If you’ve been studying the Japanese language for any amount of time, then you’ve also probably started to consider learning to read and write kanji as well. There are more than 50,000 different kanji, each with its own meaning and pronunciation, although most people agree that learning about 2,000 will enable you to read and write at a publicly acceptable level. There are about five different methods for how to learn kanji, and each one has its pluses and minuses. The easiest way for each person to learn kanji is to take a look at the various methods, and determine which one best matches their personal learning style. Once you feel comfortable learning this way, you’ll see how easy it is to breeze through your kanji in no time.
How to Learn Kanji Five Different Ways
If you’ve been studying Japanese in any way shape or form, you’ve probably come across at least one of these methods for learning kanji. Kanji teachers and experts can all feel very passionately about their particularly learning method, which can make it difficult and confusing for someone that experiences different things by first learning Japanese in context, and then going on to study the Hiragana and Katakana. In each instance you’ll be introduced to a different segment of the Japanese language and kanji. No one method is correct, and while you may struggle to get to 1000 characters in one method, you can quickly reach your goal simply by switching to another.
How to Learn Kanji by Repetition
Repetition is one of the most frequently taught methods for learning kanji. This is also known as the traditional way to learn kanji, and is the method taught to most Japanese school children.
This method involves a pencil and a sheet of paper divided up into several small boxes, some with even smaller gray boxes inside the first. This method of learning kanji encourages you to write the same character over and over again inside each box. Many courses and textbooks will outline a specific order for you to write to the characters in. This type of repetition and progression forces you to memorize the strokes of each character until you can reproduce them without thought, simply from muscle memory. This can be a very effective way of learning kanji, but for those with poor fine motor skills, or those that prefer to work in multimedia, this method has some serious drawbacks.
Repetition has also not been proven to strengthen the memory, so if you have difficulty with remembering the characters, rather than with writing them, this method is not going to help you learn.
How to Learn Kanji by Flashcards
Some people learn best when they take in the whole word and kanji at the same time. This method of learning kanji works primarily through the use of flash cards where the student studies a new word and works on pronunciation and the kanji at once. They may work on using the word in the correct context at the same time, as well.
Learning kanji in this method is relatively slow. You focus on a handful of words each day and make sure that you learn them completely before moving on to the next method. Some people also like to use this method in conjunction with the repetition method; once the repetition has been completed, flash cards are used to help tie the characters to the spoken word.
How to Learn Kanji through Vocabulary and Context
Another way to learn kanji at the same time you increase your vocabulary is to work on the characters in context. For example, by learning the character 食, you also learn that it can be pronounced in two different ways – as ta or as shoku. Therefore, whenever you see this character, you can make an educated guess as to the word. By increasing your vocabulary at the same time you learn your kanji, you’ll be able to better grasp the various intricacies of both, thereby learning more quickly than if you first learned the vocabulary and then moved on to learning the kanji. For people that learn “whole words” better than by taking things individually, this method can be very effective at teaching you kanji fairly easily and quickly.
How to Learn Kanji through Reading
Once you have a grasp on the basics of kanji and have mastered about 700 characters, you can learn a lot of new characters simply by reading a great deal. The reading method of learning kanji has the student reading multiple passages over and over again until the meaning is clear. A lot of this type of learning also relies heavily on context, so if you learned your first kanji through vocabulary and context, then you’ll probably find it very easy to pick up the remaining characters simply by reading the same passages over and over again. Once you master a specific passage, move on to another until you have worked your way through the 2,000 characters necessary to read nearly anything in popular Japanese.
How to Learn Kanji by Mnemonics
There are a few ways you can use mnemonics to help you learn kanji. The method first started by having the students learn the basic radicals that make up a kanji. Once you understand the radicals, you can see how they are put together to form the kanji and create the story in your head of what is being told. From there, you just need to remember the kanji as you learn it to read quickly and fluently. If you get stuck, just go back to the radicals. This method is a lot like teaching phonics in English and having a child sound out a word.
Mnemonics can also be used to allow either the radicals or the kanji to remind you of a story that will further dictate what the remaining kanji are. This method goes a step beyond the original and can be a good method for those that already have a good grasp on kanji, but have a little bit of trouble remembering certain words.
A third way of using mnemonics combines the first two methods with the introduction of vocabulary. By learning vocabulary at the same time you learn the kanji, you can use mnemonic techniques to help you recall the kanji from the vocabulary and the vocabulary from the kanji. This is a good method for those that like to work on learning both components of the language at once, and that are already slightly familiar with both the vocabulary and the kanji enough to be able to use mnemonics to recall the pieces that you are missing.
Nearly every method taught has one thing in common; studying and repetition, whether through reading, writing, or flashcards is the key to learning kanji as quickly as possible. Whether you choose to take a course in how to read Japanese, or you have been studying the language and want to learn how to read and write it as well, keeping to your studies as long as it takes to memorize the various characters is truly the key to your future success.
Consider how each of these methods fits in with your personal learning style, and make a choice on how to proceed with what you feel you can stick with the longest. Because some methods feed into others, you may want to take a look at the methods a second or third time as you learn to see if you should switch at any time. Study your kanji diligently, and in no time at all you’ll be reading Japanese as if you were born in Japan.