How To Learn Japanese For Beginners: Kanji
After studying the relatively “easy” syllabic writing systems, it’s time to get serious. But how to learn Japanese Kanji the best way? Well. Start by not doing what I did. A few years back I purchased the book “250 Essential Kanji for everyday use“, since it sounded like it was the most practical for what my study goals were, but I must confess I have yet to start in it.
It’s not because the book isn’t great, in fact, it’s pretty damn good. I actually only just realize it’s also by Tuttle Publishing (makes sense), written by the officious sounding “Kanji Text Research Group” at Tokyo University. This group apparently is made up of teachers whose focus is teaching Japanese language to foreign students and they have spent more than two decades developing the most effective methods to help beginning learners of Japanese grasp the kanji.
Each lesson is super interactive and helps you master a new group of kanji. There are quizzes, vocabulary and practice sections and for each character you’ll learn its meanings, basic on–kun (Chinese-Japanese) readings, its stroke order, common compounds, and derivations. I find it a little overwhelming to browse in, but I guess I should just take it slow and start step-by-step following the well-organised lessons.
For Kanji, the best tips I got was to A) Start with it soon in your studies!, B) Focus on understanding the meaning first, the reading later (so the meaning of the Kanji could be “book”, the reading is “kun: moto” and “on: hon”) and C) Create stories to remember the Kanji, for example: the Kanji for book (本) looks like a tree with a stripe under it, e.g. the book is made from the tree)
One of the other textbooks to help you with Kanji that I got recommended was “Remembering the Kanji“. This especially goes into the story-making aspect of Kanji learning. Apparently with this method, you will be able to complete in a few short months a task that would otherwise take years!
Further down below, I’ll also talk about how to learn Japanese online with (free) Kanji learning tools.
For those of you looking to dig a little deeper into the origins of the Kanji, you have to travel to China, where 3000-year-old sources of written characters are still used today. But don’t worry, you don’t have to physically travel there, nor do all the research yourself.
In one of my favourite history books of all times, “China: Empire of Living Symbols” (pictured below is my Dutch version: “Het karakter van China” – the character of China), Swedish Sinologist Cecilia Lindqvist tells a beautifully illustrated story of the Chinese characters and shows how their shapes and concepts have permeated all of Chinese thought, architecture, art, and culture.