I Tried A Japanese Kanji Study Method So You Don’t Have To
Kids in Japan from day one in elementary school all the way until high school are required to study Kanji. That’s about 9 years of intensive studying. Clearly, a majority of these Japanese children succeed at learning Kanji because by the time they are adults they have mastered at a minimum the 2136 Jouyou Kanji. They often know more commonly used ones beyond that as well, such as 嘘（うそ, lie）or 躓く（つまづく, to stumble）. In elementary school Japanese children learn 1006 Kanji over a span of 6 years, but in middle school, by the end of the third year you’re expected to have mastered 1130 new Kanji, at a rate of about 377 Kanji a year!
So I sought the answer to the age-old Japanese learning question: how can I learn Kanji like a native? The first step in this journey was a few google searches. I tried 漢字の勉強法 (“how to study Kanji”) first and landed on this page. It explains the following method:
「見るだけ暗記法」or “How to memorize just by seeing it”
- It is possible to learn 50 words (containing the new Kanji) in 10 minutes, but the author gives an example with 10 Kanji in 4 minutes. (Because 20 divided by 5 = 4.)
- Before hand, spend some time creating a pretest sheet. The words in question should be in sentences, but written in Katakana. At the top, write the date, “Kanji Test”, the number of Kanji, and the amount of time you are allowed to memorize them in. Make several copies of this pretest because you will use it later. (This initial test is to see what Kanji you already know well enough.)
- Take the pretest. Your time limit is 1 minute.
- When you are done, mark the questions that you got wrong. These will go on a separate “memorization list” sheet. On the memorization list, write down the missed words vertically (one per line) along with their pronunciation. At the top, write the date, “Memorization List”, the number of Kanji, and the amount of time you are allowed to memorize them in.
- Now, set a timer for 30 seconds. Look at the list and try to memorize as many as you can.
- Right when the timer finishes, set a timer for 1 minute and retake the above pretest on a new copy.
- Repeat step 5 and 6 until you get them all correct, and then repeat both one extra time.
The author supposes that you should only need to do steps 5 and 6 5-7 times. While his claim is that memorizing these Kanji should only take 4 minutes or less, that’s only if you count the 30 seconds for memorization. If you take into account that you also have to repeat the test, that’s another 5-7 minutes totaling to: 5 x 30 seconds (memorization time) + 5 x 1 minute (test) = 2 min 30 + 5 min = 7 min 30 at a minimum. At max, this is 7 x 30 seconds (memorization time) + 7 x 1 minute (test) = 3 min 30 + 7 min = 10 min 30. Well, if you add the extra time, that adds another 1 min 30 to your total.
How effective was this method for me, a non-native speaker? I tried it for two days with sets of 20 Kanji. For each set, I doubled my time to about 21 minutes at max. The problem for me is that I also need to memorize the meaning of the words. So while this method worked really well for me in terms of seeing the pronunciation and recalling the Kanji in question, I had no idea what the word meant.
For non-native speakers, this method requires some modification. The test should have three parts instead of one, and memorization time includes learning the definition as well. I included a sentence for context that would be used on the testing sheets. So my new memorization sheet looked kind of like this:
１０月１４日 暗記リスト ４漢字 ４５秒
干満（かんまん）ebb and flow 潮には 1 日 2 度の干満がある。
干す（ほす）to dry [something], to deprive [passive voice] この座布団を干してください。
圧巻（あっかん）highlight, best part; superb その景色はまさに圧巻でした。
The Kanji being focused on in the word itself is bolded, and in the sentences the word is underlined.
My new testing sheet looked like this:
１０月１４日 漢字テスト ４漢字 １回４５秒
ーーーー読み１ 英語１ 読み２ 英語２
１．潮には 1 日 2 度のカンマンがある ＜ ＞
２．この座布団をホしてください。 ＜ ＞
３．その景色はまさに圧巻でした。 ＜ ＞
Since there’s more material on the testing sheet, generally speaking it ends up being about 2 to 3 pages, depending on how many Kanji I would like to learn at once. I think about 10 to 15 fits nicely.
This method definitely cemented the knowledge for me. I found myself able to recall literally everything when I tested it later. For some, this may become quite tedious very fast (especially when it comes to making the test sheets), so I would set aside at least an hour for about 20 Kanji.