You Hate Remembering The Kanji (RTK) — Now What?

You Hate Remembering The Kanji (RTK) -- Now WhatI was asked advice recently about doing the Jalup Beginner and Intermediate decks, right from the beginning, without ever touching Heisig’s Remembering The Kanji (RTK). RTK is a major recommendation on the site, and the guidance is to do RTK concurrently with your 1000 J-E sentences.

But you have a problem:

You hate doing RTK. You can’t get through it and it is killing your desire to study Japanese. You have no issues with J-E sentences, as most people don’t. But the the thought of RTK? Maybe even worse than your possible hatred of Anki? And combine Anki and RTK together, and now you have a hole in your wall and a broken keyboard’s keys scattered across the floor.

So you really want to study Japanese efficiently, but don’t want to do RTK.

What’s the solution?

You guys are smart. And it’s obvious. Just stop doing RTK. As I mentioned in the Anki hating post, using an efficient tool that you hate is inefficient.

But how will you learn how to read kanji then?

Through constant exposure with that kanji. Yeah, you won’t get to dissect the kanji or assign memory aiding stories. But you will learn them one at a time as you go through J-E sentences, J-J sentences, Native media and beyond.

While going through sentences, you are still learning the meaning and reading of every word that has that kanji. RTK just provides an association technique to make that process much smoother. But without it, you can still do the same thing. Sure, your recall rate, and review speed may be slower. But not slower than if you avoid it altogether or force yourself to do something you hate.

Stop worrying. Just move forward.

What’s great about RTK is that you can go back and decide to do it anytime.

And as I mentioned in that post, that is exactly what I did. Yes, me. RTK never really caught my interest when I first started studying Japanese (the fact that there was no efficient way to study it like there is today with Anki or other online electronic flash cards may have contributed to this).

But I did what I wanted to do at the time. I did the equivalent of what eventually would become J-E, and once I came across Anki, I went through 1000 J-J sentences.

I was at a good intermediate level I was proud of. I knew loads of kanji, meanings, readings, and had an average ability to make guesses on unknown readings. But it was all just merely adequate. And since my goal was never just mere adequacy, and since I knew I had found major success with Anki and J-J, I wanted to try and see what RTK might do for me.

So I took a break from adding new J-J sentences (just continued with reviews), kept the immersion going, but focused on completing RTK.

And I was enjoying it. At an intermediate level, RTK was a smooth experience. Since I already had seen most of the kanji in sentences and native exposure, they were easy to remember. And I had the ability to alter and adjust the deck to my liking (which ultimately resulted in the Jalup RTK mod deck).

I finished RTK (I can’t remember exactly how long it took but I believe it was somewhere between 1-2 months). And my kanji ability thanked me for it. As I started up J-J again, I proceeded at a much faster pace, words clicked, I could read with more understanding, and I just finally got kanji.

This site’s recommendation of doing RTK from the beginning of your Japanese study came from the feeling that it had such a powerful and extremely altering effect on my Japanese. I felt that putting it at the beginning made the most sense. And doing it concurrently with J-E is to prevent kanji burnout.

Let’s get to hindsight though. If I could go back in time to the beginning of my studying and complete J-E with RTK first, would I?

I definitely would try.

But who knows? In the beginning I may have came across the same conclusion that I didn’t like RTK, and wanted to hold off onto until later. I’ll never know. But the real message behind this post is to tell you that you need to find what works for you, and stop worrying if you aren’t doing it exactly like others are or how it “should be done.”

So if you have made a real valid attempt at RTK, and really dread doing it, try pushing it off until later. Try something else. Jump into J-E. Who knows where you’ll end up.



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Adam

Adam

Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.

Comments

You Hate Remembering The Kanji (RTK) — Now What? — 37 Comments

  1. How long would it take to finish RTK? Can you power through it and do it in 2-3 months? (doing 50~ cards a day)

    • Yes you can. It all depends on your goals I suppose. I finished RTK in 3 months or something, but then decided to “reinforce” the knowledge by doing the Movie Method also (to learn the onyomi for each kanji).

      Either way, in retrospect I think that the most profound advice I came across in RTK was Heisig telling us to take our time trying to assign visual clues to the characters (I think he wrote that you should spend a few minutes visualizing each character). Once you have a clear visual association to each primitive and/or kanji, it will be so much easier to remember, so even if that process takes longer than just plowing through it, I think it’ll pay off in the end.. that’s how I feel anyway.

