I started learning Japanese about a year ago. I was learning kanji and vocabulary through my Japanese textbooks, but very little stuck. Memorizing the kanji felt like an impossible task and I was close to giving up. Then I started WaniKani, which made learning kanji simple and actually fun. The SRS and leveling structure made sure I never accidentally overwhelmed myself. The mnemonics ensured that every kanji and vocabulary would stick in my memory. After a year, I can now read over 1,000 kanji. I can navigate Japanese websites with comfort. I can read some of my favorite manga and actually enjoy it. Most importantly, at least in my opinion, I can put more focus into trying to learn Japanese grammar, knowing that WaniKani has me covered when it comes to kanji.
You will appreciate drawing the strokes in the right order once you need to look up illegible hard kanji characters, where you need to draw it as close to what you think the character looks like on handwritten input for it to lookup what is that word easier.
The best thing to do is just jump right in with the jouyou kanji and get started. I recommend you begin by enrolling in Japanese Uncovered. The course includes a number of kanji lessons and you'll be able to ask questions and get feedback from our team of Japanese experts.
Practice Japanese Kanji with this simple flashcard viewing application. Flashcards are an easy and effective way to memorize Kanji. In addition to single kanji flashcards, we also have flashcards for vocabulary words containing one or more kanji. Kanji and vocabulary flashcards are divided into groups based on the JLPT level of the related kanji.
But if you know how to learn kanji, it doesn't need to be so hard. You don't need to spend 10+ years studying kanji to reach a decent level of Japanese literacy. One or two years will do, if you've got the right technique.
Around five years ago, Tofugu made the kanji-learning application WaniKani to fix the "learning kanji" problem. Since then, we've seen students learn all 2,000+ jouyou kanji (not to mention 6,000+ vocabulary words) in just over a year.
Even if you think you're "bad at kanji," you'll see a five to tenfold increase in your kanji learning speed the moment you get to the bottom of this page. A pretty good reward for fifteen minutes of reading time, don't you think?
If you're a teacher, you'll learn how to teach kanji in your class using this method. We'll provide reference materials for you to use, so you can build a kanji/vocabulary teaching method tailored to your teaching needs.
Now, try to imagine attempting to learn to read a word in English without having the knowledge of the alphabet at your disposal. It's insane, right? Yet, that is exactly how most people are learning kanji.
Learning radicals is like learning the letters of the alphabet, in that they get your brain away from individual lines and into repeating patterns and symbols that you can use again and again. Let me show you what I mean:
In this case, we need three radicals to build this kanji. Usually we try to prevent a kanji from having more than three radicals, though occasionally you'll see a kanji made up of four or (very rarely) five radicals.
Traditionally, when people learn kanji, they try to memorize the individual strokes then write them over and over again. Learning this way puts kanji in your short-term memory. By writing it over and over again, it's put in your long-term memory. Sometimes. It's pretty hit or miss.
Through the radical mnemonic method, we'll essentially skip the short-term memory step, putting kanji directly into your long-term memory. It won't be a strong memory, but it's much better than short-term, which disappears the moment you stop thinking about it.
Let's dig a little deeper: I'm going to compare memorization via strokes and via radicals. It will highlight just how simple the radicals mnemonic method is (and how inefficient learning by strokes is).
The difference is more obvious as kanji gets more complicated. 町 is seven strokes, or seven different things to remember; right at the edge of your short-term memory's capacity. It's doable, but a little more difficult (and it requires your full concentration).
Finally, let's look at the most complicated kanji we've introduced (so far). 電 is thirteen strokes, meaning it's extremely difficult for your brain to memorize via rote memorization. With radicals, you only need to memorize three things.
First, let's talk about mnemonics. Mnemonics are basically just memory devices that help you memorize something. There are a ton of different mnemonic methods out there, but the one we'll use to learn a kanji's meaning and reading uses stories. This point is important, because stories are what catapults a brand new piece of information (a kanji's meaning) into your long-term memory.
The radicals themselves are the first step in a mnemonic method that uses this incredible human ability. If you can identify the radicals in a kanji, you can use the radical names to create a story. This story will help you recall the meaning of the kanji. When you need to recall the story (and thus the meaning of the kanji), all you need to do is look at the radicals. These will trigger the story in your mind, and you'll be able to recall it.
