The Principle: Fun Gets Done
“fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better” | The Fun Theory Dot Com
I have previously written about SRS card formatting for learning kanji.
Recently, however, I have had a bit of a new epiphany on the subject. Many of you know this already, but for those who don’t, I’ll make something clear right here: there is never an end to learning a language, but there is an end to sucking at it and not being functional in it. Whatever language-learning methods you use, none, currently, can withstand neglect of the language.
So, it should come as no surprise to you that I continue to learn new kanji. Obscure motherlovers like 膂 (a character meaning, “backbone”). I mean, why not? We’re either progressing or regressing, right?
I say these ASM-sounding things a lot, but there’s just one problem: I’m pathologically lazy. Looking at my family situation, it was practically bound to happen. I’m the last child in the family and the only boy. By the time she had me, my Mum was mellower than a rural grandparent. So not only am I lazy, but I feel entitled to this laziness; it’s my last-child prerogative (it’s mah pre-ro-ga-tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive). In the past, I have had my share of skirmishes with perfectionism, and even actual ASM, but, they almost killed me — literally. So screw that.
Everything that matters to you needs to become a game. If it matters to you, then it matters that it be fun or be made fun. If it’s not important enough to design and tweak into being fun, then…it’s not important. But why? Why the apparent strictness about fun? Why the blanket statement?
Because fun gets done. Easy gets done.
As the late Jim Rohn so eloquently put it, success is easy: the things one needs to do to succeed are easy. It’s just that “the things that are easy to do are also easy not to do”. I think there is a way to hack this apparent “equality dilemma”, and that is simply to make your “target behavior” — the thing you want to do — more fun than any rival behaviors — things you don’t want to do. When you do that, the things that we need to do to succeed become hard not to do.
So, as you can see, another way of going about making it easy for yourself to succeed is simply to make it difficult to fail (that’s what a lot of the AJATT immersion advice is about…the core principle is to make Japanese an unignoreable part of your life…don’t hurt yourself trying to follow it…don’t get used by it…use it).
Besides, do you want to go your whole life in a near-permanent state of struggle and boredom punctuated only by some form of socially-approved (legal) drug-induced stupor? I mean, is that all there is? I submit to you that such a life isn’t worth living. If you’re going to be here…have fun. By all means, become an addict. But with a twist: get addicted to good things. Get addicted to constructive things. Fun is the hook for both forming and maintaining those constructive addictions.
The Card Format
So I’m sitting there learning kanji, but I want to make it easy for myself. Easy to make the cards, easy to do the reps. Easy, easy, easy. And fun. On a whim, I came up with this card format:
backbone, spinal column
The task, given the front of the card, is:
- To write out the kanji once, by hand, in full, while seeing it. Easy, right? But it still counts.
- To produce the meaning of the character in a vague way, i.e. in a way synonymous (though not necessarily equal) to the meaning written on the back. “Backbone”, “spinal column”, “spine”, “back”, “vertebra”, “vertebral column” — all count — even though, as you can see, some of these aren’t exact matches. What matters is being in the ballpark.
- Producing the reading is not required…
- The way I grade it is:
- (in addition to writing out the kanji) giving the ballpark meaning is the main thing — it’s what gets the points
- giving a reading is just extra credit
- giving only a reading (without meaning) gets only “booby prize points” — effort points.
Why this format? Well:
- It’s easy to make — it’s pure copy-paste
- It’s easy to do — write the kanji, give a vague guess as to its meaning — it doesn’t get much easier than that
- No stories to make/manage/decode — saving time and energy to focus on the kanji themselves
- Flexible in the face of kanji synonymity
- No keyword clashes/overlap
- No having to struggle to prevent keyword overlap
- No “synonym errors” — those of you who have been through Heisig know that each character having a single keyword — a really cool and revolutionary idea, by the way — avoids any confusion between visually similar characters but often causes new confusion between completely unrelated characters whose keywords happen to be synonyms in English. For example, Momoko often gets: 如 (likeness) and 肖 (resemblance) switched in her reps.
- No issues with having to use keywords whose meanings are only tangentially/secondarily related to the kanji in order to prevent keyword-clashing. In other words, you get to use the kanji’s “active, operational (‘real’) meaning” right from the start.
- You get writing practice — so you don’t become a “reader only”
- You get reading practice — so you avoid the “can-write-but-can’t-quite-recognize” problem that affects early-stage, less “mature” Heisigers.
I can already hear the clarion cry of ASM-sufferers everywhere: “but if it’s not hard, how can it be good for me?”
While (I have read) having to work harder for a memory strengthens it, having to work too hard just makes you not want to practice at all. And having to work hard thousands of times is just hors de question. In any case, I think the spacing of repetitions provides enough “strain” in the case of these kanji cards — we needn’t add more. Also, in my own personal experience, struggle is not necessary to make a memory stick.
Think of how you know your own name, home phone number, and mailing address by heart. You know tons of advertising jingles, by heart. You know the content of the billboards and advertisements in your immediate environment, by heart. Back in the day, before cellphones and their memory, when you were dialing manually, you probably knew your best friends’ phone numbers by heart, too. And this all without ever even trying! Why? Because of repetition. I have yet to meet the non-spy who memorized their own address and phone number using closed-book “test”-style methods.
Now, the situation is different with kanji. There are many of them, right? Surely a laissez-faire approach wouldn’t work…we wouldn’t get enough exposure. Aha! Exposure — there’s the key word. Well, as it turns out, we have a tool that can do all the work of handling exposure timing for us. That tool is the SRS. This is something — along with cellphones and decent clothes — that Heisig didn’t have back in the 1970s. It’s not his fault: those were rough times.
Pre-SRS, I think it may well have been important to work harder to make sure the kanji were really remembered. Maybe. But not any more. With the SRS handling exposure-timing, I think we can afford to relax and still enjoy the same results we would with the traditional “testing” style approach.
