kanji really works for me. It’s like the difference between remembering a face and remembering a name or phone number. People are generally better at one or the other. For me I can remember faces, things people wore, the color of someones shoes etc better than remembering what someone said or a phone number or a line from a movie.
    The purpose of the stories are to help you imagine it visually in your mind. Using the stories to associate with the kanji character and the english keyword helps to anchor it in memory. You’re not supposed to tell yourself the story everytime you want to recall the kanji. Now this may not work for someone who has a tendency to think in words.
    Getting back to your argument about whether or not this is useful for learning Japanese. Well, I don’t think there is any one perfect or best way to learn something. My years of teaching language have taught me that what works for one person may not work for another (My University degree was in Linguistics with an emphasis on TESL and second-language acquisition, so I was not just a gaijin doing the teaching thing..) However, I think there are certain stages in the learning process that everyone goes thru.
    In response to your comment about how to write 真珠: If you really think back to when you first learned something, language, programming, golf, swimming, skiing, driving, you probably can’t remember if you were too young. But if you learned as an adult the first stage is always a very self-conscious learning process where you are conscious about technique. I can’t swim well, for example, and when I do I’m thinking to myself, “keep back straight, look down etc” and I’m still not good at it. But if I stick to it I’m sure there will come a point when I stop being conscious of these things and it will become second-nature.
    So too with language I believe. In my case, if I’m writing email or reading a street sign I don’t think about what each kanji means anymore and I don’t translate in my head, but at one time I think I did say to myself “true-pearl”. I don’t think anyone thought directly in Japanese when they were learning it initially. The point is, during the initial conscious stage of the learning process we need some strategies or “tricks” to help us get going, build the foundation.
    Book 1 is focused on building the foundation for remembering the kanji (only). It’s purpose is simply a solution to the challenge “How can someone remember 2000 kanji quickly?”
    Book 2 introduces all the yomi and vocabulary for the kanji which tries to put those 2000 kanji in a context where you can use it for learning Japanese. My impression is that Book 2 is probably not that good and there are better material out there. Maybe the reason why the publishers stopped printing volume 2.
    I found this book better than others for me to go back and relearn some kanji. Like going back to basics to improve your golf swing, unlearning bad habits. Perhaps I liked the fact that I only needed to concentrate on remembering the kanji itself and not have to worry about the yomi yet. I could make progress quickly. After I finish I may not think this technique is useful. But, I doubt it will require much effort from me and I’ve already found some benefit. We’ll see.
    You seem like a very intelligent person and have obviously spent a lot of time and energy learning Japanese more meticulously than most people I’ve met. I’m sure it’s a topic that you are very passionate about and have strong views on. I don’t think I could spend so much time writing a grammar guide online, I’d get bored to tears. So I think you can appreciate the fact that there are people out there who are also intelligent AND have used this technique and benefitted from it, can’t you?
    I read the reviews on amazon and the one on kanjiclinic and thought that some of the positive reviews were quite logical enough for me to give it try.
    Or maybe I just don’t want to admit that I wasted my money on this book! (Just Kidding :P)
    Darren: Sorry for the long comment, you need to create a new post on this topic so Tae and I can continue our argument there 🙂

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