Kanji Hacks 漢字の覚え方

How to memorize kanji so they stick

How to improve your memory [memorization tips]

This is a good video chock full of easy tips to improve your memory (and not the usual “just think harder!” type tips). I especially like the one about moving your eyes right to left every morning. Who knew?


August 22, 2009 Posted by | General learning, Memorization tips | Leave a comment

Memorize on an empty stomach [memorization tip]

If you can manage it, try to memorize your kanji right before a meal.

The “hunger hormone,” ghrelin, has been linked to improved memory, and it “directly influences activity and plasticity of a brain region associated with learning and memory.”

I don’t know how much difference it will make, but every little bit helps when you have to remember thousands of kanji!

August 22, 2009 Posted by | General learning, Memorization tips | Leave a comment

A note on Heisig

Most people who are studying Japanese have heard of James Heisig, author of the Remembering the Kanji series. I used these books myself when I first started out, and I found them very useful. His efforts have helped thousands of students master kanji, and my hat is off to him for all his work.

That being said, I feel that there is room for other approaches, and that is why I started this blog. I will still refer to Heisig’s mnemonics and what he calls “primitives” occasionally, but most of what you will find here is all original work. (I also don’t want to cause any trouble by referring to his work too much!)

If you’re a fan of the Heisig books, by all means leave your mnemonics in the comments, even if they have nothing to do with my hacks!

April 26, 2009 Posted by | General learning | Leave a comment

Kanji Site

I stumbled across a great resource for kanji learning today: http://www.kanjisite.com/

You can find out all sorts of information about each kanji just by clicking around, and it also has some very user friendly quizzes. You just mouse over the kanji to get the reading rather than waiting for a new page to load. Very nice.

It’s definitely worth a visit!

April 14, 2009 Posted by | General learning | Leave a comment

How to overcome perfectionism (or, at least one way)

A lot of students let their perfectionism become their downfall. They like to be very thorough when they study kanji, and they decide to memorize every single combination that a kanji appears in. Well, if you’ve ever taken a gander at the Nelson’s dictionary, you know that you could spend most of your adult life memorizing just 4 characters. Still, some students push themselves to become some kind of kanji wizard, and they end up either a) completely burned out, or b) utterly consumed by learning Japanese (much to the dismay of friends and family).

So here’s how to avoid that fate if you know you are a perfectionist:

  1. Plan to learn all the combinations at some point, but concentrate only on the most important ones now. Tell yourself you will go back and add the others later.
  2. Remind yourself that your brain can only take in a limited amount of new information at a time, and that it takes some time to solidify before you have really learned it. That means that if you do try to memorize too many too quickly, you’ll probably weaken your grasp on them all to some degree.
  3. Channel your perfection into stroke order. That is far more important than knowing some obscure combination, and it is difficult to re-learn if you get it wrong.
  4. Relegate some combinations to your ROM (read only memory). You don’t know how to write absolutely every compound you come across (even native speakers have to look it up sometimes), so decide which ones you are OK with knowing passively. (If you’re taking a Japanese class then you won’t have this luxury. Sorry.) For example, I made sure I knew all the kanji in my address even though some were obscure, but I was OK with not knowing how to write きれい in kanji.

If you’ve got other ideas, please add them in the comments!

March 24, 2009 Posted by | General learning, Memorization tips | Leave a comment

How to make up a good “hack”

It can be challenging to come up with a good hack at first, so here are some tips to help get you started:

  1. Use the radicals if you can. There should be a link to all the radicals in each kanji entry.
  2. Make up a sentence or “story” that includes all the components of a kanji, plus the meaning.
  3. In your hack, try to use the components in the order that you write them. For example, a hack for 技 should use the components in the order 扌十又… maybe “skilled hands have ten (fingers) repeating something again and again.”
  4. Keep it as simple as possible. It’s a challenge, but try to avoid extra words as much as possible. My example for #3 probably has too many words, because when I try to write I may be trying to think of a radical for “fingers” which is not even in the kanji.
  5. Make your hack silly, absurd, shocking, or whatever you like as long as it is not bland. Your brain is wired to remember the unusual, so make the most of that and really give it something to grab on to.
  6. If you can get your hack to come out in some kind of rhythm or singable to a tune, you will never forget it. That’s a tall order, I know, but some people are talented that way.
  7. Don’t worry about what others will think. We’re all in the same boat here, and if it works for you, chances are it will work for others.

If you’ve got other advice for coming up with good hacks, please leave them in the comments!

March 18, 2009 Posted by | General learning, Memorization tips | Leave a comment

Why kanji is not as hard as you think

If you are just starting out with kanji, you are probably thinking:

OMG, I will never learn all these! They are totally random and they only get hairier the more you learn!

If you have already studied for a while, I bet you thought this at some point:

OMG, there are patterns here. These more complicated kanji are just variations of others I already learned. Why didn’t anyone tell me this in the beginning??

So let me tell you if you are just starting out: it’s not as bad as it looks. The worst part is the very beginning when all the characters are new and mean nothing to you. As you learn more, patterns start to emerge and you will eventually be able to guess the meaning and even the reading of a kanji you have never seen before. Here’s why:

  • Kanij are not thousands of unique characters like letters of the alphabet. Some are unique, but the majority are just recombinations of components that come up over and over again.
  • You write the components of kanji in patterns that come up again and again, so you don’t have to remember the stroke order for every kanji individually.
  • Radicals (the building blocks of kanji) can help you memorize meanings, and help you guess meanings of unfamiliar characters later on.
  • When you already know a lot of kanji, you can use that knowledge to guess the reading of a new character. Not only will you read faster, but this will spare you the agonizingly slow process of looking up kanji by radical.

Sure, it looks daunting at first, but as you learn you will start to gather some steam, and memorizing won’t be such a chore later on. But let me say this:

Since you will be building on what you memorized in the beginning, you should really focus on getting those basics down cold!

March 9, 2009 Posted by | General learning | Leave a comment