Monday, August 08, 2011

Why Kanji is the Best Thing for Studying Japanese

It's natural to be scared of kanji at first. They're complicated collections of what look like random lines with various readings and meanings.

Over time, though, you will hopefully come to realise how useful the kanji are for learning new vocabulary. Read on for a full explanation.

As I mentioned in a past article, dumbly staring at a flashcard with one kanji character on one side, and a list of the various different readings on the back is virtually useless.

If you want to learn the appropriate way to read kanji you need to see them in context. And that's not hard, presuming you're studying vocabulary utilising those kanji. When you study a word, study it in kanji. Don't be scared, dive straight in. You'll be surprised that it isn't actually as hard as you thought. As I said, the best site for this is readthekanji, and the best programme is Anki.

And, once you have studied a few words with the same kanji, you have seen how and where different readings are used. More about this is the aforementioned article.

Next step: new words. You study some new vocab and find the same kanji cropping up again and again. If you have seen and studied those kanji in context, you know the sounds they are likely to make. Now, not only can you read the word even before being exposed to the hiragana reading, but often you can even work out the meaning itself.

As you become more advanced in your kanji learning, you'll begin to notice other patterns in individual characters, too. You'll see how different kanji elements go into constructing each character in a way that will often allow you to work out the meaning, and sometimes even the pronunciation. We'll cover that in a future entry here on AccessJ.


  1. It's also interesting to learn the origin of each kanji. For example, 山(yama, means mountain) comes from the shape of mountain.
    I found this site very interesting.

  2. Kanji is definitely very important, especially being able to read them, since if you can read you can already also type, although not by hand. I am however not a big fan of readthekanji and Anki. The way I do it is by studying words and sentences on, and the rest is done by reading Japanese websites using various tools like Rikaichan to help me.

    I'm on an intermediate level though, I studied Japanese for a year at university, so my way of doing things isn't suitable for beginners I guess(^.^)

  3. Jonas: Well, the sentences on readthekanji are one of the main features. They allow you to see and read the kanji appropriately and in context.

    Thanks for your comment and good luck with your studies.