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What is the most effective way to learn kanji?


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I really love Kanji! But after trying to mass-memorize flash cards with single Kanji and it still couldn't read properly, I realized that Kanji is WORDS not single characters. Yes I am slow... I liked the koto app which was easy enough to study on the train to work.(https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/koto/id448395423?mt=8)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

If you're starting from scratch in Japan, learn public transport stops if you travel regularly. They are nearly always in hiragana, roman letters AND kanji, so they are ready-made flash cards.

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Get a good teacher. First, start learning to speak Japanese. Next learn some basic kanji first, then learn about kanji radicals (kanji parts) so you're not trying to write 16 meaningless strokes, but rather 3 simpler kanji of 4 or 5 strokes.

Learn to speak, read and write together, so that you have some way of remembering the various readings of the kanji. Trying to simply memorize and then guess which of the possible readings applies in a given situation is... insanity.

But do start learning at least basic kanji quite early, preferably as you start learning to speak about stuff like day, month, etc.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Read everything you can, practice writing a lot.

Signs are great. Heck, karaoke is great.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I passed 1kyuu of japanese proficiency test about 10 years ago and kind of flatlined and declined. I restarted with Heisig and handwrote 2000 flashcards but it seems just memorizing the story (mnemonic) itself takes too much of my memory. I questions whether I need to learn to write kanji at all. When I write in Japanese it is always typing. Thus for reading kanji I suggest using flashcards, and if you want to write either forget about it or perhaps Kanjikentei,,,

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I learned a lot of kanji by using the Kanji Kentei game on the Nintendo DS a few years back. Writing over and over and over and over and over - it eventually sinks into your brain.

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Kanji is like latin, the kanji pronounceation has a pattern based on the tsukuri and the meaning is related to the hen. If you can decifer the relationship it becomes much easier to remember and/or deduct the meaning by looking at the combination within the Kanji.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Start really young.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Manga helps, as does a good teacher... although I've forgotten most of what I learned in my Japanese classes.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Heisig for the meaning

Spoken Japanese for the flavor

Vocabulary to mix them together

A really good computer program that slowly moves you through the JPTL levels, remembering the ones you know and keeping you on top of the ones you don't. Until you do.

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Take it from someone who can read and write fluently--

The Heisig method worked for me. Get "Remembering the Kanji" on Amazon, and really stick to his method til the end.

I read novels, operate in a full-J work environment, etc. It works.

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You just have to do it. Read and write them in the same way you're going to use them, again and again.

Helsig sounds just like one more method advertised to sell more copies of the book. The purpose of kanji isn't intrinsically to know individual kanji, it's obviously to read and write Japanese. How we mock the Japanese English education system for just studying and memorizing random words individually with no context, yet do exactly the same with kanji. Like this guy says


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It depends on individual learning styles, but I always found myself relying a lot on muscle memory, so for me, writing a kanji many times over was very useful. I use a small whiteboard when practising kanji. If I can get a feel for it, then when I'm trying to remember it I think of hand movements and which one feels right.

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Heisig worked really well for me, but I found myself learning a lot of the kanji as "mantras", without any story. For example "Penetrate is column, grow up, taskmaster." Just that, no image in my mind. A bit like "six sevens are forty-two."

1 ( +1 / -0 )

An interesting thing is happening wrt to Kanji, many Japanese when given a pen & paper are having a harder time writing out the Kanji, BUT if they see them in print they can read no problem, but going back to writing on paper & the mind is not coming up with the info!

But I also hear many Japanese are able to read more complex Kanji because its now easier to check on meaning etc while online.

Kind of a double edged sword, forgetting some while picking up other Kanji.

