Reviewing The Kanji Review

cheating_through_kanjiAnybody working their way through memorizing the thousands of kanji can tell you two things. It’s boring, and it takes a long time! Here at JALUP we like to use Remembering the Kanji, which is what all smart Japanese-learners use to remember their kanji, and it is a great book, but brother does it take a long time to get through.

In case you’re not savvy, the methodology is pretty simple. As you might know, all the kanji are made up of a bunch of smaller parts called radicals; put a few together and you have yourself a kanji! They’re pretty simple, but they’re still pretty hard to remember.

So the Remembering the Kanji method consists of finding a story or mnemonic for each kanji using the radicals and memorizing that. Everybody knows stories are a lot easier to remember than a bunch of random lines. The bad news is that Remembering the Kanji only gives you so many stories to go with. Starting at around the five-hundred mark, you have to supply all the stories yourself. This is great if you love to tell kanji bedtime stories to your kids. It’s not-so-good if you’re trying to get through the kanji quickly.

I was thinking the same thing. “This is pretty dumb. Can’t there be a faster way to doing this?” I had already heard the horror stories about how long memorizing all the kanji takes you, which is close to two million years, and I wanted to move on, and fast! There must be some way to cheat your way past this, right?

Reviewing the Kanji & Pre-Made Mnemonics

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who thought such mutinous thoughts. In comes Reviewing the Kanji, which is the long-lost sister-companion-site to Remembering the Kanji. Among some other kanji-retaining features we won’t be discussing today, the one that piqued my interest was the stories.

Reviewing the Kanji

On Reviewing the Kanji, anyone can submit their stories and vote up ones that helped them remember the kanji. That way the best and most helpful stories get voted to the top. It’s actually quite genius. Now, you don’t ever need to come up with any stories or mnemonics ever again. All you need to do is steal everyone else’s stories and you can get through the kanji in no time! It saves you a lot of time, and the stories are pretty darn good. I guarantee that you will never be able to unsee 人 as Mr. T.

Wait. Is this healthy?

But by now, you might be starting to get a little suspicious. Haven’t you ever heard that cheaters never win, or something like that? Is it too good to be true? Actually, it probably is. For the most part, mnemonics you take from others just won’t be remembered as well as ones you create for yourself. It’s not that they aren’t as good of quality. Most of them are a lot better than what I could come up with. But they just don’t resonate with you as deeply because they just aren’t yours.

Here’s my story: I used stories from Reviewing the Kanji for just about every kanji. I was able to cram fifty kanji a day into my head. But when I reviewed them using Anki, I just wasn’t able to retain them as easily as the ones I had memorized by myself. You’re going to have to ask yourself which you value more: speed or accuracy? Quantity or quality?

I found the best solution to be to use both methods. Use the pre-built stories for the kanji you find difficult to remember, and find your own mnemonics for the rest. But in the end, I’ll leave it up to you.

Of course, this isn’t just a post for the Japanese newbies. It’s never too late to start learning the Kanji, regardless of your level.

What are/were your kanji studying methods?

Are you planning to speed through them or do them the long, hard way?

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A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he's not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.


Reviewing The Kanji Review — 13 Comments

  1. I used the community stories from that site when I was doing RTK back in 2011-2012, and I have to say that they saved me A LOT of time. I maybe only came up with a handful of stories on my own that I sporadically thought up when I first saw the kanji, but otherwise I only used other peoples’ stories. I quit reviewing RTK after about a year, since I only had English keywords on the cards, which was holding me back more than helping me at that point, but I can read fairly fluently now and don’t think using other peoples’ stories during RTK hurt my retention of the kanji in any way, in fact it probably improved it because of all the time I saved that was then spent doing more relaxing activities to prevent burnout.

    I think doing 50 kanji a day may have been the reason you didn’t feel that your retention was as high when you used the community stories. I only did 20 kanji a day, since I knew they any more than that would lead to burnout (from past experience), so maybe if people just stick to fewer kanji a day, even if it is easier to study more, their retention rate would not drop. Also the forum on that site has many great resources and it probably one of the best Japanese study forums out there.

    • Perhaps you’re right. I’ve heard similar stories from others (about community-made stories providing less retention), but it could have just been that I was just trying to do too much too fast.

      I don’t review RTK any more either. I think after a certain amount of time it stops mattering how well you remember everything from RTK. After a while you don’t ever think in English keywords any more and you can remember the kanji through intuition rather than mnemonics.

      I definitely agree about what you said about the forum. It’s definitely the best Japanese-learning forum I’ve found.

  2. I personally pretty much only used stories from that website for the exception of 人; Mr. T didn’t do it for me, so I put Goku and made my own stories. Honestly those are some of the ones that stuck the least for me haha. As someone who isn’t very creative I had way too much trouble trying to find my own so the time saved in using those was well worth it haha

  3. This site was very useful for me when I was going through RTK a few years ago. The forum has a lot of great tips being thrown around. I still check the place every so often.

