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

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

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

Mix up your writing practice

There is no getting around the mind numbing repetition of writing practice, but you can make the most of it by changing the way you write. I’m sure your teachers give you box paper to practice on, and that is fine, but it is also a good idea to write in other ways as well. For example:

  • vary the size, from tiny to huge
  • change the color
  • use different media: pens, pencils, crayons, chalk, whatever you’ve got
  • write on different surfaces, from rough to smooth, with your finger, a stick, etc.
  • when you write in the air, use your right and left hands

Why go through all this trouble? Because mixing it up helps to strengthen the memory in your brain. The more approaches you have to the thing you are memorizing, and the more senses you involve, the better the outcome.

Just try it with one or two kanji you are learning and then compare how well you remember those vs. the ones you learned the usual way. You’ll be convinced.

March 2, 2009 Posted by | Memorization tips | | Leave a comment

Speak as you write

When you are practicing your kanji, get into the habit of saying your mnemonic aloud as you write. You may find that you get into a groove and you will automatically start saying it in a particular rhythm or even with a tune, both of which will help you remember. Don’t just think it but actually say it aloud to get the most out of your practice session. Whispering probably works just as well if you don’t want others to think you are deranged.

March 2, 2009 Posted by | Memorization tips | | Leave a comment

Review just before sleeping

Your brain learns during sleep, so if you review your kanji just before you go to bed or take a nap, you will also be reviewing them in your sleep.

February 28, 2009 Posted by | Memorization tips | Leave a comment

Go for the ridiculous or shocking

Your brain is better at remembering things that are funny, shocking, or otherwise unusual, so try to come up with hacks that are wild, even if they are ridiculous. You’ll remember those better than ones that are bland.

Some people like to go for gory hacks to make them more memorable, and that’s great if it works for them. I personally prefer the ridiculous since it makes reading the newspaper a lot less stressful.

February 28, 2009 Posted by | Memorization tips | Leave a comment