You can’t “learn” Kanji!!

One of my pet peeves is when somebody says the phrase “learn Kanji” such as, “I learned 100 Kanji in one week!” Kanji has way too many parts to simply say that you “learned” it. Saying you learned Kanji is like saying “I learned computer!” or “I learned a car!” What does that even mean? Let’s break down the concrete things you can learn with Kanji.

  1. Learn the meaning(s)
  2. Learn all the readings
  3. Learn the stroke order
  4. Learn how to write it

Now, let’s see how useful all these possibilities are for learning Japanese.

Learn the meaning – Useful

Learning the meaning of a Kanji is great if it’s a word by itself. For example, 「力」 is also a word meaning “strength” so the meaning directly translates into a word you can actually use. However, you can also argue that since 「力」 is also a word, you are essentially saying that you learned the meaning of a word. So in the end, this is really the same as learning words and doesn’t really count as “learning Kanji”.

Having said that, knowing the meaning of a Kanji is certainly very useful for simpler words and concepts. Kanji such as 「続」 or 「連」 will definitely help you remember words such as 接続、連続、and 連中. In conclusion, there’s nothing wrong with learning the meaning of a Kanji and something I would recommend.

Learn all the readings – Waste of time

To put it bluntly, learning all the readings of a Kanji is a complete waste of time. Yes, as a general rule of thumb, Kanji compounds use the on-reading while single characters use the kun-reading. However, this rule is nowhere consistent enough to make it more than a good guess (this is particularly true for 大 which we can’t seem to decide to read as おお or だい).

In addition, many Kanji have multiple readings kun or on-readings such as 怪力(かいりき or かいりょく?), 外道(げどう or がいどう?), or 家路(いえじ、うちじ、やじ?). Even if you guessed the correct reading, it might be voiced or shortened such as 活発 and 発展. Also, Kanji such as 生 have so many readings, it’s completely pointless to memorize them because you won’t know which one will be used in a word such as 芝生、生ビール、生粋、and 生涯. Not to mention the various words that only use the Kanji for the meaning while completely ignoring the reading. These words such as 仲人、素人、and お土産 are literally impossible to guess the readings for. At the end of the day, if you see a new word, you always want to look up the reading to make sure you learn the correct combination. In addition, the readings will be easier to remember in context of real words that you can actually use. Essentially, memorizing the readings by themselves is a complete waste of time.

Learn the stroke order – Essential at first

I’m not going to go into all the reasons why memorizing the correct stroke order is important. Without going into detail, of course you want to make sure to remember the correct stroke order. However, you’ll find that once you’ve mastered all the compounds, stroke order for most Kanji are consistent and easy enough that you no longer need to look it up. Every once in a while, you’ll run into odd Kanji such as 飛 or 鬱 where you’ll want to check the stroke order. So yes, definitely look up the stroke order and make sure you’re not developing any bad habits until… you don’t need to look them up anymore. That happens sooner that you might think.

Learn how to write it – Depends

This is going to be a controversial stance but nowadays, technology has progressed to the point where we never really have to write anything by hand anymore. Yes, it’s embarrassing if you’re fluent in a language but can’t write it by hand. This is an issue even for Japanese people.

By “writing Kanji”, I don’t mean just 2,000+ characters based on keywords. Unless you know which combination of Kanji to use for any given word with the correct okurigana, that is a useless parlor trick.

Being able to write any word in Kanji is an extremely time-consuming goal that may not have much practical value. If your daily life requires writing a lot by hand such as teaching Japanese, I feel that necessity and practice would naturally lend to better writing ability. In other words, if you don’t need it, it’s extremely difficult to keep up your memory of how to write Kanji by hand.

Conclusion – Learn words with Kanji!

I hate the phrase “learn Kanji” because almost every time someone says that, they don’t realize that they haven’t really learned anything that’s directly applicable to Japanese. Compare “learning Kanji” to learning a word. In order to learn a word, you obviously need to learn the definition, reading, Kanji, and any Okurigana if applicable. There is no question of what you learned and whether it’s useful for Japanese. And yet the idea of learning 2,000 Kanji is so attractive that we can’t seem to get away from that broadly undefined notion.