This is just something I’ve come up with recently. I’ve been doing it for about two weeks. I have no long-term data. I may be completely off base. Or it may be that this method is valid, but only once one has learned to memorize/decompose kanji in a more traditional Heisig style. I may just be riding on the fruits of my previous “hard work” (defenders of anything boring and difficult love to bring this one up…occasionally they’re right, but often they, like all of us, are more interested in propping up a certain worldview than in being effective).
My experience with the previously mentioned memory situations tells me this format will work. For one thing, it’ll get me doing one of my favorite things — writing kanji by hand — sans struggle. If this kind of thing, over time, works for phone numbers and home addresses, then, over time, and armed with memory/presentation management software, I see no reason why it shouldn’t work for kanji.
Anyway, something to try with your new kanji if nothing else.
Related link: Lazy Kanji Kendo Mod
Thanks! I will give this a shot to make the deal swizzly sweet for kanji. I was thinking of giving up my SRS review of the Heisiglians, but something is better than nothing!
“I may just be riding on the fruits of my previous “hard work””.
As you get better at something, I don’t know that you need to work as hard at it to maintain proficiency. You’ve mentioned before about keeping the kettle boiling – well, once it’s boiled you can turn down the heat a little and watch as it continues to boil, and so there must come a point at which you can turn down the language-learning heat. If you turn it off altogether, then sure, you’re going to proverbially cool down after a while (as happens to expats who don’t keep up their native language). Interested to hear how that style of cards works out in the long run.
There is a difference between passive and active knowledge of a language though, and although it might be a little harder to recall something (e.g. a character) from memory alone, I think it strengthens that memory more than just recognition. In earlier stages of learning a language I reckon active recall is more appropriate. Only one way to find out though!
Holy cannoli, I didn’t realize RTK was written in 1977! I was… 2 years old. That explains why Heisig stresses so much to remember it the first time, while I always think, “Well whatever, I’ll eventually get it after running it through the Reviewing the Kanji grinder a few times.”
It still seems valuable to pick apart the kanji components though. Otherwise you lose the benefit of easily being able to recognize similar looking kanji. Maybe not enough to have a rock-solid story, but enough to say, “Hey this one is missing the hoopty element so it must not be that kanji I know.”
I wasn’t even born!
I appreciate what you wrote Khatzumoto. I wish you would write more about what inspired you to the conclusion “make what you love a game”. I was (am) right am the cusp of figuring that out myself. But your example here of making the writing part ‘gamed’ makes sense, perfect sense.
I grasped the earlier concepts of making SRS cards & and the language simple and fun to setup and make contact with. ie. have it in the environment, my cards are just a straight simple Japanese sentences or phrases and the kana for the kanji for that sentence is on the card’s flip-side. Occasionally I’ll put an English word if something is ambiguous. This way I type hardly anything. And I make a game out of recalling the meaning from the context, because there are minimal clues.
But make the part to train like writing and put it into the game of recall. I can see that clearly now. Before I just sorta bulldozed writing and subsequently stopped (it wasn’t fun and I’m lazy too). But if I take the time and make a recall game out of writing itself. I don’t have the stress anymore…it’s fun. It’s so obvious now when I think about it. Language being so hard, people write it on everything…to help each other remember, hehe.
One other point, recall needs to be easy and diverse for the simple fact that your mind will remember everything in the environment when you activate it in a direction. The more paths to a goal, the easier it is for to reach, hence diversity. If you include struggle or difficulty…ie. your own stress. Your mind will associate your desired target with that and it will bug out trying to achieve your desire to have no stress (fun) and your desire to have language learned. It’s a conflict ya? The brain is simply a computer, 69 != 19. So, simple winnable games, that are fun, that are embedded in the environment….sounds like the basis of all game design…
I wonder how to extend the game into other areas…maybe if I look at the main environments I live in and make up one for each area. Thank you again for the inspiration. Cheers for your Journey. (^.^)/
my japanese friend didnt know the reading of 膂!
khatz, here’s my experience with a method a lot like that, pre-heisig. Before I found this site about a month ago, I had been hardcore on smart.fm for about two months. The quiz design at smart.fm is very similar to how you are doing this, and I was learning vocabulary like a madman, and learning some kanji too…BUT, what I found was that once a kanji’s repition got longer than about a week, I would start losing my ability to recall it. It just wouldn’t stick. That’s when I found AJATT, and for some reason the brilliance of Heisig’s method finally made sense. What I’ve noticed, however, working through heisig, is that the further I get, the easier it gets. Somehow, it is like I’ve developed a kanji magnet in my mind, and the bigger it gets, the more powerful it attracts new kanji to it. I think for learning new kanji after a certain point (say, arbitrarily, after RTK1) your method will work fine, due to the magnet-effect of all those prior learned kanji. However, for a noob, it just doesn’t quite make them sticky enough…sure, I imagine after failing things enough times, the repitions would make it stick through muscle memory and rote practice alone. But, I doubt that, for the n00b, this is the most efficient, or even fun way to go about it. I know failing things I did previously know, and have actually forgotten, gets frustrating for me personally, and that frustration will turn me away from practice far more quickly than the pain in the ass it is to write stories, and all that goes with heisig’s method. Yeah, I’ve bitched a lot about learning the kanji, but all in all, I’m simply amazed at how fast I’m burning through the book doing 30-40 kanji a day.
I know you hate theoretical questions, but…………..
Do you think the heisig “story” method is required for this sort of card format? You kind of left that part out. If you think about it…this sort of painless repetition (as opposed to more traditional forms of “painFUL” repetition) might eliminate the need for the Heisig story method in learning Kanji.
I was thinking about this way for a while too. I was reading a blog about learning curves in Chinese that stated that after about 2,000 characters the hanzi became super easy to learn because by then you have magically come into contact with all the elements that will ever be combined into a character. Learning new ones simply becomes memorizing the one little change and retaining the similar character.
For example: 師 and 帥
If you know the super basic shi of lao shi then you know taking off the head of the teacher would definitely make him more handsome.
So from my experience I would recommend heisigging it to ~2000 and then using this easier method of “oh this character looks like _______ except for ________” and using the lazy card format.
hey khatz have you taken the 漢字検定？ もしかして１級だったりしてｗｗ そんなわけないよなぁ～
Oh oh, my turn my turn!
