Kanji is one of those obstacles that stands in your way like a huge brick wall with no end in sight. For any Japanese learner, however, it is a required part of the Japanese language learning process if you ever want to be literate (and who doesn’t want to be able to read manga in its own native language?)
Why are Japanese kanji so difficult? Besides having roughly 2,000 complex characters to memorize, each one has multiple readings that you have to learn and there is no sure way to know which reading will be used when you come across it in a text unless you know the word already. You can see how this gets out of hand rather quickly.
So, you need a definite working knowledge of the Japanese spoken language if you want to truly be able to know how to pronounce that kanji that you come across. Otherwise, you may make a mistake or unwittingly use the wrong reading.
Despite all these difficulties, millions of Japanese learn kanji to a sufficient level to be able to read newspapers, books and yes, even manga. Furthermore, learners of Japanese who grew up outside of Japan and learn the language are able to grasp kanji to a level where they are able to read newspapers, books and yes, even manga. So, if you are on the road to mastering Japanese and want to be able to read any native material, there are a few methods you may want to avoid in order to get to reading Japanese quickly.
#1. Learning Through Osmosis
The first way you want to avoid is osmosis. Many Japanese learners simply read over a kanji and feel that by simply glancing at it, they will gain its meaning. They think that the kanji is not important enough for them to learn. In some way, they either think repeated exposure without finding its meaning or simply ignoring its presence will lead to gaining knowledge of the kanji. Osmosis clearly does not work. You cannot be lazy about learning kanji (there are over 2,000 of them!) You need to work at it.
#2. Kanji in Textbooks is Just Plain Useless
The second way you want to avoid is through your textbook. “What?” you might ask, “I thought textbooks were the ultimate sources of Japanese knowledge for me to get through this jungle!” Well, in short, the answer is no, they are not. Textbooks usually have you learning kanji that are uncommon or just not plainly used in your life. The kanji you learn are set up to serve the purposes of the textbook rather than your own purposes. Yes, they might hit upon a few easy, usable kanji but the truth is, you will want to find which kanji are the most useful to you and learn those.
#3. Japanese Children Learn Kanji in Horrible, Horrible Ways
The third way you want to avoid is learning like a Japanese school child. That is, starting with the simple characters and writing them out rote hundreds of times over. While this may seem like a good idea to “learn like the Japanese do,” it is actually a slow and brutal way to get through kanji learning. There are much quicker ways. Will you still learn kanji through this method? Sure, but the chances you will enjoy yourself are slim if none. Besides, do you really want to spend all that time writing in rote?
So What is the Best way to Learn Japanese Kanji?
So, what advice can I give you to actually help you on your way to mastering all those kanji? I think using your imagination is key. Learn to break up the different parts of the kanji and attach a meaning to it so you can easily break it down and memorize it better. Also, using notecards will help to ensure that you retain the kanji you come across in your life and if you are using a computer notecard program, it will optimize the amount of time you spend on learning the new kanji.
I hope I helped you avoid some common Japanese kanji learning mistakes and gave you a little food for thought on going about the process. It is a long road so don’t give up! You will be able to read Japanese manga soon enough!
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