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Well, Do Kanji Your Way Then….

You know, it’s funny, but…

It sometimes seems like a lot of people get upset when:

  1. I remind them that Heisig said it was OK to give yourself the keywords and story as a hint, and
  2. I tell them to continue doing their kanji SRS reps until the kanji cards fully mature, i.e. until the intervals extend beyond their lifetime.

I mean, what am I supposed to say?

“Learn kanji in the most painful way possible and then quit before any of it sticks in your memory” ? 🙂

I’m just saying, dawg: if you have an answer of your own you like better already…then there’s no need to ask, right?


I wanted to pull a Seth Godin and do a short one for a change 😛

  28 comments for “Well, Do Kanji Your Way Then….

  1. August 7, 2010 at 00:06

    > I remind them that Heisig said it was OK to give yourself the keywords and story as a hint

    Can you elaborate on why it is OK? Wouldn’t it not stretch your nerves to actually remember the word? Since I’m using Anki with the downloadable RTK deck, it doesn’t show any keyword or story on the SRS. How OK is it? 😉

  2. August 7, 2010 at 00:22

    > OK to give yourself the keywords and story as a hint

    Just like it’s ok to stick the reading and/or audio clip of a sentence on the front of the card with the full sentence?

  3. gurkenkralle
    August 7, 2010 at 00:49

    I like to mention that kanji I remember the most are these I have in my sentences,too. So from time to time, when adding new sentences with new kanji it automatically helps me to remember more and more kanji. Therefore it’s better to keep on reviewing until you are through your sentences ( fluency? )
    On the other hand I do have kanji’s at the moment I dislike to review and somehow can’t remember. Time will heal …

  4. Harry
    August 7, 2010 at 00:55

    I’m surprised people have a problem with it, I mean common, its easier, and WAY less frustrating, and they still stick in your memory just as well = Making learning Kanji WAY more fun and easy then doing it any other way. And that’s what we all want right? Not to mention who knows how many people have done it this way and they know the Kanji absolutely fine…

  5. WC
    August 7, 2010 at 00:59

    “Can you elaborate on why it is OK?”

    Heisig said it, not Khatz. Go ask him! Anything you get from Khatz is going to be his own reasons, and not the author’s.

    “I’m just saying, dawg: if you have an answer of your own you like better already…then there’s no need to ask, right?”

    This is so frakking true. I really hate it when someone asks for my opinion and then gets mad because it doesn’t match what they wanted me to say. Don’t ask if you don’t want the answer.

  6. 我が我普通
    August 7, 2010 at 01:20

    I think this reminder is especially true for people who have finished the Heisig deck, because after a while of doing the sentences and backing off from my heisig flashcards they began to feel like a burden, therefore the advice here is it is better to make the heisig cards easier than to drop them. I think I will go back and revisit my heisig deck, adding the sentences to the front again. that way it feels super easy and yet your are still keeping the kanji meanings fresh in your head instead of replacing those powerful creative memories with the visual memories that will fade easier over time.

  7. August 7, 2010 at 01:29

    There are some people that just like to torture themselves.

    I’m down to 17-18 kanji reviews a day, I’ve done 10s of thousands of reviews, I haven’t seen any negative effects at all to having the story on the front. But don’t let that stop you from doing it the hard way, I enjoy doing my easy reviews. More time for reading and watching nihongo.

  8. August 7, 2010 at 01:49

    yup yup, heisig said when making flashcards the keyword and the story go on the side you see (later on even the sounds-which if you’re learning sounds through sentences, then sentences and audio would be just as fine according to his logic) and kanji on the other. He basically said you can get as many hints and helps you need to produce that kanji.

  9. Jeanne
    August 7, 2010 at 01:53

    Well, you finally convinced me to put the stories in my kanji cards. I don’t know why I was so against it in the first place. I guess it was just habit.

    I have a question related to kanji, though. If anyone could help me out.

    I just finished RTK 1 and I have the 4th edition. In it, there are 2042 kanji. But I recently download the kanji data file with all the stories and such and it says there are 2055. Is there more in the 5th version? Should I be worried about those 13 other kanji or are they covered in RTK 3?

  10. Drewskie
    August 7, 2010 at 03:28

    When I was doing RTK, I denied myself the story as a hint, which I only regretted later. The extra pain required to pull up the kanji from just the key word provided almost no benefit. It’s just extra pain in the form of more difficult, longer reviews.

