Home Previous Columns Book Reviews Other Articles Reader Response Links


This paper was published in "The Language Teacher" (Japanese Association for Language Teaching) Volume 19, Number 10, October, 1995.

Mary Sisk Noguchi
Meijo University


非漢字系学習者が漢字習得に困難を覚えているにもかかわらず、第二言語としての 日本語教育の中で漢字の教え方を扱った研究は比較的少ない。日本語を母国語とし ない成人学習者への漢字の教え方は、日本人の子どもに対する方法と大差がないの が現状である。しかし成人学習者の場合には、学習のニーズと彼らの学習体験を考 慮すると、分析的思考を十分に働かせる教授法が求められる。この点で、漢字の構 成要素に注目する方法は、漢字を分析しないで全体として提示するやり方よりも、 成人学習者に効果的かつ能率的な方法と言える。この手法は、漢字の形、意味、音読みの学習にも適用できる。本稿では、漢字の構成要素に着目した3人、De Roo, Heisig,と武部の仕事を俎上にのせ、実践的な助言と、この手法を最大限にいかす方策が示される。

One of the most pressing needs in teaching Japanese as a Second Language (JSL) today is a reexamination of how kanji (Chinese characters) are taught to learners from countries where kanji are not used (hikanjikei learners). Too often, kanji pedagogy for adult hikanjikei learners is no more than an improvised version of that used with Japanese school children. The radically different learning needs and strengths of the two groups, however, demand different instructional strategies. The purpose of this paper is, first, to propose the need for a nontraditional, analytic approach to kanji learning designed specifically for adult hikanjikei learners. The work of three textbook writers, De Roo, Heisig, and Takebe, all of whom use analysis of the components comprising kanji, will be reviewed. Finally, various component analysis learning activities will be presented.

Kanji Pedagogy Demands More Attention
The role kanji play in the overall long-term development of Japanese language skills should not be underestimated. A JSL learner's knowledge of kanji is closely tied to progress in the development of listening and speaking skills (Ishida, 1988, p. 294). Success or failure with kanji learning also often influences whether adult learners proceed to advanced study or quit at the intermediate level, when kanji begin to be stressed. If learners can overcome the psychological burden of mastering intermediate level kanji, they are also likely to succeed at the advanced level; success at the beginning level, however, does not guarantee continued success at the intermediate level (Okano, 1992, pp. 2-4).

Despite the importance of learning kanji, as well as the difficulty hikanjikei learners can be expected to have in mastering them, kanji instruction is often allotted relatively little time in the classroom. Especially in classrooms outside of Japan, teachers tend to feel that limited classroom time is better spent on elements of the language which are supposedly more difficult for the learner to undertake without the teacher (Ishida, 1988, p. 295). Beyond a brief presentation by the teacher of stroke order and readings, learners are often left to develop their own kanji learning strategies.

JSL instruction in listening/speaking, grammar, and general reading skills (prediction, using context, etc.) has been influenced in recent years by advanced research in applied linguistics and TESL. Because of the unique nature of kanji as a writing system, however, this has not been the case for kanji pedagogy. (Kaiho, 1990, p. 65). Kawaguchi (1989) and Tollini (1992) have noted the unfortunate lack of attention given kanji pedagogy in JSL literature. Surprisingly few instructional methods are detailed in articles and books on kanji pedagogy. More common is a focus on such issues as: (a) how many and which kanji should be taught at each level; (b) how the learning needs of hikanjikei learners differ from those of kanjikei learners; and (c) common mistakes JSL students make in writing kanji. Studies comparing the effectiveness of distinctive kanji teaching methodologies are apparently nonexistent in the literature.

Kanji pedagogy for JSL learners is generally similar to that used with Japanese school children: presentation of stroke order, readings, and (in some cases) radicals; reading passages with highly controlled vocabulary, repeated writing practice; and periodic quizzes. A review of the most commonly used JSL textbooks reveals an overwhelming preference on the part of textbook writers, both Japanese and non-Japanese, for this type of "whole-kanji" (i.e., non-analytic) approach. Teachers themselves lack a systematic method for breaking kanji down into components because, beyond learning the radicals, they were not trained to do so when they learned kanji as children.

