My Procedure to Learn Kanji

My Japanese level is incredibly uneven. I can understand fairly dense newspapers but I can’t confidentally hand write Kanji characters. The gap might sound shocking, but it is a common problem nowadays. Keitai-baka, the phenomena where using auto-conversion software built into mobile phones results in the loss of C/J language writing abilities, is quite real for me.

However, the landscape for studying Kanji has changed almost completely from what it was when I was a student. Changed for the better.

During my student days, I studied Japanese by creating / listening to vocabulary tapes and by writing thousands of flash cards. I would shuffle them and test myself with them for hours in the library. I eventually wrote down every example in my textbook (“Yokoso”). While proving my determination, it was not particularly practical. Cards got stuck together, there were mistakes while writing them down, and it was not easy to keep track of which words or Kanji I was bad at.

There was one “hack” to learn Japanese; Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji [1]. Unfortunately, it was incomplete with more than half of the book requiring you to create your own mnemonics for the most complex Kanji in the book. Eventually this became impossible and eventually, sometime between making email penpals and moving to Japan, I stopped hand-writing Kanji.

I tried several ways to get back in the education groove, but I rarely found useful help. There is some Nintendo DS software that I tried (????????), but it is worthless, using barbaric rote memorization and not maintaining any kind of useful user history.

So what is left? Quite a bit actually!

First, I got a private instructor, courtesy of the company I am working at. An hour of guaranteed tests and written homework analysis is priceless (or 4000 yen an hour). I also have 3 text books that I received (Nihongo So-Matome and a reading book).

Two, Anki and other SRS[2] systems are quite practical and helpful for reinforcement. They take care of the problem of repeating problematic words, and allow you to automate your flow. I personally am using StickyStudy [3] and adding a list of hiragana readings / kanji with a little script I put up on Github [4].

Three, there is Kanjidamage, a logical culmination and perfection of Remembering the Kanji. While I generally don’t link to sites (because it makes me feel like a big shill), I really recommend their mnemonics and overall method. Whereas I would spend hours puzzling over Heisig’s overly-serious mnemonics, the Kanji Damage ones are simple and absurd enough to be memorable. Moreover, it is not limited by being a book – it is wherever I have an internet connection.

My process goes like this.
-> Create a word list from the Kanji in the kanji book.
-> Run it through my python script and add it to Stickystudy
-> Go through the Kanji in browse mode, while writing down the Kanjidamage mnemonics for the ones I don’t remember.
-> Do the test mode in StickyStudy, while writing the Kanji on paper. If I make a mistake, review the mnemonics from Kanjidamage and go on.
-> Exam every week on Thursday.

I don’t know if this process will be successful. However, it feels a lot more effective than my previous forays, probably because it is doable ANYWHERE I can sit down.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembering_the_Kanji
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaced_repetition
[3] http://www.stickystudy.com/
[4] https://gist.github.com/2730102

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