    • Doing 50 a day, with just RTK 1, you would finish in 39-42 days (adjusting for variation in new cards, and assuming you stick with it every day). This grows a little smaller if you use the Mod Deck on this website, which has but 1901 cards. It would then take 38 days.
      Basically, if you have a ridiculous amount of willpower, you can finish in a month. Chances are, you won’t have the time or willpower; I don’t, and I’m a 15-year-old without anything to do. I’ve burned out on 10 cards a day, so I’d probably follow this advice and go to J-E sentences.

    • don’t rush it, coming from someone who made that mistake, it’s not worth it. You’ll burn out and getting back into it, while possible, is so much harder. Then again, I guess it was quite character building. Normally when I give things up I rarely come back to them, but my passion for Japanese must be stronger than previous ambitions (望, ;))

      Then again, if you’re not the type to give up easily, go for it. 30-40 is a lot though, 50 is insanity in my eyes. But hey, maybe you have insane willpower.

    • Hi.
      Trust me – time is not the issue when doing RTK. I did RTK while working fulltime (45 h/week) and doing sports (30h/week). I still managed to do between 30 and 200 (!!) new cards every day, while maintaining a social life.

      In the beginning its pretty timeconsuming, so dont get discouraged if you only manage 20 a day the first week. After 2-300 cards though, you will notice that you need less time to learn each card.
      – you will start to recognize which kanji you need more time with, and which can be added to anki right away.
      – you will start to recognize which stories is easiest to remember
      etc etc.

      In the end i did 200 new cards / day – and i still had a retention rate of 95%. The trick is to do reviews/learn cards for just 10-20 min at a time. Obviously, the more of these “timeboxes” you can fit in your day, the more cards you will learn. By doing this you:

      Make it easier to find time for RTK. – Do 10-20 min while commuting, in lunchbreaks, while brushing your teeths, while cooking, etc etc. You will be surprised how much otherwise “wasted” time you can spend doing anki.

      Its easier to remember just a few new cards at a time – Studies shows that the brain can just memorize a few things at a time. Therefore, its better to learn 5 cards, wait an hour, learn 5 new, etc Than doing all at once.

      By breaking your learning down in “bitesized” quantities, you will find it much easier to motivate yourself for a “session”. You can say to yourself “Now im going to learn 5 more cards”, instead of “Now im going to learn 100 more cards”, which can be daunting for anyone. Pat yourself on the back every time you finish one of these “5 new cards” sessions.

      In case you wondered – by doing this i learnt around 2100 kanji in a month.

      Good luck.

  2. Hey there, I’ve been reading this blog for a while now and following it’s advice, however, when it comes to RTK I hit a wall. It’s such a coincidence that just as I’m motivating myself to get back into my Japanese studying, this post pops up. I’ve been trying to learn the language for quite a few years now (I’d say about 6), however, I’ve had so many burn outs that I’m still at a beginner level. I’ve had a mixture of losing motivation and just not finding the time to study due to college related things, but that’s beside the point.
    The first time I tried RTK was by following AJATT, at that time I did like 30 cards a day and kept a smooth rhythm until approximately the 800 cards. I have a physical copy of RTK as well as a huge kanji poster with all 2048 characters. You would think that my motivation would remain high with these elements but it just started to feel so monotonous after a while that I eventually burned out.
    A couple of months ago I went back into RTK thanks to this site, this time taking it easy at 10 cards per day and using the JALUP RTK mod deck, and yet again ended up burning out. I’m not quite sure what it is about RTK that tires me, I guess I don’t feel any sense of progress while I do them so ultimately it bores me. Not only that, but it has made me dread Anki due to the fact that I associate Anki with RTK and it fills me with the feeling of a negative outcome. I suppose it’s time to change my way of doing things and start to do J-E sentences instead, maybe this time things will work out for the best and it will change my view on Anki at the same time.

    • I feel your pain. I’ve also burnt out several times while working on RTK with Anki. My latest attempt got me to 500 cards (using an unmodified deck; I want to move into translation work at some point) and am just now losing the willpower. I was doing 20 cards a day while working full time plus occasional overtime hours. Many nights, I would be up until 2 AM just to wake up at 6:40 and do it all over again. I’m cutting back to 10 cards a day, but still seem to be losing the willpower fight.

      • It sucks to see how your willpower goes down and remember the days when it used to be so high. Sometimes other life activities can be overwhelming and not leave enough time to do other things that we desire, such as doing cards. If you feel you’re going to burn out soon then rethink the way you’re doing things. Do you only do RTK or have you also begun doing J-E sentences? I’m going to go straight for J-E sentence mining using Genki I, as has been stated in previous blog posts.