I don’t consider a Kanji as being learned until I know the most common words using that Kanji with the correct readings and can write those words randomly months after I initially memorized it. Unfortunately, given that standard, I probably know about 100-200 Kanji but hey, we all need goals, right?

Whatever cool method to “memorize Kanji” someone tries to peddle you, at the end of the day, you still have to do lots of reading and memorizing tons of vocabulary. This involves daily struggles starting with remembering that 「き」 in 「好き」 is okurigana and continuing with which Kanji to use for 真剣 vs 試験 vs 検査 vs 険しい, or constantly forgetting which kanji is for net vs rope (網/綱). You may be thinking, “Wow, 2,000 is a lot!” But don’t worry, it pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of words that an adult has memorized in her lifetime. And believe it or not, having a fixed set of characters with mnemonics and compounds actually helps with the much bigger job of learning vocabulary. Once you’ve learned a new word in seconds based on characters you already know, you’ll know what I mean. Trust me.

62 thoughts on “You can’t “learn” Kanji!!

  1. A lot of people seem to think that it’s important to rush the “learning” of Kanji, because when it comes to learning vocabulary, going monolingual is said to be of the utmost importance. I’m sure you can do this now, but for long were you using J-E in your Japanese studies?

    • I don’t think going monolingual is that important unless you mean not translating in your head. I still use a J-E dictionary. In my opinion, seeing a word in context of many example sentences is more important than just reading the Japanese definition. I usually do a lot of google searching if I’m not sure of the usage of a new word.

  2. So I like what you’ve written and I like your ideas on learning kanji (both from this post and previous posts) but I can’t seem to apply them in a practical way. I am fluent in speaking Japanese (a parent spoke it) but embarrassingly I know very few kanji. How exactly did you learn kanji? I know you studied the words and the kanji through them but how did that work? Did you just read material then look at how the kanji is read then move on? Did you make flashcards (I know you’re not a huge fan of anki). Did you write the kanji in a notebook and look at them once in a while? Thanks, hope my writing wasn’t too confusing.

    • Probably all of the above except for flashcards. Those are just too time consuming to make.The key is to make as many connections as you can.

      I always used electronic resources, flipping through a paper dictionary is a HUGE time sink. You can form links in many ways:

      1. Radicals eg 忘 = dead heart (interestingly also 忙 = heart dead)
      2. Other words you know that use the same Kanji eg 実際、実在、切実
      3. Noticing patterns in other words with similar Kanji. eg 験、剣、検、険 all have the same reading.
      4. Read other example sentences that use the same word.

      Options to search other words using the same Kanji and example sentences are really helpful (eg http://jisho.org)

      I read material and spent as much time on new Kanji based on how interesting or unfamiliar they were. The REALLY important thing is to find interesting reading material and to take breaks.

      • My strategy is to use this website with text taken from japanese websites:
        http://www.furiganizer.com/
        If Anonymous above is already fluent, hearing the sentences in her head will give her the meaning, and with repeated exposure, she will learn the kanji.

    • Hello! The most and only way to efficiently stuff kanji in your long term memory is through “radicals”! for say, 休. this mean, rest. it’s made up of two radicals. 人 (human) and the tree radical, you can see it! the human kanji has two or three radicals. one used here is 亻. so when you combine human+tree, you get the picture of a human “resting” under a tree, dont you? this is how most of the kanji are made up, though about 95%, use one radical to give the kanji its meaning and another only its pronunciation which got nothing to do with the meaning… so before you think to begin with kanji, know the radicals first.. this is exactly like knowing abcs in english to make up words! there are about 200 radicals.. search up etymologies for each kanji.. it’s easily available on “Wiktionary” or I also use GeneticKanji.com

  3. I agree with everything you said and It also helped me a lot solving my personal issue about this “learn the kanji” thing.
    Maybe one’s have to set a goal and stay coherent with it. My goal is to be able to read my favourite long term manga that is quite impossible to find in any language but japanese ( and chinese). So I have to learn japanese. But I’m not planning to go living in Japan so I’m not so interested in speaking it fluently or be able to write it very well ( even if I practiced Sho-do and I really love that art). My japanese friends can help me learn to speak japanese in a passable way but this is not my goal (at least for now).
    I noticed that I’ve really improved my reading speed when I stopped studing kanji in the “grade per grade” way and I simply studied the words as I found them in the manga even if they are uncommon or N1 words ( giving a look also to the kanji and tha common readings). This worked for me. So basically have a goal and follow it. And learn the words in the order you feel more usefull for you…
    The grammar is another matter of course.