  11. stevie
    August 7, 2010 at 03:37

    I always went with the stories at first and it got me through RtK1. These days I take the stories off (but keep them handy in a text file for quick-ish reference if I get stuck), for all of RtK1 and 3. Since I did this I seem to have been able to catch most of the stragglers that I never quite mastered – I was overrelying on the stories for a select few, some for a year+. For new kanji I come across I still go keyword + story on the front, kanji on the back.

    I totally agree with what Khatz writes here… rather than ask WHY one way is better than the other, if I think something else is a better way to do it I’ll just try it for a week.. or a few days.. or a few minutes… and then see the results. It’s usually pretty easy to tell which way is more effective (or probably more importantly which way is more FUN), even if you don’t know why it is.

  12. Erik
    August 7, 2010 at 04:04

    I almost quit the Kanji because reviewing from the keyword alone was frustrating and time consuming. I recently decided to add the stories to the front and its a LOT less stressful for me. I don’t know if I really will learn less/more that way but I know that I’ll know a lot more Kanji than if I quit.

  13. August 7, 2010 at 04:50

    When you brought up the suggestion of giving the story on the front.

    I had been doing my heisig deck with *just* keywords on the front. I’d been getting really bogged down after I’d passed the 1000 kanji mark or so, because some of the keywords are very similar to others, and I’d always get some kanji’s keywords confused. Now, whenever I have trouble like that, I just put the whole story, a picture, or whatever information I need, to disambiguate.

    I was skeptical of the idea at first, but now I figure that the keyword itself doesn’t matter. I’m just putting down whatever input will remind me of the kanji.

  14. Mattholomew III, Esquire
    August 7, 2010 at 08:19

    Ever since 1) adding the stories to the front of my cards, and 2) getting AnkiMobile for my iPod Touch, reviews have become like an addictive little video game that I play compulsively for ~3-8 minutes at a time, multiple times per day. I just keep my “console” in my back pocket and bust out reps when I have a few minutes, it’s great.

    Proof of how fun it is: I don’t even study Japanese any more. The system is pleasurable enough that I go out of my way to do it for virtually no reason, just like a video game, or a cigarette, or any other little addiction.

  15. August 7, 2010 at 08:50

    Hi all and thanks for the great work K. I have 2 questions/comments.

    1. I’m around the 2300 mark in my Hanzi and finding that with all the synonyms (sometimes 3 or 4) that pop up, (ie characters that basically mean the same thing in English) I started needing to give myself hints. Like: “the animal one” or “alchemist”, “mechanics of ..”, “what is the result?”. The hints trigger the path from the Keyword to the story. So it’s a middle way between suffering in the blank zone and putting up the whole story. The blanker I feel about a character the more detailed my hint becomes. The ascetics in this forum may feel less compromised morally by this approach. I’m also starting to use French (my mother tongue) for the synonyms . It really keeps the stories separate neurologically and the associations triggered are entirely different.

    2. What suggestions beyond “Remembering the Hanzi part 1” for the Chinese crowd? I farmed about 800 more characters from Alan Hoenig’s Chinese Characters. I just got Rick Harbaugh’s Chinese characters and haven’t figured out how to milk it efficiently yet. Not even sure if it has the simplified characters. But we need a solid 3000-3500. Any other ideas? How have people used Harbaugh’s book efficiently?

    Cheers to all.

  16. Chris
    August 7, 2010 at 08:50

    I actually have half-decent stories, so I have no need whatsoever for the story on the front card. Just the keyword, baby, and the rest flows therefrom 😀

  17. vgambit
    August 7, 2010 at 09:41

    >Can you elaborate on why it is OK?

    Because Heisig said so.

    >Wouldn’t it not stretch your nerves to actually remember the word?

    Remember the word? The word is what you use to remember the kanji, not the other way around.

    >Since I’m using Anki with the downloadable RTK deck, it doesn’t show any keyword or story on the SRS. How OK is it?

    I shared my personal RTK Lite Anki deck. I’m not sure if you’re going that route, but it does have the option to display the story on each card. Just fill in the Story field with something, and click the “Story” text on the question side to display the hint.