    • Im exactly the same; heck, on my second try I even finished RTK, but I still burned out just because of reviewing it… so I think this time I just wont do RtK at all, and just do only sentences

    • You should try doing the Core sentence decks on Anki. They are available as shared decks. These decks have vocab and sentences with pictures and audio. Since starting the Core sentences I was able to talk more, did self introductions on skype (Thanks to YesJapan Daily), and eventually made a friend.
      https://ankiweb.net/shared/decks/Japanese%20Core

      With these you learn to recognise kanji, read, listen, and memorize new words.

  3. Hehe yeah I’m also suffering from a bit pf RTK burn out unfortunately. I got to about 1900 cards when I hit a wall and stopped doing reviews for a while and did J-E sentences instead. I wish I had kept up with the reviews because now I have about 1200 of them to get through. I’ve decided to stop adding any new sentences until I get the RTK reviews down to zero and finish the remaining cards. So yeah, gonna do some Anki now I think. がんばります!!

    • I was in a similar situation, but I gave up all together instead. My advice is to do 100 reviews a day and not learn any more RTK cards until they are down to zero. It’ll happen, just keep the faith.

  4. I’m one of those people who tried RTK/Anki and just could not do it. Every time I tried to use them, I could feel a small part of myself dying. So I floated around for a few months trying out a few methods until I finally settled on Wanikani for my kanji/vocab needs. It’s slower than what I want, but it’s incredible when I just use it as a supplement while I read (I suck at reading, but I guess we all have to start somewhere). I also feel like I’m REALLY committing what I learn to memory when it comes up in Wanikani. It’s been about 3 months of Wanikani now, and I’ll probably stick it out until I really feel I’ve outgrown it.

  5. RTK really wasn’t for me. I gave it a good attempt. I tend to learn better through examples found in native media than from a meaningfully put together list of words/kanji. The kanji in RTK are put together that way for a reason, and that’s why I say meaningfully, but they don’t come up from a context with meaning. They also don’t have pronunciations. I was already far into the J-J stage so was committed to making all my cards in J-J and still have no interest at all in J-E cards. Making all those cards burned me out and made the process too slow. I really think the RTK book should also be written in Japanese for monolingual learners.

    I always recommend trying out both RTK and Anki to Japanese learners because I know it works for a lot of people, even though I don’t use either of them. Wankikani is also turning out to be an interesting alternative for some, but again, I’m not interested in J-E learning at all. “Constant exposure with that kanji” is basically how I’ve done it. I’m reading novels fine so it has worked out for me.

    I think if/when I have to study for the JLPT N2 or N1 for a future career, I will download Anki again and use a focused kanji list for N2/N1 to ensure I’ll pass the test. I imagine that being a situation that I’d go back to Anki for. I don’t think I’d use RTK for that just because I’m studying specifically for an exam. But I would use the RTK method of making my own mnemonics. Even though I don’t use RTK itself, I did take away from it a studying style. I used it all throughout university Japanese classes to memorize kanji for my exams and it worked out well.

    So in a way, I did take away from RTK to some extent. Even though I didn’t follow through with going through the book and using that specific list of kanji in that order.

    • I support Rachel’s idea, that it should be written in Japanese for monolingual learners. RTK just doesn’t appeal to me, “Essential Kanji” by P.G. O’Neill makes way more sense to me. I really love diggin’ the origin and evolution of the Chinese ideograms, and since the stories in RTK are sometimes just random, I rather make my own associations. By now I am now able to understand and guess a lot of kanjis, though I still struggle with pronunciation (readings) :v that’s where I don’t have enough ideas to associate the sound with the image XD. Anyway, I’m an intermediate level learner and currently enjoying and taking the most of my classes :D Regards

  6. Just do it. It took me 6 months, and several times I gave up and had 1000s of reviews to do when I came back. But I promise you in the end the pay off is absolutely worth it. When your Japanese is average, reading becomes so much more manageable when you have a mild understanding of the kanji behind the word. I honestly think doing 10-20 a day max is the best way to go about it, because if you’re dedicating 5 minutes (recommended) to each kanji, that’s 1-2 hours a day (not including reviewing). My problem is I’d some days do 40 kanji, others 5, others none. When the days came where I wasn’t able to review for whatever reason, the reviews would pile up immensely, and it became unmanageable. It’s better to go slow than to stop and start all the time. Plus it’s just a more sustainable way of doing Japanese, you won’t get burnt out as easily. Plus, once you start doing language stuff, it gets difficult to have too many reviews on top of it (which will be the case if you blasted through).