  4. I can only guess how hard it is for non-Japanese speakers to learn Kanji. It would be painful. I was born and raised in Japan. Every kid in school in Japan was struggling to learn Kanji. In Japan there are Japanese classes in elementary schools, junior high and high schools. We read stories in text books, then there are Kanji quiz, which is something like filling in blanks with Kanji. We spent huge amount of time studying Kanji. Studying a new language is super hard. Just be patient and you are going to be rewarded.

  5. Well, I disagree. I agree that it’s important to learn kanji in the context of vocabulary. But I also think that knowing kanji on their own helps you a lot in figuring out new words, sort of like Greek and Latin roots in English.

    • What do you disagree with, not learning all the readings at once or just the post title? Obviously, you can learn Kanji, my point is that the phrase is too vague.

      • I mean learning all of the readings. Like I said, along the same logic as learning Greek/Latin roots.

        • It’s a waste of time, trust me. Learn them as you go along, but don’t force yourself to learn every single reading from the get go.

    • I agree with you. Learning all the readings are important. Just like lain roots. Once your learn greek and latin roots of english its like opening your eyes for the first time and truly understanding your language and why it makes the sounds it does.

  6. I learned Chinese for some years before I started learning Japanese, and, well, I know quite a lot of 漢字 (simplified, traditional, the Japanese variety). Maybe my brain is just cut for learning them, but I didn’t think it was difficult to memorise them.

    IMHO it’s important to learn the radicals (so even if you don’t know a character, you can guess it has something to do with birds, feelings, plants whatever) and the phonetic component.
    And yes, when it comes to Japanese, it’s pretty useless to try to study all the readings, especially the Kun-readings. I thinks it’s better to know that みる means “to see” (in a brad way), then you can guess that characters, which sort of have the meaning “to see” might have the Kun-reading みる

  7. Hey!
    I am a new Japanese learner and I wanted to clarify(?) something:
    you say u know like 100 Kanji, but u seem like someone really proficient in
    Japanese(writing guides and u seem to be able to read and speak?) then if u
    know only 100 how can u read and understand?
    People say you need to know 2k+ Kanji(the meaning and the onyomi and kunyomi
    and the different readings) but u with only 100 seem to be doing pretty well?
    Or did I get something wrong?

    • I can probably write several hundred words by hand using a few hundred Kanji (I didn’t count exactly but probably over 500). The point I was trying to make is that knowing how to write every Kanji doesn’t mean much if you don’t know the tens of thousands of vocabulary associated with it and also that writing by hand is not as prevalent anymore. Again, I didn’t count but I can read several thousands words using over 2,000 Kanji which is far more important than knowing individual Kanji.

  8. This is clearly a bitter post trying to bash RTK. There’s a reason you took 8 years to get to an intermediate level, Taekim, while most RTK graduates can read at an adult level in 2 including RTK time.

    • 1. I was at the highest level of Japanese class at Waseda study abroad in 2 years and a full time java developer at a Japanese company in 3 years so I think my approach was pretty efficient.

      2. I would love to hear from your so-called RTK graduates that can read at an adult level in 2 years. I’m willing to keep an open mind even though I doubt RTK has much to do with it.

      • It wasn’t intended to be a personal attack so don’t take it that way. If you hung around the koohii forums (at least when it was more popular) for example though you’d see a lot of people like that with similar amounts of progress.

        The ideology goes back to Dr. Woziak and his rules of formatting knowledge in learning: http://www.supermemo.com/articles/20rules.htm

        So essentially what RTK does is makes learning vocab the easiest thing in the world (not because 1:1 kanji meaning word meaning mappings which isnt the idea behind it, but because your brain is now not trying to associate readings with unknown “shapes” which is like cramming a German textbook without knowing any German. It doesn’t matter what the shape (kanji) actually means (sometimes meanings won’t match), but just that your brain actually knows it, associates it, and has a pocket of memory for it.)