  18. Zach
    August 7, 2010 at 11:30

    If you want a good reason “why” should do put the stories on the front, I’ll give you the ultimate one:

    Because I did and it worked. Is it that enough? Because you’re telling yourself now that it’s cheating, except I cheated and had alot more fun and no, and I still learned it as well as anyone else. It just helped me not be stressed during the learning stage. I don’t understand why either, but it’s enough that it worked, so I don’t waste time bothering about it when learning new Kanji beyond RTK anymore.

    I would also just to plug my typical advice that /it’s also totally ok if there’s a few Kanji that you have trouble with/. As long as it’s in your SRS and you’re diligently trying, you will eventually encode it, probably awhile after you’ve encoded all the others and your reps are lower. So stop punishing yourself and make your own studies harder for no reason at all.

  19. フレムロックス
    August 7, 2010 at 12:16

    I was really dumb and only found out that having stories on the question side was okay like, right AFTER I had finished RtK 1 – that and I wrote down all the stories in my book. Still have about 900 of them to manually type into Anki =(

  20. Jon
    August 7, 2010 at 18:01

    My method: Did Heisig up to about Kanji no. 800 then Kendo’s Kanji Mod (story + Kanji [front], keyword [back]) now just looking at Kanji (and story if needed).

    Nt: I am to write 100 Kanji a day and I have written each of the 2040 at least once. I also did the radicals deck on Anki for a bit too.

    Days expended: 32 so far and I remember about 90% according to Anki (really around 60-70% I feel).

  21. Jon
    August 7, 2010 at 18:10

    P.s. The Kanji is the easy bit. =D I feel the whole sentence mining / learning part is a bit harder.

    P.p.s. Can’t wait to get enough input in that I can start reading texts a bit more fluently though! Gotta go all out, ya’ll.

    P.p.p.s The last 200 Kanji from Heisig’s book are quite hard as they use less common radicals. If you did do what I did I would suggest reading through the book at the same time as there are some that do need clarification.

  22. フレムロックス
    August 7, 2010 at 20:15

    Jon: “The Kanji is the easy bit. =D I feel the whole sentence mining / learning part is a bit harder.”
    Agreed 100%. Only having Kanji/RtK in the focus is a more or less concrete path to follow. But sentence mining/learning is not nearly quite as tangible as far as development/progress goes in one’s ability to understand Japanese. On the other hand, I find sentence reviews much quicker to go through than Kanji haha.

  23. August 7, 2010 at 23:15

    > Remember the word? The word is what you use to remember the kanji, not the other way around.

    Typo. I obviously meant kanji.

  24. Sileh
    December 10, 2010 at 11:21

    Oh my god, I’ve been way too hard on myself with these damn Kanji. I could be learning 100+ a day everyday except it takes me around 5 minutes a Kanji without the stories on the front of the cards. You guys are completely right though, it’s the kanji you’re trying to remember, and not the story.

  25. Drack
    December 26, 2010 at 04:22

    It’s all part of the process of gradually becoming Japanese.

    Learn them first with the story on the front.

    Once you no longer have any trouble with that, if you want you can put the story on the back. Put any readings you encounter in your sentences on the front.

    Once you stop having trouble with that, if you want to keep going, even the keywords can go, leaving just the readings on the front.

    In other words, English -> Less English -> More Japanese -> Japanese Only

  26. Jay
    August 30, 2011 at 16:57

    Question sensei:
    I’m just about done with RTK 2 but what do i do after i’ve finished RTK 3? (Besides doing sentences, I’m doing those with Surusu.) I mean, sure 3000 kanji is a good amount.. but like, i’m greedy. Plain and simple.. You know you’re actually responsible for my fiendish behavior towards languages now… I’ve become greedy and would like to consume any language that crosses my path! Next thing ya know you’ll see me in roppongi beggin’ Japanese people for just 1 more Kanji! Just 1 more man! 😀

  27. Vaendryl
    September 29, 2011 at 19:22

    I just don’t get what the purpose of the story is if you have it on the front of the card. why not just list the primitives without any story and be done with it for the same result?

  28. kai
    February 27, 2013 at 13:19

    Story on front is good.
    Kendo mod where only story is on front is even better.
    This reminds me of the fun formula, with the story
    as a hint or even easier as the whole thing, it reduced
    effort to minimum.

    Also makes it way easier to get into the “flow state” when you
    aren’t thinking about failures.

    Just tap it in.

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