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Reader Response
January, 2002

14-year old kanji enthusiast in Croatia yearns for learning tools

Dear Kanji Clinic,

My name is Dario Simunovic. I am a 14-year-old boy from a village in Croatia, Europe. I am very, very interested in Japanese language, especially Kanji characters. I study Japanese by myself because here in Croatia it's not possible to study it. I have a Sanseido dictionary, the book Essential Japanese by Samuel E.Martin and an Introduction to Written Japanese by P.G. O'Neill and S.Yanada. All these three books I got from Japanese Embassy. I have contacted Japanese Embassy in Croatia and Croatian Embassy in Tokyo. I have found out that in Croatia doesn't exist any course for studying Japanese and the Ambassador said to me that they are trying to open a Japanese course in the capital, Zagreb. However, I already know hiragana and katakana and some Kanji characters too!

My dream (for more than 5 years) is to become a Japanese translator. First I just wanted to learn how to write in Japanese because I like its writing system. I adore Japan because it's very specific country. It has different writing sytem, shuuji, tradition, with smart people,rich history... and I like all these things about Japan.

I was also interviewed by one journalist from the local newpapers. Here in my village people think that I am a talent because I can learn a language in a very short time. I have been studying English (it's not an official language here and I have been studying it on the English course), Spanish and Japanese by myself. I wish I have my Japanese teacher. I also know basic words in Chinese, French, German...I really like foreign languages !! I also got a few Japanese penpals from Hiroshima, Tokyo, Fukuoka... Now I am in the 8th grade, the last one in the Elementary school. After the Elementary school I am planning to enroll to High school for languages. That High school I would attend 4 years. The problem is, where could I study Japanese language if the Japanese language course doesn't open? I am afraid a bit because it's my dream for many years.I wish my dream come true.

I will be very thankful if anyone can give me an advice!
Dario yori

Dario Simunovic
Antunovac, Croatia
Playing the compound word guessing game

Read your column last week ("The wonderful ways in which kanji can make new words"). Fine, and you included all the categories I have listed in my various ‘ŒκŽ«“T (kokugojiten, Japanese dictionaries). But there is one category, probably sub-divideable (new word, that), that you failed to mention, although you did include several examples - These are the nŒκ (jukugo, compound words) that don't make sense until you look up the meaning (and sometimes not even then). For example, from your column: –œˆκ@who would think of this as meaning "unlikely event"?; or "–΅‚: this combination would make much more sense as "complimentary" rather than "contradiction"; or FXAwhich seems to me to suggest Joseph's high style outer garment, not "various".

The point (and you said it), is that you have to guess at meanings, and a lot of the time you will be wrong. You do get better with practice. Japanese (mostly) seem to do it differently - once they figure out the sound (which is fine if it's not irregular: e.g., Žx“x shitaku, preparations), their passive vocabulary is usually enough to give them the meaning; we foreigners don't have that luxury.

Another related category is the nŒκ (jukugo) made up on the spot (usually by a male well into his cups), which are often explained by drawing the kanji using the wet rings on the table or bar-top. These are usually pretty self-explanatory once you see the kanji, though.

By the way, how many times have you learned a word aurally, assumed you knew the kanji since there was a logical pair that added up to the sound in question, and then found that "whoops, nope, that ain't it." It has certainly happened to me a LOT.

English is just as bad, though. My wife, hearing the word "book keeper" the first time, assured me she knew what it meant; and she did - obviously it meant "librarian".

Gary Harper
Okinawa, Japan
Free online flashcards with vocabulary and Heisig keywords

Hello, kanji learners.

I've put all of the keywords from James W. Heisig's Remembering the Kanji on a new vocabulary area at www.evisa.com.

The address of the Japanese Language Study Page is http://evisa.com/e/top_jp.htm

There are applications on the site for practicing the keywords as flashcards, plus other kinds of practice. The flashcards are simple - just the keyword and the kanji, so of course you'll still need the book. You can save groups of flashcards to your own page for extra study.

The applications are free, but require Internet Explorer 5.5+. (Making a version to work with Netscape would take me about 2 more months, and I can't spare it right now). The pages may also require a PC - I don't have an Apple, so I haven't been able to check. (Any volunteers?)

