Tuesday, October 19, 2010

All your kanji are belong to us

Nihongo Ninja fans: sorry for the lack of updates. I've changed my studying methods and I promise, I will have lots to share in the coming weeks.

As a student of Japanese, you eventually have to learn kanji; however, it's something that many of us are afraid of. You may have had thoughts like these:
"The scribbles mean nothing to me, and I can't remember them after a few days! Okay, go back and write it 1000 times again, and maybe it'll stick? When will I learn at least 2000? When I'm 50 years old?"

I used to have thoughts like these too. But not anymore.
Here's why.

It's all because of my experiences with the book, Remembering the Kanji, Vol 1. by James Heisig.

Using the power of imaginative memory, you can learn what he calls primitive elements and associate them with an English key word, and a "story." More complex kanji are themselves built up from other primitives and also have stories associated with them.

When you want to recall a kanji, you would use an SRS (another post to explain that will be written soon) and go from the English keyword, recalling the primitives and their related"story", and finally, you would write it out.

The method might seem a bit unorthodox, but it is really effective and makes sense when he tells you that he puts you on the same level playing field as Chinese and Korean students of Japanese who know how to write kanji, and their meanings, but don't know the Japanese readings.

What about the readings? Why shouldn't you learn it all at once? Well, it's all about divide and conquer, baby. Heisig starts with the simpler of the two, which is writing and meaning. Once you've got that, you can then tackle the issue of compounds, on'yomi, kun'yomi, etc.

Does it work? Based on my experience and many others (see the forums at Reviewing the Kanji), I'd say it does. I'm currently at 734 kanji, with about a 95% - 99% retention rate when I'm doing my daily SRS reps. 2000+, here I come!

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