First, identify the radicals that build the kanji. It's important to come up with a method so that the order of the radicals are the same every time you identify them. While you could use any ordering system you want as long as it's consistent, we recommend you order the radicals by following general kanji stroke order rules. That is, by starting in the top-left and working your way down to the bottom-right. It'll make writing easier, should you ever learn how to write by hand.
Now that we've identified the radicals, it's time to create a mnemonic story. To do this, you need to use the radicals to make a story, in order, so that the conclusion is the meaning of the kanji (for 町 that would be "town").
You may have noticed already, but the kanji 町 (town) and 電 (electricity) share the common kanji radical 田 (rice paddy). Radicals you learn will be used over and over again, just like the letters of the alphabet. Some will be used more than others (also like the alphabet), but every radical will be used more than once.
In cases where the radical is the same as the kanji but the radical's name is different, you have to create a story, just like before, to connect the radical name and the kanji meaning. The only difference is you have to create a story from one radical. It's a little obnoxious, but when the radical name is different from the kanji, there's usually a good reason for it (most likely, the kanji meaning is hard to imagine and not good for mnemonics).
Now that you understand how this works, let's quickly run through some examples. Go through each kanji, identify where the radical lives in each, and then make your own story (or look at our examples for inspiration).
Hopefully you're beginning to see how these mnemonic stories work and how they can help you memorize a kanji's meaning. But, where are these radicals and radical names coming from? How can you know what radicals are in each kanji? And how can you go about learning them?
These tweaks make radicals work how we want them to: as building blocks we can use to remember kanji. For these reasons, and more, we use the WaniKani radicals list. If you really want to, you can use another radicals list if, say, you already started learning with that list.
That, we're afraid, is a very difficult question to answer. It's going to depend on the ordering in which you learn your kanji. In WaniKani, we introduce new radicals before you learn a kanji that uses those radicals. This way, it feels like magic, and you always have some familiarity with things you've never seen before. We figured out the ordering of the radicals and kanji, and are continually tweaking it to make things more and more efficient.
But, if you're learning kanji on your own, you have to come up with your own ordering, and figure out what radicals to learn for your target kanji. It's not impossible, but it does require some forethought. To make this work, you'll either need to:
Learn the names of all the radicals first, before you even look at any kanji. This method feels slow at first, but overall it's probably going to take a similar amount of time compared to any other method. Or,
Alright, so you've learned how to learn the radicals, and how to use them to make stories that trigger the memory of a kanji's reading. Now you're going to learn how to memorize a kanji's reading by continuing your mnemonic.
Most kanji have a straightforward meaning. The popular resource, Heisig's Remembering the Kanji, focuses mainly on learning the meanings of kanji. It sure feels like you "know" a lot of kanji when you finish this book, but the meaning of a kanji is only about one-fourth of the equation. If you want to be able to read (and speak, and write, and listen to) Japanese, you need to learn a kanji's readings and vocabulary too.
Readings are difficult, but choosing what kanji reading to learn may be even harder. The traditional method for learning a kanji's reading is to just learn all of them, or at the very least learn an on'yomi and kun'yomi reading. Almost every kanji has at least two ways to read/pronounce it (one on'yomi and one kun'yomi). But, there are also often multiple on'yomi readings and/or multiple kun'yomi readings. Don't even get me started on nanori (readings for kanji used in names)!
When it comes to mnemonics, it's much easier to associate a single reading with a kanji. If you pile on additional readings to learn, your memory gets mucked up. One reading to rule them all. That's your goal.
If you've been initiated into the more "traditional" kanji learning camp, it will take a little stretching to wrap your mind around this. But once you do, you'll find it's a lot simpler, faster, and more efficient.
Okay, so let's assume you've chosen "the reading" for a bunch of kanji. It's time to learn how to memorize that reading with the radicals mnemonic method. It's quite easy, actually. Just continue the story that you created for the meaning mnemonic. Make the story a natural continuation of the meaning mnemonic story so that when you recall the meaning, you automatically recall the reading too. Remember, humans are really good at recalling stories, so this works surprisingly well. 2b1af7f3a8