Define Your Goal
When studying Japanese characters, you should have a goal in mind for
your proficiency. Often, a certain approach to learning is suitable for
one level of proficiency, but not another. Proficiencies can be seen as
spanning a spectrum:
- Handwritten proficiency: ability to read and write cursive forms.
- Printed-word proficiency: the ability to recognize print forms and write them if given the meaning and a pronunciation.
- Printed reading proficiency: recognition within certain contexts.
You should match your study methods with your goal. If you're
serious about Japanese, printed- word or higher is the right goal. Full
printed-word proficiency in less than two years is attainable if
As a student spending 10 minutes a day, learning 5 kanji a day, six
days a week, will cover all Joyo Kanji in just over a year. Once you
get printed writing proficiency, you basically get reading proficiency
- Work consistently.
- Learn the building blocks.
Why you should learn kanji by component building-blocks
if you start out learning kanji by component building-blocks, not only
are you learning mnemonics for remembering the kanji, but you are also
getting a cognitive head-start on rote learners. Research on eye fixation shows that proficient readers of recognize kanji by analyzing it into component characters.
Some approaches teach meaning only, without teaching pronunciation, but research on how readers process phonetic information
in characters shows that the phonetic component of a kanji is often
more important for reading comprehension than the radical. GeneticKanji
will teach you the phonetic component.
Yet another benefit of learning kanji by components is that you will be
able to learn cursive kanji naturally. I was able to teach myself
cursive kanji after only 1 additional month of study from a cursive
textbook, and then became more proficient after writing notes for my
job in Japanese.
If your goal is to read kanji, but not to write, you might choose other
approaches. Beware, though, that learning to read is cognitively
different from learning to write, and doesn't guarantee that
you'll correctly recognize the characters when there is a shortage of
contextual information (as in short text messages, newspaper writing,
or terse legal documents.)
Flashcards and Software Flashcards
Flashcards or software flashcards can be a good way to drill for and
confirm recognition, but do not teach how to distinguish between
similar Kanji. You may be able to read 漠然 and 漢字, but not tell the
difference between 漠 and 漢.
Manga will teach words that are actually used in conversation, and the Kanji frequently have furigana written
next to them to indicate the pronunciation. Avid readers of Manga with
an eye toward learning kanji can develop good reading proficiency, but
the print is often small, and the forms are difficult to grasp, unless
one has learned to break Kanji down into its component parts.
Some kanji textbooks stress meaning, and omit pronunciation
information. These can be very good if they break Kanji down into their
component parts, but do not give you the ability to use the
pronunciation itself as a memory tool.