Getting the most out of Remembering the Kanji
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Remembering the Kanji (James Heisig). It’s a great system for learning the meanings and writings of all the joyo kanji. But it’s an all or nothing system. It’s not meant to learn the 100 most useful kanji. Or the 1000 most useful kanji. It’s meant to learn all the kanji.
There is something daunting about that. But also something very practical about it too. Because you can’t really read anything with just 1000 kanji under your belt anyway. You need the whole thing. And if you are really going to dive in and learn kanji you may as well go all out and do it.
After working through the book for a while I’ve figured out a few tips that will help someone beginning with this book.
- Your worst enemy is burn-out. If you start going too fast and it gets to be too much STOP learning new kanji. Focus on reviewing the ones you know and re-charge your batteries before bulldozing ahead.
- That said, test your limits. Don’t be afraid to go fast and learn up to 50 Kanji a day if you can.
- Use Anki (or an equivalent SRS) instead of manually making flashcards.
- It’s good to pause after a while and focus just on review. Heisig is pretty good at pointing out these moments. But if you start to feel overwhelmed it’s good to really focus on review, find the problem cards, and work out why a kanji is giving you a hard time instead of just drilling it over and over.
- Read the beginning of Lesson 11 a couple times. This outlines the method in clear steps and helps you solve problems that come up. Skip ahead and read this now even if you don’t quite understand it yet.
- Most of the kanji I have trouble with are because I use visual memory instead of imaginative memory (I try to remember the shapes and form of the kanji rather than a visual image associated with it). Figure out what you’re doing wrong and fix it early.
- Every so often re-read the introduction. I find it a very inspirational and practical piece of writing. It reminds me why I want to learn kanji in the first place, and it gives me hope that this really is the best system to learn the kanji with.
- Don’t jump ahead. It’s tempting to want to know the readings of the kanji you can now recognize. Don’t start this until you’re finished and you can remember all the joyo kanji in the book. The remembering and writing are split up with the readings for a very specific reason: information overload. Remembering the kanji and their meanings is enough of a strain on your brain. Instead (since you’re probably learning other aspects of the language anyway) read some manga or something with furigana. That way you can learn some kanji readings organically, as they come up, rather than skip ahead and confuse things.
- Enjoy it and have fun. It’s a great reward when you can look at a bit of Japanese text somewhere and you begin to recognize the characters.
- Trust that it will all, one day, make sense. It will!