        This means your RTK graduate comes out of RTK at 3 months (conservative completion time) and then has the ability to plow through Japanese at an accelerated pace compared to someone who doesn’t know kanji or only studied 50-100 the traditional way intended for people with 18 years of time. For a normal learner when you encounter a sentence with multiple unknown complex kanji you’re simply not going to be able to learn that single sentence without setting aside a day, but for the RTK graduate you already “know” the kanji, already associate them with something in your head, (and how to write them from memory), and simply jump straight into memorizing how to read that sentence which is the easiest part.

        It’s similar to how a lot of Chinese speakers can pass N1 in about a year of study.

        • I don’t really hang around the koohii forums but I do hear a lot of people claim, “I learned XX number of Kanji in YY months!” But never, “I can read a book now without a dictionary!” I can only speak from personal experience so I’m assuming given your confidence, that YOU can read at an adult level?

          I passed JLPT level 1 over 6 years ago but 20 years of knowledge a Japanese adult has ranging from mathematics, history, literature, etc. and 20 years of reading is hard to catch up to. But what do I know, huh? I’m sure most RTK graduates know more than me in just two years. I guess they just like to keep to themselves cause I certainly haven’t met them.

          Also, Chinese people already know the meaning of compounds and a way to map readings eg 可 → ke → か so what RTK teaches is not even remotely close.

          • >that YOU can read at an adult level?
            Yes.

            >Also, Chinese people already know the meaning of compounds and a way to map readings eg 可 → ke → か so what RTK teaches is not even remotely close.
            The point was not to claim that it’s exactly the same, but to give you an approximate idea of what it’s like for an RTK graduate approaching Japanese and having accelerated progress compared to someone with no knowledge of kanji.

            But even if it *didn’t* make learning Japanese any easier, which it does, it still teaches you how to write 2000 individual kanji from memory and gives you the ability to do it with correct stroke order on cue at any time.

            • 簡単にyesと答えたのなら、自信たっぷりのようですね。第一、私はRTKが悪いとは、一言も言っていません。ただ、文字を一つずつ書けたとしても、それでは、漢字の勉強は終わっていないと言いたかっただけです。それに、漢字を2000字書けたからって、何の役に立つんですか?文章は読めない/書けない、ただ人に見せびらかす芸に過ぎません。

              RTKをやった方が早いかどうかは、取りあえず置いておいて、1万以上の単語を覚えないといけないことには、変わりはありません。RTKのおかげで20年間で得た大人の知識をたった2年間で覚えられるとは信じがたいです。もしそれが達成できたとしても、2,000字が書けるということとは、あまり関係ないように思えます。

              koohiiのサイトでは、RTKを終えたら、たくさんの文章を暗記する必要があるようですが、そっちの方が大事で時間がかかるとは思いませんか?すべての漢字に見覚えがあるか、単語を習いながら、漢字を覚えるか、別に大した違いはないと思います。それは結局、いいか悪いかじゃなくて、勉強の仕方の好みだけではないでしょうか?まあ、ちゃんとした実験をしたわけではないので、正確にはなんとも言えませんが、それはお互い様と言うことにしましょう。

              もし、あなたは、文学、歴史、数学、地理、日常生活等々、大人が通常得ているあるゆる分野の知識の単語をすべて2年間で読めるようになったのでしたら、是非その過程を教えていただきたいです。

  9. Hello, tae
    To be honest for me it was a relief when i saw you post and quite encouraging too but the thing is that it is something i have always hear from my many research of “how to approach” kanji some say “mnemonics” others “words” others “stroke by stroke” and others “hard old fashion style” that is basically in the one that i am doing atm but i feel stuck with low progress.
    Do you suggest to open a dictionary and randomly get words that i like and learn them as a whole? after reading you post im not quite sure what kind of approach do you suggest as an expert in the matter.
    I know you are busy with your work and helping the community with wonderful information but i still gonna write a shameless statement
    Could you please help me? xD

    • Work your way up through the Kanji Kentei program starting with grade 1. Simultaneously read vast amounts of native reading material such as the 1年生 readers – e.g. ” どして?なぜ?” at the level you are currently at. But it takes a lot of time. I’m 40 and spend two hours a day doing this, it’s still heavy going. I am familiar with 1000 Kanji now but my vocabulary lags. It is easier for me to read wikipedia.jp than to read an 8-yr-olds book in hiragana. I don’t know the words for things like “oak tree” or “magic” for example. Anyway off to Japan shortly so that will help.

