There are more ways to learn kanji then I can count. There is the famous ‘Heisig’ method of mnemonics and memorization. There are flashcards that you can use. There are a ton of great kanji apps for your phone, like iKanji for iOS, or Kanji Study for Android. It seems like a book or a resource on studying kanji is made available every week.
So, it is very easy to get confused as to what is the best way to get the job done. Should you use an app? Should you practice writing kanji until your arms fall off? A lot of people get lost in this mess.
To make matters worse, the JLPT divides out content by levels. They seem to be very grammar heavy and vocabulary and kanji light for the first level, N5. This has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that you only have to study a rather limited set of kanji (around 100). But the disadvantage is that you ‘know’ a lot of words, but you can’t read them.
And eventually, you will have to re-learn these words with the proper kanji with them. If you choose to study them without the kanji. That’s why I have always recommended to learn kanji when you learn a new word. At least, expose yourself to them. That way you can actually read what you have learned.
Studying N5 Kanji
However, it seems like this isn’t popular with some. It is after all, more efficient to learn 100 kanji and call it a day. There are a ton of other things you have to master for the N5 level, like the basic use of particles, that can take a lot of time and frustration. So, cutting kanji learning short for now makes a lot of good sense.
After all, the test is kind of designed for this. I remember I had the vocabulary word きまり on the test one time (I think it was for the N4 level test long ago). This word looked so familiar but yet I had hard time recognizing it quickly. Had it been written with the kanji, 決まり, things might have gone a lot smoother. I could have guessed from the kanji’s meaning, decide or agree on, that this had something to do with rules or settlements.
Of course, on the other hand, if the JLPT included all the kanji, it would be just that much more tougher. But, I think they could strike a happy balance by including furigana on those words that use more difficult kanji. Because if you are used to dealing with native Japanese with kanji, reading hiragana is quite difficult. When I send my N5 materials to my proofreaders I have to rewrite it with kanji so that they can check it. It simply isn’t the natural way the language is written.
Update to the N5 Anki Deck
3 years ago I released an Anki deck for the N5. I meticulously went over every word and definition to try to come up with the clearest deck that will not only prepare you for the JLPT but also for future Japanese learning.
A lot of you have emailed me telling me how useful it was in preparing you for the big test, which is always good to hear. I also heard from a number of you that you’d like to see only N5 kanji on the flashcards so that you can maximize your study time.
Well, I’m happy to announce that you can now study with just the N5 kanji if you want to. This should help you to master the words and kanji in a shorter time. The deck is now available an AnkiWeb. If you are using the N5 deck now to study, you might have to restart your learning due to some modifications I had to make to the deck. Sorry, I did try my best to prevent that from happening, but for whatever reason the fields didn’t match up.
By default, all the kanji will show. To enable N5 Kanji, you need to:
1) Click on tools …
2) Click Manage Note Types …
3) Choose ‘Ultimate Layout’
4) Click Cards …
5) Change this field from ‘kanji’ to ‘N5kanji’ on the front template of the ‘forward’ card
6) Change it on the back template of the ‘reverse’ card
7) Finished! You are ready to go.
The update is now available at Ankiweb for download. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working on a few more improvements to the deck. I hope to make it the best deck available for studying Japanese. Let me know what you think in the comments.