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Kanji - Where to Start on Japanese 101?

Posted: September 15th, 2013 5:49 pm
by sunny87608511
Hi All,

I tried searching for this on Japanese101 but could not locate the information so perhaps you can help and guide me.

I am a beginner (absolute beginner) having started on Sept 12. To date, I have completed 9 lessons and have noticed that an increased number of Kanji characters are appearing on my flashcards and lesson notes. As I said, I'm a beginner and have no experience with Kanji. When I visited the Japanese Resources/Reading & Writing/Learn Kanji, from the drop down menu, it simply states a number of Kanji characters and explains how to write them and their definition.

While this was helpful to some degree, is there a resource on this site that starts from the beginning and gives a user a guided approach to Kanji and how to begin the long process of learning the 2000+ characters?

Any help is greatly appreciated.


Re: Kanji - Where to Start on Japanese 101?

Posted: September 15th, 2013 7:52 pm
by mmmason8967
As you're a very recent beginner I'm wondering if you actually mean the whole Japanese writing system. Kanji refers to part of the writing system, not all of it.

The first stage of learning the Japanese writing system is the kana, which is made up of two phonetic alphabets. These two phonetic alphabets are called hiragana and katakana. There is a very good JPod101 video course on the kana called Kantan Kana.

Once you've learned the kana, you can make a start on kanji. Kanji are chinese characters and it's generally reckoned that you need to know about 2,000 of them. Kanji are more like icons than letters in that they represent a concept, not a sound: most kanji have at least two different pronunciations, and often more. For example, today is Sunday, which is 日曜日 in kanji; it's pronounced nichiyoubi with 日 being pronounced as nichi at the start of the word and bi at the end.

Initially, it's probably best to tackle the kanji by learning them as part of a word rather than trying to learn each kanji (along with all its possible readings) one at a time. The kanji 日 represents "day" or "sun", and in 日曜日 the first 日 represents "sun" and the last one represents "day" (so the Japanese for Sunday is basically "sun-day"). If we take another kanji, 今 (ima, meaning "current" or "right now"), and put them together to make 今日, you can probably work out what it means even if you have no idea how it's pronounced.

But the first job is to learn the kana. When you start tackling kanji, you'll find that the pronunciation is usually written in either hiragana or katakana, so the kana really are a prerequisite for learning kanji.


Re: Kanji - Where to Start on Japanese 101?

Posted: September 15th, 2013 10:46 pm
by sunny87608511
My sincere apology as I did not tell you earlier that I am familiar with the Kana. I know Hiragana and Katakana very well. I like the flash card feature of this website and I have been using it to study vocabulary from each session. When you say I should integrate Kanji slowly (I am paraphrasing here...) do you mean in this way, that I study flash cards that contain mainly Kana and some Kanji? Or is there another method to start integrating more Kanji into my learning?

Once again, I wish I had told you in my initial email, as it would have saved you some time explaining the Japanese writing system.



Re: Kanji - Where to Start on Japanese 101?

Posted: September 16th, 2013 2:44 am
by mmmason8967
Sorry, I leapt to the wrong conclusion there!

One option is a book called "Remembering the Kanji" by James Heiseg. Some people love it, others are less enthusiastic. You can read more about it in this Wikipedia article. Otherwise it's very hard to find any structured method for learning the kanji. At least, if such a method exists, I've never heard of it. I tend to think that such a method doesn't exist simply because if it did, we'd all have heard about it!

The method used to teach kanji to children in Japan is probably irrelevant to foreign students. Japanese children already have a huge vocabulary and knowledge of the language before they start learning kanji, whereas we foreigners are trying to learn kanji at the same time as we're learning the language.

So we mostly try to pick kanji up as we go along. But I don't think you can fully grasp kanji without a good knowledge of the language and a large vocabulary--if there are 2,000 kanji, how many words do you need to know before you encounter each of them at least once? In the early stages I think we're pretty much obliged to compromise.

A useful tool on the JPod101 website is the Kanji Quiz. There is a Jouyou version and a JLPT version; they both quiz you on kanji at whatever grade you choose--but note that grade one is the easiest grade for Jouyou kanji but the hardest for JLPT kanji.

Flashcards help you learn vocabulary and kanji. Obviously, kanji-only decks are only good for words that you already know well. It might be an idea to create decks based on the number of kanji in the words: a deck for one-kanji words, another for two-kanji words, another for three-kanji words, and so on. If you've got a deck with one four-kanji word in it, you're going to recognise it straight away simply because it's the only one with four kanji.