    • No, I don’t suggest learning words randomly. Mnemonics, words, reading, listening, speaking, muscle memory with writing. All of these are helpful. Our brains are not machines and are built to make connections so the more connections you have, whatever kind it may be, the better.

  10. Ah, well that’s the thing: if I don’t “translate in my head,” and simply gloss over the sentences, I’ll waste hours and look back on the day having learned almost nothing. But I often have to read sentences a few times over, and I usually find the sentence uses grammar and vocab I “know”, but can’t understand upon a first reading.

  11. Pingback: Tae Kim: Learn all the kanji readings – Waste of time | Jon Ken Po

  12. I just finished reading this and it’s quite interesting! I’m not sure what you mean by don’t learn the readings by themselves. Do you mean learning the readings in isolation like (an, ki, etc.)? If that is the case, then I also agree completely! However, what I do is, I learn the reading along with the kanji by using kanji compounds and examples of sentences that use that kanji, so for eg. when I see 車 、I will find some words such as 車軸、新しい車、などなど in order to learn the on and kun readings, and so far, it’s working very very well!!!
    Well besides that, I guess it is a tad bit easier for me… Having grown up in a chinese environment (Hong Kong), there is pretty much no need to learn the meanings or how to write them since I’ve learned them already hehe~~ PLUS guessing on-yomi reading is too easy since it’s so much like cantonese… 😛
    But having said that, Japanese is still tough with all that grammar lying around to be learnt! And tbh, if your website wasn’t here, I wouldn’t know what to do… 🙁
    That’s why, I want to say, THANK YOU SO MUCH for doing all this and teaching us grammar so efficiently! I’ve just gotten to the special expressions chapter, and I’m starting to really get the whole picture of grammar now, so I’m very happy! Hopefully, after a short while I’ll be able to move straight to the JLPT N1 and then the 漢検pre level 2!

  13. This is a great blog post. It confirms something I wrote about years ago on my own blog here:

    http://jkllr.net/2010/02/05/the-%E2%80%9Cscience%E2%80%9D-of-kanji-part-4-the-convergence-method/

    I called it the “convergence method” because I had that same experience whereby you build associations for certain kanji by seeing enough words with them. I did do flashcards maybe for the 300 most common kanji, but I’d quickly forget half of what I learned. However, those same kkanji showed up so often that I started to get the patterns, so to speak.

    For me it was mainly just learning lots of new words and learning how to break them down into components that I can easily look up at sites like jisho.org.

    I did try the Heisig method for about 2 years recently and finally just gave up. The method itself (how to see kanji as a combination of simpler components) is great, but slogging through the book was just getting too frustrating and diminishing returns.

    So, I’m glad to read this article because it validates what I’ve vaguely felt all along: memorizing kanji is generally not very productive once you get past the most elementary kanji. 🙂

      • Thanks. To be fair, I like the Heisig method itself, meaning I like the approach of breaking down kanji into simple, reusable units, that you can apply to other kanji. That method is clever and effective.

        However, the book, and the idea of “learning” all the kanji doesn’t hold up water. That’s where it helps to just expand your Japanese vocabulary enough that you gain sufficient exposure that Heisig’s method for memorizing (not the book, the method) can finally be useful. 🙂

      • Likewise, when I started out I figured that the only way to learn words was to memorize all the kanji first, then be able to figure out the words based on the kanji.

        After about 3 days of memorizing characters and feeling like I was getting nowhere, I tried googling better methods than the ol’ flashcard approach. Luckily, this article was the first thing to come up.

