Point of interest: 5 Essential Tips for Learning Flawless Japanese Kanji

5 Essential Tips for Learning Flawless Japanese Kanji
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Learning how to write and speak perfect Japanese can be frustrating for English speakers.
According to the US Department of State Foreign Service Institute, Japanese, along with Cantonese, Korean, Arabic, and Mandarin, present the steepest learning curves for such speakers. Unlike romance languages (which include English), written Japanese has three lexical systems one has to master: kanji, hiragana, and katakana. Japanese grammar is not especially hard, but it includes concepts (such as particles) which don’t exist in English, and word order rules which are almost entirely different to English.
To make matters worse, there are varying levels of informality and humbleness to navigate. Unlike English, which is based on direct communication, Japanese writing and speaking are based on subtle contextual hints.
Does it sound confusing and nuanced? Fret not; here are five tips to get you started.
  1. Start With the Basics
Your first step should be learning the ‘kana’ – in particular hiragana. There are only 69 characters, and they are the most fundamental building block of the written language. Learning hiragana will also help you master Japanese pronunciation (which is one of the easier aspects of the language).
Next, learn how kanji are formed from smaller components which are reused time and time again. Learning the most common components will make it much easier to learn kanji fast. Once you know a few components, you will start to be able to use mnemonics to help you learn more complex kanji. Mnemonics are short phrases which tie the meanings of their components together in memorable ways to help you remember the kanji that use them. Mnemonics have been proven to be one of the most effective learning tools for Japanese kanji.
  1. Practice Stroke Order to Build Memory
Writing kanji is the most ideal of ways to memorize them. Kanji are written stroke by stroke in a specified order. To a native English speaker, this may seem unimportant. However, even Japanese dictionaries specify the order in which these strokes are drawn. Writing kanji using the designated stroke order builds ‘muscle memory’ which cements the kanji in your mind. This approach is one of the key ways that Japanese people learn kanji in school.
  1. Learn With Quality Learning Aids
The quality of textbooks you use dramatically impacts the learning process. Having outdated learning material as a beginner can present challenges and even derail your ambitions.
Fortunately, books like Japanese for Busy People and Genki are widely available and provide an ideal foundation. Their simple guideline structure demystifies some of what makes Japanese complicated. With Kanshudo, you can use your existing textbook, or study our own lessons.
If you study largely online, Kanshudo has you covered, with the most comprehensive dictionaries available for Japanese to English, English to Japanese, kanji, example sentences, and grammar. For offline use, consider investing in a robust dictionary, and a good Japanese Grammar guide. There are also plenty of encyclopedias, Japanese slang books, and cultural dictionaries that may be helpful.
  1. Take Advantage of Spaced Repetition
Flashcards are one of the most effective language learning tools. Many studies have shown that ‘spaced repetition’, the idea of reviewing material just when you are about to forget it, is the most effective way to cement things in your mind. Kanshudo includes a built in online flashcard system, and can automatically generate cards for kanji, words, or grammar points.
You can also make your own flashcards to help you practice. You can make the front show you the meaning and pronunciation, and the back shows the meaning in your native tongue.
If you prefer an app, apps like Flashcard deluxe and Anki use spaced repetition technology to enhance your retention capacity.
  1. Read as Much Japanese Literature as Possible
Reading Japanese is the best way to see kanji in their proper context. To learn kanji effectively, it’s best to learn words that use them. To learn words, it’s best to learn them in example sentences.
The major challenge is finding reading material that is interesting to you and at your current level. Graded readers are a great way to start – they include material that is organized by level. NHK Easy presents the daily news in a format that’s easier to study.

Japanese is a challenging beast - but it can be tamed!
Given the sheer volume of things to learn, mastery of kanji may seem like an impossible task. However, it is much easier than it looks, because everything you learn makes it easier to learn what comes next. The best thing to do is to hop right in and get started. Kanshudo’s AI tutor will help you from the very beginning, and assign you a wide variety of study tasks (including lessons, readings and games) based on your level and rate of progress.
Contact us today for more information about the Japanese language and it will be our pleasure to guide you through the process.
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