3 Kanji Study Tips

kame kanji by tuzen
photo by tuzen on Flickr.
Many busy students ask, "how can I learn all these kanji?". There are a few schools of thought on the topic, so I thought I would give you my two cents.  Some people study each kanji, from a book, and others buy or make flashcards. There are various software tools too. I know that I've spent too much time and money on all three.

study whole words

There a dozens of books that "explain" kanji. I've spent hundreds on textbooks, and my experience can be summed up as, these things are expensive. In addition, books that focus on kanji can be interesting, but they often don't teach whole vocabulary. Native speakers learn words first, and how to write them second. We should study in much the same way by learning whole words, and that study should map directly to language ability. Learn how kanji are used in context.

Whole-word flashcards seem like a better/cheaper choice, until you actually try it. I have a box of thousands of flashcards I purchased in Japan, and let me tell you it's a mess. You need a backpack to carry it. Searching and sorting the deck takes hours. And it isn't fun or interesting. I only have so much time to study, and there is much to learn, so I want every minute to count.

use software

I believe software can solve these problems. But software that duplicates the old problems isn't what we're looking for. With the right software we can learn whole words, lower costs, and keep study interesting and fun. The world of software is full of fun examples, and that is what we should aim for.

20 words for 45 minutes

How much study is right? It depends on your level of focus and the tools you have, but about 20 new kanji-words per day is probably the max for me. I recommend 45 minute sessions reviewing both new and old material. Many people keep this up almost daily, for several years, to steadily improve their working vocabulary.

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