These applications are brand new, and all done by one person, so there will no doubt be a few bugs...feedback welcome!

Joe Orr
New York City
He has a kanji dream and is studying intensively with Heisig and KanjiCan

Hello and thank you for your wonderful articles on learning kanji.

I studied Japanese in college from 1995-1998 and came to Japan to teach full-time English- actually to have the experience of living in Japan-- and English is a way to make money while I experience Japanese life.

I came here in March, 2001 and trudged my way through about 300 kanji up until about two weeks ago when I found your site and purchased Heisig's book. I plowed through an impressive 400 kanji in the first six days!

I study an hour and a half each week with other foreigners and one Japanese instructor at a community center, and the rest of my study time is now devoteed to kanji and their English meanings. I will continue my intense kanji studies as I am convinced it is one of the keys to Japanese fluency. I plan on finishing Heisig's book in eight weeks with 2-3 hours of study each day.

By the way, I have utilized KanjiCan software (www.kanjisoft.com) for my review sessions which allows me to sort the flashcard mode by Heisig's index, using only the English keyword. On my first test of the first 400 kanji and 35 primatives I missed 71, or about 15%. Not bad considering I only studied the 400 kanji in one week!

While I have read all the articles you have posted on your site I will go back to read your latest each month as it is both informative and encouraging. It is nice to know that I am not alone in my struggles to learn Japanese. Additionally, I will keep you informed on my progress, because part of my "dream" of knowing kanji is having the recognition for my hard work (kinda vain but true none the less).

Jason Webber
Sakura City, Chiba
Two darned good questions for all of us

Dear Ms. Noguchi,

A couple of questions I think would be worthy of consideration in your Kanji Clinic articles:

1) When is the best time to learn kanji compounds?

I just returned from a 4 month stay in Tokyo, teaching at Temple University-Japan, and I inquired, of both native and non-native Japanese speakers, the best ways of learning Kanji. I was told that in the case of native Japanese, in school they learn 'kanji sets' so that individual kanji are learned as they are used in compounds. So with non-native speakers, my question would be, is it best to try to stick to learning individual kanji and after getting a certain number of them down (100? 500? 1000? 2000?) then go after the compounds, or is it best to learn them simultaneously since they are most commonly read in compounds anyway?? Then the other problem would be, how many compounds do you attempt to tackle, since for a number of Kanji there may be 50 or more compounds and the burden on the memory is increased many times over.

2) When is the best time to stop memorizing kanji in isolation and start learning them in context?

I have been studying Kanji for about a year and a half and have found that at about 500 Kanji I have reached what feels like a limit on how many I can keep in my head. I bought the De Roo book in hopes of finding a system that will help me break through that barrier. But in talking with a number of Westerners in Tokyo that are making their living as translators, I was surprised to find that many were self taught and most of them told me that they started by learning a few hundred Kanji and then just started reading, picking up kanji as they encountered them in their reading. Most of them translated in a specific field, like business-finance, engineering, electronics etc. So the Kanji they had to learn were somewhat subject-specific. So my second question would be, is it maybe better not to worry about learning all the first 2000 Kanji, but only about getting a small foundation of a few hundred kanji and then just to start reading with your Kanji dictionary at your side, looking them up as you go along? You will just begin accumulating kanji knowledge in this way - in a context that will make them more meaningful, rather than trying to take on the monumental task of memorizing so many individual Kanji without any real context.

Thank you.

Victor Forte
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Mary Sisk Noguchi responds:

Thank you for your important and thought-provoking questions. I imagine every Nihongo learner coming from a non-kanji background who has become literate in Japanese would give a different response.

I can only speak for myself, in the hope that my experience may be useful to you in some way, and encourage others to also share their experiences in this forum.

The learning path which enabled me to meet my goals-- specifically, to pass Level 1 of the Noryoku Shiken and to read, without a dictionary, the deluge of printed information which confronts me daily at my university teaching post-- was to take James Heisig's advice in the introduction of his "Remembering the Kanji I:" Learn the shapes and meanings of all the general-use (1,945) kanji before tackling their pronunciations.