        It’s been about 2 months since I ditched the single kanji first method, and I think I’m getting a much better grasp of how the kanji is used, learning different pronunciations, and actually learning a word as well. Still a ways to go, but feeling much more confident overall.

        Learning the words may be slower than memorizing individual kanji at first, but it seems (to a novice like me) to be the better way to go for the long run. I couldn’t imagine memorizing 2000 kanji and then going back and having to memorize all the words that use them.

  14. i certainly believe learning all the sounds of a kanji doesnt really help! one should definitely learn pronunciation of an individual word! moreover, i think a kanji should be studied radical wise and knowing their etymologies!–this also helps figure out more complex ones further! just going along the strokes is like making a fool of yourself.. learning a kanji via radicals is the first and most important step to learn any kanji! well, not all the compound kanji constitute of meaningful kanji, because they may just stand to give the compund kanji its pronunciation… i’m learning most of the lessons from your site, tae kim san, but this is sad, in your kanji section, you havent really put anything about the useful radicals! 🙁

  15. So sorry if you’ve answered this already somewhere, but do you recommend learning all the radicals before starting on kanji?

  16. I completely agree. I started as one of those insane kanji memorizers. Got to about 500 then i realized the only kanji I could really remember were the ones i actually used while reading. So i instead got rid of kanji study time with more reading and i have learn 10x more kanji that way than with memorizing.

  17. I disagree that learning the readings of Kanji is a “waste of time”. You imply that because some Kanji have many readings, it becomes impossible to guess Kanji readings for most words. This isn’t true. Yes some Kanji have many readings, but the majority of Kanji have 2 readings, with perhaps an unusual third reading that occurs only sometimes. Learning the primary readings for each Kanji can allow you read a large percentage of Japanese correctly in my opinion. Not only that, it becomes far easier to look up words you don’t know. You see a word you don’t recognize, but you know each Kanji’s reading. There are only a few permutations you have to try in a dictionary before you find the correct reading. This saves a lot of time and reinforces your knowledge of the readings.

    What you’re saying is akin to saying “Don’t bother learning how to spell words in English because there are so many exceptions that you’ll be often wrong anyway.” But you need a base, whether it’s spelling rules or Kanji readings or whatever. Learning Kanji readings, like learning the rules of spelling in English (for example), provides the learner with a reading foundation upon which to build a further and deeper knowledge of Kanji.

  18. I’m wondering why you feel it’s important to learn kanji stroke order? Certainly learning the general stroke order rules is easy so it makes sense but what does that have to do with learning to read kanji? And is it worth it to learn all the exceptions to the general stroke order? (I personally don’t think so but I hardly write kanji anyway and don’t live in Japan so I’m not one to talk)

    I’m finding that learning the kanji reading is helpful. But it takes time. Trying to learning readings that are too advanced for you is basically a waste of effort. Like studying N1 vocabulary when you’re at an N4 or N5 level. Some kanji have common readings and I think it makes sense to learn those and skip over the less common readings until you actually are ready for them. Of course just because a kanji has a common reading doesn’t mean it’s always the same so new words should be double checked. But if you’re reading a text it’s nice to be able to read it in Japanese in your head even if you’re not always right without reaching for the dictionary for every word you’re not sure of.

    • There are tons of reasons to learn the stroke order since it gives structure and is organized by radicals. Plus it’s so easy, there’s really no reason not to. Now, do I think it matters whether you remember the order of 右 vs 左? Not really, just that you know the basic principles and can not write in some crazy random order.

      I HATE not knowing if the reading in my head is right because I’m afraid a wrong reading might start to stick in my head. About 50% of the time, it’s not the right reading anyway so not very helpful in my opinion.

      • So you’re suggesting for him to learn stroke order, even if he’s not going to write anything?

        Sorry just confirming, I’m likely in the same position as him.