Khatz, I’ve been doing something almost *exactly* like this. In fact, the only difference is a change I’ve made recently because of some annoying kanji-leeches. I don’t like to let go of my kanji cards because they’re the foundation of literacy and stuff.
Anyways, my card format looks like this:
(story from when I did RTK1 if I typed it in to begin with)
And, then, for those leeches that keep coming up, I’ve introduced placing example sentences on the front. Like this:
And, another example:
This solves a couple of problems for me actually. And it’s pretty easy to do. For any leech that comes up, I just search my SRS deck for a sentence that I’ve already reviewed to see if it uses that kanji. If not, then I’ll either search for one online or just let it go. I don’t think I’m the only one that has this problem, but, sometimes I get kanji cards wrong where I know at least one or more words that use the character. This is irritating to say the least, because I have this “oh, duh!” reaction every time.
In my experience with the, essentially flipped Heisig review card is that it helps me in reading a lot. After a short time (a month or two -ish?) I noticed an improved proficiency in understanding new kanji compounds much quicker than before. You definitely won’t suffer much in the handwriting department if you keep on copying them. If you find that you have holes in your handwriting of kanji later on down the road, then pick up a book for the 日本漢字能力検定 and make an SRS deck out of the questions. That ought to whip you into shape as far as writing kanji is concerned. 😉
Oh, and one thing that I think this model is in favor of is kanji cards like this:
Here we literally have the front with the character to be written, an example sentence that uses it, and then on the back, we have the meaning of the character.. yes, in Japanese. 🙂 And, of course, any additional information if you want can go on it, such as stroke count, definitions of words that you don’t understand from the definition of the character, etc. This is now my preferred way to learn kanji because it takes the whole kanji aspect to the monolingual level with all the benefits that come with it (i.e. more accurate meanings?) Plus, I personally thinks it fun to learn kanji as a native might minus the hard/boring part (writing and re-writing, i.e. without using an SRS).
Anyways, I can assure you, the lazy kanji card model is much easier and yields similar if not better results (easier/more fun also makes it easier/more fun to memorize).
I can’t say anything on the topic of learning kanji from scratch using this card model, but I imagine it’d work just fine, it’d just take a bit longer to stick.
LOL There are some kanji my fiance doesn’t know either. Japanese are human too 🙂
Honestly though….most Japanese people use a lot more hiragana and katakana for words that have a kanji. A lot of animals are written in katakana for example. Or smaller words are written in hiragana. To me that’s more natural than putting as many kanji as you can in a sentence. Yes it’s good to know these kanji but to write them out when no native speaker does just makes one look either haughty or very non-native like. I personally like to learn as many kanji as I can, but when emailing or writing I rarely use the ones that most others dont.
Ex: 無い／ない、此の／この、諺／ことわざ etc.
Yes. Small things equal bigger things in the future. Exactly how the srs should be used. For beginners it’s best to start small, something that won’t even feel like you’re doing any work when it comes to japanese. As one should keep it enjoyable and all. But as you go on, increase it by small increments so you don’t feel like you’ve actually been doing that much. But in reality as the days go on, you’ve noticed that “Wow i actually have blasted through so much japanese!”. This applies to everything actually. Kanji is one example, sentences is another, the list goes on.
I just read the antimoon about input=output. No wonder I’ve been so blind. I haven’t written all that much kanji that much in my srs reps. I’ve been researching ways of improving this. But what i forgot about is that, if i just kept writing a lot of my reps daily. Eventually all those kanji/writing would become second nature to me. It’s been in front of me all this time. No need to do something different, all the solutions are in front of me!
I couldn’t help noticing how funtheory.com is actually a swedish website…so yeah, Swedish for the win!!!
Hey, that sounds like just the modification I might need! A few months ago, I noticed that my 漢字 were slipping and I couldn’t even write 私 from memory, even though I had no trouble reading them at all. So I decided to redo RTK, but recently, I got tired of it again. I mean, I *like* 漢字 and love to learn really obscure ones, and I like adding Japanese sentences, but all this making up stories, visualising them, clearing up bad keywords and so on made me really dislike my daily reps, and more and more due cards started to pile up.
For a few weeks, I was getting quite desperate, thinking, “I want to do sentences; my progress so fast when doing them and understand so much more! I want to add new 漢字, fun ones! But I still have hundreds, if not thousands, of RTK-漢字 to do. I just have to work through those, just a little pain…”
Each of them was literally sucking out the fun and patience. Thanks for the insight, I’ll fix it right away!
(It still feels weird to outsource memory so much. “Don’t worry how you will remember it. Just understand it once, the SRS will take care of the rest.” I really am a cyborg already…)
Really, we became cyborgs the moment writing was invented…the SRS just brings the project full circle
I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve sat in where every single person has a laptop in front of them. I actually thought it was a little scary the first time I noticed.
I’m into SRSing dramas right now, with just 256 Heisig from RTK3 left. I find the only times I add new kanji are when they come up in a sentence I want to learn, or for 懐かしい. But I still write 私 or 愛 when it comes up as an RTK card (I put all my decks together).
And it pays off, my chinese friends ask me for kanji help sometimes when they can’t think of a character. Cracks me up.
A native might have learned something in high school, and it is now a fading memory. You learned it four months ago, but you will always review and know it via SRS. Cyborg!
That’s a really cool idea! I’m always struggling to find a good keyword and make up the story. I used the translated RTK (might have been a mistake as I look back..), so I can’t use most stories from Reviewing The Kanji. Anyways, it really takes time for some kanji. I will definitely play around with the format and see how well it performs fun-wise 😉 Also, where did you get that juicy Japanese definition? Anyone who knows a good monolingual kanjidict feel free to answer. I was always looking for a way to incorporate more Japanese into my kanji reviews
Ah changed it up a bit. I think its a great method, AFTER you finish RTK1.
Khatzu, Where did you source your definitions from? Are they wiktionary, like yuzuru’s?
