Kanji is a seemingly impossible barrier for beginners of Japanese (or Chinese) to overcome. Since I’ve studied Japanese, I will look at kanji but what I write here is applicable to Chinese characters (hanzhi), as well. While many Japanese beginners lament the fact that there are over 2,000 kanji to learn to be able to read a newspaper, I will show you why kanji isn’t nearly as bad as you think and I’ll point out a few tips to help you in your kanji studies.
If you’re still in your beginning phases of learning Japanese, you’ve probably looked over a real Japanese newspaper or peeked inside a real Japanese book to see if you could understand anything with your Japanese 101 knowledge. What you found probably horrified you. Thousands upon thousands of characters that looked alien to you and most of which you had probably never seen nor knew existed before! “How could I possibly learn all of these?” you ask yourself, “English has 26 characters, why does Japanese have to be so difficult and use over 2,000 characters within three writing systems? I’ll never be able to learn all of these!”
I’ve seen a lot of Japanese beginners get so downtrodden at the prospect of learning so many characters that they seemingly give up trying to learn how to read and write properly. Truthfully, it does not have to be this way!
There are a few things to keep in mind when first starting to learn characters. For one, as a beginner, you are not used to seeing any of the characters and your brain hasn’t had enough input to begin to subconsciously make sense of them. You’ll find that as you learn more and more characters, your brain will be able to learn new kanji quicker than before. This is because the kanji are made up of many different radicals and when you build up your repertoire of kanji, it makes it easy for your brain to relate new kanji to the kanji you already know. There is already a “hook” for the new kanji to be attached to.
For this reason, although even the easiest of kanji may seem impossibly difficult to remember now, in the future, you’ll be learning new difficult kanji effortlessly since your brain will easily be able to connect the different parts of the kanji to kanji you already know.
Secondly, don’t worry so much about being able to write every kanji. In today’s world, it is much more important to be able to read the kanji than to be able to write the kanji. Most of your Japanese professors will probably stress that you be able to write all of the kanji that you learn. The truth is, this is somewhat of a waste of time. The reason is because today, everybody uses computers to type. For this reason, you only need to be able to recognize the correct character once you input the pronunciation into the computer in order to write proper Japanese.
Additionally, if there is ever a time where you do not have a computer at hand or you are forced to write something without the help of a computer, you can always use your cell phone to look up the right character and see what it looks like. In fact, many native Japanese speakers in Japan do this very trick because even they cannot remember how to write all of the kanji.
Thirdly, the 1,945 joyo kanji may seem like a huge amount but let’s break it down. There are 365 days in a year. That means if you study just 5 kanji everyday, you will reach 1825 kanji by the end of the year and that number basically covers the 98% most common kanji. That means by studying 5 kanji per day, you can become fluent in the joyo kanji by the end of the year. 5 kanji a day doesn’t seem too bad at all, does it?
Furthermore, if you’ve studied Japanese for two years, that means you could have been studying 2 or 3 new kanji everyday for these past two years and could have been fluent in kanji by now. 2 or 3 new kanji everyday seems like nothing, doesn’t it? The point is, instead of being overwhelmed at the number of new kanji, just break it down to manageable pieces and then stick to a habit of studying a couple of them everyday. If you stay with the habit you will find that you will have mastered those “impossible” kanji faster than you thought possible.
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more tips, tricks, techniques and a method that will insure you will become fluent then I recommend checking out the rest of my site and all it has to offer.
Thanks for reading!
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