After using Heisig's book to accomplish this task, (in approximately six months), I then began reading a wide variety of junior high to adult level material on topics which interested me. Many of the materials I read had furigana (hiragana typed above the kanji to indicate their pronunciations), which was an easy way to learn pronunciations in context; I found the Nihongo Journal particularly useful, but also enjoyed reading easy novels and short articles in my research field (education).

I tried to rein in my natural desire to: 1)understand 100%, and 2) know the pronunciation of every word. Otherwise, I would have been constantly reaching for the dictionary, in the process taking a great deal of the "pleasure" out of pleasure reading. It seemed to me, at this stage, that it was important to spend more time READING (learning kanji in context) than STUDYING (learning kanji in isolation).

I found that I could get the general meaning fairly easily because I had learned, with Heisig, one meaning for every kanji I encountered, and because I already knew most of the grammar of the language. I sometimes turned to the dictionary when the meaning of a kanji or kanji compound was not clear; unfamiliar compounds often made sense, however, because I knew what their comprising kanji meant.

Please take a look at an interesting response on the subject of grammar vs. kanji knowledge from a translator in the July-August Reader Response section. Can other translators tell us how they approached the kanji learning task?

What works for one learner may not work for another because we all have our own individual learning strengths, reasons for learning kanji, and notions about what kanji learning should "look like."

As always, I am hoping to hear about the learning path others have taken.

By the way, the next Kanji Clinic column (January 11) deals with kanji compounds. Watch for it!
Kanji enthusiast in India intends to conquer the kanji jungle

Mary Noguchi Sensei:

My name is HEMRAJ SAPKOTA and I am living in New Delhi. I would like to know if I can take the Kanken exam long-distance from India or at a testing site within India.

My connection with Japanese language dates back to 1990 when I first learned basic Japanese language in Kathmandu at a local institute there. Then I was just 16+ year-old high school student. Since my childhood I was deeply impressed with Japanese culture, society, Japanese people and technology. Japanese food is my best choice after Indian.

After graduation I joined two Japanese language institutes in New Delhi, namely AOTS (Association of Overseas Technical Scholarship) and JCIC (Japan Cultural and Information Center) and learned intermediate to advanced Japanese for nearly three years. I have also taken the Nihongo Noryoku Shiken Level 2 recently.

For the past two years now I am working in a software company as a Japanese translator. I am very happy and I feel proud of working in this field.

Since Kanji is the key to exploring and understanding Japanese history, culture, society and its people, I think knowing more and more Kanji is very important. Currently, I understand nearly 1000 Kanji but I still feel difficulty in reading a Japanese newspaper. However, I have one newspaper (Asahi Shimbun) on my desk which was presented to me by my Japanese friend sometime back. I try to read this newspaper every time I find myself free from work. I feel very satisfied when I understand the main contents of a news article. But I want to understand 100% of the contents and all that particular characters want to say. For that I need to learn more Kanji and practice them regularly, and to have patience and lots of concentration.

But I am sure I'll conquer the Kanji jungle very soon so that I can easily read/write, understand, explain and analyze everything, whether it's a news article or a project specification. And that would be the time when I'd feel myself at the top of the world --just like at the summit of Mt. Everest (SAGARMATHA).

This is the first time that I have logged in to the Kanji Clinic web site, through Japan Times Online. I found it to be a very useful and interesting site, and am very optimistic that I can learn many things about my darling yet tough KANJI through it and its link sites. When I tell my fellow Japanese language friends about the Kanji Clinic site they will be very excited.

My aim in the near future is to become a Japanese language writer/translator in areas relating to social issues such as mass communication and information technology based in this region.

Kanji no kamisama ni dozo yoroshiku.......

Thanks and regards,
Hemraj Sapkota
New Delhi, India

Mary Sisk Noguchi responds:

Greetings to you, Sapkota-san, and to all kanji learners in India!

Thank you for your message. I think the "Kanji no kamisama ni yoroshiku" in your letter may be in reference to the column I wrote recently entitled "Until we meet again, Father De Roo, in kanji heaven." Is that right? When my time comes, I will be sure to deliver your message...