I have been doing the same thing secretly since the beginning, and teaching my other friends to forget Heisings definitions as well. Most people find it easier to just see the kanji and then write it and think the meaning. I always recommended
style format. I think this is the best, and causes the least pressure on the studier. And here I thought I was being revolutionary and going against the AJATT method the whole time…
Khatz, where do you pull that information from that you put on the back of the card?
Anyone have any experience stopping kanji reviews? I hit a wall when I got to the end of the book, mainly because I was being a little too hard on myself for reviewing. I had a pileup of about 1000 cards, and I was within 100 of getting back on track after a good month of “50 here 50 there,” but I went off track again and I don’t really have a desire to go back. The kanji I’ve forgotten—and I have, I’m not saying I stopped and retained it all, I’m losing a lot of them—can be relearned in literally seconds by simply looking up the heisig keyword. All the components come back to me and the story that faded flies back into my head. After that, the sentence review acts as a kanji review.
Anyone have any experience on this strategy long-term? Is this an experiment that’s going to blow up in my face?
So I’m at exactly 500 in RTK1 as of today. I figure I will continue with the traditional method of front/back for the rest of RTK1, and then apply this reversal profusely once I start sentence picking.
I recently ran into a dude at the library who was studying Japanese at school. He literally sat right next to me, so it was a cool coincidence. I told him about this site, and he checked it out and facebooked back “yeah, it seems pretty cool…I read a couple articles.”
5 Days later, he facebooks me again all “THIS IS THE COOLEST THING ANYONE HAS EVER SHOWN ME!!!” I was pretty glad I turned someone onto something this exciting.
He was a classic example of having issues piled on issues because of the grind-rape of standard schooling systems. He told me he was actually starting to watch his anime in Japanese, (instead of English) which I couldn’t believe.
He was STILL watching Eng-dub anime after TWO YEARS of Japanese studies? It made me realize just how painful school makes learning a language, and how even something fun like anime could end up converted into English. It was simply a desperate attempt at relief from the constant Japanese “workload”.
So, khatz, I was wondering something. I’ve touched on how I think we develop sort of a “kanji-magnet” which gets more powerful the more we learn. I believe you now know somewhere around 4500-5000 kanji, yes? If you factor in the fact that anything you learn at this point will be extremely rare, so you get much, much less real world exposure to it, outside the SRS, do you feel like it keeps getting easier to learn them? Does that easiness top out after a certain point, or perhaps even reverse due to passing a certain threshhold where the confusion between very, very similar kanji begins to outweigh the stickiness generated by knowing more of them? Or, is my experience so far unique to me, or perhaps just a matter of growing more and more comfortable with heisig’s system?
I realize you can’t actually answer that for me, but I’d love your thoughts on the subject. Also, an idea, since the real world exposure to new kanji is going to be so low, I was thinking you could compensate for that by making 2, 3, or 4 copies of the new kanji as you add them. Then, when you work through it the first time, just deliberately grade each one differently to space them out, that way you get extra exposure to kanji that won’t be showing up often in your everyday manga reading. I’m thinking I’ll try this after I get past 2-3000 of the most widely used kanji, but I thought with this new lazy method, it might be a useful idea to you.
And, mom said she didn’t really care for it at all… 😉
“Momoko often gets: 如 (likeness) and 肖 (resemblance) switched in her reps.”
I made that exact same mistake not two weeks ago. Thank god fro RevTK’s mass of stories.
Anywho, I had been wondering what to do with all my 外Heisig kanji, which I’ve been dutifully accumulating in a text file, waiting until I finish RTK3. This new card format might be a nice experiment for them. Do keep us posted on how it works out for you!
I’ve been doing this for 70 days (yay anki progress tracking). I’m at 950 kanji as of today. I got through about 800 in a 6 week period, doing 25 a day, then went up to the olympics and in the last two or so weeks have been able to do only these 150. However, I’m beginning to pick up pace again after a LOT of discovering (lots of jdrama watching, music listening, and so on).
Some of the methods I’ve been experimenting with (which I like to do with the SRS) and that I’ll be doing in the next couple of weeks:
– I got a box of 160 crayons and some small notebooks, and anything I have real troubles with I draw a picture of. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but most of the time it does. It’s also fun to review kanji by writing it in bright colors. 🙂
– Sitting in places around my college campus that I enjoy, soaking in the sun, listening to music, and just reading heisig’s book as I study new kanji. Much, much more enjoyable than sitting in your room trying to make up stories.
– When I get lazy on some of the kanji and I suddenly have 150 reviews to do, I do as many as I feel like (I have a healthy respect for not pushing it and turning it into some kind of forced study), I go through and hit good on all of the remaining cards to chuck them all back in the pile. Takes a lot of the pressure off! We’ll see how this works out in the long run, I have some minor worries about this affecting my retention.
– TURN OFF THE PROGRESS METER. Who the hell wants to see that they have 78 more cards to review and have only a 43% retention rate for the day? 🙁 And to be honest, even on the good days where I breeze through the cards with 90% retention I don’t need a progress meter. The only time it ever really affects me is when I do poorly, and then it’s a negative influence, so away with that.
– MusicMusicMusic! Find lots, enjoy it, turn that enjoyment into looking forward to learning japanese, even if learning kanji sucks (…I say that, but I love learning kanji after having finished learning my day’s amount each day).
– Watching jdramas. I use subtitles (LE GASP), I know, it’s bad, but honestly I have little choice in the matter, as I can’t find raw stuff anywhere (I don’t torrent). I figure that until I’m done with RTK1 it’s fine; to be honest, comparing what they’re saying to the subtitles has helped me a huge amount. If nothing else, when I’m done with RTK1 and I hit the raw stuff, I’ll have a hang of some of the basics and won’t have to rely entirely on the whole osmosis input = output thing.
Do you always read the full definition, everything on the back of the card? Or do you just do it at first, and then skip it later on? I often read definitions only if I’m on the 3 level or so (surusu), and if it’s a 5 a just skip it, but even at the 3 level a lot of times I don’t read the definition. Anyway, it seems like having to go through it even at the beginning would be a chore (I’m really lazy).
