Friday, October 31, 2008


Again, I have nothing but respect for Heisig, and I love his system for learning and remembering the kanji. But how this many errors managed to make it into a fourth edition book is far beyond my comprehension. Perhaps newer editions are more refined, but I can count about a dozen glaring errors from the beginning of the book to where I'm now up to.

Case in point: the book clearly shows 干 written with a hook at the end of the final stroke, and several kanji later introduces a new primitive which, lo and behold, is identical to the aforementioned kanji, but - get this - contains a hook at the end of the final stroke! Time to go back and try and unlearn these seven kanji before that hook comes back to poke me in the future.


Honestly, it may sound as though I'm going through another frustration phase, but I'm actually having a pretty smooth and enjoyable time with my studies lately. Unfortunately, progress has been slow, so I'm still a few hundred kanji behind my goal of a November 1st finish, but ahh well. I'll be breaking 1700 tonight, and from there it's only going to be a matter of days, assuming momentum holds up -- and it will. Oh, how it will.

On an unrelated (yet related to Japanese) note, I'm dying to play through some of my old favorite RPGs in Japanese once I'm a bit more accustomed to the language. I started a game of Chrono Trigger the other day (a game I always get cravings to play around this time of the year) and was able to understand a surprising bit more than I expected; part of the beauty of an immersion system such as this. I'm still at least a few months away from being able to really play and understand dialogue, but each passing day brings more and more knowledge of the language and it's really quite incredible how rapidly and transparently I'm learning.

But enough talk! Back to RTK, let's hope these silly errors stay at bay (no rhyme intended, sigh).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Looooong week

Indeed, this has been a long, tiring and all-around miserable week. As such, I've not been able to make quite as much progress as I had hoped (hanging around 1250 currently), nor blog posts, but such is life. On a brighter note, I'm quite motivated to pick up my lagging pace and get back on track to complete this thang by November 1st. It won't be an easy task, but it's well within my reach.

Wish I had more notes to jot down here, but alas, that will have to wait until next time.

But what the hell is a wisteria and why is it a daily use kanji? Jesus.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hobbling my way toward the halfway point

By tomorrow at this time, I should be halfway through with the jouyou kanji. Sweet.

However, I've been getting frustrated far more frequently lately, particularly at what I perceive as flaws in Heisig's system, some of which I've already written about.

Another problem I have with Heisig's method is that his keywords just don't always seem to cut it, especially for the more particularly ambiguous words he chooses to associate, often with no note as to the word's specific meaning. I've found myself consulting Japanese dictionaries quite frequently so that I could get a better handle on the actual specific meaning of a kanji; more than a few kanji with ambiguous meanings have already led to confusion, so if at all possible, I'm trying to eliminate or reduce further confusion.

One more peeve - did he really just keyword -sama as Esquire? I suppose it makes sense, but I'm willing to bet that 95% of kanji learners already have enough basic knowledge of Japanese to know the meaning of the sama honorific. Again, no note given to avoid future confusion; then again, maybe it's not such a big deal.

It ain't perfect, but for all the complaints I have about this method, I can't imagine another way to effectively memorize over 2,000 kanji in two months. As long as I keep up my pace of 50 kanji a day, my goal is well within my grasp.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Well, considering you're still alive and well, I guess I'll just have to mutter under my breath instead. Respectively.

But seriously now - I love your method, but some of your primitive keywords are just plain retarded. I've really tried to roll with most of these, but lately I've been finding my face between both palms every other primitive I come by.

Come on. Kazoo? Spool? Mandala? I've coped up until now, but mandala was the straw that flattened the camel into a bloody, steaming pulp. It's just not a keyword I can see myself remembering, even if it's a concept I'm familiar with (I consider myself lucky for knowing its meaning; think of how many others who had to look up the definition), nor is it one I can see myself effectively working into a mnemonic.

As an example, 慢 (ridicule) is made up of state of mind and mandala. Now, could you honestly think up a short, simple mnemonic for ridicule using those two primitives? I sure couldn't. I try and keep mine as painlessly short and simple as possible (two lines or less in Anki), and "mandala" was, quite frankly, giving me a brain cramp trying to work around.

Therefore, I replaced its meaning with one far more effective, in my mind: hipster.

I think you can see where I'm going with this one.

Anyhow, due to the nature of this type of mnemonic learning, Heisig's primitive keywords won't always be effective, in which case it couldn't hurt to make up your own - just make certain your keyword won't later interfere or otherwise confuse you with another kanji's keyword; if you think about it, Heisig's are all named in this manner, so that it's pretty much impossible to mistake a kanji keyword with, say, sunglasses or fiesta. Follow his example, but by all means, use keywords that make sense to you.

Monday, October 6, 2008

What is your problem, kanji.

Emotion 感
Beguile 惑

Just different enough to completely throw me off track. Luckily the differences shouldn't be all that difficult to memorize.

Trouble kanji

It's recently occurred to me how confusing all these body of water kanji are getting. Obviously, a few of them (such as 川) are quite simple to remember and differentiate from others, but then you get both sea and ocean, which also happen to have different kanji despite similar meanings.

