Strategies for Learning Kanji

Strategies for Learning Kanji

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  1.               Effectively learning Japanese and developing a level of fluency requires the memorization of anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 Kanji.  Kanji are Chinese characters which represent words by themselves, or are combined in Kanji Compounds or in compounds with Hiragana to form many of the most common verbs and adjectives used in Japanese.  Essentially, there are just under 2,000 Kanji used by fluent Japanese speakers, however, in reality not every native-Japanese speaker actually knows that many.

                  Kanji are difficult even for native-Japanese to learn, and are considered to be one of the most difficult aspects of learning Japanese as a second or foreign language.  There are relatively simple Kanji that students of Japanese learn easily, such as 人(person) and 日(day), but then there are more difficult kanji to memorize such as 劇(drama) and 璃(glassy substance).

                  Just like learning anything that requires memorization, the best way to create a habitual response, in this case recognizing a Kanji to moment you spot it, is to practice.  It is at the discretion of the student whether they wish to memorize writing as well as reading and understanding the Kanji, but writing while memorizing will help the student store the Kanji more efficiently in their minds.

    Tips for Learning Kanji

    • Develop a schedule and stick to it.  This seems straightforward but it’s very easy to undermine your learning abilities by NOT sticking to a schedule.  Ideally, the schedule should include a minimum of five to seven hours of study each week.  For example, let’s say you eat dinner at 6:00pm usually.  Have your study materials ready in a quiet place where you won’t be distracted and sit down to study for one hour at 5:00pm every day.
    • Set realistic goals.  Knowing that you need to memorize a minimum of 1000 Kanji is stressful and can be discouraging when you start getting to difficult Kanji, or a ton of very similar Kanji that slow your progress.  Set a goal that is realistically achievable, such as memorizing two or three new Kanji each day which equates to 14 to 21 new Kanji each week or 728 to 1092 new Kanji in one year.  This way, it doesn’t matter how many MORE Kanji you have to learn still, as long as you learn two or three really well each day.
    • Review every day, even when not studying.  Set yourself up for success by reviewing regularly.  Utilize tools like Anki and to make portable digital flashcard decks you can review on the go, or while waiting in line at a store, or waiting for an appointment, or riding the bus, etc.  Always review the Kanji learned the previews days of that week before memorizing the new two to three Kanji each day.  Once a week, review all of the Kanji you have learned thus far.  To do this, as you memorize Kanji, add those new Kanji to a Word Document and include an underlined space after each.  In a second Word Document write the meanings of the Kanji as you memorize them, followed by an underlined space.  Once a week, print these documents and, without looking up any of the Kanji, write down the meanings on the line following each Kanji one quiz, and write the Kanji on the line following the meanings on the other quiz.
    • Write, Speak, and Memorize Each Kanji.  For maximum memorization efficiency, take a piece of paper and write out each Kanji as you memorize it while saying the Japanese readings out loud.  Think of the English meaning(s) while you write the Kanji, at least a dozen times.  Every time you write it, speak the readings (ALL of them!) as you write each individual Kanji.  For Kanji with many readings, draw the strokes slowly and do not move on the write it again until you have spoken all of the readings for that Kanji.
    • If you find a Kanji difficult to memorize, rewrite it many times, speaking the readings out loud, until it sticks.  This can take several days for some very difficult Kanji, and you may find that you forget this Kanji easily if you skip even one day of reviewing.  Don’t stress over it.  It will come with time, practice, patience, and exposure.  The more often you see, speak, read, and remember each Kanji the easier it will be to recall it when you need it.  If you find you forgot a Kanji, re-write it a dozen times, speaking the readings each time you write it.
    • If you skip a day, take your review quizzes as “punishment.”  This isn’t really punishment, but it will help your brain keep the information stored and accessible after taking a day off.  Then, on your usual review quiz day, take the quizzes again.
    • Plan your study schedule to help you succeed.  We all have days we are just too busy to focus on Japanese or studying or any kind.  And we all have times during the day that our brains just will NOT focus.  For some, it’s early in the morning; for others, it’s late at night; and for others, it’s when they’re hungry.  If you find you have trouble focusing when you’re hungry, don’t plan your study schedule for those times OR make sure you eat something before or while studying.  If you find you work better with Kanji when you study early, get up an hour earlier in the morning and study, or studying in the morning before doing anything else – including before checking email or Facebook because these are HUGE distractions!
    • Fuel your body and mind for maximum memorization and learning ability.  Many students, no matter what age or education level, overlook the value of fueling your body and mind.  Proper nutrition, sufficient water intake, and avoiding foods and beverages that are counterproductive for brain function can go a LONG WAY in improving your ability to learn the Kanji.  Additionally, regular exercise can help improve overall brain function as well.  The author can offer suggestions if needed.

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