The thought occurred to me that it might get confusing to do Chinese cards for Chinese characters and Japanese ones for Japanese characters, having to make notes of differences in meaning and usage for each one, but I guess it’d probably be best to have separate decks for the two languages. It gets complicated when you’re tying to do that, as you can’t very well have the Japanese definitions of 唔 in your deck, when it’s supposed to be “ngo,” or have the Japanese for 机 when in Mandarin it’s just the simplification of 機. Readings would be an issue, too, but anyway… I’m also curious about what 漢和辞典 you’re using to copy-paste from. I only have a paper one and one in my 電子辞書.
I don’t want to put the url up here, because I’m afraid at some point it’s going to be found out and get shut down, but there are Chinese sites where you can stream anime with Chinese subtitles. This has a few benefits: 1) it keeps you away from English and 2) if you didn’t quite catch a Japanese word, many times it’s sitting down there in the same format in the Chinese subtitles. If you’re still starting out with the kanji that may be an issue, though, especially if it’s simplified Chinese. But in that case, it’s like watching it raw!
So, this post has had me thinking a LOT about how I’m learning kanji and trying a number of different things again, because I found myself bored to tears during that long-ash chapter 23. So, one thing I realized is that I don’t do, and don’t need, to actually visualize my stories and all that. We don’t really think in images at the lowest levels where we are really processing this stuff anyways. We think in terms of patterns and fuzzy logic. Making these complicated stories (or getting them from kanji.koohi) and then trying to imagine them VISUALLY was just a waste of time and not helping anyways. What was essential to learning the kanji was 1) producing them from memory with just keywords and primitives to go on and 2) having them broken up into primitives and getting a feel for the logic at work in the construction of more complex kanji from the simpler primitives. So, my first thought was to try a format like this:
water, infant, flood (beneath infant)
Notice that I put an indication there for flood because it is in an unusual place for water to show up. This is very helpful, and only neccessary when a primitive isn’t where you usually find it. And that worked on the initial review, but when it came up later I was having to “re-learn” them frequently. So, what wasn’t working…well, this gave no logical structure to the kanji to help fix the pattern into my mind. But, I didn’t need some elaborate story like I’d been using before. For example, here’s one of my earlier stories:
It’s a hot day of summer with a clear sky, you’re sitting outside a cafe (or maybe on a reclining chair in the garden), and you watch over the kids with a hand covering your eyes from the sunlight (next time, don’t forget the sunglasses).
And, that isn’t really one of the longish ones. It is pretty typical for a story from kanji.koohi however, or even one I would make up myself. But some where two or three times that length. And I don’t need all that detail about setting and the cafe and summer day and all that ish. So, here’s how I reformatted current and now they stick just fine.
The CURRENT of WATER washed the INFANT downstream because of the FLOOD beneath him.
Takes all of five seconds to think and type because I’m only trying to link all the elements involved together into a loose logical structure.
Remember, the stories are just a ladder you toss away later anyway and the real point is just becoming FAMILIAR with the kanji so they are in your head and a sticky “magnetic” point for words and readings during the next phase of learning.
Now, did I do the whole visualization thing at all, even when making up those detailed stories before? Yeah, for like the first 200 kanji, then I just sort of naturally stopped doing it. Instead, I just relied on the story logic to help me produce the kanji from memory. So, perhaps try the more detailed stories a while (I was at around 700 when khatzu posted this and I realized how much a chore learning kanji was becoming and started experimenting again (even after saying I was done experimenting)). Anyway, I flew through 20 kanji in about half an hour or less this way, and can now make my daily quota of 40 in probably a 1/4 the time I was taking before. Especially since, as I’ve mentioned here a couple times, typing is a slow painful process for me. In fact, I almost didn’t bother typing all this stuff but I decided if it can help someone else who is bored with their kanji or struggling to make their daily goals it would be worth the time it took.
You might think, isn’t it quicker to just copy/paste from kanji.koohi, even if those new stories are so shortish? But, the problem is, it takes time to read through those stories and pick one that isn’t lame. Then, for some reason italics and bold from the website dont transfer when you paste into anki, so you have to go back in and either re-type in caps the keywords and primitives, or individually highlight them and change them. So that’s what is working for me today. Enjoy.
Oh, something I forgot to mention. Since I’m putting stories on the front of the card, it is easy to pay more attention to the orimitives from the stories than the actual keyword from the kanji, so WHILE you are writing, try not to think about the story and instead hold the keyword in your mind. If you find that you have to refer back to the story while writing, write it again holding the keyword in your head this time and grade it hard. If you CAN’T hold the keyword in your head, and have to think of the story while writing each single element, write it until you CAN hold the keyword in your head and fail it. This ensures that you are attaching the keyword to the kanji, but at the same time, you do get to see your story each time to remind you of what you are trying to produce. For kanji which become primitives used in even a couple of other kanji this is really not an issue, but for some of them that don’t really get used that way this helps a lot. Anyway, there you go, hopefully this can help others. I was really, really BORED with kanji and didn’t even realize it until khatzu made this post, so watch out for that and if you are bored, change it up. Even if the new way of doing things is not totally as effective as your current way, if you burn out and give up then your current way is, in the end, totally ineffective. AJATT FTW!
I know everyone else has been asking the same thing but, Khatzu, can you PLEASE tell us where you got all that info from on the “back” of the card?
My best guess right now is that you wrote it/ made it up yourself..
but then you did say “pure copy/paste” so I am confused..
This seems more like the traditional method of learning kanji that I did in school…
The benefit I got when I switched to heisig’s book, was that:
1. It gave meanings to the components
2. Gave me a device for remembering the combination of components
3. RTK had distinct meanings for the kanji, keywords. Even if they were synonyms, they were separate, whereas in a english/kanji dictionaries will often have the *exact same english word* for two different kanjis.
4. It encouraged the use of an SRS.
I’m pretty near the end of RTK 1 (~1750漢字) and I felt like the above techniques helped a lot.