Initially it's probably better to focus on kanji that are easy to recognise and which come up frequently, such as 日, 本, 今, 大, 木, etc, and on words that are easy to recognise, such as 大丈夫 (daijoubu, meaning "OK", "alright", "fine").

Hope that helps.


Re: Kanji - Where to Start on Japanese 101?

Posted: September 19th, 2013 8:03 pm
by community.japanese
Sunny-san, マイケルsan,
kon'nichiwa :D

Thank you very much for a perfect help, J-Pod specialist マイケルsan! :mrgreen:
Sunny-san, hope Michael-san's suggestions would sort it out and can try some of those J-Pod
features as well :wink:
Like Michael-san suggested, the best way to learn kanji is to implement it into a word, or
to learn kanji whan you encounter one in a word.
We have small list of kanji where you can learn how to write and read, but flashcards
and dialogs of audio/video lessons (shown on PDF Lesson Notes) would be useful for this purpose too.

Hope this helps! :wink:

Natsuko (奈津子),

Re: Kanji - Where to Start on Japanese 101?

Posted: February 11th, 2014 2:42 pm
by watertommyz9255
I picked up Remembering the Kanji in preparation for learning the kanji (I honestly prefer beginner's Japanese Script from the teach yourself series by Helen Gilhooly), but what it really does is it puts you on a level equal to a Chinese student of Japanese who already understands most of the meanings but still has to learn the words and pronunciation. Honestly, as a Native English speaker, I think it's better to learn all parts of a single kanji from the get go, because only understanding the meaning of the word is halving the work, and in the end, you're doubling the time it will take to master it. I think the book serves as a good way to come up with mnemonics though, but it should remain a study aid, not a replacement.

Besides, in my experience, if you're lucky enough to play a game or watch a movie often enough with Japanese subtitles to go along with the language, you'll subconsciously pick up the meanings of the kanji, even without fully understanding how they're being used. It'll stick the more often you force yourself to be exposed to the language.

I was able to pick up the meanings of 何 and 今 through Resident Evil Revelations on my 3DS just by listening to the words being said when those characters appeared. I've barely touched upon kanji, because I'm still trying to memorize katakana, and even though I'm tempted to start cramming them all, I know it's better just to take my time. I used to be scared of them, but then I've started thinking about them in the same way as I would remembering characters from a movie, or show. You don't ever forget may not always remember their names and you may not even like some of them while loving others, and they may be a bit faded at times, but once you recall them, you have them in your head for good. You're essentially making memories with every one of them.

They are alive, passed on through the words and people who speak them. Don't be afraid of them, be happy there's so many of them to enjoy!

Another fun thing to do is write sticky notes and plaster them all over with the kanji, words, and meaning and start associating them with that item. There's no reason why immersion with the language should stay only on the internet. No excuses! :wink:

Besides, unless you plan on living in Japan (and not just visiting), you don't have to worry about them so much as you should the conversational part of the language, which can be easily done through skype, friends, social clubs focusing on the subject, etc.

Edit; if you do check out Japanese Beginner's Script, keep in mind the author is from the UK, so if you're an American English speaker, the pronunciation examples will be wrong. Otherwise, it has some interesting exercise examples.

Re: Kanji - Where to Start on Japanese 101?

Posted: February 12th, 2014 2:58 pm
by community.japanese
watertommyz9255 san,

Thank you for sharing your study tips.
They are really useful for learners.

Yuki  由紀

Re: Kanji - Where to Start on Japanese 101?

Posted: March 2nd, 2014 2:04 pm
by vagrant.nomad_497687
I apologize for bumping a semi-old thread with lots of good resources, but I believe I can add to this.

First, I do not believe in overloading the brain. I study one thing at a time, and by that I mean Speaking/Hearing is one thing, Writing is another, etc. This is because you can study 2 separate parts faster than one whole one. If I tried to speak and remember the Kanji for what I said, I'd take forever. So I ignore the pdf's until AFTER I've gone through the lesson.

Some backstory. I study foreign languages for fun. In retail, I needed to stay sharp. Now I'm a programmer. I do process, product, efficiency. That said, I find Kanji to be strange. We can express every single noise in 26 characters, but you need 2136 in Japan. For a programmer, this is inefficient. But that's just a bit of autistic-ish humor. Five years ago, I realized I was never going to write unless I was forced, so I took a year in undergrad college. We started with Kana and 3rd quarter introduced Kanji. (don't worry, I'll get to the non-college beginner way still).

