Remebering the Kanji – An Introduction to the Heisig Method

Remembering the Kanji

Recently, the I Heart Japan staff has started its long journey towards learning to read Japanese. We’ve already pretty much mastered the hiragana and katakana of Japanese writing, but we’ve been holding back starting on the dreaded kanji.

Kanji is the Chinese character written form of Japanese and it is said to contain over 100,000 characters. Sounds like an easy task, eh?

Some Good News

Some good news is that you only need to learn about 2,000 characters to be able to read a Japanese newspaper. The bad news is…2,000 CHARACTERS?!

You can see why we were a little intimidated to start.

Remembering the Kanji

Remembering the Kanji

After doing a ton of research, we decided to try out the Heisig method to the learn the kanji. The Heisig method was developed by James Heisig and uses mnemonics to help recall the kanji. After you complete the book you should be able to recognize 2,042 kanjis. What makes Remembering the Kanji different, and somewhat controversial, is that you are not learning how to read the kanji but rather learning to recognize and write them.

There’s been plenty of discussion on whether this method works better or not. Think of it like learning to write the alphabet before you learn to pronounce it (expect this alphabet has thousands of complex letters :P ).

Detractors insist that you should learn reading and writing together, similar to the way Japanese children learn. But Heisig makes a strong argument for his method by observing that Chinese students have a distinct advantage when learning Japanese because they are already familiar with the characters, they just need to learn how to pronounce them. So it’s his belief that learning the characters first gives you a better foundation to learning the reading after. And after learning just over 100 characters, I tend to agree.

I’ll be interested to see how we progress through the book. Already we’ve learned several kanji that only appear in proper names and not required in the six years of elementary Japanese school training. Which makes we wonder how useful knowing those kanji’s will be.

Tools for Remembering the Kanji

If you’re thinking of trying out the method I would suggest two tools that we’ve found invaliable:

  • Reviewing the Kanji – An online tool that you can be use to test your progress with daily reviews.
  • KingKanji – PDA and Windows program that allows you to write out the kanji and test yourself.

We’ve already ordered the second volume Reading the Kanji which will teach us how to pronounce all the kanji we’ve learn from the first book. I won’t lie to you, it looks tough!

We’ll let you know how it goes :)

Photo Credits: Kanji by – Fotopakismo.

5 Responses to “Remebering the Kanji – An Introduction to the Heisig Method”

  1. Shani  on January 20th, 2010

    Have fun with that!!!! It is very interesting though, and looks really cool!

  2. stacey  on January 20th, 2010

    It is actually really fun. It kind of feels like you are learning a secret code. To suddenly be able to look at the Chinese restaurants or shops and suddenly understand one of the characters is really cool.

  3. Tiffany  on February 14th, 2010

    Love RTK!! I got through the first book in about 2 months, but it was a lot of work. Good luck & stick with it ~ it is worth it ;)

    Most people on the ReviewingTK site are not big fans of the 2nd book & would not recommend learning the sounds of the kanji with it, but rather picking them up as you learn vocabulary. It’s not too difficult; you’ll quickly notice a kanji making the same sound in several words. And otherwise, you will spend several more months learning all of the possible sounds for each kanji, only to have to learn which sound is actually used for each vocabulary word anyway!

    I did still buy the 2nd book as a reference anyway, and the 3rd book is definitely a good buy for those kanji you come across that are not in the ‘essentials’.

  4. Travis  on February 15th, 2010

    That’s very interesting, Tiffany. I looked briefly through RTK2 and did find it a little less functional than the first book.

    I think I’m going to do what you say and learn the reading in context and just use the book as a reference.

  5. Munenkai  on May 13th, 2010

    I know Nelson publishing had some book where they explained the kanji in a very eays understanding kind of way.
    I need to look up the book again for more info.


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