In order to make memorizing these suckers a little easier, I've written each body of water kanji down on a cheat sheet of sorts, which I reference from time to time in order to test myself and make these confusing characters really sink in; mnemonics certainly make things easier, but in my experience thus far, one can only stretch a mnemonic so far before it becomes too convoluted and... well, stupid. In that event, good ol' fashioned memorization by other means seems to be more effective.

On top of bodies of water, I've also discovered that I've been having a bit of trouble with kanji using the "road" radical along with animal-based primitives -- again, mnemonics can only go so far, especially when meanings are dangerously similar to one another.

At any rate, writing simple cheat sheets like this has really helped me get over some difficult humps previously, and definitely helps sort these kanji out in your head. Here's what I've recently jotted down:

Bodies of water
Lake 湖
Ocean 洋
Creek 江
Stream 川
Sea 海
Open Sea 沖

Road + Animal
Escape 逃
Escort 送
Pursue 逐
Advance 進
Consummate 遂

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Repetition, repetition, repetition

Spent most of my 日本語 studies today plowing through a three-day backlog of flash cards in Anki -- pretty exhausting stuff. Take it from me, you really don't want to slack off and let your repetitions pile up; even one extra day's worth of cards can introduce undesirable headaches and frustration.

When I began using Anki, I was actually anxious to have it give me more cards per day, which would have been perfectly fine at the time, while the early kanji were relatively simple and made up of few strokes. I chose to have Anki introduce 50 new kanji a day, thinking I could easily handle it. And for a few days, I could!
Presently, on the other hand, with the complexity of the kanji I'm learning and at the pace I'm keeping (about 30-50 new kanji a day), it was quite apparent that I was going to need to ease up a bit -- at least temporarily. Frustration was setting in, even a mild taste of burnout (which is honestly something I'd really rather avoid), so I stepped back to 30 new kanji a day, in addition to whichever other cards were queued up for the day, which has averaged roughly 60-75 or so; certainly more managable.

Though, to be honest, I've been exhausted all day as it is, study or no study, and still managed to cut through about 150 cards, so perhaps if I were a little more energetic I'd have been able to do so with less aggrevation.

At any rate, I find that reviewing repetitions in batches of 15 minutes or 30 minutes works best, with a short break in between. Any longer than 30 minutes and I'll start to feel the frustration creeping up on me, which will often result in silly errors I'd not have made if my mind was more clear and willing to play along.
In fact, I use a similar method when I'm learning the kanji themselves, usually in spaces of 30 or 60 minutes... or whenever I start complaining verbally about how ridiculous it is to try and form a mnemonic for a word I don't even use in English like "promontory." Daily use kanji in action there, folks.

Which reminds me, I haven't had much of a chance to etch out any new kanji today, so I'll get right to that before bed; maybe I'll have another dream about studying Japanese (which I have more often than I'm comfortable to admit publically).

Friday, October 3, 2008

The journey thus far

All right, so a little background here.

I first began "studying" Japanese about 8 or 9 years ago. I say "studying" in quotes because all I really did was memorize the katakana for the sake of playing imports a little easier; if I recall, EGM (back when they didn't suck quite as much) had an article of sorts on import games, and how to play/understand them, along with a kana chart. And certainly, learning katakana was a huge step in the right direction, albeit a rather backwards one (I'd discover years later that hiragana is almost always taught first), but it would be at least a few years later before I'd learn much of anything about the language structure, grammar, vocabulary, etc.

One would think that, after almost 9 years of "studying" a language, one would be at least partially proficient, but alas, I have (or, perhaps, had) a tendancy to lose interest in projects at the proverbial drop of a hat (see also, Swedish and German; I'll get back to you guys later, trust me), therefore progress slowed and stagnated for a significant portion of that time.

Until recently, that is!
With the kana, basic grammatical knowledge and a couple handfuls of words under my belt, I felt it the right time to continue my studies, set goals and conquer this language once and for all.

First stop: 漢字. Bane to practically all students of this god forsaken language, kanji has been arguably the biggest roadblock in the path of learning Japanese for centuries, and for good reason.
Fortunately for us learners living in the present, breakthroughs of the past decades such as James Heisig's remarkably efficient method of learning kanji have allowed us to leap over these difficult hurdles with relative ease; within the past month, I've managed to learn 800 of the 常用漢字, with a goal of completing all 2042 by November 1st of this year, effectively learning the equivalent of eight years worth of kanji in a condensed period of (a little under) two months. Thanks to SRS applications such as Anki, memorizing all these characters and keeping them in long term memory is made relatively simple. And this time, I'm not planning on letting anything distract me from my ambitious goal.


At any rate, I have a big pile of kanji to plow through before the night is up. I'll keep notes regularly here, mostly for the sake of my own reference, but hey, if this blog can benefit or inspire anyone else, that's great too.

ONE MONOLINGUAL MAN'S JOURNEY... BILINGUALNESS. Unfortunately for him, he's a native English speaker of 24 years and chose to learn one of the most fundamentally different languages in existence as his second. Good going there, dude.

Within these pages is chronicled the epic journey down the long and difficult road of hardship and struggle, as our dear protagonist labors daily to strive toward Japanese fluency and literacy, and probably becomes less and less intelligible in English in the process.

God help us all.