Different Approach Needed for Hikanjikei Learners
Kaiho (1990), Takebe (1991), De Roo (1986), Heisig (1986), and Takagi (1993a) argue that this traditional approach is inappropriate for adult hikanjikei learners. Adults have much higher powers of abstraction than children, a facility with generalized principles, and a wealth of life experience, all of which should be capitalized upon in designing kanji pedagogy for them (Heisig, 1986, p. 2).

According to Kaiho, adult JSL learners bring a mechanism for recognition of their own native written language to the kanji learning task; this can provide a useful bridge for developing a recognition mechanism for kanji. He stresses the need for research to illuminate the unique ways in which hikanjikei learners recognize and classify kanji shape patterns, so that appropriate pedagogy can be developed for them (1990, p. 67).

Takagi investigated the kanji shape recognition mechanism discussed by Kaiho, and discovered that in remembering the shape of kanji, beginning hikanjikei learners make use of components beyond the radicals. She reports positive results in training students to break down components in kanji as an aid to remembering their shape (1993b). Takagi suggests that forcing hikanjikei students who do not possess preliminary kanji recognition skills to write kanji repeatedly may be counterproductive (p. 71).

Component Analysis and Chinese Readings
Andoo and Tsuboi (1975), Itoo (1991), and Heisig (1987) propose that better use be made of phonetic components within kanji for remembering Chinese (on) readings. Phonetic components signal particular on readings; kanji containing them are known as "phonetic-ideograph" kanji. Despite the fact that 80-85% of all kanji contain phonetic components (Itoo, 1991, p. 37), traditional JSL kanji pedagogy has made surprisingly little application of them. In most textbooks, kanji is introduced in lock step fashion with new vocabulary and grammar. Until a large number of kanji have been learned, it is difficult to teach students how to use phonetic components to guess on readings. Andoo and Tsuboi (p. 54) found only sixty-nine groups of kanji with the same phonetic component, most of which were composed of no more than two kanji, among the first 757 kanji presented in a typical textbook.

Heisig (1986, 1987), seeking to remedy this situation, makes a major break with traditional kanji pedagogy. He delays the learning of readings altogether until after the shape and meaning of 2,042 kanji (including all the general-use kanji) have been learned through his first volume, "Remembering the Kanji I" (1986). Readings are then learned in his second self-instructional text, "Remembering the Kanji II" (1987). There, Heisig arranges the kanji presented in his first volume into: (a) "pure groups," in which the presence of a given phonetic component always signals a uniform sound (e.g.:包, 抱, 胞, 砲, 泡, and 飽), all of which have the Chinese reading hou; (b) "semi-pure groups," in which there is a single exception to the phonetic pattern; (c) "mixed groups," in which a given phonetic component can signal two or more different on readings; (d) kanji with one-time on readings; and (e) kanji with no on reading.

Takebe also argues that learners should initially be more concerned with meaning than readings (1989, p. 17). Teachers, he says, should discourage the strong tendency of hikanjikei learners to want to "master" a new kanji by learning all of its readings a once, because this eventually leads to a dislike and fear of kanji as more and more of them are presented (p. 161). Even if they cannot read all of it aloud, Takebe suggests, learners can begin to extract meaning from written Japanese if they know the meaning of kanji (p. 166).

Takebe Method
Analytic methods designed specifically to help hikanjikei learners remember the meanings and writing (shape) of kanji come from Takebe (1989,1993), De Roo (1982), and Heisig (1986). Takebe breaks each kanji down into meaningful units, some of which are actually radicals or whole kanji. He then gives a concise explanation of how the units are tied together logically to give a kanji its meaning. Explanations are etymological only if in Takebe's judgment etymology is the most efficient memory aid for that particular kanji. In a sense, Takebe says, teachers are "lying" to students by straying from etymology, but they must remember that their goal is to produce readers of kanji and not kanji scholars (1993, p. 161). The following examples are taken from among 1,945 explanations of kanji in Takebe's teachers' guide "Kanji no oshiekata" (1989): (Translations mine).