In answer to your question, unfortunately, there are no Kanken testing sites in India, nor is there is any kind of mail-in system mentioned on the Kanken homepage.

The only suggestion I can offer is that you might wish to obtain Kanken test preparation materials and use them to guage how you would do on the exam if you had the opportunity to actually take it. Although you will have no certificate, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that your kanji knowledge is sufficient to pass a certain level. Please see the Kanken homepage, linkable from this site, for more details on materials.

I assume you took the Noryoku Shiken in New Delhi. It is also offered in Calcutta, Chennai, and Pune. In 2000, over 1500 Japanese learners in India took the Noryoku Shiken-- that's a lot of kanji learners! It would be exciting to hear from more of you on this site.

Best wishes for your kanji learning, and here's hoping we ALL make it to the summit of Mount Everest!
De Roo's book is available in the U.S.

After reading the Kanji Clinic columns listed on the web page, I became interested in De Roo's book '2001 Kanji'. I have Heisig's book, but find his mnemonic strategies to be too personal, and they don't have much meaning for me. It seems from the examples I have seen of De Roo's approach that he is basing his interpretations on research into the true etymology of the characters and it seems to me that this would be a better device for memorizing characters.

The only problem was that I could not find his book. I looked in on-line book stores like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but I came up empty. I also did an on-line search and found out that his book does not even have an ISBN number.

Then I contacted the Japan Book Center - they do have the book--and I ordered it from them. It should be arriving by the end of next week. With shipping and handling the book cost about $26.00, so if I can depend on it as the system to use to get the 1st 2000 or so Kanji under my belt, it would be well worth the investment. I want to have this completed by the end of the year.

I appreciate there being a place to go on the internet to find some support and useful insight on learning Japanese.

Victor Forte
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Kanji success story from the Land Down Under

Dear Mary,

I enjoy reading your articles with a great sense of interest and delight and appreciate your apparent love for all things kanji.

I currently live in Melbourne, Australia and work as a Japanese speaking tour operator.I have lived in Japan for a total of 4 and a half years, approximately half in Tokyo/Chiba and half in Miyazaki. I have written a booklet of Japanese dialects, which I researched while on the JET program in Miyazaki in 1993-95.

As far as my kanji learning goes I am 100% self taught.. which is the only way I would have learnt as I would have quickly dropped out of any Australian or Japanese university course teaching kanji by rote memorization... On arrival in Japan in 1988 I quickly taught myself hiragana and katagana via one of Eleanor Jorden`s books, and moved on to acquiring kanji. I devoured nearly any kanji textbook I could lay my eyes and hard earned cash on. While there were some I perused more thoroughly than others, (e.g. Professor Henshalls book), I would find it hard to name a single text as the definitive one I relied on exclusively.

Let me emphasize that I was no kanji whiz kid. I went through many of the trials and tribulations of fellow `gaijin` and there were many times in my first 2 and half years in Japan where I read far, far more in English, especially The Japan Times, than I could ever attempt in Japanese, let alone one of the Japanese dailies.

On my return to Australia in 1990 I concentrated on being able to read and make basic sense of any Japanese text, from a newspaper to a simple memo. One technique which greatly accelerated my reading abililty was the use ofJapanese film scripts; I assiduously deciphered them with the help of Jack Halpern's New Japanese English character dictionary.

I also photocopied the list of the most frequent 2000 kanji with an English core meaning and would `hammer` that list, particularly the first 1200 (which make up well over 95% of Kanji in everyday use) to the stage where I knew the core meaning for these kanji. As a result I could pick up the Asahi Shimbun and make almost complete sense of it--even if I occasionally came across a kanji I didn't know or one where I wasn't sure of the kun- or on- yomi reading, the context of the sentence or article nearly always enabled me to decipher any characters I was not sure about. Sure, with the list of core meanings I was heading back to rote memorization, but it worked. I guarantee if you scan that list every day for as little as 15 mins, followed by some appropriate reading practice, it should work for you, too!

