Kanji is said to be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, part to learning Japanese. Anyone foreign to the language, looking at all those characters, would think so! Yet, they aren’t really that hard, you just need the right attitude and proper motivation.
Currently I’m on Phase 1 of 7(see: Progress Page), which is to learn all of the Kanji in Remembering the Kanji 1(Heisig) by Aug 1st 2010. At times, you’ll feel like some of the Kanji are piling up on you and that you’re getting swamped. Generally this usually occurs when you have a busy day, or for one reason or another, the Kanji reviews don’t get completed. Trust me, I’ve been there and as I learn more Kanji, I’m still experiencing that occasionally. However, there are some very crucial key steps you can take to prevent a burn out, feeling overwhelmed, or quitting altogether. Here are the 5 most helpful “tips” everyone should know:
You may think at times, “I need to buckle down and just trudge through this!”. STOP! You’ve just committed a sin fatal flaw. The moment you go into the buckle down mode, you’re generally already giving in to the “…kanji suck “ trap. With the mindset that kanji suck, of course you are going to suck at learning them, even if you do buckle down. What you have to do is turn that frown( ) upside down( ), as they say.
If you currently don’t have fun while learning kanji, you only have three options:
No more of that, “… but I have to study kanji and they are so hard! T_T” BS anymore if you want to actually succeed. Yes, dedication does play a part, but it’s the dedication to make kanji fun, which is MUCH easier than dedicating yourself to buckling down. I mean, how much dedication did it really take to get you to learn how to play video games? Exactly…
So how do you actually make learning kanji fun? Good question. It’s a shame I can’t answer it for you. I can only guide you towards the path with some advise, not hold your hand the whole way. The rest of the tips are here to help make it easier for you to make learning kanji fun!
Learn to document each and every kanji that you learn. No, I don’t mean physically write down on a piece of paper each Kanji you learn(although, that might not be such a bad idea…). What I’m talking about is generating a physical representation of what you’ve learned so far, in comparison to what you’re attempting to accomplish.
Take me as an example. I’m attempting to learn all of RTK 1, which is quite a large amount of characters, so what I’ve done is I’ve copied all of the joyo and toyo kanji into an excel sheet and then mark off kanji as I learn them. How do I mark them off? Simple, I just fill the background with a color. This allows me to be able to see how I’m affecting the big picture. Without this, you’re really just looking at numbers and our brain just so happens to do a hell of a lot better with pictures, graphs, etc than numbers. Seriously.
It is very common for people to see where they are currently at(what they’ve learned so far, etc) and then feel ashamed/embarrassed that they are not further along. I understand this dilemma, as it’s happened to me as well, but when you really start to think about it, it becomes quite ridiculous.
The only opinion you should care about is your own for one. Secondly, you may not be the best, but you should take pride in whatever you have learned, no matter how big or small, because you can rest assured there are millions of people out there that know even less than you. Hell, for me, it’s even hard to find someone that I can speak Japanese with in the first place!
Instead of sulking in the past, embrace the future and start daydreaming about how great it’ll be to show off your Japanese to others, especially those who don’t speak it. This is a huge way to keep learning kanji fun, by keeping in mind that if you wanted you could simply take the kanji you just learned, go up to one of your friends, ask them what it means, and then laugh as only you know the answer. Is it somewhat cruel? Yes. Is it worth it? Hell yes.
If you already start out with the notion that you can’t possibly succeed, then of course you are going to fail! Your mind is a powerful tool and if you convince it that you have limitations, you’re going to have limitations. I’m not suggesting that you should set unrealistic goals because you don’t want to limit yourself, but at the same time, reach for the sky!
Trust me, I’ve had a lot of people tell me I can’t do a lot of things, yet that’s never deterred me from at least trying, and a lot of the times I succeeded even my own insane expectations! How does this happen? Magic? There are those who have called me smart, even intelligent. I beg to differ. What I have is a lack of caring about what others think I am or am not capable of, and a strong will to prove people wrong to make them look foolish. Those are the only real gifts I was born with. The rest is sheer attitude, motivation, and dedication(to having fun).
Don’t get sad or whiny just because someone tells you that you can’t do something. Take that as a challenge, so that you can use that to strive to reach your goal! If I said I wanted to be fluent in 1 year, but only reached Advanced level knowledge of the language, I’d say that was a success, not a failure! I may not have reached my exact goal, but I accomplished something extraordinary.
As long as you are continuing to progress towards whatever goal you’re aiming for, you’re succeeding not failing, no matter how slow you may be going. The only way to actually fail is to quit.
Quitting happens when you either give up or you just stop attempting to progress at all. Notice I said attempting to progress. Sometimes we hit rough patches and it seems like we’re standing still, but the truth is that as long as were actually still making an effort, we’re really progressing. Always count rough patches as progression.
PS: Be sure to check out NihongoUp’s Matsuri for more “how-to” articles – Japanese how-tos.