Just my two cents…
I tried doing a Google search for 漢和辞典 to see if I could find the one Khatz is using, but I ended up with a bunch of stuff that isn’t very useful and nothing like his great mystery dictionary. I did, though, find this site that is full of win:
Particularly interesting (to me, anyway) was this page:
I’ve already gone through Heisig the normal way, so I’m going to slowly add new cards like these with all the old ones, as it’s only a couple of minutes a day to go through 20 more each day.
And I think that it helped a LOT to go through RTK the traditional way first. The way I’m seeing it so far is that you can totally learn new kanji this way after you’ve gotten used to breaking them into parts. When I started sentences, one of the first words to come up was 誰. It took me a week or two to realize ‘hey, that’s not a heisig kanji…’ I’d just mentally connected, without noticing, “who” and “word-turkey”. No story or any of that. But at the same time, I don’t think I couldn’t made “word-turkey” if I hadn’t gotten the components ‘word’ and ‘turkey’ somehow embedded in my skull.
So anyways, I guess there’s a point in kanji learnings of diminishing returns with mnemonics, where you’re so used to learning kanji that you don’t need a mnemonic/story for them anymore, you just need to break it down and keep going…
Yeah, lazy, easy to make cards get made. I used to type out cards, and it just took way too long and then I stopped doing it (and I was always freaking out that I would make typos). Now most of my sentences are just copied and pasted from the flavor text of Magic the Gathering cards (there’s an online database). For any of you MtG nerds out there, I highly recommend it as a source, because a lot of the phrases on the cards are just so memorable.
For beginners this system isn’t actually good…
This belief is based on my own results
When using only the “ballpark definition” and the Kanji by itself the characters are easy to forget.
I tried use only those two elements for about a week now, and I can’t remember about 40% of the character meanings.
However, providing a reading may change my results. I can not read a sentence in Japanese yet, so this alternative is not an available option for me.
I’ll be going back to the Heisig method.
Am skeptical of the premise that suggests “back in the day” they didnt have SRS and therefore they HAD to work harder to reinforce memorization. SRS is an electronic form of flash cards – pretty sure they had em “back then”. And the SRS timespacing feature is easily replicated using standard flash cards: you just form three separate piles based on the ease of answering. What is hard about that? In fact, flash cards likely were easier to use since you can go anywhere with them – you can sit in your tub with a cigar and wine and use flash cards, so maybe they were even more productive than *GASP!* – software!
I think SRS is a tool, but definitely not the final statement. Standard flash cards are great in that you have more control with them. I can take a stack of fifty to the park or wherever and just drill them. Imagine what that will do for your retention. Frankly, I think someone that just uses SRS is likely limiting themselves.
Anyway, I find that creating stories ebbs and flows – some kanji patches just seem to flow while others require slogging.
and just to add — i would bet that many are cutting corners and getting stories from other online sources. if so, big mistake. the power of original memory is in the stories or visuals you use originating with you.
I disagree with you that one guy. Yes, flash cards have been around seemingly forever. However, in my entire life I have never seen anyone separate their flash cards based on how well they remembered them, much less separate them in a manner similar to the way an SRS manages cards. Of course it’s possible to get the same results from flash cards as an SRS, but it requires a lot more effort.
You argue that flash cards are easily taken anywhere, and thus better than an SRS, but you gloss over the many downsides. For one, if you have a huge volume of information to remember (Ex: 2000 kanji), then you’re potentially carrying around a mountain of cards. And if something catastrophic were to happen, such as a fire or flood, then all of the work you put into those cards is lost. With an SRS, you can make as many copies of your deck as you want, so it’s much less likely that you’ll lose your data.
In addition, with the prevalence of laptops, netbooks, and smartphones these days, it is not that difficult to take your SRS deck with you, so the portability issue is not as problematic as you make it seem.
heisig is getting me confused! :p so i think i’m going to try lazy kanji method for the treview of what i’ve already learned..although, i thought we’re not supposed to go from kanji–>keyword..
The point is to learn Japanese, not to follow learning rules, mine or anyone else’s.
Japanese has plenty of internal rules for you to keep.
But there are no rules about how to get there.
There’s nothing you’re supposed to do.
Do whatever you want. Whatever’s fun. Whatever works.
That’s the beauty of being on your own, you don’t need to be bound by other people’s boring, made-up rules.
Ultimately, learning method-wise, all that matters is the frequency with which you come into contact with Japanese. Everything else is just decoration.
Khatz, it’s been a little over eight months since you stumbled upon this method. How’s it working for you thus far?
I ask because my RTK Vol. 1 should be here in a week or so, and I’mma get stuck into my SRS reps as soon as possible, so I’d like to know which method is more effective, this or the old one.
At the risk of hyperbole, Ben…Lazy Kanji is so good…and so lazy…that it should be illegal 😀
It works. Thanks to the magic of SRS, it really works — I know how to write the kanji and I know what they mean. I wish more people would have the guts to try it, because…dang. I love how…easy, sustainable and effective it is.
Any mistakes made at this stage should be graded very harshly — if you can’t write out a kanji you looked at a couple of seconds ago, you must need to see it more.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, since I didn’t personally BEGIN with Lazy Kanji, I don’t know what it’ll be like for a beginner, but…on the other hand, I do know that English speakers are dangerously prone to ASM and bulimic studying, so…yeah definitely, I would say at least give lazy kanji a 30-day trial (maybe even two 30-day trials…a preliminary one and an extra one to make sure) and see how it goes.
It’s still early days but, my feeling is that Lazy Kanji and MCDs could be fundamental game-changers.
Wow, I didn’t expect an answer that fast… haha. I was all like “Khatz is probably balls-to-the-wall busy and/or doesn’t check the comments often/give a damn/shopping for a futon or some shiz, I’ll check back for an answer in a few days to a week.” I guess I have low expectations for website-holders(?) in general, but props there.
Thanks for the tips, I appreciate it. I don’t think I’m inclined toward ASM and bulimic studying as I’m Australian and therefore born lazy, so this method should work well for me.
