I’ve noticed that lots of people want to start learning Japanese but the prospect of kanji is intimidating. A lot of people tell me they’re afraid of kanji, and don’t want to learn it!
It’s not like hiragana and katakana which seems simple and phonetic. There are lots of lines and shapes, and the idea of having to memorize over 2000 is even more frightening. But you don’t have to be afraid of kanji, and once you start studying you might even find it fun!
Take Baby Steps
No one’s saying to need to learn all 2000 in one go. Nor is anyone saying you even NEED to know that many.
After 3 years you can learn around 1000 and be able to read a lot of things! Or at least be able to look up words using dictionaries. I think when I started learning kanji I only learnt around 100 in my first year.
It’s fine to go at your own pace.
So it’s important to take baby steps. Just start by learning 5 in a week, or however many you feel comfortable with. Learn the vocabulary that uses those kanji.
You’ll soon start to see how kanji is often built up of other kanji and has similar patterns, like day 日 (nichi) and moon 月 (tsuki) combined makes bright 明 (akarui).
A great book for learning how kanji is made up of other kanji is Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji. Although it doesn’t have kanji readings it does give you a great platform to learn kanji through meaning and word association.
But again, you don’t NEED to read this entire book before you start learning. I found it useful to read the first first chapters and then look back at when you come across a kanji you’re having trouble remembering.
Learn Kanji Through Using It
It’s useful to learn kanji by using and drilling it.
Writing it on paper and saying the readings you’re learning aloud will help your muscle memory, hearing and speaking memorization. Which are all VERY useful, especially when you’re a beginner.
This is also a good time to start learning vocabulary using kanji. Such as:
“day” nichi にち -> 日
“Sunday” nichiyoubi にちようび -> 日よう日
“moon” tsuki つき -> 月
“Monday” getsuyoubi げつようび -> 月よう日
You can see in these examples how the reading for the kanji is different in different situations. As you learn more vocabulary you will get used to these differences and when to use them. Again, write down the word you’re learning and repeat it while speaking out loud.
Resources for Beginners
So where do you learn all this kanji? There are MANY resources you can use. Here are a few. I suggest you check them out and pick one or two that you like and that suits your studying style.
1. Japanese Talk Online’s memrise course JLPT N5 Vocabulary and Kanji breaks down basic vocabulary and kanji into short lessons you can do daily.
It takes around 8 weeks to learn everything (depending on your speed) and it slowly introduced kanji to you. (I still strongly suggest you drill vocabulary and kanji by hand as it will help you memorize them in the long run, and muscle memory is useful too).
2. Japanese Kanji Study is an android app that also costs money, but only for the advanced levels! It teaches you kanji readings, meanings, radicals, and writing! Has a fantastic testing system and keeps track of your learning. Click here for a full review of this app.
3. KanjiBox is an iOS app that costs money but is worth it! It’s great at teaching you kanji and kanji based vocabulary, as well as vocabulary in general. (I’m tempted to buy an iphone I want it that bad, but I hate iphones).
4. WaniKani a website that focuses on kanji and kanji based vocabulary, that helps you learn using various methods including space repetition, radicals and mnemonics. Aims to teach you 2000 kanji and 6000 vocabulary in over a year, but you can go at your own pace.
5. Basic Kanji Book vol 1 teaches you kanji by writing it down and provides you with kanji based vocabulary.
6. As I mentioned, Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji is a useful book for all levels. The Learning Japanese Radicals post goes into more detail on Heisig’s methods.
7. One great youtuber for advice on kanji is Bu Sensei, who recently started a series of short videos that focus on tips and techniques for learning kanji (for all levels).
Learning Kanji from Beginners to Advances is an older post about studying kanji that has more suggestions and ideas for studying kanji.
So now you know more about kanji and some resources to learning it you shouldn’t be afraid of kanji anymore. Right?
I hope you found this useful! Please let me know on out facebook page what you think, if you have your own advice or questions.