5 More Ways to Learn Japanese Kanji

Learn Japanese KanjiLast week, I went over 5 ways to learn Japanese kanji.  In this article, I’m going to be sharing 5 more ways to learn kanji with less pain and more gain.  These are a few more alternative ways to study that you might not have heard of before.

#6 Do the Heisig Thing

James W. Heisig is a name that gets thrown around a lot when talking about learning kanji. He wrote a series of books about remembering kanji creatively titled “Remembering the Kanji”. Volume I has a lot mnemonics to help you remember the different kanji characters, although it does lack a few descriptions for some more of the more difficult kanji. In volume II, he offers up different ways to remember the pronunciation of the kanji.

Only volumes I (in Japan) and II (in Japan) are useful for JLPT. Volume III (in Japan) contains a lot of really high level kanji that you will rarely see outside of academia, names, and other specialized uses/topic areas and isn’t covered on the JLPT.

#7 Do the Pict-o-Graphix Thing

Pict-O-Graphix (in Japan) is a giant picture book of Kanji. What Heisig is to remembering kanji through stories, Pict-O-Graphix is to remembering kanji through pictures. The illustrations in this book help you to clearly identify the different kanji that are out there by creating caricature mnemonics of each character.

The major complaint I have about it is that it is pretty difficult to find a particular kanji in the book. It has an index in the back by onyomi, but not a lot of people know the onyomi for a particular kanji off the top of their heads. Also, it doesn’t include all the joyo kanji and some of the more difficult to remember kanji aren’t in the book.

However, it can still be useful for reference and the occasional study break. I just wouldn’t make it the only kanji book you buy.

#8 Study for the Kanji Kentei

The Kanji Kentei is a test for Japanese people learning kanji. It has 10 levels that you can work your way through. Level 10 roughly corresponds to N5, level 9 roughly corresponds to N4, level 7 roughly corresponds to N3, level 5 roughly corresponds to N2, and level pre-2 (準2級) corresponds roughly to N1.

Keep in mind that there will most likely be extra kanji that aren’t on your level of the test, or some kanji for your level will not be covered on the kanji kentei. For example, level 10 covers 80 kanji, but N5 is said to cover around 100 kanji. Also, some of the vocabulary used in the practice books and on the test itself isn’t JLPT vocabulary.

However, studying for the kanji kentei can be way of looking at the kanji learning thing from a different angle. There are also plenty of books available in Japan to study with. You can find them on Amazon.co.jp or in any medium-sized bookstore even outside of major cities in Japan. There is also plenty of cheap DS software to practice with as well.

Unfortunately, this option is mainly only for those living in Japan, because the software and books aren’t widely available outside of Japan.

#9 Do a Whole Bunch of Reading in Japanese

There are two ways to do this. You can do a lot of reading online, reading blogs, newspaper articles, etc… or you can pick up some books for elementary school kids. The first option is available to everyone, the second is unfortunately again limited to those living in Japan.

So, to read online in Japanese you’ll want to pick up two tools: rikai-chan (or kun for Chrome) and possibly Furigana Injector. Rikai-chan helps you by giving English translations for any word you highlight on a web page. The Furigana Injector injects furigana above Japanese kanji. This sometimes causes problems, but can still be quite helpful.

Another slightly more portable option is to buy elementary school movie novelizations. These are books that have been written directly from movies. They usually contain really visual language so they are easy to read and guess the meanings of the words from and they usually use the first 1000 kanji with furigana on top. Any more difficult kanji is usually replaced with kana. So, these books are excellent for anyone studying for N3 or N2, but probably not N1 (better start reading regular novels at this level)

Be sure to sound out the kanji while you are reading them so that you can remember the readings for the kanji a lot easier. During the test however, it might be more useful to not sound them out and simply read the meanings.

#10 Use Japan Goggles

If you don’t like taking the time to look up a kanji stroke by stroke, or simply have a hard time recognizing kanji radicals, there is an app for that.  Japan Goggles helps you read kanji via your iPhone’s live camera or from a photo.  It is somewhat buggy, but performs reasonably well considering it can recognize around 3000 different common use kanji.  It might come in handy if you are in Japan and want to read a few clearly printed signs or brochures, but it won’t work miracles.  It might be worth the $4.99 price tag.

Ashley has written up a full review of it on her blog at survivingnjapan.com.

Speak Your Mind

What do you think of all these fabulous ways to study Japanese Kanji?  Is there something else you do to study kanji that I’ve left out?  Let me know in the comments below.

P.S.  Are you kanji studying machine?  Learn about how to tune up your kanji learning skills by signing up for the free newsletter with tips, hints, and other exclusive information.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Azanea September 21, 2011, 12:37 pm

    I some how feel that software is over-rated. It could be because I have severely limited web access and can’t afford an iPhone with all its apps – but I have never used Anki, Rikai-chan or any other software except for WaKan- and I’m doing pretty fine. I was gifted Spahn and Hadamitzky’s The Learner’s Kanji Dictionary AFTER I passed the JLPT N2, and no, I don’t have a kanji background either.
    I work the old-fashioned way and well, it works for me.

    • Mac September 21, 2011, 3:58 pm

      There is something to be said about the ‘old’, analog way of doing things. I use paper flashcards from time to time to fill in some gaps of time. I think you can over-rely on apps to ‘teach’ you things, but in reality they should be used for reviewing. Everyone has a different way of learning information, there is no one method that can save the day.

  • Isaura January 7, 2013, 4:16 am

    As I wrote more times yet, I am studying every new words with Kanji, since I began learning Japanese. And I think, that how easy or difficult is memorizing a Kanji, correlate, that how many time I write it. As I wrote yet, my first Japanese teacher was often giving me homeworks, so I had to write a lot of Kanji, too. And I have some Japanese penpals, and I write them my Japanese letters by hand. So I can write for example “kirei rousoku” with Kanji caracters from beginning times:))

    • Clayton MacKnight January 7, 2013, 3:12 pm

      Wow, you can write 綺麗 from memory? That is a difficult word to write. To be honest I hardly write kanji (just the basics). I think that is the next thing on my list after the test, practicing how to actually write. 🙂

      • Isaura January 7, 2013, 3:54 pm

        Yes, because I wrote this word lots of times, and every time I wrote it with Kanji caracters. Naturally, it was very difficult to memorize, but now I can write it from memory, too. I can send you one of my last homeworks in e-mail I scanned them. For example, my first Japanese teacher gave in homeworks to write about Hungarian Christmas and New Year, and to write a Hungarian “mukashibanashi” in Japanese, and I wrote “Henzeru to Gurechiru”:)) But I wrote these homeworks a year ago, and in this time I had some mistakes my Kanji writting. If You want to read these homeworks, I’ll send You in e-mail.

  • Eric Odle November 9, 2015, 10:42 pm

    I don’t know about Heisig. I personally didn’t find much success with it in terms of long-term recall. Anybody out there with a different experience, please try to convince me otherwise and maybe I’ll give it another shot.

    • Clayton MacKnight November 26, 2015, 2:10 pm

      I friend of mine had a lot of success with it, but I think it all comes down to what kind of learner you are. Some people are wired differently.

  • Jo-Jo March 18, 2016, 6:16 pm

    I’ve been able to find quite a few books in Japanese from this website:
    They have a lot of manga, elementary kid books, and novels. It’s not extensive, but it’s a starting point.

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