    The clarity of hindsight is one of the most frustrating things. Nothing Adam or any of us can say can truly prove the worth or reward that you’ll reap by sticking with it. But, just remember, people wouldn’t spend their valuable time purporting information about something that doesn’t work if they weren’t getting paid for it.

    Just do it, Remember the Kanji and there’s absolutely zero chance you’ll regret it. I’m the laziest guy I know and I got through it, you absolutely can! It’s the most unenjoyable thing you’ll do in Japanese, but it’s temporary. Reviewing is a breeze once you’re not learning new Kanji.

    In the end, these words won’t strongly resonate until you’ve completed it and began your language studies. So, please, listen to the sages above, and take that blind leap of faith. After all, you’re already on JALUP, so you shouldn’t be taking the words of the experienced for granted.

    Good luck all, I really hope you entertain the thought that the pay off is worth it in the end, because myself and others RTK finishers will promise you that it is.

    • “1000s of reviews to do when I came back”

      What setting are you using that piles them up? They never exceed 100 for me, even if i dont do them in a while.

      • Theres a setting somewhere that lets you have a limit of reviews per day, you probably have it set up to 100, where most of us just enter the biggest number so that we see all the reviews we really have to do

        • Guess I’m not part of this “most of us” group and prefer to keep my sanity. The limits exist for a good reason, and it’s to prevent Anki from running your life.

          • Ultimately using the default limit just means you will review cards less often and probably progress slower as you’ll forget more. I wouldn’t say raising the limit constitutes “ruining your life”. The default limit of 100 would only give me 15-20 minutes of reviews and I have a lot more downtime than that to fill (during boring meetings I don’t really need to be in, waiting for my lunch order to be filled, waiting for code to compile and deploy at work, etc). It’s not like that time is going to be used for something more useful if I artificially limit my reviews. There’s nothing forcing you to do all the reviews if you don’t have time.

    • What do you do when you spend five minutes on each kanji? Do you visualise it clearly in your head, write it down on paper a few times, and try to remember its story? To be honest, I always used to skip the story because I thought it only just gave me one more thing to remember.

      And you if you write kanji by hand, would you recommend focusing on the proper stroke order, or would you just write out its radicals without really caring about the proper stroke order?

      • Yes, visualise the order of the pieces (I always made my stories in the order the pieces are drawn, so I get things out of place less frequently). You definitely need a story, though that story will fade over time. The story really helps with retention because it adds meaning to those pieces, otherwise you’re not really using mnemonics.

        So close your eyes if you need to, and think about your story and then drawing the pieces in your mind. When learning you should only be drawing the kanji twice, once when it’s first shown, and 10 minutes later when it’s shown again. When you’re reviewing, you only draw it a second a time if you get it wrong and it’s shown to you again in 10 minutes.

        DON’T SKIP THE STORY, there’re stories on the web for each kanji if you cbf making your own, I found that out too late myself. Though it’s probably more helpful to get good at creating your own stories,to each their own.

        I always focus on stroke order, I think that’s out of respect for the writing system, and having natural looking writing. On top of that, they give you general rules for writing the stroke order, which really help (in the early stages of RTK they tell you these principles).

        Later on they don’t help you with the stroke order as much, I used jisho.org and ran the kanji through there when I couldn’t figure it out, it’s really helpful. If you focus on the stroke order you’ll eventually figure out the patterns of how to write shapes in kanji anyways. But the general principles of stroke order help at the start, takes a long time to rote memorise them!

        Good luck!

  7. There’s a lot of great information here. I got volume 1 done in 8 months. I started strong doing at least 25 new cards per day, then I slouched around for a few months doing less than 5 per day, and then I finished it off cruising at about 8-10 per day. Reading and being immersed in the language while doing RTK is a great motivator because you slowly begin to see all the kanji you’ve learned everywhere you look. It was really challenging but I feel I learned so much by doing it. When I flip through my RTK book it sort of feels nostalgic. I’m glad I did it. I’ve stopped doing reviews though.

  8. Oddly enough, this post and the comments actually inspired me to power through the last 20% or so of the RTK deck. Now I’m finished with the slightly painful process of learning new cards and feeling great.