  4. I like to make up my own stories when I’m going through kanji lists for kanji that are giving me a particularly difficult time. I use a combination of direct study with StickyStudy and indirect with Flashcards Deluxe where I have vocab lists with a third panel that includes the kanji meaning along with the word’s meaning. I’ve found it works pretty well for me, but I’ve always been more of a brute force memorizer no matter what I’m studying.

    One thing I do a little differently is when I’m going through kanji or vocabulary I try to evoke the concept, sense, and feeling of a word in my head rather than thinking in English keywords. I imagine a quiet pond or a blade of grass when I see a symbol instead of jumping straight to the keyword in my head in an attempt to forge a direct line between concept and the Japanese word rather than taking a shortcut through the English section of my brain.

  5. I used the community stories almost exclusively, only creating my own if the existing ones didn’t resonate for some reason. Saved me TONS of time.

  6. My first attempt to use Heisigs was like 14 months ago, but I was to busy with my studies (master’s degree in mathematics) and I had to stop… I restarted 8~9 months ago using stories from Rtk.

    As I am too “lazy”, I got a script to get the two most voted stories from Rtk. I did 5 kanji per day and it took only 15~20 minutes to learn and review. I don’t remember my retention rate, but I remember that in two or three days I stopped to forgot the ideograms. But as I am busy, I stopped to add cards and just keep reviewing.

    But I remember that the stories were only auxiliary, I didn’t really use them! I am not a native English speaker (as you surely already noticed!). So several times I had do simplify the story and create my own, and try to understand some obscure words like.. decameron. But I didn’t wrote them on my deck. My stories stay in my mind! =)

    On month ago I tried to do a “heisigs power level up” adding 30 characters a day. That was horrible! I it took 3h a day and my accuracy was around 70%. So I changed again to only 5 kanji per day.

    My only consolation is that I changed the order of the cards to follow a “JLPT order”: it still cover first components, but with the priority to cover all jlpt 5 kanji, and then jlpt 4…

    Now I have around 1100 ideograms, with the fist 900 most used of them, so I can recognize most kanji in my sentences.

    Sorry for my bad English. I hope someone find my story useful.

  7. I did RTK in a month using other’s stories from kanji-koohii. I’d personalize them a bit (use my own wording, substitute a radical keyword for the one I was using), and was picky about the one I chose – not necessarily #1, but the one that I resonated most with. But I mean, come on! There’s some good stories on kanji-koohii and they make you laugh or cringe. That emotional reaction makes the stories stay with you. I think stories others come up with can be just as powerful as ones you make.

  8. It’s a shame I didn’t notice this post until now, since I’m sure the article (as well as the comments) have probably gotten most of the views they’ll get, but even so, I wanted to bring up a little site/tool called Skritter. I’ve fallen in and out of learning RTK with the LazyKanji Mod deck several times, and the furthest I ever got was about 1600 or so. It’s cumbersome and straining to repeatedly look at the screen, look down at my book, write, look back up and grade, rinse/repeat. Skritter is a site where the same type of SRS algorithm is applied, but instead, you actually write the kanji on the screen. It may sound pathetic, I know, but this is a MASSIVE improvement for me. I happened to have a Wacom Bamboo tablet on hand, so this worked out perfectly for me (I can’t imagine having to write them with the mouse, lol). Using Skritter goes so much smoother for me than slow head-banging at my computer doing my reviews on paper. At a glance it may seem more geared towards vocabulary, and it is to a certain extent, but they do have individual kanji, and conveniently enough, they have entire RTK1 and 3 word lists to add from. My kanji reviews couldn’t possibly get more streamlined. The only downside (or possibly a perk?) is that this is a service with a monthly fee, but I managed to find a code online that gave me I think two weeks for free and the first 6 months are discounted to 9.99/mo instead of 14.99/mo. Additionally, I think if anyone refers you, they get two weeks for free and you get an extra two weeks as well! I honestly don’t mean to sound like I’m shamelessly promoting or something, I really do mean it, this has worked WONDERS for my kanji study. They also have all sorts of fun little graphs and whatnot that may help motivate you. I know that for awhile, it was really nice seeing a linear curve for my ‘words added’ graph (until my girlfriend got a bit upset at me for spending so much time studying and not enough on her, haha, but I’ve since picked up my slack). It is a great tool, and even if you don’t get a referral, I believe they let you try it free for a week. Also, you ONLY pay for the ability to add new words, so once you’re done putting in your kanji, there’s no need to pay monthly anymore, you can still do your reviews for free! Could not possibly recommend it more for the kanji phase!

  9. I used an Anki deck that contained top 2 community stories, thanks to which I was done with 25 kanji/day 25 minutes tops. It was later I found out about the Koohii forums [When I was at 1600 kanji].

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