Study guide for the material on

Should I learn kanji or words first?

I learned by studying a kanji, it's on pronunciation, and learning at least one usage example. By learning kanji this way, they will serve as memory aid for learning new words. Japanese makes words from kanji much as English makes words from latin or greek roots. You will learn new words faster if you know the meanings of the kanji that make it up, and each new word will reinforce your knowledge of its component kanji. Take the following examples:

E: biology = life + study
J: 生物学 = living + thing + study

E: semiconductor = half + conductor
J: 半導体 = half + conducting + material

Knowing kanji before you learning a word means that you can concentrate on learning the word, rather than having to learn how to write it, as well. If you run across a new word, decompose it into it's component kanji. If there is a kanji whose meaning you do not know, there is no need to learn the kanji on the spot - you can be assured that you will encounter it as you progress with your studies in GeneticKanji.

How to learn kanji in the shortest time possible

When learning a new kanji, the following process enabled me to learn all the Joyo Kanji in about two years.

This dictionary is written with romanization so that students can get started immediately, without prior knowledge of the kana syllabaries. Starting the study of Kanji immediately, rather than discouraging students, excites them and makes kanji more accessible to them. For many students fascination with the written language is one of the initial draws to Japanese.

Pace yourself

Choose the number of characters you study every day such that it:
  1. is sustainable: decide how much time you are willing to commit each day, and tailor the # of kanji accordingly.
  2. allows you to retain the kanji you study: you'll find that retention drops as you increase the number of kanji you learn each day. This means you should decide an upper limit, and discipline yourself not to get so excited about studying kanji that you go over this limit. (Almost everyone I've explained the GeneticKanji approach has attested to this being a problem.)

At Yale, the Chinese department quizzes students on 7 characters every day. If you did this six days a week, you'd learn all the Joyo Kanji in less than a year. I did only five a day because I wanted to spend only about 10 minutes each day. Each day, I would learn 5 new kanji, and review ones I had previously studied.

After the first 1000, I ramped up to 10 a day, but I found this actually takes more than twice the amount of study time, since I had to spend more time reviewing.

Involve multiple channels of memory

Train your auditory, visual, and kinesthetic memory. Training multiple channels of memory embeds the kanji.
Pronounce the character kanji aloud, while thinking of its meaning. This trains your auditory memory. Then, write it a few times on paper. This trains your kinesthetic memory. Then write it a few times on imaginary paper in your head, without moving your hands. This trains your visual memory.

Be conscious of components

When you are learning, you should be conscious of the components as you write. For example, when writing "think" 想 you should think "tree" 木, and "eye" 目, to make 相 and then "heart" 心, to make 想.

This example is a sound-meaning compound, with 相 indicating the sound, and the 心 indicating the meaning.

Construct a story to connect the elements.

You can also create a story for yourself that helps you to remember. To use "think" 想 as an example, For example, 相 has a meaning "facing" and you might imagine that facing 相 someone in your mind 心 means that you are thinking 想 about him.

As time goes on, you will use this skill to memorize increasingly complex characters. Students who learn by rote, when faced with hawk , must learn the position of 22 strokes, but students who learn the GeneticKanji approach can picture the hawk as a bird 鳥 swooping down until it attains 就 its prey.

These stories work best when you construct them. With few exceptions, I stick to traditional etymologies, and let you construct them.

Learn at least the on pronunciation

The on pronunciation is the most commonly used when the kanji is seen in conjunction with other kanji. This pronunciation is actually based on the pronunciation of this character in middle Chinese. Additionally, this pronunciation will allow you to guess the pronunciation of new kanji you encounter, since sound-meaning compounds are the most prolific kind of kanji. Suppose you learned "to pass by" 経 and "light" 軽. Both these are pronounced kei, and share a common 圣 component. If you later encountered 径, you would be able to guess (correctly, in this example) that it was pronounced kei, and had something to deal with movement, as you would have learned the radical 彳. The character actually means "path."

The kun pronunciation is the native japanese pronunciation of the character. It is the reading when a kanji is used in isolation. If, in your studies of spoken Japanese, you have learned this word, then you can memorize this reading, as well.

Remember one example usage

With few exceptions, the on pronunciation is rarely used by itself, and learning it with another character will help to solidify the meaning in your memory. If the other character in the example usage is new to you, there is no need to learn it at this time. You will get to it later on.