        • Honestly, as you learn basic kanji you will notice other kanji in them. (E.G. 字 usually read じ means “Character” as in Kanji Characters. 字 has the top radical for house which follows a specific stroke order in most kanji….all that I know. The rest of the Kanji is the Kanji 子 usually read こ means “Child”. House and child. That gave you the stroke order.) Stroke order is easy. The reason most can’t write is because they have a hard time remembering exact sizes and placements of certain radicals in the kanji…. or plain forget one of the radicals until they see the character. Stroke order will ultimately start to come naturally most of the time at a relatively early stage of kanji study. I personally like Remembering The Kanji by James Heisig. I do feel however it is an incomplete method and should be used with reading materials and that it will take a long time no matter how you learn. The important thing is to find what works for you. After all you are the important one in your studies. Hope I helped.

  19. I’ve always felt that learning kanji in order to learn Japanese is a bit like learning Latin in order to learn English. The biggest argument for learning kanji I see often is that it helps you guess the meanings of words you don’t know. Latin does the same thing for English… but why not just go directly to what you are really trying to learn? Conclusion – Learn words with Kanji… ( I read that somewhere 😉 )

  20. Im a beginner at all this and I’m trying to find the best approach at learning kanji, I’ve been reading all the comments, and I’m still not clear whether I should be learning the readings or not. I have an app where I can learn the meanings, but I don’t think this is enough.

  21. i also dont want to learn all those kanji reading( you cant even correctly use it anyway) but it really pain in the neck when i cant remember the shape of kanji……. i try using RTK but it just not my style, i like the method ( make the stories for words) but books itself not that good. so is there a good way i can remember those kanji shape? i want to try radical right now but. i dont think learning ALL the radical would be a good idea, and i cant seem to find a list(file, pdf, etc) with commom radical only. V_V

    • Gensan, maybe the book “Kanji ABC” would be of help to you. The radicals are split in groups AtoZ at the front of the book, so u learn the radicals in ‘A’ then study the Kanji under ‘A’ then you move on to ‘B’ and so forth.

      It’s kind of like heisig’s approach but without the stories & readings ARE included. Kanji that share the same radical or graphemes (as they are called in the book) are listed together. So similar looking kanji are listed together. The book doesn’t provide compounds however, only individual kanji are listed with their main readings & meanings. Maybe you could see a sample of it on amazon, so you’ll know what it looks like.

      As for me, I like “Kanji in Context” but it’s not focused on the ‘radical’ way of learning Kanji I also use a variety of apps to keep things fun. 小学生かんじ:ゆびドリル is a great one. It’s for Japanese kids so there’s no english but I really like it. I use it in conjunction with a children’s dictionary app 例解学習国語辞典 but sadly that’s only for the ipad. Maybe it’s available on android.

      Oh P.S. Kanji pivot is an app that goes well with kanji ABC. Kanji crush (by kanjigames.com) is a great game for learning kanji & radicals. It’s pretty new too. I hope you find something you like 🙂

  22. I have always preferred Tae Kim’s way in absorbing the kanji. I have heard of Heisig’s method but i haven’t tried it. I prefer learning kanji by learning vocabs. I also bought Kodansha Kanji Learners Dictionary for the different compound words that each kanji make. I am studying grammar and vocabs at the same time and just read lots of manga with furigana.

  23. I totally agree! Though at an advanced stage, going through the joyo kanji list from start to finish is a must in my opinion. Learn every reading commonly used for every kanji by learning a vocabulary for each one. This is easy because I find that it’s not too difficult to put about 30 or so characters a day into ANKI and learn one vocabulary for each reading.

  24. Hi, I found your article pretty interesting, but I personally have to advice people not to get worked up with stroke order for kanji, at least not after the first basic Kanji you learn, considering most Kanji are built upon other Kanji. The most important thing is radicals, yes above everything else, and I’m talking more than 300 possible radicals, among them actual Kanji. Learning the radicals first is basically like learning a massive ABC list, that helps you create mnemonics for unnecessarily complex and stupid kanji.

    Like there’s this nightmare of a kanji here 疑 and there are far worse contenders out there, mind you. As far as I’m concerned, this kanji is built of 4 different radicals, 3 of them actual kanji. the radicals/kanji of arrow 矢, correct 正, heel(radical) and マ. Using this information I have created a nice sentence in my head that connects all these radicals/kanji to create its meaning, which is “Doubt”. Suddenly it all makes sense! Instead of a clusterf*ck of chicken doodles I can see meaning! reason! Explanation! Even if it’s all made up in my mind, remembering is what’s important, which is why radicals can be so efficient in that matter.