辛 "painful"
The unit 十 is a needle. The unit 立 means "stand."
"Standing on needles is painful."

喜 "happy"
The unit 豆 is beans. The unit 口 is mouth. The unit 十 is ten.
"Putting beans, which are given to the gods as gifts, into your mouth ten times makes you happy."

In "Kanji Isn't That Hard!" (1993), Takebe offers explanations in English for 192 kanji, as well as explanations written in Japanese with furigana (hiragana written above the kanji) for an additional 222.

De Roo Method
Also written in English, another analytical approach to learning the shape and meaning of kanji is De Roo's "2001 Kanji" (1982). (The volume actually explains 2,161 kanji). Like Takebe, De Roo recognizes the serious limitations as memory aids of traditional etymological explanations. Many dedicated JSL teachers consult a Japanese kanji dictionary (kanwa jiten), De Roo says, to find the historical explanations of kanji, but soon become frustrated. There are many incongruities and exceptions in these etymological explanations, in part because many of the explanations are of archaic kanji, and teachers are thus unable to present their findings in a systematic, easily remembered way ("Priest struggles," 1993).

In creating his kanji learning system, De Roo spent eight years analyzing the components of 5,000 kanji in order to find links which could explain the unified logic behind them. The following are example stories from De Roo (1982):

辛 "spicy," "bitter," "salty"
When you bite a strong tasting, spicy, substance during a meal, you stand up 立 ten 十 times faster than normal, and run to the kitchen to rinse your mouth.

親 "parents"
The left side of this character is a forest, an area where treesstand 立. Responsible parents living near a forest watch 見 their children who might be in danger from wild animals or bandits.

Heisig Method
A third analytical approach to learning the meaning and shape of kanji, Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji II" (1986), asks learners to use their imaginations to create stories for tying components together. Heisig makes liberal use of radicals, but his names for other components, as well as his whimsical stories, take a more serious departure from etymology than the methods of Takebe and De Roo. Heisig says the aim of his stories is to "shock the mind's eye, to disgust it, to enchant or entertain it in any way possible so as to brand it with an image intimately associated with the meaning" (1986, p.9). Heisig gives stories from his vivid imagination for 508 kanji, and asks learners to create their own for the remaining 1,534. The following are representative Heisig stories:

湖 "lake"
is "water." 古 means "old." 月 is "flesh."
You have heard legends of people being abandoned in the mountains when they become too old to work. Well, here is a legend about people being set adrift in the waters of a stormy lake because their flesh has gotten too old to bear the burdens of life.

泊 "overnight"
is "water." 白 is "white."
When you stop at an inn for an overnight rest, all you expect is a bit of water for a wash and a set of clean white sheets to wrap your weary bones in.

Heisig's order of presentation takes a systematic building block approach, with no consideration given to frequency of use. He argues that for learners whose aim is to learn all the general-use characters, order should be based upon what is best suited to memory and not upon frequency of use (1986, p. 10).

Which Method to Use?
Frustrated adult hikanjikei learners of kanji will likely find welcome relief from rote memory in the three analytical approaches detailed above. The particular method learners find most useful will be influenced by their own learning style as well as the level of competence they hope to attain, including the relative importance they attach to learning to write Japanese.

Because, unlike Heisig, they do not take a building block approach to presentation of components, Takebe and De Roo offer more flexibility of use. Their stories may be remembered in any order, and their books can be used alone or in conjunction with other texts. Those who are not using the Heisig system to learn shapes and meanings, but who would like to learn kanji with a shared phonetic component in groups, my find his ""Remembering the Kanji II" useful. Foerster and Tamura's "Kanji ABC" (1994), which systematically breaks all of the general-use kanji down into components and gives each a name, is a good resource for learners who wish to create all of their own stories.

