The Principle of Kanji Learning

Have you struggled with Kanji learning?

Well, I know kanji is a tricky part of Japanese learning. Many learners find it difficult, including Japanese kids.

I’ve heard some students say “I know 100 kanji characters” or “300,” “1000” or even more.

It’s great that you dedicate your time and energy to memorize as many kanji characters as possible, but actually, these numbers just reflect a part of your kanji knowledge. And if you miss the bigger picture, you may lose in a kanji world.

In this article, I show you the principle of kanji learning.

I know, “principle” is a big word. Don’t worry.  I don’t want to say anything complicated. Actually, it’s very simple, like most of the principles in this world.

If you just follow this principle, your kanji study will succeed.

But, unfortunately, many learners don’t know it, so they just focus on the first step, and they waste their time and energy. I don’t want you to make same mistakes.

The good thing is, you can use any “method” you’d like. Any textbooks, any worksheets or any apps, whatever you like.

The method can vary, but the principle is one.

Let me explain.

The principle of Kanji learning:

What is the principle of Kanji learning?

Kanji learning has TWO steps.

The First step: Understand the Meaning of Each Kanji Character.

When you start learning kanji, focus on the meaning of each kanji character. You can use various ways how to memorize the meaning of characters. You can read the famous Heisig’s book, “Remembering the Kanji.” or use kanji workbook like “Basic Kanji book 500.” You may find many kanji app or flashcards to memorize the meaning of each kanji character.

*Top Tip: At this stage, you don’t have to learn how to read each character. No need to remember “On” and “Kun” readings, because it doesn’t help you so much. The most important thing is to understand the core MEANING of each character.

The Second step: Memorizing How to Read Each Kanji WORD

Now you are in the second step. At this stage, you focus on learning words and how to read them.

Let me show you an example.

Have you ever seen a kanji character, “月”?  Your first step is to understand the meaning of this character.

This kanji means “the moon” and also “month” because traditionally we used a lunar calendar and one moon cycle means one month. This is the 1st step. All right?

Then you move on to the 2nd step. Let’s see some example words which include the character “月.”

一月, 一か月, 三日月

You may guess the meaning of each word.

一月 the first kanji character 一 means “1.” 一月 means “the 1st month of the year = January.” And you read it as “いちがつ ichigatsu.”

一か月means “one month” and the reading is “いっかげつ ikkagetsu.”

The first two characters of 三日月means “3rd day” so 三日月 means “the 3rd-day moon = crescent” and the reading is “みかづき Mikazuki.”

You’ll find it’s easier to memorize words because you’ve already understood the meaning of each kanji character, you can guess the meaning quickly. You just add the reading of each word.

When you use Hiragana or romaji, you have no clue to guess the meaning, so the task to combine meaning and sound is much harder.

Kanji Learning is actually Vocabulary Building.

If you follow this two-step kanji learning principle, not only you can read each kanji word confidently, but you can expand your vocabulary easily and quickly.

Kanji learning is actually vocabulary building. When Japanese teachers teach kanji to kids, they show pupils not only each character but many words which include a target kanji character and explain to them more complicated words or concepts. Through learning kanji, Japanese kids can read the more complex text and understand more sophisticated thoughts. 

So, if you started learning kanji and found your Japanese vocabulary is expanded, you are on the right track.

But if you’ve already memorized some number of kanji characters, but you still feel your vocabulary is at a beginner level, you stuck on a first step.

Move up to the second step. You can feel the difference. If you don’t feel the difference, focus on the second step more.

Hope your kanji learning succeed and you can absorb new words quickly and more efficiently like a sponge.

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