I’ll try and let you know how it works out for a beginner after a couple trial months 😀
I think learning the components first would be perfect. First of all many of them are already characters. Second of all It makes the looking away and writing part way easier, thus it makes the memorizing easier.
I have been doing this since the beginning (the basic idea.) Kanji on the front and the English meaning on the back. From reading in Japanese, I have already displaced some of the English words for Japanese words, so it’s working for me. For writing, I still need to work on that, so I’d probably have to go the opposite way or so something else (like copying real Japanese from a book instead) to help my writing.
Be sure hide or look away from the kanji while writing it out. Look at it once, turn away, and write it from “memory”. This can actually be quite a meaningful challenge, and it’s a good way to weed out small mistakes.
Any mistakes made at this stage should be graded very harshly — if you can’t write out a kanji you looked at a couple of seconds ago, you must need to see it more.
This definitely jives with my experience also. When I first began experimenting with this (I’d like to consider myself an early adopter ;P ) I would just copy it, stroke-by-stroke while looking at it, but this didnt even last a day because I realized it was way too easy to go on auto-pilot and just essentially be physically going through the motions without exerting the mental effort necessary to latch the kanji into place. Also, if you use my Mod to this method, I recommend repeating your short “context”-sentence outloud while you write it. This helps maintain your awareness of the primitives/components of the kanji while your writing it. Just my 二円。
I just lazy’d my way through Heisig volume 1 in two months, to the day, using my SRS only in my spare time. (I didn’t even enter the cards myself: I downloaded somebody else’s deck, even though I have the book sitting on my desk here. Laaa-zy.) This, after trying other methods for a year.
In any given day, I probably spent no more than 30 minutes SRS’ing. And it was all those 1-3 minutes of throwaway time: waiting for the bus, standing in the elevator, waiting for someone to show up for a meeting.
When I finished, I thought: wow, I wonder what else I could do in two months, using only those few minutes here and there that I was wasting anyway!
I looked around my apartment just now and realized that it’s cleaner now than it’s been in a year. Apparently I have already been using my spare seconds to clean my apartment without quite realizing it.
My inner monologue always starts as “I need to spend 30 minutes cleaning my apartment. Then it’ll look great! Nah, I’m too busy to spend 30 minutes today.” Where before I would say “OK, then maybe tomorrow”, now I’ll say “OK, so what can I do in the 30 seconds I’ve got right now?”
It took me a while but now im going to go with this ajatt full force. Its amazing to see so many people do this and be successful(while having fun with it no less). I thank my friend for showing me this site cause this is a goldmine.
This was very helpful to read thanks khatz. I always put stuff in my ankidroid(easier to review on the go then being stationary all the time lol). just as a back up I found this one app called kanjiquiz. Its based of hisegs RTK so when ever im done reviewing in anki I use that every couple of hours to review the kanji I already learned and am learning. The only draw back to it is that since im doing 25 kanji a day(primitives excluded) its set up so that it quizes you by lessons not kanji itself which is great but also kinda bad cause I see new kanji I havent added into my ankidroid yet so I kinda get stumped a little bit. My question is(if anybody can answer much appreciated) do you do kanji first then kana, then sentence mining while your in immersion? I saw the layout for it in one of the posts and I was wondering if I saw that right?
I’ll share a thought I had today. As a back story, I haven’t touched my SRS in almost a year (I won’t bludgeon myself however, do not worry). My Japanese immersion environment changed quite a bit, which resulted in less exposure to things like, drama/TV shows and more real life exposure with real people and actually talking with them. I’ve been interacting in an environment that is inherently traditional Japanese style, as it is traditional dance that I’m learning. Although alot of my new knowledge includes terms related to dance steps, kimono/yukata wearing and other such things such as “体がピン！” (as I am often scolded with). But without realizing it, and with feeling as if I weren’t really gaining any new Japanese knowledge, I’ve still been progressing it seems. Suddenly one day my senpai said to another “She is able to understand Japanese alot better now isn’t she!”
I got inspired that I should take up my studying again. But how and when? I tried to take up the SRS again, but I quickly fell out of pattern again. Just yesterday I tried it again. I had found my kanji deck to be particularly tiresome.
As Khatz has always said, things should be fun. If it’s not fun, then get rid of it. So what happens when srs-ing gets boring ne? (Kanji and Sentence decks alike.) Change the way you srs I’d guess right? Make it fun? Make it a game? Perhaps even now srs-ing might be cut completely!? But as I see it as a valuable repetition tool, I dare say I should try to make it fun again. I think that’s my problem right there. I started seeing the srs as a thing I had to do, I had to succeed in retaining the cards. But the srs is more clearly a REPETITION tool! It’s a way to make me see content again and again in order to remember it, instead of seeing it once in a book and forgetting it later. But it doesn’t matter what I do or don’t remember! Being able to delete sentences at any slight hint of “this card is boring” is a great thing tool that of course Khatz has already pointed out several times.
However this doesn’t seem to work well for kanji. How can I delete the kanji? You think, they are all important! But I feel the deck becoming tiresome even now. Why haven’t I touched it in almost a year? Perhaps, I thought, I need to change how I think about it. The srs is no longer the srs that I used to know and love. Though itself hasn’t changed, but people change. I read this quote before “Things don’t change, people change.” And it is often true. I changed somewhere along the line, my thoughts became skewed. Maybe they were skewed from the start. But I must change my thought about the srs or loose it forever.
I think the idea of these lazy cards is intriguing. And even if I don’t use such a method, it is something that motivates my mind to turn srs into FUN again haha. If srs-ing is boring or tedious for you now, create some way to make it fun, whatever way that is. What does srs-ing mean to you? I think I let my mind slip into a state of “srs-ing is studying, studying=good, must do it.” and having thoughts like “man I don’t remember any of these! Must remember cards! Must remember, faster, better!!” But the srs doesn’t need to change, I need to change!
Before I ramble on any longer, this my thoughts I had today ^^!