Other Component Analysis Learning Activities
Several other JSL practitioners offer useful component analysis learning activities. Tollini (1992) presents a wide variety of exercises for beginning learners, in which, for example, learners: find the component which is common to all kanji in a series; change the position of component parts within a kanji to form different kanji; choose from a list of kanji those which cannot be decomposed; and write the new kanji which results from the subtraction of a particular component (pp.70-75).

Kawaguchi (1989) asks his class as a whole to analyze the components of each new kanji. To give a concrete image of the composition of that kanji, Kawaguchi then places the components students have described into a divided square box on the blackboard. Instead of writing kanji repeatedly on paper, students write them, component by component, in the air. They also "write" the components by imagining them in their minds with eyes closed, and then write them on their own bodies (palms, foreheads, thighs, etc.), and on their classmates' backs (pp.47-49).

Once learners have become adept at component analysis, teachers need not present the component division and story for every new kanji. Sharing learner-created stories in class (or informal study groups), however, is enjoyable and builds motivation. Learners using component analysis may find it useful to keep a record of kanji they learn by making flashcards that show the division of components for each character.

Studies are needed to compare the effectiveness of analytical approaches versus the "whole kanji" approach that is now generally used with adult hikanjikei learners. These studies should examine the effectiveness of component analysis methodology in each of the three areas of kanji learning: shape, meanings, and readings. In the meantime, teachers and learners are encouraged to experiment with component analysis both in the classroom and for self-study. The variety of analytical approaches outlined in this paper should provide for the specific needs of any adult hikanjikei learner who is searching for a more systematic and effective way to learn kanji.

De Roo, J.R. (1982). 2001 kanji. Tokyo: Bonjinsha.
Foerster, A., & Tamura, N. (1994). Kanji ABC, a systematic approach to Japanese characters. Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle.
Heisig, J.W. (1986). Remembering the kanji I. Tokyo: Japan Publications Trading Company.
Heisig, J.W. (1987).Remembering the kanji II. Tokyo: Japan Publications Trading Company.
Takebe, Y. (1993). Kanji isn't that hard! Tokyo: ALC Press
Priest struggles to make kanji a bit less foreign to foreigners. (February 19, 1993). The Japan Times, p. 9.
アルド・トリーニ(1992).「非漢字系学習者のための入門期における漢字学習指導の一考察」. 「世界の日
安藤淑子、坪井佐奈枝 (1975).「非漢字系学習者に対する初級前期の漢字指導の一試案」. 「日本語教育」
石田敏子(1984).「国際化の中で漢字とは」海保博之編 「漢字を科学する」.xxxxx選書,
石田敏子(1988).「漢字の指導法―非漢字系―」.加藤彰彦編「講座日本語教育第9巻 日本語の
 文字、表記(下) 明治書院, 290-312.
岡野喜美子(1992). 「非漢字系学生のための中級漢字、語彙教育」. 「早稲田大学講座日本語教育」27
海保博之(1990). 「外国人の漢字学習の認知心理学的問題―問題の整理と漢字指導法への展開―」.「日本語
川口義一(1989). 「漢字指導の新しい試し」. 「早稲田大学 講座日本語教育」24号,33-54.
高木裕子(1993a). 「非漢字系日本語学習者の漢字学習に関する実証的研究(1) 自由出法による初級レベル
高木裕子(1993b). 「非漢字系日本語学習者の漢字学習に対する漢字指導― パターン認識能力を活かした漢
 字指導とその問題点―」.「関西外国語大学留学生 別科日本語教育論集」3号,57-76.
武部良明 (1989).「漢字の教え方―日本語を学ぶ非漢字系外国人のためにー」 アルク.
武部良明 (1991).「文字表記と日本語教育」凡人社.