    I personally recommend Kanjidamage for radicals and Kanji learning, and I advice using the site along with your regular grammer and vocabulary studies. Together they are very effective, at least it is for me. Taking your time and using all available tools is very important, as indeed was said in the article. But remember, when it comes to Kanji, radicals are top priority. It made my life much much easier with Kanji, and it’ll do the same for you guys, trust me.

  25. Honestly, I couldn’t agree more, I’ve been focusing on nothing but grammar and vocab for the past 3 months, and have reached a point on understanding everything being said on Japanese kid shows, in just 3 months. It gave me great relief that I didn’t have to waste my time on kanji that wouldn’t help me.

  26. Just wanted to let everyone know that the “stroke order” link for learning kanji is no longer operative.
    Is there any other website that works well for learning the stroke order of the kanji in the lessons?

  27. This post might be kinda old by now, but I thought I’d give my 2 cents. As far as I can tell there is no “right” method and there is no “wrong” method. There is just the method that works for you.

    I’ve tried the Hesig/RTK method. For me, thus far, it’s been really boring and tedious and I can only recall a few kanji. I’m going to try Tae Kim’s method of learning kanji with words because I believe that will get me reading/recognising more words faster.

    The conclusion is to pick a method that works for *you* no matter how many people tell you that their way is the “best” or “fastest” way.

    If you want to learn Kanji by Radicals, I believe Tofugu has a resource called “WaniKani” which could help you out.

    http://www.tofugu.com/resources/wanikani/

  28. When learning kanji, how many meanings for EACH kanji should i learn? All or the first (i would assume as most common) meaning I see associated with that kanji.

    Also, someone has suggested learning kanji like this (i had in mind but thought it was a “waste” of time or too long)

    1st) learn kanji and meaning*
    2nd) learn kanji’s Kun-yomi (s)*
    3rd) [“this was for more advanced students” and ‘those who are putting kanji together (jukugo)’] learn On-yomi (s)*

    * On this point, the person did not specify how MANY meanings/ Kun/ On-yomi to learn. This I pose the question above.

    Thank you.

  29. So would you consider japaneseclass.jp a good way to learn vocabulary and how to read kanji? I’ve been using it for almost a year and I feel like it’s helping me quite a bit, as opposed to another course I took to learn the meanings of the kanji. That one didn’t really help.

  30. Okay, I’m scared a little. I’ve started learning Japanese (with Hiragana), and I’ve learnt how to read everything up to the ‘は’ column. Yes, I’m learning how to read before learning how to write. I feel like this will make the writing easier, but let me know if this order is not a good idea.

    Anyway, after I’m confident with my reading ability, I was going to move on to Katakana. After that, Kanji. Now, regarding your post, how should I approach this? Are there any resources you suggest?

    I find mnemonics help me when learning languages, so I compared resources that use them and went with Tofugu in the end (Dr. Moku is the only other one I found notable).

    I realize it’s not important but I want to know how to write everything as well. I’m not in the slightest wanting to rush this, I want to have everything ingrained, going over the same parts again and again. I want to be able to read a Japanese book or watch a documentary without subtitles and to understand them. I’m sounding impatient and greedy, I know. It takes time, and I have a lot of it.

    Sorry, I’m being vague. What I’m seeking is general advice on the language, perhaps methods of approaching them. Any corrections on the order of learning I have in mind (Tofugu actually notes to learn Kanji sooner than later, and to prioritize it over Katakana, so I’ll probably adhere to that). Tofugu doesn’t teach you how to write (not yet, at least. I haven’t looked into it), so if you have references or advice on that, I’d appreciate it. I feel like I’ve forgotten something, but this will do.

    I’ve been using Real Kana to identify how things might appear differently, and it’s been effective. The only other thing I’ve been using are drag-n-drops so I can identify things swiftly.

    If you could e-mail me your response as well, in the case that I miss it here, that would be great. dslc2010@live.co.uk

    Sorry to be a bother, but thank you.

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