Hey Khatz, where did you pull the kanji definitions from? I can’t seem to find something in exactly that format online, and it would really help me to have those kinds of definitions.
If you’re out of inspiration for vivid story images here is some imagine-motor (don’t know if this makes any sense, but I’m not a native English, soo…) video:
[note: go full-screen and hi-volume for full-impression]
PS. Don’t blame Me for sideeffects (physical or psychological), I’m just linking this…
Are RTK meanings different from the actual meanings of the word? I keep hearing ”Hesig” meanings are different that the normal ones….
Not really. Kanji often have multiple meanings. Heisig chooses one of those meanings for each character — for most, it’s the most common meaning, but some have rarer meanings as their keywords to prevent confusion between them. In the end the important thing is to have *some* meaning to tie to each character, to keep it from being yet another bunch of scribbles. You’ll learn the meaning of the words using it as you go sentence by sentence.
Thank you! That definitely cleared up some confusion! 🙂
I have another question.
Why does AJATT recommend learning Kanji first? Wouldn’t you be utterly confused when looking at them? I’m pretty scared right now by Kanji. 🙁
So…Khatz is telling us not to do the Heisig story method? I’m…a bit confused and really want to hurry and get into Kanji.
D: Someone maybe explain it in simplier words and summarize this for me? I’m sorry..for being slow..
Err I mean just what he suggests you to do at the beginning with saving time and focusing on the kanji.
Wait…wait..people are saying not to do this Lazy Kanji Method until you finish RTK1 ?Or what…exactly?
It’s been a pain for me to get into doing kanji because Heisig’s method suggest you to write stories to help you remember them..so it’s been pretty slow for me..v.v I’m at a loss
Alright, I’ve been trying out the Lazy Kanji Method as a beginning so far. Well the format I’m using is basically what Khatz has put out but without the reading and definitions in japanese. It’s felt memorizing …like the traditional style but without anything to help you remember it. :/
Guess I’ll do tradional Heisig but not sure how to stop getting a Primitive confused with the keyword for the meaning of the kanji
I am confused, do you put the kanji then guess what the meaning is when creating cards? Or do you put the kanji then look up the definition in a dictionary, then paste it in. I know about 100 kanji and I cannot read a lot, so the the definitions in the dictionary might be a problem. So is this for beginners or for people who are already pretty far in just looking to increase their knowledge?
Also, if I do not know the readings how can I put them into SRS from Heisig’s book; since typing works via pronounciation.
Okay then… Anki question: How do I swap the kanji and keyword fields, for every card in the deck at once? I want to try this method, but don’t want to have to start all the way back at 一 (I’m using the Japanese Level Up RTK Mod deck).
Or… I could just get the “Lazy Kanji + Mod” deck, and Meh my way through the first few hundred or so (I’m up to 600, but the past 200 keep falling out of my brain), deal with having a [EXPLETIVE REDACTED]-load of “reviews” for about a week, and go from there. I dunno, I *really* don’t want to have to give up my progress with adshap’s deck…
Go to the deck and click on ‘browse items’ (the magnifying glass). Select the cards you want to flip, go ‘Action -> Generate Cards…’ and have only ‘Reverse’ selected in the window that pops up. Then you’ll have to delete the old cards if you don’t want them anymore.
Lately I’ve been wondering about kanji.
The meaning are so off the mark sometimes, only (maybe) 5% of kanji are used alone and, well, when you learn a new word (mcd), you learn each one of the kanji anyway so… Is there really any purpose to learn kanji alone in another deck ? Is it just a waste of time ?
That’s a good question I’ve been wondering myself, however, I’d say it is worth it to have your own Lazy Kanji RTK deck. The reason why is that you learn stroke order, where primitives/radicals are likely to show up in new kanji and exactly what they’ll look like and how to write them, and you’ll also have a firmer image of the kanji in your mind when you go to write them or when you look at them and are trying to differentiate between similar kanji.
However, if you think it’s worth it to just jump straight into MCDs, it might be worth trying for 2-3 months to see the results. As long as you’re not in a hurry, experimenting is lovely. If MCDs first with no RTK works better, you’ll save yourself and lots of others’ time. Good luck, either way =)
Thanks so much for making Surusu. It’s a cherry-flavored lifesaver!!!!!!!!(my fav flavor is cherry)
Does somebody know what dictionary khatz used for this kanji card (膂)?
Every online dict I checked just has something like this..
very short definitions without any example or explanatory sentences.
Thanks for your help!
I wasn’t a fan of heisig so I began doing this, but I have a recommendation for anyone who wants to use this method successfully. Every time you draw a kanji, do the following:
0. Recognize the meaning of the kanji (Don’t even write it if you don’t know the meaning)
1. Look at the kanji on the card for about 10 seconds and try to remember how it looks
2. Try writing it after looking away without looking back at the card
3. Compare your writing of the kanji to the card and make note of what is wrong
4. Write the kanji again while looking at the card
5. Write the kanji a third time from memory while repeating the keyword in your head over and over. If you write it wrong, go back to step 3.
So you only write it 3 times this method, but it gets in your head a lot better. First of all you’re focused on figuring out how to write it from step 1, and if you make a mistake on the first writing and notice it right away it is more likely to stick in your head as a reminder if how the kanji is written. I have no been doing this long but if people want to try it and tell me how it works for them, I’d be interested.
Hi Khatz! I’m wondering what dictionary you used to make the back of the card. I have tried most of the online dictionaries you created bookmarklets for to no avail. They all give very little information.
Just thought I’d say I finished RTK1 using this method today. I plan to move onto RTK 3 and the supplemental added kanji for a total of 3030 kanji. I’m not sure if this method is better than the original one last I did it but I am sure of one thing. It made it a lot easier. I didn’t feel as stressed this time and I’m confident that there will never be a repeat of forgetting and neglecting my kanji deck again. So just wanted to say thanks for showing me this method.
I’ve completed RTK using this method and I have barely retained any of the kanji, I tried really hard but I don’t think this is a good method.
Man, from where did you took that definition for 膂? Please let me know and I’ll love you even more!