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Re: [tlug] Remembering the Kanji

My experience is a little different, as I learned Chinese before 
learning Japanese, but may be interesting to you guys.

One thing that a lot of people mistake about Chinese is that it is,
in practice, mostly a phonetic writing system. Only about 10% of
the characters are really ideographic. Most characters combine
a common phonetic piece with a radical.

In the beginning, you end up doing a lot of brute-force memorization,
but as you learn more characters you end up seeing the same pieces
being used with different radicals and a very similar pronunciation
(often just a difference in tone). This really kicks in after you
know about 1000 characters, allowing you to learn new ones (and
remember old ones) much more easily.

So the scheme of making up little mnemonic stories about the
characters actually runs counter to the way the language actually
works. It may be helpful in the beginning, but I found that it
was not worth the time.

"The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy" by John DeFrancis has a lot
of interesting background on how Chinese (and Kanji) works,
debunking some of the myths that linguistics folks have about the 
language, e.g. thinking that the characters are pictures and arguing
by analogy that English words are little pictures too.

The "Chinese way" of learning the characters is simply to write them
ten times. And write them again when you find you have forgotten (which
happens plenty). My habit from the US school system was always to use
a pencil, and it took me a long time to realize that writing with
a ballpoint pen was much faster. So you can speed up your homework
by 25% by getting a good pen :-)

I studied Chinese hard for about three years (two hours of class per day
and an hour or two of homework). After that I knew about 3500 
characters, which represents about 99.96% of the characters in common 
use (e.g., in a newspaper). I studied about 10 or 15 characters per
day, and ended up actually learning about three characters per day on 

Knowing Chinese was really helpful when I started to learn Japanese (and 
Korean). If you plan to learn all three, it would probably save time to
learn Chinese first :-) Sort of like the masochist's technique of 
learning Latin before studying Spanish and French.

I love the "NTC's New Japanese-English Character Dictionary" by Jack 
Halpern. It's a great dictionary in the first place, but also has the 
Chinese pronunciation of the characters. I am not sure how useful it
is to someone who is learning the kanji for the first time, but may help.


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