Learning Kanji Step By Step

The Crazy Kanji Rollercoaster

The Kanji Rollercoaster- An Epic Journey

If you’ve ever studied Japanese before you know exactly why that headliner caught your eye. Learning kanji is an entirely different process altogether than learning Japanese. That probably sounds strange because kanji is a part of the Japanese language, but there is a good reason for that statement. I finally decided to stop dicking around with my kanji studies in 2017, this would’ve been my third year of Japanese language studies. Yes, I put kanji off for three entire years! I certainly do regret it, because I am so much further behind than I should be in terms of literacy. In Japan, in order to be considered literate, you need to have knowledge of approximately 2000 basic kanji characters. Naturally, native Japanese speakers have a higher capacity of kanji – think about how many words you know in your native language (you probably can’t because you haven’t been counting), that’s how many kanji characters there are in existence.

The Great Ascent Up The Kanji Rollercoaster

Heisig Holds My Hand

The very first thing I turned to when I started to learn kanji was a book focused on mnemonics. It was James Heisig (Remembering the Kanji), and this book was a priceless resource (until I lent it out in college and never got it back, but that’s a different story). The book consists of all 2000 basic kanji characters plus a couple more, each with their own little unique mnemonic to help the reader visualize, memorize and internalize the kanji. The downside to this book was that it only gave you the English meaning of the kanji. So I ended up “knowing” about 800 English meanings of kanji (newsflash – I never finished all of 2000). It was still incredibly helpful though and revolutionized my approach to learning kanji.

Climbing The Kanji Coaster

WaniKani Helps Me Get To The Top

After my pleasant experience with (Remembering the Kanji), I began searching for similar resources with the same approach behind them, mnemonics. Suddenly, I came across a blog by the name of Tofugu. Just so we’re clear if you study Japanese and you haven’t heard of Tofugu you’ve been living under a boulder *clears throat* pardon me, a rock in the words of Spongebob. Tofugu is like THE Japan/Japanese blog, and it is packed to the brim with useful resources, tips and strategies for all things Japan. One of their resources was an online software program Wanikani. Which translates into crab alligator in Japanese, I thought “Wow, this is kind of crazy… I like it.”. Wanikani promises any serious learner that it is possible to learn all 2000 kanji, their readings and 6500 vocabularies in a span of a year using their platform. For those of you who know me, you know I like results, but you also know that I can be very lazy. I went into this program and 1 year 6 months later I’ve yet to complete it, however, I’m almost halfway done at level 27 out of 60, 950 kanji and 3200 vocabularies. You know when you think you know something, but then get exposed to something completely new in that area and then realize that you knew nothing? That’s kanji in a nutshell.
Wanikani Dashboard

Trying To Come Off The Kanji Coaster

Whose Helping Me Get Down?

Well, you don’t ever come off the kanji coaster, you’ll be on it for the rest of your natural life…at least I know I will. Kanji is such a beautiful yet complex structure of language, it’s so hard to leave it alone once you’ve started. And god forbid that you do leave it, it’ll hurt you much more than you hurt it – like a bad breakup. Our memory loves to recycle junk, so to be sure that kanji doesn’t end up as junk you just have to keep exposing yourself to it. Eventually, your brain will say “Hey I kind of need this, and that, oh and I can’t forget these other 2000 over here.”
Another great program that’s really assisted me with the descent down is a software called Glossika. Its mainly focused on audio repetition, but its always a great feeling when you can read the sentence in Japanese before the audio is voiced.
Netflix, of course, is in its own league when it comes to kanji. If you’ve never tried buying a VPN, setting it to Japan and binge-watching your favourite shows with Japanese subtitles, are you really living?

Personal Goals

Currently, I’m attempting to stuff down at least 500 more before its time for the JLPT 2 in December 2018. Apparently, I’m not that far off from knowing the kanji required and I’m actually blazing through my Wanikani levels. With the right diet, mindset and stress balls I think its quite possible. Let me know some of your goals in the comments!

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