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Thread: Visual/ memory aids for learning Kanji

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    Junior Member alasse's Avatar
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    Visual/ memory aids for learning Kanji

    Hi, I just started to learn Japanese and the person who thought our group decided to leave for study and the group fell apart. I decided to continue learning on my own which is not easy. Initially I learned hiragana and katakana with the group and the teacher used cards with picture on one side and the respective hiragana on the other side to help us learn. For example for さshe used a card with a monkey on the other side サル I wanted to know if there is something similar for kanji. I managed to learn about 100 kanji on my own for now... but I think that something like some pictures to illustrate the kanji could be useful to jog one's memory. Thank you.

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    Your dear leader Frankincense's Avatar
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    Re: Visual/ memory aids for learning Kanji

    Hi @alasse;
    Not sure if this answers your question but yes.

    I'm guessing you already know that many simple kanji can already be associated with the pictures of their origins, e.g. 木 = tree or 山 = mountain.

    For the more complex ones, you might be able to break it into parts (radicals) and form some kinds of stories to help you remember it.

    For example:

    -休
    I see a man leaning on a tree, so 休 means rest, break.

    -泣
    I see a child standing there shedding tears, so 泣 means to cry.

    -軽
    The man is standing on the ground while a car is sinking into the ground, so 軽 means light.

    This is how I create my own stories to help me with my memorization. They don't have to be remotely close to their actual origins. It's okay as long as they'll help you remember.

    You might find some mnemonics around the internet but in my opinion it's more effective to create your own memory aids this way, because you're much less likely to forget your own unique stories than the ones that are taught to you.

    -------------

    For kanji reading, this might sound weird but I strongly recommend you don't try to remember them.

    To quote my own guide:

    I don't really recommend memorizing kanji readings. In fact, I would advise against it, because rules for kanji readings aren't consistent enough to be of any use.
    Kanji readings are categorized as Chinese reading (onyomi) or native Japanese reading (kunyomi). There's a general rule stating that kanji compounds (words that are composed of two or more kanji characters) use Chinese readings, and words with single kanji characters use native readings. For example, 先生 (teacher) reads せんせい and 力 (power) reads ちから.
    However, many kanji have many Chinese or native readings. For example, 人 has にん and じん as its Chinese readings, while 生 has せい and しょう. So, how are we supposed to read 人生 (human life)? Is it にんせい, にんしょう, じんせい, or じんしょう? In the end, beginners still have to use their dictionaries to find out that the correct reading is じんせい.
    And let's not forget that Japanese language is littered with exceptions. For example, according to the rules, kanji compounds use Chinese reading, so beginners would think 名前 (name) must use the Chinese reading めいぜん, but the correct answer is actually なまえ, and that's the native reading kunyomi.
    Not to mention that there are some words which ignore kanji readings altogether. It's just impossible for beginners to know that 明日 (tomorrow) reads あした or that 大人 (adult) reads おとな with only the knowledge of these kanji's readings. The kanji are there only for the meanings. おとな is known as 大人 as a whole. You can't break おとな down and assign each kana to 大 or 人; it is the reading of the whole word, the combination of these characters. And, again, beginners have no choice but to consult their dictionaries.

    My advice is, kanji readings are easier to remember in real usable words, not individual characters. Think of something that can be used in real contexts.
    For a word composed of a stand-alone kanji, remember the correct reading of the word.
    Remember 力 (power) as ちから, not りき or りょく.
    Remember 人 (man) as ひと, not にん or じん.
    For kanji compounds, remember the reading of the whole word first, then break it down if possible.
    Remember 大学 (university) as だいがく, and you'll also get that 大 = だい and 学 = がく.
    If you remember individual kanji first, you'll know that 大 = だい/たい and 学 = がく, but you won't know if 大学 is だいがく or たいがく.
    (If you're interested in my guide, look at the link in my sig. It's not the best guide in the world but I hope it helps.)

    Cheers and good luck with your study.
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    Re: Visual/ memory aids for learning Kanji

    Hello, @Frankincense
    Thank you so much for the reply. Yes, I know simple/stand alone kanji that I can associate with pictures in my head, as you have mentioned for fire 火. Trouble starts with complex ones like 順 - obey an order which is formed by the kanji for river and the kanji head... When I first saw it I thought it refereed to a location like the place where the river starts... the same goes for 妙 - exquisite which I thought it refers to a young woman "woman of few years" like 少年 which can literary translate with "few years" referring to a boy. I feel a bit overwhelmed... and there were a few instances of face palming... so this is why I asked for help.
    Right now I feel a bit like I am alone on a battlefield facing an army "of kanji" I like a challenge but it is frightening.
    Thank you so much for the help. I will continue learning. One question though: if I hit another similar road-block can I ask you for advice?
    Thank you.

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    Re: Visual/ memory aids for learning Kanji

    To add to what Frank said about not remembering kanji...

    It isn't all about the kanji themselves. Becoming more familiar with the language might just bring the kanji to you while fussing over kanji alone (which you seem to be) will not do otherwise.

    I'll say learn the radicals. Being able to break-down the kanjis will help you look them up on dictionary (online or physical) and from there you'll find your way. But the language does not exist in a void, so be sure to find chances to use it and familiarize yourself with other stuff also.

    ...at least, that's how I had been going on with after my formal study went awry, but I wasn't cut loose at a very basic level so it was much easier to forge ahead...

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