In the three years I spent back in Australia, where I acquired a teaching diploma in Japanese (despite no official study of the language done either in Japan or Australia), my Japanese reading skills vastly improved. A further two year stay in Miyazaki refined my literacy, despite the fact that I missed passing the First Level of Nihongo Noryoku Shiken by just a bit. Now back in Australia I have been trying to keep up my Japanese reading skills through an expanding Japanese library and the internet.

Lately, however, I have been reevaluating kanji learning theories based on some whole brain thinking books by acclaimed author Tony Buzan, world memory champions Domenic Obrien and Jonathan Hancock, and believe it or not, the works of the great genius Leonardo Da Vinci. I am going beyond the traditional ways of kanji learning and am looking at producing a `unified theory of kanji` which will help foreigners and also the Japanese themselves. I believe it is possible for them, too, to make a quantum leap from many of the extremely time consuming and wasteful kanji teaching methods employed in the Japanese educational system.

I still need to do a lot of work to bring my project to fruition, but so far initial research has been promising, and my Japanese friends (and wife) have encouraged me to persist. While some may doubt my claims, I intend to prove how much we can do through our incredible powers of imagination and association, coupled with an insatiable thirst to learn and improve. I am confident that my basic thesis will, through proper research and action, come to pass some day, hopefully soon!

Until then, fellow kanji enthusiasts...stay tuned to Mary`s column!!

John Milanese
Melbourne, Australia
"Does Heisig's Remembering the Kanji II also involve imaginative memory?"

Hi, after reading the review on the Kanji Clinic Web site of Heisig's Remembering the Kanji II, I thought I would take a peek at it while still currently studying volume 1. When I picked up volume 2, I got completely lost and hope you could shed some light for me on to the method it employs.

Are you just supposed to memorize the pronunciations, or try making some image similar to the first volume?

Also, I see kana in volume 2. I haven't learned them yet, so I don't understand how I can learn the sounds of the kanji without using romaji as an aid at the beginning.

Thank you for any help!

Vinh Le
Boston, Massachusetts
Mary Sisk Noguchi responds:

Dear Vinh,

You will need to first learn hiragana and katakana in order to read the pronunciations of the kanji in Remembering the Kanji II. That should not be a very time-consuming task; most Nihongo learners seem to master these two writing systems relatively easily, some in a matter of only a day or two. You might want to check out Heisig/Morsbach's Remembering the Kana, which includes mnemonics for learning both hiragana and katakana, or Michael Rowley's Kanji Pict-O-Graphix: Mnemonics for Japanese Hiragana and Katakana.

Heisig, in his introduction to Remembering II, gives a stern warning against using romaji in learning to read the pronunciations of kanji: "Not only does the Roman alphabet inflict quirks on your pronunciation, it cultivates a systematic bias against the kana that gets harder and harder to uproot. (Romaji) is rather a slow and self-inflicted amputation that will leave you crippled for the rest of your Japanese-reading years." Pretty strong words! My advice is just to go ahead and learn the kana since it will not require that much time and energy to do so.

Remembering the Kanji II assumes you have learned the comprising components (or "primitives," as Heisig calls them) of each of the 1,945 general-use kanji in Remembering the Kanji I. The second volume arranges the general-use kanji into groups which share a component signaling its on ("Chinese") pronunciation. These components are called "phonetic components" and are highly useful as memory aids for remembering the on pronunciations of kanji. (Please see Column #4, "Learning to predict kanji pronunciations--without the strain," for a detailed explanation of phonetic components). No "imaging," or story-making, is involved in this portion of Remembering II. The final chapter of the book, however, describes a mnemonic system for learning kun ("Japanese") pronunciations, and this does require the same kind of imaging that was utilized in Remembering I.

It is important to understand that the two volumes are not designed to be used at the same time. The Heisig method takes a "divide and conquer" approach: the shape and one key meaning for each of the general-use characters are learned in Remembering 1 before any of the pronunciations are tackled. You can read more about this critical (and controversial) aspect of Heisig's system in Column #3-- "You, too, can be a heavyweight in the kanji sumo tournament."

I hope this is helpful as a general overview, but I urge you to read Heisig's introductions to both volumes carefully. You will also find a review of Remembering II under Book Reviews on this site.

Best of luck in your kanji and kana learning,