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Learning Kanji

When people say "learn kanji", it always strikes a nerve with me, because this just does not make sense.
You can't just "learn" a kanji because kanji has so much components to them that one cannot simply say they have apparently "learned" it. It's like saying, "I learned a car", "I learned gaming", heck even "I learned Japanese" for example. What on earth do you even mean when you say "I'm learning kanji"?

This page will go through how useful isolated kanji study is, which is what most people do and think of when they say "learn kanji". We all should know that your long time kanji study will be Kanji with Vocab. With that said, let's see how useful isolated kanji study is!

Learning the Meanings - Kind of Helpful

Learning the meanings of a "kanji" is great if it's a word itself, such as etc. However, one can argue that you are literally learning a word not a kanji. Furthermore, learning the meanings for kanji can be useful for words like 連続, "take along, continue" the kanji mean serial, consecutive. Remembering this can be helpful if you have constant trouble recalling the meaning of a certain word. However, the effectiveness of remembering meanings can be disputed. It is argued that these keywords assigned to kanji fade away as you get better at Japanese, and if you are good at Japanese and never studied kanji meanings, you would know what means anyway. If you learn as a word, you'll know it's tea. So if you come across 紅茶 and 抹茶 you may be able to guess that they are also some kind of tea. In addition to that, Japanese people would describe 連 as "連勝の連" or "連射の連" etc; not the keyword you learned.
Summary: Kind of useful when you're a beginner, but not needed at all.

Learning the Readings (by themselves) - A big NO.

I'm not talking about learning words, like having 夢中 along with a handy example sentence 🙂
I mean this:

Kanji: 涯
Kun: はて
On: ガイ


Learning kanji readings individually is a complete utter waste of time. Kanji readings are not consistent. Many kanji have multiple onyomi and kunyomi, for instance, 家路[いえじ], 通路[つうろ], 家賃[やちん], 漫画家([まんがか], 小学校[しょうがっこう],袋小路[ふくろこうじ], 素足[すあし],素人[しろうと],恋人[こいびと],日本人[にほんじん], 狩人[かりゅうど] and our favourite: , 先生[せんせい], 生涯[しょうがい], 生粋[きっすい], 芝生[しばふ], 生き残る[いきのこる], 生ビール[なまびーる], 生真面目[きまじめ],生い茂る[おいしげる] Furthermore, it is also difficult remembering kanji in this way: Kun: はて On: ガイ It's much easier remembering it in a word, like 生涯 on an Anki card or something. If you learned 涙腺「るいせん」 and come across 熱涙, you will obviously be able to read the portion as るい, am I not wrong? In addition, the readings will be easier to remember in context of real words that you can actually use. Essentially, memorizing the readings by themselves is a complete waste of time. Summary: Useless. Don't learn readings, learn words.

Learning the Stroke Order - Essential

Learning the stroke order is essential, now I don't mean it in the sense of actively try to remember every stroke order for every new character, no, I mean getting down the basics, that way you can get the stroke order for new characters right with 90% accuracy, for example the rules for writing boxes like 口 and what goes inside them, or rules for how to order the vertical and horizontal strokes when they cross each other like 井 or 艹 or 王 or 丰 or 羊 etc. How 己 is written which can be applied to 起, the bottom portion of that can be learned by learning the strokes for 足. Learning the first stroke of チ (katakana) can be applied to 私 which can be applied to 香 and 馨. This isn't the same thing as RTK, that's different, but similar. It all connects. Of course, for awkward characters like 飛 you might need to look up the stroke order. But after you get the basics down for say, 押, and 車, writing something you don't know like 揮 won't be a problem 🙂 Summary: Essential, but don't overdo yourself.

Learning how to write them - Depends

This isn't the same thing as what I just talked about last time. Unfortunately, even if you literally know the word and the stroke order of the kanji that compose the word, it is very likely that when it actually comes to writing the word, you won't be able to recall how to write it. This problem can be overcome by individually learning how to write each word. You can do this by writing out sentences (don't write isolated words, write sentences, this helps with proportions). However, the utility value of this can be disputed. With today's technology, do you really need to learn how to write all those words? Probably not. You can just input it into your IME. With this said, consider your priorities, if you work in Japan and need to write Japanese as a part of your job this will obviously be essential for you. If not, then personally I don't see the point. Summary: Depends.

Conclusion - learn words

I hate the phrase, "I am learning kanji", it makes no sense. Every time someone says that they obviously don't know what they've supposedly learned is, to put it simply, useless.
Whatever fancy cool way to remember all those wow so much >2,000 kanji (RTK, KKLC, WaniKani etc.) you use, you still need to read Japanese for hundreds of hours and remember a lot of vocabulary to truly "learn a kanji". I don't consider a kanji "learned" unless you know all the common words that use the kanji and are able to write it completely from memory. Don't "learn kanji", learn words. Don't "learn" kanji, feel kanji.

Honorable Credit: Tae Kim, thanks for the idea.