Kanji Hacks 漢字の覚え方

How to memorize kanji so they stick

How to start learning kanji

The flash cards for hiragana, katakana, and Grade 1 kanji are now up. Let me know how they work out for you!

If you’re just starting out learning Japanese, you are probably overwhelmed with the amount of memorization you have to do. Not only are you learning 46 hiragana and 46 katakana, you have 1,945 kanji ahead of you, and they are not all as easy as 一、二、三 …

Here’s what you need to do to get started:

  • Set up a realistic schedule. Don’t say you’re going to learn 20 kanji a day, because you’re just not. Start out slowly with something like 2-3 per day for 4 days a week, and if you can manage that you’ll feel the warm glow of success. You can always build up from there if it’s too easy. If you shoot for 15 a day every day, you’re just setting yourself up for failure, and that’s not too conducive to learning. (For those of you learning in school, go with the time line they give you, but never ever EVER wait till the last minute. If they don’t dole them out to you in daily doses, set up your own schedule.) Here are some scheduling samples:
  • 2 kanji per day, 4 days a week → you’ll have all 80 Grade 1 kanji mastered in 10 weeks
  • 3 kanji per day, 3 days a week → you’ll have all 80 Grade 1 kanji mastered in 9 weeks
  • 3 kanji per day, 4 days a week→ you’ll have all 80 Grade 1 kanji mastered in 7 weeks
    • If you can go slow and steady like this, you’ll have all 1,945 Joyo Kanji mastered in just over 3 years. Not bad considering Japanese native speakers take 9 years to accomplish this.
  • Bust out the flash cards. I know this is not what you want to hear, but flash cards really are the best way to learn. I’ll go over how to use flash cards most efficiently in another post. Also, check out the flashcards I have made for you to print out on your own so you don’t have to waste hours and hours making them yourself.
  • Learn the combinations as you go. Unfortunately you can’t just memorize an isolated kanji for meaning and be done. You’ll have to learn the readings and common combinations, and it’s a lot easier to learn them as you go than to try to catch up later. For example, you may have to learn 校, but it doesn’t occur by itself that much. Go ahead and learn 学校、高校、校長、etc., so you won’t be constantly reaching for the dictionary when you read.
    • NOTE: This means you will be making up one flash card for an individual kanji, and then another 4-5 for combinations. Suddenly your 3 kanji a day has turned into 15 flash cards a day. Aren’t you glad you’re not shooting for 15 kanji a day?
  • Make up a memorization hack. Think of some trick or mnemonic to help you remember. Don’t just think “Hmm, 楽 looks like ‘fun’ so I’ll probably just remember it.” Trust me, that never works. My post on making up hacks will give you more details.
  • Repeat ad nauseum. The more you review your flash cards, the better you will remember the kanji. I’ll go into the best times, places, and cycles for memorizing in other posts.
  • Don’t skimp on the admiring. No matter how much you study it always seems like you have thousands of kanji more to learn, and that really takes the wind out of your sails. At least once every study session, notice how many kanji you have already learned. Put them up on a bulletin board. Stick your old flash cards on the wall. Stick them on the fridge. Do whatever will make you say “Dang, I already know a lot of kanji.” Occasionally focusing on your successes will make the hard work ahead more enjoyable.

March 8, 2009 Posted by | Memorization tips | 7 Comments


Meaning: rod, stick

My hack: Not that you need a hack for this one, but it is shaped like a walking stick.

Notice that there is no “tail” on the bottom which would make it 亅instead.

March 8, 2009 Posted by | 1 stroke, Radicals | , , , , | 1 Comment


Meaning: mountain

My hack: it already looks a lot like a mountain with 3 peaks, you just have to imagine that they are very thin.

Make sure you start with the long stroke in the middle. Maybe it’s the walking stick you’ll need to go up the mountain.

March 8, 2009 Posted by | 3 strokes, Grade 1, JLPT 4, Radicals | , , , , | Leave a comment