I’m an avid reader of www.alljapaneseallthetime.com. In fact, it’s what inspired 桃 and I to really start learning Japanese full-time. I could go on about how amazing this site is for hours, and how you should probably be reading it before reading Kanji and Tea, but for the sake of brevity, I won’t. Go and visit it yourself. You won’t be dissapointed.
Anyway, the reason I mention AJATT is because its host, Khatzumoto tells people to learn their Kanji first, before they do anything else. When I read this advice, I initially thought it sounded like a good idea. I had already learned 90% of the Hirigana at this point, so I figured it would be a great next step. So what did I do? I logged on to smart.fm (Also a great language learning website, and my personal favourite SRS. Mostly because I have to do very little setup.) and fired up one of the Kanji sets and began to study.
My progress was dissapointingly slow. It took a long time to memorize not only the Kanji, but also the Hirigana and English meanings for each new Kanji. I got frustrated easily and doing a set of ten items could take me up to forty minutes to complete. Jarred from this harsh experience, and thinking that Kanji was just mind-numbingly difficult to memorize, I went back to Khatzumoto’s site to find out how he learned the Kanji. Heisig’s Remember The Kanji, said he. So I checked the book out.
Let me first say that this is the kind of book that every over-acheiving perfectionist will hate at first glance. In the first few pages of the book it informs you that not only will you not be learning the Hiragana used to compose and pronounce the Kanji you’re learning, you won’t even find out how to say it in Japanese. I like to think I’m a pretty smart guy. I think a lot of people like to think that they’re pretty smart, and when they are presented with something that appears to be “dumbed down” for us slow, english speaking types, it seems beneath them. You want to dive right in.
But diving right in is the worst thing you could do. Not to say you shouldn’t immerse yourself in Japanese, and expose yourself to as much as possible; because you should. But if you start off trying to learn everything at once, (Hirigana, Katakana, Kanji, pronounciations, grammar, sentences.) you are going to have an extremely difficult time. Human beings don’t learn like that. Our brains like baby steps repeated ad nauseam, even if our egos don’t.
So with much cringing and grumbling and feeling like I didn’t need this baby-step learning process, I started Hesig’s RTK. And you know what? It’s amazing; It’s amazing, and it works.
Heisig’s method involves having you learn one step at a time, constantly building off the previous step until you’re writing ungodly complex Kanji and remembering them simply because you already know all the base Kanji that it’s composed from. It makes sense.
But the important thing, (And really the entire point of this post,) is that you are only learning one thing with RTK. You’re learning the meaning of the Kanji. That’s it. It makes remembering Kanji easy, because really that’s the only big thing you’re trying to remember. You’re not trying to sort out the Hirigana, the Kanji and the pronounciation, spelling and stroke order, just the Kanji.
That may seem painfully slow at first, and you might think you can do a lot more initially. I’m not saying that you can’t do more than learn just the Kanji first, but I am saying that it makes life a hell of a lot easier once you know them. When I actually sat down and thought about it, knowing the Kanji meaning’s in English was a huge step in the language learning process. I may not know how to say any of these Kanji, or even read them out loud. But if I have a sentence put in front of me, I can tell you (generally speaking) what that sentence is saying.
Once you have down the English meanings of the Kanji, the rest is cake. Remembering pronounciations and sounds is much easier if you already have a clear understanding of what a Kanji looks like and means. You already have that Kanji locked in your memory, all you need to do is attach a sound to it.
So, essentially this is just a long and convulted post telling you that if you open Hesig’s Rememeber The Kanji and feel like it’s too slow a learning process or too small a step to be taking, believe me when I say that it is more than worth it. You will likely end up learning a lot faster than if you tried to brute force your way through the Kanji using an SRS. (Spaced Repetition System. See: smart.fm, Anki, Khatzumemo.)
Besides, how awesome would it be to be able to flip through a favourite Manga, or pop on the Japanese subtitles and actually understand what’s being said, without any English being read or heard? Pretty damn awesome, I say.
Learning Japanese At HomeOur goal for Kanji & Tea, aside from sharing our struggles and successes, is to help provide the everyday person with all the tools necessary to learn Japanese on their own through everyday immersion.
How did you learn your first language? Hands on and not through a text book! You listened, you watched, you absorbed. Well, what's stopping you from learning your second or third language that way? The answer is nothing.
You have everything you need to get started. All that's left is to just start.
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