So, usually, I give abstract advice, because:
- It lasts longer, and
- You need it more
But it’s certainly not all you need.
I can cook, spice and feed you sentence packs. I can give you the raw frozen fish of how to learn a language, or I can give you the fishing technique of how to become the kind of person who can make learning decisions for themselves again — the way you used to before you were schooled.
There’s a place for all three approaches, and today I’d like to talk about one: early cut-off kanji (early switching to MCDs).
Newsflash: The RTK/Heisig method doesn’t necessarily work for everyone out of the box. That doesn’t mean it’s bad and it doesn’t mean you’re bad; some clothes just don’t fit some people. Truth be told, it didn’t even work for me (in its raw form), and I promote it unreservedly, like gospel; I personally used a heavily modified and personalized variant on the Heisig method for my initial kanji acquisition. So there.
What I’m about to say it going to sound like heresy. Especially to fellow Heisig grads. But it shouldn’t and I’ll tell you why: the point has never been to follow a specific or pretty or elegant or popular or widely accepted or even logical-sounding method; Heisig caught a lot of hell in the 1970s not simply to give us his method but to set us free from being forced into anyone’s method or tradition — ever again.
So here it is:
If you’re plodding through RTK (Remembering the Kanji) and hating it, then maybe it’s not for you. And maybe you need to cut off early and go straight into MCDs (formerly the “sentence” phase). Sure, you’ll have fewer kanji under your belt, but so what? You can pick them up later, along the way. If your personality is such that the feeling of having to go through 2000~3000 kanji first is just sending you into paroxysms of emoness, then…yeah, don’t…Cut off early, maybe at, say, 1000 kanji, start MCDs, picking up other kanji along the way, either deliberately or in context.
Your first 1000 kanji are a strong foundation, at 1000, you finally “get” in your bones what kanji are truly about and how they work and are structured. It’s not like you don’t know any kanji just because you don’t know 2000 yet; you just know less than some people do at a certain stage; it’s sort of like being born prematurely — it’s just…that was your time to come out.
Is this method-breaking-method “ugly”? Yes. It is ugly and messy. It lacks the conceptual beauty of getting all one’s ducks in a row and doing all sorts of things perfectly first. The theoretical mathematician inside you is balking at the messiness, but now is the time to let the get-‘er-dun’ engineer inside you take over.
Is knowing more kanji earlier better? Sure. But that’s not the issue here. If you’re hating the kanji phase so much that it’s slowing you down, you’re already on a path of not knowing Japanese period, let alone kanji. There are bigger things at work than you polishing apples for non-existent teachers. There are no gold stars for coloring in the lines any more; we can get computers to do that; MSPaint can do that. Only you can make your learning process fit you perfectly, because only you are you.
Is “getting through” all the Heisig kanji first prettier? Is it neater, is it tidier, is it more “disciplined”? Sure it is. But human beings do not grow in straight lines. Human beings are crooked and lumpy and unique. There are many luxuries you can afford, but you cannot afford the luxury of mental decorative towelery — all your methods have to earn their keep, getting themselves wet and dirty and your hands dry; you can’t afford to be stuck to methods just because they’re neat and tidy and pretty and that’s how your “supposed” to do it and that’s how Kenyans on the Internet tell you how to do it. They have to work for you. Don’t commit to a method. A method is just a means. It’s like a paper towel — ya use it, and then you throw it away when you’re done with it, and everybody’s happy and nobody cares.
It’s like getting a massage — at some point, you stop getting the standard massages you’re “supposed” to get, and you get the kind that fit your body perfectly; over time, your masseur gets to know you better and all that. It’s not like you didn’t try to learn kanji the Heisig way; it’s not like you dismissed it out of hand simply on hearing how it works, without making an attempt. No, we’re past that kind of juvenility. You tried. You’re trying. You’re one of the good people. And it isn’t working for you, and that, as the sappy therapist types stereotypically say…is okay. It’s mmm kay.
Learning methods were made to serve you, not you to serve the method. If it — your method, your process — sucks, then bend, break and change the rules until it doesn’t suck any more, and one of the quickest ways to do that might be to fast-track yourself into MCDs.
Breaking the rules is not the end of the world. Giving up, is.