In College we had the ability to use what we learned. Writing fake Journal entries, responding to the teacher, Nakama 1 was our workbook to go through, review, etc. We learned through rote memorization and repetition (yucky), but interaction also.

Skip ahead to now, where I forgot how to read and write everything except Day, Watashi, and a few others. However, I can watch a show and get nearly half of it without words. Granted, I don't know many specific words. I'm tearing up every bookstore looking for "workbooks" that give you the interaction needed. I found one, Tokyo U's 250 Essential Japanese Kanji books, 2 volumes. My 2 criteria are "Write it, over and over" and "Not too many at once".

Every flashcard program seems to have the fatal flaw of "Let's present all 2000 and just repeat the ones they don't know!" Yeah, awesome, whose brain can hold that much? Even if they do manage a bit, you just tore open their neural pathways by burning through their memory ability.

Eventually I find 2 awesome resources. The first is Scribe Origins (not Scribe Japanese - I don't think it's as easy), the only Flashcard app that actually presents a few at a time, then waits until you master it and presents some more. Sound slow? It's not. If you take an extra 10 minutes to completely master 10 Kanji, then only 10 minutes for another, within an hour you have 100 Kanji memorized and solid. You get the repetition and the feedback without the overload. Yes it takes time, it has flaws, but it's good. (I did not make it, I'm not associated with them, I actually made a diff app for studying Pimsleur Japanese, will share later). Personally I'm just doing meaning, not on and kun readings. Like I said, speaking is for another "time of study".

The second is an old copy of Read Japanese Today. It uses your Neural Networks and teaches you all 300 base Kanji. From the pictoral origin to the current form, and how it becomes Kanji you already know. This forms neural networks similar to Heisig's Remembering The Kanji (which I haven't read). Honestly, I find 300 much less intimidating (now 400 in the current edition) than all 2000 Joyo Kanji. But with those 300, you can "piece together" the other symbols. Suddenly you're reading "Doubutsuen" and know exactly what everything means, even no Japanese knowledge and you'll say "Oh, zoo". I found a similar book at the library, but it didn't form the same neural networks and was hard to read. It had "From their ancestral origin" in the title. Amazon has no reviews on it, but Read Japanese Today has many, good sign.

Like the post above, get the meaning down. Read Japanese Today luckily gives you the meaning, the readings, why Kanji changes from compounds to single readings, and gives that "Aha!" to Japanese sentence structure that no other text has given me.

Second-Last, Journal! Write Write Write! Thanks to the above books, I believe I don't need a pen anymore, but I do need to use IME and type my day out in Word or something, then visually see the kanji be used. This gives you interaction. If it's not working for memory, then find the stroke order and write it. If you know Kana, then you know stroke order matters. Literally, meanings change if you write differently sometimes.

Lastly, practice. I'm here at JapanesePod because I feel like the structure is near Pimsleur in Quality. The memorization, speaking, listening, and repetition within conversation nearly matches Pimsleur, and I still remember my Russian from 5 years ago. Not my college russian, but my pimsleur Russian. (All like, 20 words, but I sepak and understand them well enough to trick natives into thinking I'm from Russia). So this is a great compliment for JapanesePod101. Why bother writing it down if you can't say it out loud?

As you can tell, I'm lazy. I get as much results as I can in as minimal time as possible. I'm preparing for a trip to Japan, and I want to be able to catch the train. I noticed there were no apps for listening to Pimsleur before bed, as iTunes makes every audiobook have one impossibly long track hours long. How are you supposed to turn it on and know where you were when you wake up? Some apps came close, but none kept track, so I made one. Unfortunately it doesn't work on podcasts yet, and I don't feel like spamming my own stuff without JapanesePod's permission.

Luckily their lessons aren't hours long, you really don't need it. But I made it so I could study Japanese. I just work as a dev so I can't devote all my time to that stuff.

Re: Kanji - Where to Start on Japanese 101?

Posted: March 3rd, 2014 4:11 pm
by community.japanese
vagrant.nomad san,
Thank you for sharing your study strategies and experience.
People just start learning languages might don’t know how to study them.
However, you could find your study way. Wonderful! :D
Yuki  由紀