The most famous and difficult aspect of Japanese writing is kanji. Kanji are the Chinese hieroglyphs which were adapted to the Japanese language. Mostly, Japanese words are written in kanji, but they still sound the same as in hiragana and katakana.
A little more than 2 thousands of hieroglyphs are used in modern Japanese, however, learning each of them individually does not work as well as with the hiragana syllabarium. Due to the great amount, the Kanji requires special memorization methods. In the learning practice, the knowledge and the use of these strategies make the learning process faster, much more efficient and enjoyable for the learner.
An effective strategy for mastering Kanji lies in learning them with new words in a context. Thus we associate each symbol with the contextual information and fix them in our memory. Kanji are used for representing the real words, so you should focus on the vocabulary, rather the characters themselves.
Compare 暑い and 熱い, both hieroglyphs have the same meaning “hot”. However, the first one is used to describe the weather, and the second hieroglyph is used when someone is talking about the temperature of an object or a person.
To memorize Kanji better, you need to keep up a few simple rules, such as:
1. Track the correct writing.
Japanese hieroglyphs contain many strokes and the right order of writing helps not only to remember the Kanji itself, but also helps to recognize it at reading.
For that purpose you may use an online applications, such as:
KanjiQ by Aribada Inc. With KanjiQ you can practice Kanji, repeating their writing by the lines, or train yourself by looking simply at the strokes’ order.
2. Study radicals (keys)
Kanji are not just the characters, the looks of which are absolutely disconnected with the semantic content. A limited set of unique elements, named “radicals”, is used for writing Kanji. 214 of radicals are so-called keys, which are also the meaning-bearers of each hieroglyph.
Hence comes out the second method: learn hieroglyphics, breaking them into groups with the same keys.
The useful applications for that:
Imiwa? This is an interactive online kanji dictionary, which will help to find not only the hieroglyphs’ meaning and reading rules, but also group them according to the number of the strokes. Also, this application allows to search hieroglyphs by the radicals.
Kanji Game. This application is a bit more challenging. In addition to the usual Kanji reading tests, there is a useful game “Is it a real Kanji?”. The application will show you the hieroglyph, and you should have to guess whether it is a true kanji or not.
3. Memorize reading
Another method is based on the learning the “Onyomi” reading. Anyone, who studies Japanese language, knows that the hieroglyphs have 2 ways of reading – a Japanese (kunyomi) and original Chinese – (onyomi).
Japanese words, denoted with hieroglyphs, are not too difficult to remember, but reading in Chinese way, which often consists of a single syllable, might cause more troubles to the learner. Thus, in some cases, it may be easier to split kanji by groups with the same reading.
4. Use Associations
Each character of Kanji is a little picture, a real art. Why not to involve this into the learning process?
- Kanji 休 (a rest) consists of the elements 人 (a human) and 木 (a tree). It turns out that the rest is when a man leans to a tree.
- Kanji 東 (east) consists of the two elements 木 (a tree) and 日(the Sun), which are fused together. It turns out that the east is where the sun appears from behind trees.
Such mnemonic technique allows you to create persistent images and understand the essence of the kanji, not just memorize its form by heart.
An application, which will help you:
FluentU. This program includes video, pictures and flash cards which provide a persistent association between a word and its meaning.
5. Compose meaningful groups
Another technique to facilitate kanji memorization is compiling personal dictionaries and combining hieroglyphics by their meaning. For example:
母 (mother), 父 (father), 兄 (elder brother), 姊 (elder sister).
赤 (red), 青 (blue), 黒 (black), 白 (white).
野菜 (vegetables), 果物 (fruit), 果実 (berries)
A handy application for you:
Kanji Star. In addition to the routine tests on Kanji memorization and writing, this program can offer you much more. You can choose the hieroglyphics in different categories, such as “fruit”, “vegetable”, “animal”, “color”, etc and focus only on them.
Learn Japanese. This application is designed for beginners. The program contains 800 words and popular phrases, backed by pictures and audio recordings.
6. Use phrases (mnemonics)
This method consists in memorizing phrases or stories, which can remind the hieroglyphic writing. For example:
馬 (horse): “Fondle the horse on its neck, and then on the head, then down to the nose, then on the back, and then to the tail, and the point – the point – the point – the point.” – this process depicts Kanji writing as if it was a picture of an animal.
Or give the name to each stroke in the same order as it is written:
正しい(right): The Vertical, the horizontal, the vertical, the horizontal and two large horizontal lines.
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