Over time though I think the ability of people to WRITE complex languages like Japanese or Chinese will decline

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I guess the most important thing is you have to study through to the "end" of whatever your system is (but at least up thru the joyo kanji- about 2,000). Why? because if you learn 200 or 500 you will use a few for signs and menus, but never practice the others, and you will lose them. It will be like you did 0. If you do 1000? It is the same as 500, ie the same as 0. But If you get the 2000 joyo kanji down you can start to read books and newspapers and then guess what? You are using them, and you don't need to study anymore and you don't need to worry about forgetting them.


you got it wrong on Heisig, it is not at all to sell more books, and it is not memorizing individual words with no context either. to prove that to you, I'm not going to explain it here; you would have to actually do his method, and not for just like some of it. the fact is, I can read and write fluently, everyone I know who did Heisig to the end can too. ppl that did only part of it can't read. and I know only a few who did other methods and got to fluency.

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Use it.

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At the end of the day whatever "method" you used will have been much of a muchness and I hazard using Helsig's ideas it could take even longer than it would otherwise. Like I said, you just have to do it, and like you say you have to do it until the end, but it's not true that 500 or 1000 is like 0. That sounds exactly like something Helsig would say. Of course you have to finish all of them if you want to read a newspaper but that doesn't mean it's all or nothing with nothing in between. I just study by myself, get to about 500, get bored and start again, so no I can't read a newspaper but I could read most daily conversations very easily. What you deem as successful depends on what your aims are.

Again, the aim of kanji is not to "learn kanji", it's to read, and you can start doing that as soon as you know one kanji. A combination of kanji study with reading and vocabulary work at the same time with steady progression is what you need. Combining the 4 skills and working gradually towards getting better and better in all of them, with progression in one helping development in others is the way to learn any language, and learning things in context is commonly accepted as the best way that it's common sense by now. Kanji are no different. Why do you think Helsig's method is so useful and helpful? Just write them and read them. There's no "secret way".

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Read a bit of Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji." You don't have to do all of it. Just get a feel for how the kanji are made up of smaller components.

Then start in with a good kanji textbook like "Kanji in Context." I cannot recommend that book highly enough. As soon as possible, start combining the individual kanji into words. (I still remember the day the light finally went on in my head and I saw 料理、理科、理想、etc. for the first time.)

Live in Japan and take it to the streets. There's no better feeling than seeing a word you just learned posted on a signboard that you've been walking by every day for the past few weeks and finally understanding it.
2 ( +2 / -0 )


Not sure what you're trying to say for a lot of your post. It seems you don't like Heisig. Well, fair enough, use another method. If you can read books and communicate with those around you in an adult fashion, you have passed the literacy test. Congrats.

re "500 is the same as 0-- sounds like something Heisig would say"

Nope, it's what I say. Based on actual experience living here for years and years. I memorized about 7 or 800, and spent years reading menus successfully, and children's manga semi-successfully, so it is not the same as 0, that was an exaggeration. But the truth is I forgot more than half of them. You need basic literacy to be able to practice them enough in casual reading so you don't forget them. Everyone I know who memorized 500 or 1000 for some proficiency test ended up forgetting most, and never continuing on to 2000.

I wanted to offer encouragement to anyone starting out, that's why I posted.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


What I was trying to say was what I said, lol. I don't like fawning over things like Helsig and people who claim you need to do anything other than just do it, like when I saw a friend with a book to learn katakana that had the katakana turned into funny pictures and said let's do one a day to help you learn, when any fool knows you can learn katakana/hiragana in a couple of hours, just writing them out and then using every opportunity after that for practice. It's the same for kanji, I don't see why you need some supposed special method. I don't think you do, and I don't understand why Helsig is lauded by so many academics, although I've seen some of them with connections to him so maybe that's the reason.

I also don't understand 1) the point, and 2) how it can not be actually detrimental to learn Helsig's way. Being able to simply write all the kanji is not the same thing as being able to use Japanese. You have to know the vocabulary, grammar, and obviously Japanese meaning to be able to understand and use Japanese. What's the point of being able to write the kanji if you have no idea what they mean in Japanese or how to read them? I don't see why it's not detrimental because by not learning kanji the way it's done at school you lose the added extras of picking up the Japanese meaning, all readings, related vocabulary, sentence patterns, etc etc, which come along naturally with doing it in Japanese, and which greatly aid your all round language abilities.

You said you were very fluent though so I'm curious, how exactly would you say Helsig helped you in ways that other methods wouldn't have done?

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