  9. When RTK doesn’t work, use Kanji Damage. Unlike most alternatives, like WaniKani, Kanjidamage is 100% free. You don’t have to sign up for anything; the information is all there. I made 50 cards a day, because the pre-made KD decks are far too dense for my liking. It took forever, and I mean FOREVER, but it was so worth it. During my last trip to Japan, so much more opened up to me: restaurant menus and lists of rules in arcades and the like. I still got plenty of “why are you pretending to read that?” looks from Japanese, especially in Book-Off, but even when I wasn’t speaking, thanks to all of the Japanese signage, my kanji knowledge was reinforced without Anki.

    With Kanjidamage, you learn the pieces that make up the Kanji, though not necessarily the “radicals.” You learn that 言 is “say” and that 十 is “ten” and when you put them together you get “measure” (計). The mnemonic is that it’s “oKEI (Onyomi) to MEASURE (kanji meaning) your pubic hair. Now, Kanjidamage is filled with lewd mnemonics like this, so it’s not for the easily offended, but I promise you you’ll never forget the kanji for “to measure”!

  10. I couldn’t get into RTK. For me, it just felt too far removed from “real” Japanese. However, I *did* want a more systematic way to add kanji notches to my belt than just adding sentences and waiting for it all to click.

    The middle ground I found was an awesome book (or set of books, really) called “Kanji in Context”. They take all the jouyou kanji, organize them into levels according to various factors (related meanings, frequency of occurance, shared radicals, etc.), and give you a pile of real example sentences/phrases to go with the most commonly used ones.

    Each kanji has a list of words/compounds (usually like 5 to 10), with the first one being the “key” word. Generally by memorizing the key word you get the base meaning of the kanji (much like the RTK keyword), but in addition you now know a real word/compound and at least one reading. You can choose to make cards for the words themselves, or just mine the sentences in the workbook (which is probably a better choice, to take full advantage of the titular “context”).

    As far as study technique, you can choose to attack it with a depth-first or breadth-first approach — whichever works best for you. Generally I found it was best to keep it balanced, focus on the “key” words and their sentences (or your own sentences, if you prefer). Then you can continue to mine sentences separately from your normal sources (Genki, IJ, etc.).

    I did find that for some kanji that I just *couldn’t* memorize for some reason, I’d work up mnemonics using (basically) the RTK method. That, or just add more sentences for a given word/kanji. Breaks the Jalup “one new thing per sentence” rule a bit, but if it meant finally remembering what the hell 総合的 means, then it was worth it!

    Anyway… all that said, you could probably accomplish exactly the same thing with a free kanji list and some sentences from jisho.org. I just found that it helped to work through a physical book (and workbook), and I liked their ordering a lot more than most.

    If you’re interested, you can find the older editions of the books on Amazon for pretty cheap. The main book is here, which contains the lists of words and such:

    http://www.amazon.com/Kanji-Context-Reference-Book-Nishiguchi/dp/4789007537/

    And there are two volumes of “workbooks”, which aren’t really workbooks but really just collections of sentences:

    http://www.amazon.com/Kanji-Context-Intermediate-Advanced-Inter-University/dp/4789007545/
    http://www.amazon.com/Kanji-Context-Workbook-vol-Bk/dp/4789007561

  11. I know this is quite an old post, but I keep coming back to it after failing to do RTK for the 5th time now.

    I realize that kanji is my main problem when it comes to Japanese. I am quite comfortable with grammar and a lot of vocabulary now, but a lot of the time I get similar-looking words confused due to lack of kanji expertise. Keeping this in mind, I have tried to go back to RTK again 2 weeks ago. After blazing through the first 4-500 kanji, I just found it too tedious to go on. I would dread the time of day I allocated to look through RTK. It was not enjoyable in the slightest.

    When I brought this up to my friend, he suggested I try the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course. I have not heard of that particular book before, but it seems to be getting quite good ‘press’, so I found it a little bit strange that I have seen no mention of it on this blog, which has been a great source for Japanese textbook gems.

    I was wondering if any of the readers/writers of this blog had experience with that particular book, and whether it is worth the time/money investment.

  12. The Jalup Series as of now has 1326 kanji. Lately I have been learning new kanji through context, specifically the Jalup Series. I, however, feared, this would not be enough. My concerns have been validated, but, this only motivates me to do immersion even more to fill out what is missing. The Jalup Series from Beginner on up to the end of what is available from Jalup Immersion has a total of 1326 kanji. So at least 1000 Kanji taught in Kanji Kingdom are not present in this series yet.

    I haven’t checked The One deck yet for how many additional Kanji exist there, but I imagine I will someday soon. Of course this would all just be for curiosity sake because I intend on completing my own journey, however, using The One deck as a sentence mine. I keep forgetting I have that option.

    Well, anyways, cheers!

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